Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Cape Horn in a Small Cat- a review

If you like salty tales of smallish boats doing battle with big distances and sometimes terrifying seas, find a copy of this in a second hand bookshop, or a new one if you can find an edition still in print.
My copy was published by Elek Books in GB and Ure Smith, Sydney in Australia 1974
ISBN 7254 0167 2

Children of Cape HornChildren of Cape Horn by Rosie Swale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going from Gibraltar to Australia and then to England via Cape Horn is an arduous and uncommon adventure. Doing it as a couple in 1971 with two children under school age in a fibreglass catamaran, is a wonderful and even less likely story. Rosie Swale wrote a fascinating account in this book and her observations about the children and the unusual choice of boat provide a marvellous context for the details in preparation required, and the tremendous concentration expected from these folk as they did battle with some legendary seas- against all sensible advice.

Their boat was a production GRP cat designed by Bill O'Brien.
I enjoyed every page.

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

not a cabin in sight

This week end the Gippsland Lakes Classic Boat Club had a gathering of open boats at Paynesville, with a static display for the community on Saturday morning, followed by a sail past in the afternoon. Above are two local traditional types  above, the boat reported here during it's restoration (top), and the one in front was completed last year. What a splendid thing to have an old boat restored, and the old ways kept alive in a new boat; the two stories rafted up next to each other. These hulls have a real presence on the water.

Above, most of the boats have left for the sail past here, but I'm still chewing the fat in Annie. (Beachcomber stayed home for this one). I include this picture to show the local 'floating shed'- it appears to be at the end of the jetty, but it is in fact a mobile floating music stage and MC platform, a bit of an institution around here. It is powered by a 60hp outboard 'behind the shed'.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

waterline, weather and leather

There are dozens of reasons why a trailered boat shouldn't wear antifouling below the waterline, and I have chosen to do it anyway  now I'm in  a situation where I can sail often because the boat can spend weeks in the water if I wish. The bliss of this is not lost on me.

Whereas before we moved here a sailing day needed to be chosen carefully, planned for and then travelled to- with the possibility that the morning could be wasted if the weather was ordinary (or worse)- now if I get the weather wrong, I can be much more philosophical about it, and maybe treat myself to some uncomfortable lessons in the wrong conditions, and then take my little tail home for comfort, without getting in the car.

So she has had the business- black antifouling below the waterline after I scraped the growth from her bottom again (not a comfortable thing to do on a bottom that is so horizontal, and so close to the ground). The pleasure for me this time was to figure out a way of getting Annie off her trailer without lifting anything. This was all achieved with a few clamps, a pair of saw horses, a few boards and a horizontal platform.

The trick is to lower the trailer dolly wheel, which lifts the stern. Slide in an angled support just under the stern, then raise the dolly again- on a block of wood if necessary- then place some support across the front (a 4 x 2 on edge, or bigger) on saw horses spread wide enough to clear the trailer wheels. Lower the dolly and then move the trailer forward, under the beam and out of the way. For this trailer anyway, the beds were now well clear of the hull. Your back is spared, but do be careful if you try this. I always add a couple of fail-safe back-up braces and supports before working under the boat.

Last time I went out the wind was up and threatening but the forecast was for it to ease so I had an interesting sail under mizzen and jib for an hour or so, and was quite pleased with her handling and tacking in those conditions. The wind then turned and made a part of the bay very rough and messy and another part more sheltered, so I raised the main without a reef and had a great couple of hours reaching back and forth over a longish gap between Bell Point and Shaving Point in a fresh wind on a rolling swell. To keep the boat level and just because it felt good, I sat out and sheeted in for  an exciting ride. 

The Navigator can usually be sailed without hiking out (especially if sail is shortened to suit conditions) and so the extension is a discretionary tool really....but I like it. This was my longest period using the tiller extension and it worked a treat, but my sweaty palms eventually began to struggle a bit on the bare wood.

Because the extension often needs to be out of service I designed it to sit low over the curve of the tiller so as not to get in the way, and it sits on a little locating pin so as to stay put. Both the tiller and extension flair out slightly towards the ends and this makes gripping easy, but I've added some leather on the extension just to make it less slippery.                                       I considered thin line, servings, turks head knot work etc and couldn't find a rope work solution that fit my purpose, but finally settled on leather because this is the traditional technique I used to replace the leather grip on violin etc bows. It feels good, looks restrained and doesn't add much to the bulkiness of the rod. The edges are rounded over so sit tight on the timber by means of a cut bevel on all four edges. This is done with a razor sharp chisel on the inside face of the leather. The leather was then treated with a product called Dubbin- used here in the past for treating boots etc without adding colour.

Monday, January 9, 2017

if I were a wave

If I were a nasty, bolshy, fulsome, front-on trough of a wave, I'd be struggling to suck her down with all that firmness of  bilge and flare in the forefoot, if I wanted to get the better of Annie. She's so broad...

If I were a rising, cresting, crashing wave coming down on her stem, I'd have nothing to get hold of if I wanted to push Annie abaft, there's nothing to grasp. She's so thin...

Now she's having her bottom scraped again, but you'll be relieved to know that she and the wave lived happily ever after.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Kingdom by the Sea. A review

It was 1982, the summer of the Falkland Islands War, and the birth of the royal heir, Prince William--and the ideal time, Theroux found, to surprise the British into talking about themselves. The result is a candid, funny, perceptive, and opinionated travelogue of his journey and his findings. Cultural snobbery? Perhaps, but it is always interesting to read about interesting times.

The Kingdom by the Sea The Kingdom by the Sea by Paul Theroux
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Paul Theroux has insights here that are perhaps more interesting for the passing of so much time than they were when he wrote them. Always engaging and pithy, he brings some objectivity by describing Britain through the eyes of a traveling alien.

These are brutally wrought observations of an island in disrepair, even existential despair, and it is a bleak and pallid culture exposed by the failure of industry and the punishments delivered by globalisation, but it is not without warmth and empathy.

The book is written at the same time that his friend, an Englishman Jonathan Raban was circling Britain in a sailing boat, making observations of his own. Whereas Theroux is walking and riding trains around the coast observing the population sitting idle and looking outwards, Raban is looking landward from the perspective of the sea. Raban's account (Coasting: A Private Voyage) is far more concerned with the causes of economic failure, and is attuned to the suffering that comes from economic idleness, whereas Theroux focusses on his perceived flaccidity of the population in the face of these factors.

Both books focus on the year 1982, with thirteen per cent unemployment, huge failure of coal and fishing industries, the beginning of the end of ship building and automotive industries, the Falklands War and the unpopular unraveling of the complex and ancient British railway network.

Both books are limited of course by the personal views of the observers, but they benefit greatly from many quoted conversations with ordinary folk facing the future bravely. I enjoyed both books, but I would find this one tough going if I were a patriotic Brit.

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

obsessed by the golden ground

The last post about my former self mentioned that  some old images of instruments were lost, but now some are found. There may not be a particular interest in them, but like in that last post, I include them to keep as a digital record of a particular mission that I was on at the time.

When beginning with violin family instruments I made and used a particular varnishing system well-known to those luthiers who like to create their own finishes. It was a spirit  based system from a recipe dating back to the early 1700's, and it used several gums,  oils and lacs. It had the advantage of being quick to dry and fairly hard wearing (in the absence of alcohol) and was commercially useful, but the ground under the varnish never looked right.

  By about 2002 I was becoming very interested in the performance of the coatings as they combined with the engineering and thicknessing of the plates, because it was obvious that if you go to a lot of trouble to get a certain set of tap tones from the plates, and if the structure of the arches and the thicknesses are all managed to produce a certain sound then the coatings that go over the top of all that will need to be considered too, in their capacity to help or hinder vibrations.

This led to a lot of research into the very old ways of doing things, and rather than looking for a 'secret' (which everyone seems to think is at the bottom of great instrument sound) I read up on the trades and traditions of the guild workers who had such an influence all over Italy- The Byzantine Greeks, who revolutionised almost all trade work before the renaissance. I'm not going to try to summarise that whole story, but it became obvious that many trades shared a set of procedures in the application of coatings, including furniture makers, guilders, carriage builders, church fitters, instrument makers amongst others. 

One of the reasons that there was commonality amongst them was fashion. The fashion for a gold appearance either as a finish, or as a reflective surface under a translucent finish. This is the quality that underlies the great Italian violin family masterpieces. The effect is a consequence of practical considerations as well as visual ones, and by identifying the common materials used in the ground layer (the solid base upon which the coloured layers are placed) it was possible to create a more golden, sparkly, subtle, impossible to photograph sensibly without looking like a complete nutter, and dependable surface that could be relied upon to be a consistent contributor to stiffness in the vibrating plates (the back and the belly)

The down side was that this stuff needed to be built into  oil based coatings, and I ended up applying them with thumbs rather than a brush, and they took a long time to dry. I had to make a UV drying cupboard, but the system still took as long to do as it took to build the instrument. But it did look lovely under lighting from different directions....and these pics were my attempts to capture on film what excited my eyes so much, but of course they end up just looking like a bunch of violins.

The conception of a fine instrument is much more than an accurate outline. A beautiful varnish is more than a pleasant colour. Successful arching can only function in a direct relationship to  the thicknessing and the varnish. A well cut f hole is conceived with reference to arch, outline, body length, placement and it's effect on the resonant frequencies of the corpus. Masterful work holds these things and others in harmonic balance.

 A fellow, now deceased, called Koen Padding was a revelatory figure in my journey and he supplied products that made it all possible. A wonderful mind now remembered in this story.

Some of my stash of very old hand cut and air dried Bosnian maple. Just gorgeous...These are  for one-piece backs that you will spot in a couple of the violins pictured above.

I found this little slideshow originally made around 2005 I think (although I have shortened it in case there are people out there who don't like looking at paint drying)....but if you do, then try it on a big screen so you can become bored in real style.