This chapter of the sailing journey building a boat, shares the nitty-gritty, ups and downs, which you can look forward to if you’re thinking of building a boat…
If you haven’t done so already, check out my last week’s post Sailing Journey: Building a Boat Part 1, which explains the inception of the mammoth project of building a ‘Roberts 28′ Motor Sailer’.
As the boat’s hull is steel and hard chine, this is easier to plate up although a ton of welding is required. Lucky, the skipper’s trade as a Fitter & Turner, including welding, is vital.
I’m not great at welding. Apparently, you need to have the natural ability or need to practice a lot to master this skill. So with neither and not comfortable welding, leave this job alone. I can, however, hammer out (gently) a welding dag and make sure the weld is hole-free.
After several years of an overturned hull, the steel carcass is primed with many layers of undercoat and ready for flipping over.
Craning the hull over
Work on the boat remains painfully slow until the crane arrives to turn the hull upright.
Firstly, the crane flips the hull on its side to position the hull for flipping right over.
The nerve-wracking sight of seeing the hull suspended in the air is an anxious moment.
It’s at this point if the crane’s hauling chains break, the hull comes crashing back down to earth. At several tonnes in weight, the steel panels would crush or at the very least be massively dented.
Finally resting safely and the right way up on the home-built cradle over the wheeled trailer, she’s (boats are always ‘she‘) actually resembling a boat. This cradle is important for the launching stage.
Following the flipping over, building now moves along at a faster pace. Although it’s at this point with the boat the right-way-up, it seems as though Roberts cut some length off the stern to create a 28-foot boat.
Reluctant to fiddle with the plans and modify the hull as we don’t really know what we’re doing, persevere with this hull design in the hope that the boat sails well.
Typically, if a boat has smooth lines, uniformed, and ‘pretty’ then the boat usually sails well. Also, the longer the water length, the faster a boat moves. Time will tell.
During the build, the inside of the hull is spray-painted around 17 times – expensive. Overkill? Maybe, but it’s a steel boat and we naively hope to seal everything forever from the corrosive sea’s salt., which results in rust.
The messy job of pouring hot tar and steel punchings to fill the keel for ballast takes a few days. This is another milestone completed – baby steps. When you build a boat, there are loads of jobs going on at once.
Wheelhouse and cabin
The boat design’s cabin and wheelhouse are made from steel.
Although to keep the weight down, for coolness (a steel deck gets very hot in the sun), and for a smoother finish, we build the cabin and wheelhouse from fibreglass. This is the only major deviation from the official plans we consider.
First, we need to build a female plug (mould) so that the fibreglass can be laid.
Building the first female plug
Time, elbow grease, timber, plaster of Paris, and a mould is built.
The occasional visitor comes to check out the progress, although help is never forthcoming.
Surviving a vicious flood in the Hawkesbury forces a pre-mature launch whilst in our ‘boatyard’ close to South Creek in Windsor (New South Wales).
The whole area floods. At least the boat floats, which is a huge relief. Although, the problem with the flooding is that as the raging floodwaters recede, the skipper continuously dives in the murky brown floodwater. This is necessary to re-adjust ropes and floats so that the boat rests back on the cradle correctly and not lop-sided when the water recedes. This is the most stressful and frightening time during the whole building process.
A bigger setback is that the rigid awning built to shade us from the scorching summer sun and wet winter weather whilst building, caves in from the strong storm winds. The awning’s steel posts smash the cabin and wheelhouse – months of work is lost.
Building the second female plug
Coming up with an alternative awning, we build a wagon-style awning with forgiving plastic tubing hoisted from the stanchions. This new design sways easily with a breeze.
Building a second female plug for the cabin and wheelhouse from timber and plaster of Paris, fairing (smoothing) to perfection with filler then spray painted, takes another 6 months.
The plug’s topcoat is spray painted for a smooth finish, which is even before laying the first sheet of fibreglass.
Fairing the hull
No rest for the wicked.
Whilst waiting for various stages of the cabin to dry, it’s on to filling and fairing the hull. We’re hoping for a smooth finish. Looks daunting?
Before applying the epoxy fairing compound, the hull needs taking back to steel. This is done by sandblasting with glass beads for a dull finish so that the filler adheres correctly. Different types of sandblasting materials are tried to see which produces the best finish.
Various stages of sandblasting, more filling and fairing, then more undercoating and the boat is shaping up.
Learning the art of fibreglassing and fairing
As the skipper’s uncle teaches fibreglassing at TAFE college, during building, we’re lucky to have a full day’s lesson in the skill of laying fibreglass and fairing (horrible job). Also, continual coaching as required.
I enjoy laying up fibreglass and running the small steel roller over the resin-soaked sheet to force air bubbles out. I find this therapeutic – call me sad. Although during the summer, it’s not so great as once mixed, the resin goes off (hardens) faster than we can work. So, need to wait until the day cools down.
No need to build a plug for the cockpit area, so lay the chop strand matt directly over the timber frame and sole (floor), making everything as watertight as possible.
The cockpit still needs fairing, which means more torturous sanding. I really don’t enjoy fairing with ‘Torture Boards‘. The clue is in the title.
My undying love affair with a torture board
More like a nightmare than a love affair. Although, now that I hopefully have your attention from this title that’s oozing with sarcasm, I’ll explain a torture board.
Imagine a piece of timber around a half-metre long and 12 or so centimetres thick, which includes a timber chock on top at both ends.
You run sandpaper across the board and secure this under the chocks. Taking your torture tool, you start sanding from one side to another whilst the fine powder from whatever you’re sanding covers you from head to toe.
Sanding is an experience in awkward positions and typically, whilst balancing on scaffolding – a couple of pieces of timber a metre above ground – until high spots are smoothed. If you come across a low spot (indentation), you fill this with Epoxy Filler and wait until everything dries, then start sanding smooth again. Torture-boarding is similar to a never-ending revolving door of pain although it’s a fantastic cheap upper-body workout. Try this horrible job for hours, months, and years then let me know if I’m exaggerating.
But this isn’t the worse part of this job.
The worse part is the almost invisible glass fibres that find a way everywhere in your clothes, hair, and the tiniest of crevices. No matter how well-protected you are, nasty glass fibres hone in and embed into everything. Clothes are encrusted in resin, glass fibres, and bits of chopped strand mat. Once removed, socks (gave up on shoes) miraculously stand up on their own in a perfect form then thrown out after several months.
The best tip for getting a super smooth finish when fairing? Run water slowly from a hose over your work – the shine reveals every tiny blemish.
Removing the plug
Months of laying up fibreglass, filling, fairing, followed by spraying more undercoat then a couple of Polyurethane topcoats, and finally it’s time to pull the plug.
Pulling the female plug out carefully at first, frightened to rip the actual cabin off, pieces come away to reveal a very smooth yet transparent finish. Not expecting to see light through the cabin, we soon realise that the internal part of the cabin still needs a coat of Polyurethane – relief.
The windows and hatch are cut out before more perpetual filling and sanding.
More sanding and undercoat layers.
Lost count of the number of undercoats. Finally, it feels as though we’re getting somewhere.
Many birthdays come and go with the boat still marooned on land, slowly growing taproots.
Aside from 17 coats of internal paint, the messy job of pouring hot tar and steel punchings in the keel, forcing Sister Foam in crevices and glueing polystyrene sheets in place for insulation, the never-ending milestones are decreasing.
Parts of the boat not made by us include a cabinetmaker building the Galley cupboard area, collapsible Saloon table, and helm station. The propeller is also professionally made. Oh, and the skipper’s father – a professional upholster – makes the Saloon and Quarter Berth cushions saving a lot of money.
A bitter-sweet task for the skipper’s father as he lost his brother at sea in 1967, together with 2 others on the trimaran ‘Bander‘.
A permanently fixed photo to the Saloon’s bulkhead teases with swaying palm trees on a deserted white beach against an azure sky, yet keeps us focused and sane.
Running 12-Volt wiring and installing all the instruments. Plumbing for the Head, shower, galley, and bilge pumps. Installing the engine and steering hydraulics. Adding insulation and minor panelling. Fitting windows, hatches, and internal furniture. Installing light fixtures and fittings. More painting including the undercoat, final top coats to the cabin and hull…
…are just some of the plethora of jobs completed until the boat is ready for the launch. Check back next week for the launching sagas.
More boat-building chapters
Check out more of my chapters in this boat-building series!