I watch, I listen, I roll my eyes, I bang my head against
the wall! Internet Forums are interesting places. Some participants
are practical and post good solid suggestions backed up by
practical experience. Some post suggestions that indicate
that they have read all the advertising, memorised every article
in that august bi monthly publication that has a name very
dear to our hearts, are informed to the 'nth degree but who
have never actually "done it".
We have all heard stories about Theoretical Nuclear Physicists
who have real trouble when it comes to boiling an egg, NASA
Scientists who cannot work out the difference between metric
and imperial measurements, and Architects who design wonderful
houses that have to have the furniture swung in through the
upstairs windows because it wont fit up the stairwell, we
have a few of those out there preaching their gospel to people
who don't know how to separate the wheat from the chaff.
How do we separate the good stuff from the other? Don't know!
In fact there will be some who view me as being on one side
of this divide and few who see me as being not only on the other,
but an insufferable and self opinionated bigot as well. I suspect
that there is a fair amount of truth in both but have given
up worrying about it.
So I thought I'd address some of what I see as popular misconceptions,
and you, the reader, can believe me and act on it, or not as
the case may be.
I have a copy of "The Gougeon Bros on Boatbuilding"
on my shelf, in fact I have both editions of the book, and a
while ago had to buy another copy of the second edition because
the old one has been thumbed to death. It is a wonderful guide
to technique and technology, a fairly up to date book among
a publication list that is overfull ( here is the self opinionated
bigot speaking) of books on how to build 1800s technology carvel
planked and steamed framed 60 ft Schooners, books which are
of no use except doorstops to most home boatbuilders looking
to get themselves and the kids afloat for a few Sundays a year.
But it is an advertising medium, it preaches intensive use
of a particular type of material, its Authors make their livelihood
from convincing others to use this material (I drove for five
hours each way to attend a 1 hour lecture by Meade Gougeon,
and would have come back next day to hear the same lecture again
if I could have). It is great stuff for a lot of uses but its
NOT THE ONLY WAY TO DO IT.
What to do with the inside of your plywood boat is a very
common question, in the case of a little boat, cheaply built
and with an expected life span of perhaps 10 years if its lucky
I see people advocating three coats of epoxy resin, the first
one thinned for penetration, tack times recorded and recoating
to be done after wiping down with expensive and dangerous solvents
and so on.
One of the things that triggered this rant is that I have
just pulled a plywood Kayak that I built some 15 years ago out
of the long grass where the kids had put it a couple of years
ago. She needed a new coaming where it had been buried in the
dirt, and in cutting away the deck to do this I removed part
of the deck covering the buoyancy tank up in the bow. Now this
boat was built out of the cheapest 3/16 ply that the shop had,
was built in two weekends, and I'd coated the inside of those
tanks with two coats of cheap leftover and slightly lumpy oil
based varnish .
With the plastic screw in ports out, there is fair ventilation
in those tanks, but no sunlight or anything else that would
degrade the varnish , so there is no reason that moisture would
penetrate. I'm pleased to say that this old boat, knocked about
and misused by all sorts over a period at least three times
longer than I had intended her to survive, now has a new coaming,
is solid enough to warrant a new paint job and looks as though
she will survive another 10 years.
About the same time I had the pleasure of judging a Classic
Boat parade on a local lake, 70 or so entries ranging in age
from over a century to not quite finished. Quite a number of
simple plywood boats of thirty and forty years old had come
along both as entrants and spectators ( there were age group
categories ranging from pre 1920 to post 1980 ) and I was very
interested to see that there were a number of plywood boats
built in the '60s protected with what would have been ordinary
oil based enamel paints.
They looked fine, only where the boat had been left outside
filled with fresh water and leaves was there a problem and that
had been replaced with new ply, glued in with the same Urea
Formaldehyde glue that Dad had used to build her in the first
place. In fact the glue was from the same packet, still on the
shelf under the house where the boat had been born forty years
ago! She'd been repainted with more "housepaint" and
was looking good for another decade or two.
No epoxy, no two pot Linear Polyurethanes, not a sign of fibreglass
cloth, fancy wood preservatives, Admiralty bronze fittings or
fancy low stretch ropes.
I watch the discussion about rope types: on one hand we have
much agonising by one group about a certain manufacturer no
longer making a natural manila lookalike and another worried
that the sheave diameter required for the latest and even more
expensive low stretch rope is too big and that the consequent
windage at the top of the lofty rig is too high.
In most cases the boats are not Americas Cup or Around alone
standard, most of them will never be raced beyond trying to
beat "Fred" back to the beach and a tiny difference
in performance is not going to invalidate the boats reason for
being. Ropes need to be strong enough, appropriate to the use
You need rope that is low stretch for halyards, high stretch
but which sinks rather than floats for your anchor line, easy
on the hands for the main and jib sheets, and uv resistant enough
to be ok for a couple of seasons.
Apply this criteria when you go down to the shop to buy your
bits of string, in fact I would find out where the local commercial
fishing fleet outfits and go there. You'll end up with an armload
of three strand laid Terylene ( Polyester) , some Nylon for
the anchor rope, and perhaps some UV stabilised spun polyprop
for the sheets. None of the fancy yacht braids and multiplait,
none of the space age fabrics covered with licorice allsort
coloured covers, no carbon fibre, no kevlar and enough change
left in your pocket to have some choice of what you eat for
the next week or two.
Paint is the same. I note a discussion on one of the forums
recently where a gent who had almost completed a little boat
intended by its designer to be a very simple, almost "disposable"
boat was being advised by someone who must have been getting
a commission on the bank loans that his advice was generating.
He got started by suggesting two part primers, spray painted
, needing to be applied in a temperature and humidity controlled
environment by qualified and certificated operators and that
was only the beginning! &%^%$$^&&*!!!!!!
Why not go get a paintbrush, have a look at the pots of paint
on the shelves under the house and give her a careful and loving
coat of house enamel? These boats don't live in the water, they
live in a mix of sun and rain same as a house does, with luck
they will be under a porch or in a garage somewhere and on a
few choice days of they year they will get to be in the water
for a few hours! Who needs "Marine" paints for that?
I do prefer Alkyd enamels from a reputable manufacturer, I
use primer and high build undercoat from the same supplier,
and I go to the trouble of using the recommended thinners .
I wet sand the undercoat to take out the brush marks before
applying the finish coats, and am pretty happy with the result.
That kayak went 15 years before her first repaint!
I am though, wary of the plastic paints. They are more durable
in terms of resistance to weathering and UV but are softer so
are vulnerable to abrasion, and tend weld themselves to anything
plastic that they are in contact with. I have a perfectly good
waterproof jacket that was hung on a peg against a plastic painted
wall, it took quite a pull to get it off there and now the red
jacket has pale green stripes.
I've gone on about the prices of stuff in the "Yotshops
" in previous editions of this chronicle, but will recap
on the issue of small boat spars. I have used bamboo very successfully
for masts for years, no worrying about esoteric and complex
drying routines preservatives or even varnish , just gone over
to the neighbours with a saw, picked out a stick that was mostly
golden in colour and by next morning I'm off down the driveway
heading for the beach with all the pulleys and blocks in place.
The only failure I have had to date is when I sailed one under
an overhanging tree trying to get away from the jetty on the
If the boat is either bigger or to be more up market than that,
Its off down to the local aluminium extrusion shop. Patrick
there sells me my stainless steel bolts and screws so knows
me well enough to let me roam the racks of drawn seam pipe looking
for the right combination of diameter, length and wall thickness.
The resulting piece will be about a quarter of the price of
a suspiciously similar piece of metal from the Yacht Rigging
shop up the road!
But wood is nice, a really well crafted wooden spar is evocative
of old world craftsmanship, it connects with a history of the
sailing vessel that goes back into the mists of pre history
and besides, it doesn't go clang clang clang when a halyard
comes loose in the night.
Again, the agony! What wood to use, where to get it, what
to glue it with and how to clamp it. AAAARGH!!!
Get down to the demolition yard, buy a couple of old spruce
or Douglas Fir scaffold planks, they are of the very best material
as the manufacture of scaffold planks is to a pretty rigid standard,
cut around the manky bits and get on with it.
You can use any of the usual water resistant or better boatbuilding
glues, all of them are stronger than the wood anyway. ( I'm
thinking of putting one together with No More Nails one day
just to make a point) and build your mast. Have a look at the
masts built by home handymen way back in the 60s most of them
are still standing up and if you think you are still going to
be worried about that particular mast in 40 years time, perhaps
you can pull it to bits and redo it, but not until that 40 years
has gone past.
The point of this diatribe is that I feel that we have gone
far too far down a path of seeing as normal a standard of perfection
that is unrealistic, and that has been unnecessary , or even
unavailable in the past. Our little boats are often not improved
in any practical way by a lot of the technology that is being
promoted as "the right way" to do things by people
who are making a living from the stuff, and often the theory
is not backed up by what really happens in practice.
Before dashing off and committing the family to a life of penury
to pay for three coats of epoxy ( and doing yourself an injury
working head down trying to reach the far end of a narrow compartment
with a brush while the over large mix of resin in its plastic
container sets off in smoke and flames in your other hand),
or some wonderfully colourful rope, the latest in unpronounceable
paint or whatever the glossy magazine that you couldn't afford
said you should use ( I read magazines on the shop shelves too,
I can get through half of "Sail" magazine at one shop,
and the other half at the shop two doors down the road plus
eat my lunch, in one lunch hour), have a think about what the
job really needs, think about how it would have been done before
specialist boating products were developed, look for "appropriate
On the Internet experts? Don't know, other than forums where
a known person or group are providing the answers, I wonder
if we could develop some software that intuitively divines how
many boats the pundit has built and cuts him off if he has not
the preset experience level?
We could not use the rate of verbal fertiliser production as
a criteria though, I'd like to stay involved.