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Simple, pure and true.


Well, not quite, but the end of the initial ‘getting the boat ready’ thing is definitely in sight.

I haven’t been able to do anything to the boat for about ten days but today was sunny and windy and ideal for drying paint. I was waiting for a phone call about a job so I thought instead of sitting indoors I’d go and do something useful instead. So I did.

All of the old red topsides are now buried underneath a coat of white paint. It needs another coat, but that’s why I bought the second can and it took one can plus five brush-loads to do both sides, so I’ve got enough paint. Which is good.

Even better is how it looks now. With a simple, austere black and white finish, the way I think boats ought to be, especially wooden boats, especially wooden boats with beautiful lines, especially wooden boats with beautiful lines and a Scandinavian lineage, I like to keep it simple and pure. And it looks great. So great that people are stopping in the yard and asking about it. One today estimated it cost me twice what I paid. I nearly asked him to make an offer, but I want to sail this firstIn fact,

The way it was.
The way it was.

I want to keep it. It feels like my boat. It was nice to get back to it again. I spent about five hours there today, too long, so that by the end, clearing up, I was grunting when I moved from using muscles I never normally use. I do my 10,000 steps a day thing, but it’s not the same at all. That’s the thing with wooden boats. You have to put the hours in, but the difference is unbelievable. Actually it’s not. The even better thing is being able to say “See that? I did that. Me.”

So I’ll be there tomorrow to finish the paint by putting another coat of white on and using up the last pint of anti-foul. It’s going to be a good summer. Good things are happening. And not just on the boat.

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Going to Russia

I’ve just spent four hours or so putting black anti-foul on the Folkboat Fern. I haven’t had time to do anything to her for six days and I’ve been feeling a bit guilty about it.

I ached so much last week from sanding that I really couldn’t do much more. I got all of it done apart from some bits I missed on the rails and the stern itself, because I didn’t bring my big ladder and I can’t reach where I need the sander from the ground. I started this the stupid way, the old way, with a heat gun and a scraper and it was hard, hard work. The power sander made things a lot easier, not to mention quicker.


Black - the proper colour for below the waterline.
Black – the proper colour for below the waterline.

Do you imagine it was easy?

It’s beginning to look like a manageable project, if the rain that’s started doesn’t wash all the anti-foul off again. But it might not be raining where the boat is, nine miles away from here. And it was drying quickly in the wind there anyway. It’s not raining much.

I bought enough sanding pads. I have the white yacht paint and probably enough for inside as well. I bought the brushes and the white spirit and the Tonkinoise and if somebody somehow ran out of time and couldn’t quite do what she’d said she was going to do and pick it up from the chandlery then it’s the last thing that needs to go on anyway, and she made it up to me somehow. But it’s still been quite hard work.

I had a friend whose family got hugely rich from wool. After they pretty much controlled the entire British woolen industry, sharing it and Halifax as a sort of feudal fiefdom with another family, my friend’s ancestor went to Russia to get cheaper wool. This was one of the reasons you don’t see a lot of sheep’s cheese in England. With no need for the large flocks they sent them to slaughter. Actions have consequences. Not being convinced he couldn’t get wool still cheaper elsewhere the wool baron, or at least High Sheriff as he’d become went on to Australia, where he was sure wool was even more of a bargain.

He got fabulously even richer. I remember my friend’s indignation when I complained about something being hard work.

“Do you imagine it was easy going to Russia? Well? Do you?”

The boat isn’t that hard work. It doesn’t get me seven hundred million pounds if and when I sell it either, unlike some concerns, but that isn’t really the point of this boat. I’ll sell it if someone gives me a good price for it but it feels like the kind of boat I could keep for the rest of my life, or until I can’t sail it, which given the state of my pension might as well be pretty much the same time.

Time seems to stop when I’m with this boat it. It’s not much like going to Russia, really.

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Our friends electric

One of the reasons I bought a wooden boat was that I like traditional ways of doing things. Or I thought I did, anyway. On Friday I spent six hours stripping old varnish with a heat gun and a scraper. Saturday I managed four. Sunday three and a half. I ache all over. By the end of each session when I get home I eat, shower and sit down. Within half an hour all I can do is grunt every time I move and I live on my own. This is how people used to spend their lives, until they died.


I sanded from the bow to the metal post in about two hours.
I sanded from the bow to the metal post in about two hours.

Today I made a start on sanding the paint down on the hull. I did the bad thing. I used an electric sander. After I went to the shop and bought some new sanding pads, enough to do the whole boat and some left over for £9 something, because the old ones had got damp in my friend’s shed and all the scrapey stuff had come loose and then spent the obligatory half hour fiddling about with the other sander, the savage belt sander that strips deep grooves into things because that’s what it’s for, not roughing up a paint surface, I got started.

A friend from a famous yard walked by. I didn’t know he was working here today. Sometimes he plays keyboard behind my spoken word stuff, when we’re Frank Admiration & The Extraordinary Renditions, but today we were wooden boat guys. I felt pretty wooden anyway.

As a break from the paintwork I ran the electric sander over the wooden rail I was going to strip the old way, the one that in three days I hadn’t got near to starting. It took all the varnish off in about a minute instead of ten.

The lighter part? About five minutes of sanding.  The old ways are the best? Really?
The lighter part? About five minutes of sanding. The old ways are the best? Really?

My mobile kept ringing and I made some arrangements for Thursday and Friday night because I have some work to go and do in London and I need to sort that out and not mess it up, but working on the boat is going to be a lot faster now.

I still ache. I will for a couple of days. Now I feel stupid as well. But that will go. And the boat is going to be fine.


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No pain, no gain

My lunchtime view. I've seen worse.
My lunchtime view. I’ve seen worse.

Today was another day of varnish scraping. I meant to spend a whole day doing it, but I was too tired, too achey after spending the past two days doing the same thing, heating up old varnish with a heat gun and scraping it off with the other hand. There isn’t much room on deck amidships as I suppose I ought to call it, or half-way along the boat in more normal parlance. I didn’t particularly want to do a header over the side and drop eight feet onto the metal boat trailer if I overbalanced doing this, because with both hands full I couldn’t have the traditional one hand for what you’re doing and one for the boat that’s supposed to keep you safe, or at least safer. Obviously it doesn’t work if you get in the way of a super huge container ship coming out of Felixstowe, but nothing will. I did what sailing is all about and improvised, clipping a safety line through my leather trouser belt at one end of the other around the nearest fixed bit of metal attached to the boat. It would probably stop me hitting the ground, or at least at full speed. I didn’t want to find out anyway.

I started work on the boat at about one o’clock today and had to stop just before six. I couldn’t do anymore. It wasn’t as cold as yesterday, or at least it didn’t feel as cold. It said 4.5C on the car thermometer today, but 7.5C yesterday when there was a steady breeze blowing, which there wasn’t today. A huge high tide yesterday too, to go with the eclipse, the water up over the quayside. It looks very wrong when that happens.

This is what I did today. It felt like more.
This is what I did today. It felt like more.

All I did apart from drink tea and eat a banana was heat and scrape. It was ok. I like jobs where I can see what I’ve actually done, whatever they are. I wanted to get all of the port or left hand side of the deck rail done today but I just couldn’t do it all. I can’t work out what’s been going on with this boat. Parts of the rail had three layers of varnish on them, one of them a deep red. Other parts just a few feet away had a green coating that looked more like moss just beginning to grow and hardly any varnish at all. There is a six inch strip of toe rail – to stop your toes and then the rest of you going over the side – that is rotten and crumbling while the rest of it is completely solid. I don’t understand why that part would have gone rotten. It makes no sense.

So tomorrow is another day. I think it’s going to be two days to finish stripping all the varnish off and probably another two to sand down the deck unless I can find a sander. I thought I had one but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. I don’t like using sanders anyway. I don’t like the vibration through my hands, nor the noise.

It’ll be another day to sand down the paint above the waterline on the hull ready to change it from red to white, the proper colour for Nordic Folkboats but the below-waterline part feels quite rough already. I’m wondering if just a wash down with water to get the mud off would be enough, without bothering to sand it. I can’t tell. It would save a lot of time.

It will be worth it. Really. It will. Honest...
It will be worth it. Really. It will. Honest…

Then a day painting, then she can go back in the water and I can paint the inside of the cabin white now that the wet rot cure has done its stuff. There is a crack along the cabin roof side that is letting in water too. I thought I could get away without stripping the varnish off that but I think the only thing to do is lift that off, fill the crack with clear epoxy glue and sand it back flush, then seal the wood up again with Tonkinoise. All day I have cursed the man who invented yacht varnish. He must have had his reasons to invent something rubbish that comes off again in big ugly yellow flakes like old man’s toenails. I just don’t know what they were.

I got back home about half-past six. I wanted something good to eat so I made the broccoli quiche I’d promised myself when I made the pastry and put it in the fridge yesterday. I was cold and aching and if I had had a tin of baked beans in the cupboard I’d have had that, but I didn’t. I hadn’t done quite enough pastry either and I rolled it out with a big Kilner jar, which was lazy and stupid because the fastener made a hole in the pastry and some of the filling dripped through. Not enough flavour. I should have put salt in and maybe just maybe a tiny sprinkle of chilli flakes. But it was ok, So was the cake I made yesterday. It’s now nearly nine. I haven’t seen anyone I know all weekend. I’m tired and aching and I seriously think I’m going to shower and go to bed with a cup of tea and a book right now.

It’s the 70th anniversary of the bombing of the town a friend of mine grew up in. The RAF did it. Nearly half the population was made homeless. There was nothing there apart from a beautiful medieval town and the war almost over. I haven’t known whether to mention it to her or not. She has. But what would I say? Sorry about the unpleasantness earlier?

I thought that as I saw someone pressure washing their plastic boat today, cleaning it up in about an hour while it’s taking me a week to do the same thing. That’s the trouble with wooden boats. Sometimes they make you too tired to think. But there’s nothing, really nothing like them at all.



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Stripping it back

The thing about wooden boats is they’re wooden boats. They start rotting from the time the first bit of water touches the wood after the sap has stopped flowing. But they’re still a million miles better than floating Tupperware, because you can fix them.

Something odd has happened to this Folkboat of mine some time in the past. There is a hairline crack in the side of the cabin roof that lets water in and where water stays in it starts rotting, so I have to fix that. There’s another patch where someone has drilled a hole through the roof to secure the grab rail that makes going forward from the cockpit not quite so perilous, given there are no rails at the sides and it’s a nice eight foot drop to the ground that I really don’t want to do. The water is getting under the wooden grab rail because there’s nothing to stop it. Taking the rail off, putting a dob of Silkaflex (a kind of putty that never really dries out completely) and put the rail back on should fix that, and there are a couple of other joins that need filling in with the stuff too.

A little imperial relic, from the days when you could sail away somewhere out East, cut the trees down and paint your ship with the juice. Obviously get the natives to do it for you and burn thier huts if they won't. British foreign policy hasn't changed in many ways.
A little imperial relic.

Yesterday and today I spent scraping off old varnish. You can see where it needs to come off because although it’s still glossy it’s a yellowy white colour, which tells you air or water or both has got in under the varnish. This is one of the reasons I hate yacht varnish. It sits on top of the wood as a hard impermeable layer, like concrete and just like concrete, while it keeps water out it’s great and when it doesn’t it’s a nightmare, because it traps the water underneath the varnish where it starts eating your boat. I don’t know why more people don’t use Tonkinoise. It’s French, it’s been around for a hundred years or more and it goes into the wood rather than sitting on top of it. You can see the advantage straight away. The disadvantage is all the old varnish has to come off first. Which means getting the scrapers and the heat gun out.

I sat there for six hours yesterday and three and a half today, in a wooly hat, four layers of clothing, safety boots, gloves and a PVC smock, heating up old varnish in one hand and scraping it off with the other. I froze. I’m writing this sitting on my sofa at home ninety minutes later and I’m still cold, with the heating on, a cup of tea and a disgusting shop-bought so second-hand biscuit, not really able to think straight yet because I’m so cold. But it’s getting done.

I’m getting the feel of the boat, finding out what needs to be done. There’s an electrical thing in the battery compartment which got rained on for six months and that’s going to need bypassing or replacing. At the moment bypassing looks the best option because I don’t know what it is, but I might revise my opinion on that. Really, all it needs apart from the electrical thing, whatever it is (and it’s metal with fins on and one wire goes into it and about four wires come out of it if that makes any difference), all it needs is doing it. Just scraping and sanding and painting. Wooden boat stuff.

Making a start. The deck looks like teak but the varnish on the edges hasn’t worn well. I think someone just varnished over varnish, without taking the old stuff off first. Task One.

Practical meditation. It sends me into almost a trance state. It’s a great way to calm down and think. Except when it’s cold, when it stops you thinking long after you should have thought that it’s too cold to keep on doing this.

I spent six hours scraping old varnish off yesterday and another three and a half today. I’m getting better at it and it’s one of those things that improves with practice. I’d done just about a third of the deck now, and treated the wet rot around the windows inside. I have all the paint I need, the white paint for the hull and the black anti-foul and the Tonkinoise arrives on Tuesday. I have the brushes and the thinners and about enough sandpaper and all of this week to get this boat ready, if it doesn’t rain.

Years ago when I was learning to sail (me and Mr Dana, out of San Diego, obviously) I read one of those stupid folksy maybe-traditional sayings carved and burned into a plaque above a yacht club bar. It was empty, as they always are in the afternoon. A fly was buzzing at a window. The air was full of the scent of damp cotton drying in the sun with that special smell faded sailing it always has.

It was just a stupid motto:

A day spent sailing is not counted as part of your allotted span.

It was just a little sailing club on a lake by a dual carriageway. The woman at the next table finished organising her children. She looked at the sign, then at me, then she looked away across the lake as she said ‘A day on the water – sometimes it all feels like starting again.’

She didn’t mean learning. I knew exactly what she meant. Just that timeless thing about wooden boats and the water. Maybe it’s not part of your allotted span. Or maybe just days when you have the space to be on your own, doing something that needs doing that you can do, something you can work at and see the difference and think at the end of the day that maybe it isn’t completely fixed but you can finish it tomorrow, that you’re on top of this by just working at it, that you can work this out, maybe that’s what feels out of time.

Summer’s coming soon. And summer on the water is a special thing.

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Bearing down

Before, looking a bit needy. The boat, not me.
Before, looking a bit needy. The boat, not me.

I went down to the boat again today to make a start on the renovations. I’m also trying to take my mind off the small and potentially fatal issue of how I’m going to get the boat around to Aldeburgh Yacht Club, which doesn’t sound too threatening in and of itself, but it means going out of the mouth of the Deben and into Orford Haven.

The entrance to the River Deben is protected by a shifting shingle bar that often has less than one metre over it at LW springs. The bar is dangerous in heavy seas and especially in strong onshore winds.

That’s the going out bit. About four miles north at Hollesley you have much the same thing, but in reverse.

The bar at the entrance to the river is formed by a shifting bank of shingle. Depths are subject to frequent change. Up to date local information should always be obtained before making an entrance. Broken water on the bar often looks frightening but is to be expected. Entrance should never be attempted in bad weather, especially during onshore winds.

This stuff can actually kill you. Either way, the boat isn’t going to make itself look nice so I thought I’d better make a start and get sanding down. I can’t find where my extension lead is, so I had to do it by hand. It didn’t take as long as I thought it would. I went around the whole boat with a scraper first, to get rid of any obviously flaking paint or varnish. There wasn’t much.

I got a phone call from a job agency about Tuesday, confirming. They were going to send me some background information too.

Then I made a start on the decks. Knee pads helped a lot, new protective gloves too. I got another phone call, from someone who made me smile and my heart lift. After we’d talked and got in that silly muddle about ringing off, each saying goodbye about three times like teenagers, although we really, truly aren’t, after I’d made the promise I always make to myself when that person rings me, if this job works out, I got back to sanding the afterdeck again.

After. About an hour and a half after.
After. About an hour and a half after.

I worked on this for about two hours, although with thinking breaks and phone calls and a trip to the shops for work gloves I was there for about three and a bit hours all told. The wind was coming up and it looked like rain with lights going on in the car-park by the station when I left. It was cold. I didn’t realise how cold I was until I walked past my car, not thinking. Careful.

I got fish and chips as it’s Friday and went home to eat them. Opening my email the agency has sent background information about the job I’m being interviewed for on Tuesday. I ache from sanding and bending and kneeling; I’m not used to this. The company has also sent a test. Literally. They sent it at 17:23 on a Friday. They want it by 23:00 Sunday, which seems remarkably precise, so they can have it for first thing Monday and review it for the interview. Part of me says they’re joking. I don’t even work for them yet and they want me to start on something through the weekend when they’ve known about this for two days. I can’t do it tomorrow because I’m helping someone demonstrate how to smoke fish, and although that sounds a bit optional I said I’d do it, so it isn’t. That’s important to me. Sunday. I’ll have to do it on Sunday and not go and work on the boat. I’m also supposed to be going to London on Sunday because I have to go and follow a tour guide around all of Monday, starting 0830 in Wembley.

I like jobs where you can see what you've actually done. The left half of the picture for example. Starboard side if you insist.
I like jobs where you can see what you’ve actually done. The left half of the picture for example. Starboard side if you insist.

But it’ll get done. Things do. And I want this job so I can keep the promise I made when I rang off on the phone. And anyway, the boat is getting done. The paint is all ordered and on its way and if the varnish isn’t because I want to use Tonkinoise instead, although what that is will have to be left until another day because I’m tired now, then all of that can be done when it’s actually in the water. And I can decide whether to get absolutely all the old varnish off or just re-varnish over the top of it later as well.

Assuming I survive the trip round to Aldeburgh. If I don’t then it won’t matter anyway but that’s going to be fine. The fish will get smoked. The test will get done. The sound edits for a demo I was supposed to finish today will get done soon, possibly on Sunday on the train. That would work. The interview….I will just have to do my best.  Today’s results made the job worth doing. Tomorrows – well, tomorrow is another day. Today is all you ever have. My day has been a happy one. I made somebody else smile too. I could hear it in her voice.


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Day One: The Reckoning

Looking aft. As we salty sailor boys have it. As it were.

I went down to see the boat today. My boat. The boat that is mine. I took some water and bread and cheese. I’m taking some apples tomorrow because frankly, that all got a bit unduly Spartan but never mind. I opened all the hatches and got some air running through the boat and got everything that was damp out in the wind where it could dry out while I took stock of things.

I was just working out the tasks, what’s going to need doing first. I’ve given myself ten days to get her clean and tidy and in the water, which should be a reasonable time-frame. Should be. Except no sooner had I sat down in the sun with the main hatch open, sitting on the step so I could see out but protected from the wind by the coachroof in a really nice, comfortable spot I can see myself using a lot, the phone rang. Of course I had my phone with me. Everyone does. Even around here, where phones don’t always work.

I’d thought the boat needed a cooker and a sink, but when I had a good look around there was already a sink there, under a chopping board that disguised it. There’s a twin-burner paraffin stove with an oven in the boatyard shop. I’ll measure the space tomorrow.

Urgent stuff to do? I need to make a little wooden box out of ply to cover an unsightly hole you can see on the right hand side of the top picture, where the depth gauge display has been cut into the wood not very neatly. Some bolts need trimming so they don’t stick out, because it’s ugly when they do. There’s a bit of wet rot that needs stopping before it goes any further, but that’s what wet rot glue is for. Mostly it just needs sanding, a new coat of anti-foul to keep the weeds off, new paint to cover the few scratches where someone got a bit too enthusiastic about mooring and varnish to replace the old varnish.

Yacht varnish is a total waste of time, in my experience, so I’m not going to do it. Instead, I’m going to use stuff called Tonkinoise which the French Navy used to use out east, as we say in Woodbridge. It’s not varnish. It goes deep into the wood rather than sitting on top of it, so it doesn’t flake off again every single year. Unlike varnish.

Mind your head. I think this is the reason these classic little yachts are out of fashion. They were designed for sailing, not an aerobics trampoline class.
Mind your head. I think this is the reason these classic little yachts are out of fashion. They were designed for sailing, not an aerobics trampoline class.

So sanding tomorrow, but I’d better order the anti-foul and the paint and the Tonkinoise first as that’s going to take a few days to arrive.

I can’t decide whether to use a power sander or not. Somehow it seems a bit like cheating, but there’s quite a bit of hull to sand so maybe I’ll do the decks and the exposed wood by hand and everything else with a sander.

Either way it’s going to be a long day and there’s some other stuff to do, because the phone ringing meant I have an interview for a big job in London on Tuesday and I’ll deal with how I’m going to get there and/or where I’m going to live when they offer it to me. Along with the big fat cheque every month that they’re talking about, which is why I’m talking to them.

But meanwhile, there’s this lovely little boat to fettle.

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