Sailing Journey: Completing the Boat in Sydney

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.

Check out Part 1Part 2, and launching in this sailing journey series to get a taste of the adventures of building a boat, right up until the maiden voyage.

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.

Bruce Roberts plans
Photo credit: Bruce Roberts 28′ Motor Sailor

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.

Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

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?

The motor

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.

The galley

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.

Interim slipping

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.

Slipping boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Scraping barnacles – my favourite job! Photo credit: Colin Palmer

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.

The stick

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Mast is raked too far forward

The Stays

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Total eyesore!

More undercoat to the topsides and more fairing before the topcoat is applied.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

Following the topcoat and relaunch, more paint goes on the deck.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

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.

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania
Christmas time on a boat (Photo credit: Colin Palmer)

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?

Building a boat, Sydney, NSW, Australia, Oceania

Don’t forget to check out my post next week on what it’s like as a liveaboard in Sydney Harbour.

Completing the Boat in Sydney, Australia, Oceania

Visit Nilla’s Photography for more global images. More posts on Australia at Image Earth Travel.

More boat-building chapters

Check out more of my chapters in this boat-building series!

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30 responses to “Sailing Journey: Completing the Boat in Sydney”

  1. tohappinesssite Avatar

    HI. Hope you’re doing great. I would like to know if you were interested in renting your boat for a photoshoot ? I am on the hunt for a boat that is similar in size to this one. It’s for a photo shoot. We need it for 1 afternoon. It can be anywhere outside SYDNEY but not in Sydney harbor as we need to use the drone around it. Budget around $500 -Date: during weekday, the first week of June – weather dependant thanks 🙏

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi there, thank you for contacting me but sadly, we sold our boat in 2008 and don’t know of anyone in Sydney with a boat as I’ve been in QLD for a long time.
      Good luck in trying to find one but don’t think you should have any problems. 🙂

  2. Lisa Dorenfest ~ One Ocean At A Time Avatar

    What an undertaking. I don’t envy the effort. Great series. So glad you did this.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Lisa for the great feedback!
      Ha, ha, think we were masochists and the next chapter on Sunday is even crazier…check it out. 😉
      Although daunting and difficult, building the boat taught loads of valuable skills that I’ve carried through life – just like living on a boat does, as you know 😉
      I’m also glad that I started writing about this part of my life as maybe it helps others (or not) if they’re thinking of building a boat.

      1. Lisa Dorenfest ~ One Ocean At A Time Avatar

        It is a great story to tell and with the current pandemic, you’ve got the time to tell it and an audience longing for more.

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        I haven’t got time to write as we’ve been renovating since 14th feb working 12+ hours per day/ 7 days per week. My tenants of 14 years didn’t leave the house in a great condition. The last couple of weeks have calmed down a little.

        Before I left Italy, I wrote and scheduled 14 weeks (1 per week) of posts and still have another 13 in my Draft folder! So much to write and so little time right now – crazy! 😉

      3. Lisa Dorenfest ~ One Ocean At A Time Avatar

        Crazy indeed. A renovation is a great distraction. Sorry to hear your tenants left the house in disaray. Wonderful that you used your time in Italy to create so we have more posts to look forward to.

      4. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Ah well it’s to be expected and gives me something to focus on! 🤣
        You’re too kind Lisa but only have 3 scheduled posts left now. I like to keep 4 up my sleeve, so need to start writing again.

  3. markbierman Avatar

    Fascinating story and it proves that with hard work, knowledge, and persistence, anything is possible. Happy sailing!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks Mark and of course, you’re totally right!
      This was in another part of my life and I haven’t lived on a boat for about 10 years now but wanted to write about building Naiad.

  4. Dave Ply Avatar

    Back when I had my little 15 footer I launched from a trailer and stepped the mast on a fairly regular basis – no coin and no ceremony. What would a ceremony be for something less routine?

    So you’re saying it took you 10 years to figure out what to name your baby?

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      We could step the mast on Naiad but never did as it was too much of a hassle with all the rigging wire, still, we had that option.
      I have no idea as this ceremony was for big ships and was kept down the centuries – doubt their was a ceremony for smaller boats.
      No, not 10 years but almost 9.5 years. It was always known as “The Boat”! 🤣

  5. Suzanne Avatar

    Wonderful experience and Lea certainly knows what it’s like to build a boat. He built a 7m power boat with centre console with his brother and father.
    The sentiment value is enormous and the memories are numerous just like it would be for you Nilla. Hope Australia trip is going well.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Suzanne, indeed and yes on both accounts. How long did Lea’s boat take to build?
      The renovating is coming along albeit a little slow…no rest for the wicked. 😉

      1. Suzanne Avatar

        Hi Nilla, it took Les three years. He was also working fulltime to pay for his hobby 🙂 He was going to go commercial fishing.

        Pleased to hear all is steaming head with your renovations. Never a fast activity in my experience 🙂

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Wow, only 3 years…that’s fast!
        No and as it’s been rented to the same people for 14 years, it’s in dire need to repairing and painting – it’s a huge job! 🙁

  6. the eternal traveller Avatar

    After all those years it must have been a relief to have her finally finished. You all get a gold star for perseverance.

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you for the gold star Carol!
      Yes, it was an amazing feeling completing the boat but we ended up extending her later on, which I’ve also written about. Another mammoth project! No rest for the wicked they say…

  7. Valerie Cullers Avatar

    Wow! What a project and what an experience! Hope to catch next weeks post!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Hi Valerie, yes on both accounts and I certainly learnt loads, which is what life’s all about. 🙂

      This Sunday’s post is on Italy (just for you ;-)) but the following 4 weeks continues the sailing series. I have way too much to write on sailing as this spans over 21 years!

      Hope the sailing posts aren’t too boring for my readers…

      1. Valerie Cullers Avatar

        They are really interesting! I’ve only been sailing a few times and only know a bit about it!

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Excellent and happy that you’re finding the posts interesting. They’re a little different to my usual travel posts but have been wanting to document a little of the boat building. 😉

      3. Valerie Cullers Avatar


  8. Latitude Adjustment: A Tale of Two Wanderers Avatar

    Lots of time and work but so rewarding! Well done!

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thanks guys for the great feedback!
      Yes, loads of work and a labour of love but it became home for 20 years until the next boat. 😉

  9. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

    Very interesting one Nilla
    I knew this part would be even more interesting
    I actually started my own series now
    I hope you check it out

    1. Image Earth Travel Avatar

      Thank you Mohamad! More to come in this series and I’ll definitely check out your series.
      Thanks for stopping by… 😉

      1. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

        Thank you Nilla
        I am really excited for the next part of this series

      2. Image Earth Travel Avatar

        Excellent and thank you!
        Loved the Bruce Lee quote also… 🙂

      3. Mohamad Toutounji Avatar

        Thank you Nilla

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