Builders sometimes take liberties

This summer I was doing some refit work on Mat Ali.  She is a Harrison Butler Khamseen, built in peninsular Malaya during 1935.  An interesting boat with lots of stories to tell no doubt.

Part of the refit work meant removing the (non original) rubbing strake to access the chainplates and once off it became apparent that Mat Ali’s sections were perhaps not quite to her lines.  The design lines (a rough copy of which are published) show sections with the traditional tumblehome that you would expect of a Harrison Butler.

Looking, however, at the midships section of the boat as she is now, it was clear that someone, at some point, had taken liberties. Not only had Mat Ali been equippped with tumblehome – but the tumblehome had, over the last plank or so, been reversed out and turned into a subtle but definite flare.

With some boats you might reasonably ask the question ‘has she moved/pinched/hogged’ to create this effect, but Mat Ali, built over 4″ sawn frames, is a bit too stiff for that sort of movement. Besides, the covering boards (original) continue the flare in line with the sheer strake, the frames sit cleanly against the planking and the boat shows no other signs of movement. The extent of the flare is not huge but enough for me to need to bend the re-galvanised chainplates by 1/8″ when tightening the bolts up in order to get the chainplates to sit flush against the planking. These sorts of things don’t just happen by accident.

I guess that this sort of ‘interpretation’ of a set of lines is the way in which builders make their mark on a design. My fancy is that Mat Ali (the builder of Mat Ali), who had never built a yacht before, but had a lifetime of experience in building Malay working craft, had some strong opinions about the way that things should really be done – and adding flare to tumblehomed topsides was his contribution to how a real boat should be finished off.

What I have not yet been able to establish is if tumblehome reverting to flare is/was a feature of any Malay craft and what the proper term for this feature is anyway.

Time to build a new boat

For some time I have been thinking about a new boat for myself. Building one that is. Before I can really get started I need to sell Seapod. Lovely though she is, I can’t accumulate boats so … Seapod is for Sale. I built her in 2008 and have used her each summer since. I now want to build another boat for myself (i.e. the sort of boat any normal client would never commission) and can’t justify keeping Seapod when I do.

Update: Seapod was sold to the first viewer – and now lives in North Berwick.


One of the good jobs over this winter has been to assist with the winter refit of the Cornish Pilot Cutter, Lizzie May. On a boat of this size, used for chartering, there are always a collection of broken locker catches, sticking doors and minor breakages to attend to. One of the more photogenic tasks relates to Lizzie May’s tender and has a nice tale attached.

When Lizzie May was built by Luke Powell, way back in 1999, she was supplied with a traditional clinker tender built by one Will Stirling. At some point the yacht (if that is the right word) and her tender were separated and subsequent owners had to make do with inflatables. On a trip down south over the winter Jerry, Lizzie May’s owner, was offered her back and jumped (I think) at the chance. After a lot of oil poured into her inside and a grey paint job to her planking she arrived in Granton (winter berthing) to be re-united with her ‘parent’.

There is no evidence of dinghy chocks on deck so she was originally stored, I presume, inverted over the coachroof and skylight. Anyway, Jerry decides that it makes more sense to store her right way up so chocks are made up (by me) and a cover is measured for and made (by Fabricworks).

So, on a very very wet day I drill a few holes in the coachroof, bolt in the chocks and we fit it all together. The arrangement looks, I think, quite fitting.

I was initially sceptical about ‘right way up’ storage on deck but can now see three big advantages.

– somewhere to put the fenders (and lots of other junk)
– no need to roll the tender over when launched and recovered
– light still gets through the skylight

The gap between the tender and boom is not large (some surgery was needed to the stemhead to ensure clearance – sorry Will) but she fits on deck rather well – for a counter sterned boat ‘only’ 42′ LOD.

Assuming that she gets well lashed down when it blows hard she should stay in place. In harbour she will enable skipper and crew to arrive ashore in considerably more style than last year. I do hope that yacht and tender manage to stay together second time round!

BTW Lizzie May is a charter boat and can be booked.

Another year

Well, another year is just about over and I’m still working as a boatbuilder. This year has been pretty varied and I had my first quiet patch this year with little to do for a couple of months. Fortunately it was sailing weather so quite a lot of that got done this year.

Finishing the year I’m in a cold, cold shed (or it was last week) building a glued plywood dayboat (a Drascombe Peterboat). Last week, just before Christmas, it was -8C inside when I arrived and eventually warmed up to -6C by mid afternoon. All glueing gets done in a tent of course.

After a couple of years doing restoration and repair work it’s great to be building another boat from scratch. Here she is just before planking started.

Happy New Year to you wherever you are.

Puffin the Peanut

The manufacture of the Peanut class dinghy was, from what I can gather, a job creation scheme that took place in Norway in the early 1960’s. You can read a bit more about it but for me, Puffin the Peanut was a great re-finishing project.

Owned by Richard since about 1964 Puffin had, by the time that I met her, been languishing un-used (in a garage) for a number of years. A quick inspection established that there was basically nothing wrong with her and that all that was really needed was a good varnish job.

Puffin’s hull, hot molded from 5 x 1mm veneers was glued up using (I guessed by the dark coloration) Resorcinol and seems to have fared at least as well as most glued laminate work done in Scandinavia at that period. Across the whole hull I found only one tiny area where the external laminate was separating from the underlying veneer. A small amount of epoxy resin injected into the void and squeezed back out soon cured that one. Other than that the only remedial work was to replace the scratched plastic rubbing strip with a light (6mm) rebated oak strip.

The thwarts were taken out and set aside to assist with re-finishing and I set to, carefully, with a heat gun.

Stripped and sanded back, the original veneers start to show through

The super lightwheight rubbing strip needs a fair number of clamps to stay in contact with the deck edge.

And once a few build coats of varnish are applied the hull starts to show her true colours.

I stopped when I got to the seventh coat but would probably of liked to add a couple more. Nevertheless, Richard was delighted with the result and saw Puffin, I think, in better condition than her had ever seen her before.

The oars, stripped, oiled and re-leathered looked, I think, fitting. She was then ready for transport back to Port Appin and her next lease of life.

Sail and Oar

When I built my peapod as both a sailing and rowing boat I assumed, as someone who mainly sailed, that I would use it as a sailing boat. This I do – when there is wind, but when the wind drops I have been discovering that rowing can be fun too.

Earlier this summer we took Seapod to the West Coast and had a good weekend sailing from Toberonochy. Pictured her are Mary and myself in Seapod trying to keep ahead of both Ewan and Ken in Kelpie (his sprit rigged semi dory) and Adrian Morgan (enjoying a sail in an Oughtred Whilly boat). Humm.. This plywood boat stuff could be infectious you know.

Photo (c)Richard Pierce, 2010

After that weekend I realised that our oars, designed for an 8′ tender with a 4′ beam are, at 7′ 6″ just too short for Seapod (beam 5′ 3″). The relevant authorities suggested that an oar length of about 10′ would be suitable so I set to and made up a new pair in time for Crinan Classics. At Crinan the weather was dire and it blew old boots so we sailed a bit (between the gales) but failed to row. However, since then I have been getting into the habit of heading out for a row when there is no wind for sailing. The new oars make a huge difference to rowing pleasure.

Last sunday was a case in point. About 3 knots of breeze (at best), sunshine and a fair bit of tide running on the Forth. I got to the boat, dumped all the sailing gubbins on the ground and was on the water in 10 minutes. Rowing upstream – with the tide at this stage – I was overtaking yachts drifting nowhere. A stop after lunch at Limekilns, somewhere I had never visited while sailing, was a pleasant break and then I headed back downstream with the ebb. A quick play in the eddies round beamer rock (never been that close before) and a hard pull across the river against the tide and I was back on the slip. A bit sore perhaps – but a great afternoon on the river.

Rowing nowadays is so unusual I had a well meaning fisherman in a rib stop by and ask me if I was OK or did I need help. He must have thought that my engine had broken down (on a double ender?).

Sore toes

If it’s a while since this blog was updated that’s because I generally get round to doing so when I’m either ill or injured.

This is one of those injured ocassions as I dropped a 12′ hardwood beam on my big toe yesterday. Where were my steel toe-capped boots you ask? Well, I was wearing them all day (working on Scimitar) but took them off when I got home. When I just popped into the garage to try and sort out a bit of the mess that lurks everywhere I lifted the end of – and then dropped a beam – which hit my big toe quite hard.

The wood, which had been scavenged from the beach, is still a bit of a mystery. Dark red, coarse grained, non interlocking – obviously durable in a marine environment. None of the usual suspects could offer and answer. We found 8 beams, each 12′ or so long and about 4″ x 5 1/2″ in section. Apart from a nail through each of the halving joints at the ends – no embedded metal – held together by dowels and loose tongues. A jetty structure I suspect. Anyway, It was loaded up on the trusty trailer and brought home in order to injure my toe.

Grrr. There must be a better use for the timber than breaking my toe!