This chapter of the sailing journey takes you through the pain and joys of finishing the boat without electricity and using only hand tools, whilst on anchor in Sydney Harbour.
Back in the 1980s, the skipper honestly believed that building a boat would take only 6 months to complete. After 5.5 years, the boat still isn’t finished although we’re ecstatic to move on board and call this home – it floats.
Apologies in advance for the poor photo quality. The 35mm negatives lived on the boat for years and then on land in storage so, the negatives didn’t fair well.
Back to finishing the boat
Following the tense 5-hour motor from Pittwater to Ball’s Head Bay in Sydney Harbour, we arrive unscathed and can only anchor in Oyster Cove as there aren’t any available moorings.
At this stage, the boat is a floating shell albeit with a motor, contains modular furniture, not much panelling, no mast or sails, and nothing to cook on. Where do you start?
Learning by trial and error early on during a huge swell, seawater enters the stern’s scuppers, siphoning down the plumbing and flooding the motor, which sits below the waterline.
How do you know when you flood a marine motor? Turn the ignition key and hear the ominous dead clunk followed by nothing. The motor won’t start.
Stripping the motor down and installing a U-bend in the plumbing to stop any future flooding, decide it’s a good idea to convert the motor to fresh-water cooled instead of seawater-cooled. More time and more work but this conversion also safeguards the motor from future corrosion, hopefully.
In Australia, a licenced gas plumber needs to check everything and provide a compliance certificate for the boat’s 2-burner, oven, and grill set up. Although, as the boat isn’t finished, a small one-ring camping gas bottle is the substitute and the one-pot-wonder to cook meals on for many months.
You quickly become creative inventing one or two-pot meals whilst cooking for many hungry guests, including yachties. Balancing the gas bottle on the cockpit’s sole when loaded with a full pot or in the sink when the boat is rolling around is a tad tricky.
To finish off the galley, the boat needs a fridge. Turning one of the outside lockers into a dual 12-volt/Eutectic fridge takes more time, but vital for comfortable boat living.
Working mad-long hours in Sydney reduces available waking hours to finish the boat. Although it’s a Catch 22 as without money, we can’t finish this massive project, which is now our home.
No rest for the wicked.
If you ever owned a boat, then you know that each year – or maybe stretching it out to 18 months – you need to slip (haul-out) the boat.
It’s at this point in life that you discover who your real friends are or whether you have any friends at all.
Scraping barnacles and painting antifoul are dirty and crappy jobs. Instead, guests prefer to lounge in the cockpit whilst enjoying wine and watching the sun go down in some exotic location.
Mention slipping a boat and everyone runs the other way.
Even though the boat isn’t finished, she still needs antifouling. As this is the first slipping since launching and the boat is now trimmed better, it’s time to adjust the waterline.
A colloquial term for a sailing boat’s mast is the “stick” and sticks are very expensive, especially if ordering a purpose-built aluminium mast. A cheaper alternative is to buy a kit mast and do all the work of assembling everything yourself, which reduces costs greatly but a lot of work.
Saving up to afford a Sparcraft kit mast, this bundle finally arrives with a daunting plethora of screws and fittings.
For 18-months the mast lives strapped onto pieces of timber that run from beam-to-beam, extending alongside the boat similar to a large appendage.
With only hand and 12-volt tools to drill into the stick, we don’t have electricity as the boat is on anchor but manage to assemble everything.
The cockpit’s state of perpetual mess gets me down until I snap out of this mood and move on. It’s hard and very challenging living on a boat whilst building it around you.
Stepping the mast
Stepping (raising) the mast isn’t easy but is an important part of shipbuilding, so we need to conform to tradition.
Dating back to ancient Roman times, placing a coin at the mast’s base is believed to be good luck for ship and crew – should the ship sink, the coin protects the crew whilst crossing safely into the afterlife.
After placing the obligatory coin under the mast, the stick is raised and held in place with ropes and pulleys – an erection ceremony ensues.
Hundreds of metres of stainless steel rigging wire including all the stainless rigging screws arrive – more expensive parts and work.
Luckily, the skipper is also a qualified rigger so can do all this work ourselves saving another huge expense on labour.
Replacing the current ropes acting as stays to hold up the stick with stainless stays and fittings feels as though jobs are quickly dissolving into a completed boat.
Sails, Lee Cloths, boom cover
Sailmaking is an ancient art form best left to the professionals.
Hiring a sailmaker from the North Sails loft, everything is measured for new sails, Lee Cloths (side covers) for the cockpit, and a boom cover. Another expensive but vital purchase that means we can finally take the boat for a sail, achieving the final major milestone.
Imagine taking a boat that’s taken all these years to lovingly build for its first real sail?
Euphoric yet also marks the end of the building chapter!
More fairing and painting
There’s nothing like creating more jobs whilst trying to finish a build.
More torture-board fairing (read Part 2 of the boat building) and undercoating whilst on the water…it’s time to slip the boat for the top-side re-spray.
More undercoat to the topsides and more fairing before the topcoat is applied.
Following the topcoat and relaunch, more paint goes on the deck.
Finally, after 4.5 years of finishing the boat in Sydney, we’ve achieved our dreams and objectives in this massive boatbuilding project. In total, the boatbuilding lasted 9.5 years.
Naming the boat
The very final milestone before leaving Sydney is deciding on a name for the boat. Naming is also necessary for the boat’s registration and to operate a VHF radio.
Choosing ‘Naiad‘ as the name, which means Water Nymph and is appropriate. Naming a boat is pretty hard. I think it’s just as difficult as naming a child, maybe?
Don’t forget to check out my post next week on what it’s like as a liveaboard in Sydney Harbour.
More boat-building chapters
Check out more of my chapters in this boat-building series!