It’s almost the New Year

Don’t forget, we are still in B(oat) time at the moment. Immediately after Christmas I had been rather pleased with progress, even though we had taken a couple of steps back. But we had stabilised the platform on which the bloody boat 1 and I was keen to press ahead with the build. I refitted the second plank, fixing it in place with the cable ties. I was now a little worried about how the whole lot would come together. I knew I had to fit in place a few cross bulkheads and it looked to me as if they would be tight to get in place.

So far I had been following a build plan that seems to be generally accepted in the various books on building plywood boats – stitch the planks together then fit the cross members before using epoxy to glue it all together. However, I could see that this might be difficult. My stature is that of the hooker of a third fifteen rugby team before the game went all professional – short and stout 4 – and I knew I would not be able to reach over the top of plank three to apply epoxy to the seam on the bottom plank ( I could barely do so over plank 2). 5 It was pretty obvious that the assembly would be far too loose to maintain it’s shape if I tried to “get aboard” to apply epoxy. …. I decided to abandon accepted practice and revert to the way I built model ships when I were a lad. Put the bulkheads in first and then fit the planks.

So, off came the plank 2 pair: I cut out the three full width cross bulkheads and the partial one that is to be situated at the aft end of the centre board case and which will form the aft end of the water ballast tank. (Did I say this boat was to be lightweight and water ballasted – well, if not, you saw it here first.) All these items were then positioned on the bottom plank and cable tied in place. Getting them in the right place was easy because the programme for the CNC machine had included blind slots in the planks to mark the position of the bulkheads.

This all seemed to work really well. The bulkheads went into place on plank 1 – with a bit of effort. I had to use cargo straps to hold it in place round the curve by the first bulkhead and to hold it in place with a temporary wood screw through the plank into the bulkhead.

The first two bulkheads – note the strap.

Nevertheless, I blithely proceeded to refit plank 2. And here’s where trouble hit. Despite the application of hot water to soften the plank, 6 there was an ominous and sharp “crack” as I forced the starboard plank into place, aligning it with the top of the bottom plank. Instead of the plank taking up a smooth curve round the edge of the first bulkhead, there was a rather pointy corner and no smooth transition from the bottom to the second plank..

Another problem to solve – and would the dreaded twist return?

I retired for the day to think about it.


  1. As the Owners agent refers to the whole project. 2
  2. This has been the soubriquet 3 that the Owners Agent has applied to all the boats so far
  3. The editor advises me that, strictly speaking, this term applies to the nickname given to a person. Boats do have (or acquire) a personality so I have overruled the editors objection.
  4. Not a teapot, for those of you who remember the rhyme
  5. I refer you to nomenclature in a previous post
  6. I had (fortunately) placed the full kettle on top of the woodburning stove that morning!

And a few steps back

Perhaps my enthralled readership has a more retentive memory than mine, 1 nonetheless I will adopt the practice of the Television producer and tell you what happened in previous episodes. So, if you can remember, skip the rest of this paragraph and move on. Still with me – I’m glad I’ve got company. I had been happily stitching the first couple of pairs planks together, leaving the cable ties loose to enable manipulation at a later date. I’d even got as far as fitting the top plank 2 to the port side of the boat when I discovered that I had managed to stitch a twist into the prow. Now read on.

No amount of pushing, shoving, twisting or other manipulation had any effect – so much for leaving the stitches loose. Here’s where work to a step or two backwards as the top and middle planks were taken off.  I wondered if I had problem of alignment with the trailer – this is being used as the build base for the boat, so I spent several fruitless hours using 17th Century methods 3 to level the trailer fore and aft and from side to side and checked the vertical alignment too (just in case gravity was misbehaving in the shed, under the influence of B time). In the end I gave up and spent fifty quid on a simple laser level isn’t click and collect a great invention. What did we do without Screwfix and Toolstation (to name but a few)?4

The following morning, after lighting the fire, I started to play with my new toy. It took me some time to work out how to get it to “self level” but once I had done so, I was away I made a “surveyors pole” and leapt around the place trying to find out how level the trailer was. Little progress was made until I started noting the readings at the various points (note 1 applies). Then I was off and the trailer and pair of planks were at the correct attitude.

The trailer was levelled from side to side and then fore and aft. Gravity seemed to be pointing downwards.

I thought we’d made progress.

But we still had a twisted prow.

I inspected the port and starboard examples of plank 1. 5 In theory, they should have been perfectly aligned one to the other, because I had matched and clamped them back to back before drilling the stitch holes. Practice had not read the theory, because I noticed that the two halves of this plank did not quite align fore and aft – the starboard plank was about an eighth of an inch forward of that on the port side. I convinced myself that this could induce the twist and, with a few light blows of a heavy hammer, moved them relative to each other and

 (drum roll)

the twist was fixed…..Full steam ahead tomorrow. But it was Christmas so that ended work for a couple of days.


I knew I had a reader! I’ve had a comment to the blog. Saxisgood wants to know where the coffee maker is in the main workshop. Baldly, there isn’t one. It’s not a matter of power supply capacity (although the lights do dim when I power up the angle grinder). Nor is it a matter of the builder not liking coffee. The delicate fact of the matter is the absence of any facility to dispose of the used coffee…..


  1. My Latin master (a long time ago) accused me of having a memory worse than a sieve – ‘at least the sieve retains something’ he said. I agreed and went on to fail Latin 0 level more times than I cared to count. This condemned me to study engineering at the “Godless institution in Gower Street” rather than reading “Natural Sciences” at some Oxbridge college.
  2. I understand from the designer that my terminology is incorrect. The bottom plank (which to me forms the bottom of the boat and therefore should be so named) should be called plank 1, with the subsequent planks numbered accordingly. So the top plank should be called plank 3. Given the problem referred to in note 1 (see above) I suspect that the nomenclature will become pretty confused throughout this blog.
  3. Or probably much earlier methods
  4. Please note, I make no claim to be an influencer. This blog does not monetise its click rate.
  5. I warned you about nomenclature.

A few steps forward

Welcome back, my patient reader. In the previous blog I posited that the boat build has it’s own B space / time continuum and I should have made clear that this blog is included within it. At the time of writing the blog is just about in the third decade of the 21st century CE. The author has to bring it a little closer to real time as he is forgetting where he has got to (something to do with that incurable disease we all get – AGE.

During the Festive Season I was able to escape from some family duties to the Small Items Workshop1 where I had placed the components for the centreboard, rudder and rudderstock, before the Christmas break. In between Mince pies and Turkey sandwiches2, I found time to assemble these parts.

The centreboard is comprised of 5 layers of ply: each of the middle three sheets has a hole cut into it so that sheet lead can be added to increase the righting moment provided by the centre board as the boat heels. After gluing four of the layers together, sheet lead was added to fill the hole and the final outer layer of ply was bonded to the complete the centreboard. But it is still not finished – it awaits being profiled by the angle grinder  3 and then having glass fibre cloth glued all over it.

It will have to go to the boat shed for these messy operations.4  A roll of lead sheet was purchased from the local builders merchant at great expense, the lead was cut into lengths to fill the hole; 12.5 kilos of lead in all.

The middle three sheets of the centre board and the 12.5 Kg of lead

The one half of the bottom of the boat (sorry, plank 1 to use the designers terminology) was placed on top of the other and matching holes drilled along their mating edges. The first cable ties were threaded into place and then the bottom was unfolded. The ports and starboard second planks were then stitched to the outer edges of plank 1. It was beginning to look like a boat.

Adding more planks

An attempt was made to fit the top plank but I noticed a problem – the prow had developed a alarming twist……this was nothing to do with the recent New Year celebrations.

Was the twist eliminated? – find out in the next exciting instalment of Riff Raff – Build a boat.


  1. The Small Items Workshop (SIW), is the garage and is integral with the house so the permission had to be sought from the Owners Agent for this to be allowed.
  2. I’ve been reminded by the Owners Agent that the family (including me) had delicious roast fillet of beef for Christmas lunch. OOPs – I hope my Vgan readers are not upset by this revalatiion.
  3. I would point out that the angle grinder is not a semi autonomous machine – it does require an operator.
  4. The Owners Agent is very clear that such operations are NOT to be carried out in the Small Items Workshop


Gentle reader, you have probably realised that the boat build has it’s special B time/ space1 and the builder has been lost in B space for the last few months.

Nonetheless, I think it’s time that I ensured that B time and space coincides with normal time: after all, it is the start of a new Decade.

I hope you have enjoyed the festive season. The Owners Agent and I have been mildly cultural, taking in a ballet and a couple of exhibitions in London rounding it off with the latest in the Star Wars series. But the boat build has not been forgotten and it’s probably time to get this blog up to real time.

I left you (only last week) in late October, having brought the flat pack boat to the tent in the cow shed, now known as the boat shed. The sheets have been unpacked and some of the parts have been cut out and it is now time to make a start. There’s a lot of gluing to be done.

Several of the components are more than eight feet long 3 ,which is longer than the plywood sheets – so they have to be joined. They have cunningly shaped fingers at the point of the join – the slight snag was that they were cut from the sheet with a slightly under sized cutter, so could not be coaxed together, even with a large mallet. Happy hours were spent fettling the parts to fit. The weather turned cold which would have made the curing of the epoxy glue a long time affair (if ever). So, with the Owners Agent’s permission, these were brought to the warmer house.

The “fingers” forming the join of plank 1 – the bottom of the boat

The gluing went well but there was then the problem of taking these now long and flimsy parts back to the boat sheet. A couple of builder’s old planks4 solved the problem.

Now it was time to get the workshop really ready!

Getting ready.

But B time is still several weeks behind normal time.


  1. L space derives from Terry Pratchett and the library at the Unseen University. Time slows down in L space and all L spaces are interconnected2
  2. At least, I think that’s the idea – go and read the books yourself
  3. Approximately 2.44 metres for those of a Napoleonic disposition.
  4. Remember, the boat shed was a builders junk lot after the last calf had left.

Getting Organised (or not)

I’ve become aware that this blog could become intensely boring* if I’m not careful – so any suggestions from my reader(s?) would be welcomed. The handbook on blogs says I shoud engage with my readership, not to mention commodify my blog. I vaguely know what the first of these means but making it a commodity? Perhaps I should fashion and market a nifty line in woodworking tools, or articulate and publish the 10 useful habits of amatur boat builders that I could subsequently self publish in a useful hand book, delightfully illustrated and the knock down price of 20.99 USD (delivery extra). How about some plywood boat building leisure wear, pre coated with a generous layer of sawdust and epoxy resin to a random (and different) design on each item so that each one becomes a unique collectors item?

I think not. But keep the ideas coming!

Or a readers question and answer session.

Martijn from Holland asks why I’m building the thing** out of plywood and not using ‘conventional’ lapstrake method rather than using stitch and glue?

He then, helpfully, provides the answer “It takes a bit more woodworking skills (and time) in the early stage, but you’ll make partially up for that since the amount of fairing and sanding in the later stage is reduced.”

Martijn, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. *** I have to admit that my woodworking skills are rudimentry – I can hold a saw in the right way and can use a chisel and a plane but I’ve never made a decent cabinet making joint in my life, let alone a scarf joint for a length of wood. OK, I did spend 12 weeks of my life learning how to file pieces of metal flat, square and parallel but that was a long time ago, in a workshop far away. **** There is a physical reminder of this period:

The Michelin dice! Circa 1963

But I digress. Before I could start I had to get organised. Firstly, a chimney for the fire. Ebay and Gumtree were scoured and observed for several weeks and eventually the right parts materialised. There were even a few feet of suitable stove pipe in the bulders junk in the other end of the shed. Brickes were needed to hold the stove up and then we had the trial lighting up. The shed filled with smoke. I’d left the damper on the chimney shut. Then it rained and, with the exception of today (28th December), it seems to have done so ever since. I had to source cowl for the chimney – I had some sheet aluminium lying about at home so was able to make a crude conical device – but it seems to work.

Then a stock of firewood was needed. How much could I beg or steal? The Owners Agent and I have become observers of building sites and skips – no waste wood or unused pallet is safe….An electric chain saw was acquired.

The trailer was unloaded and the various sheets of plywood were examined. It’s like a big Airfix kit – each sheet has various parts on it, cut out with little tabs holding them in the sheet. Two minutes work with the electric jig saw releases each part – perfectly formed. In fact,one lifts a sheet too impetuosly the parts release themselves. The sheets were stacked on a couple of pallets and left in a corner of the shop.

The centreboard and part of the rudder

We were almost ready to go.


* Or for nerds only

** Help, I need to think a name for this boat

*** As far as I know, there will be no physical assault on nails during the upcoming build procedure.

**** Not in another Galaxy – sorry Star Wars fans – but Stoke on Trent, when it boasted of Stanley Matthews and a steel works or two.

Looking for a boat shed in Buckinghamshire

So far, my regular reader will know that, having sold Riff Raff, my Swallow Yachts BC23, because I was too unbalanced* to sail her any more, I’ve been pursuing the idea of building a smaller boat – a simple one with but one sail and as few bits of string to control it as possible. And one that I could make using sheets of plywood and the pre – historic method of construction – stich and glue. Although I intended to use cable ties for the stiches and Epoxy resin as the glue.

The project, codenamed Yellowhammer to reflect the UK political mood of the late summer of 2019, looked like it had fallen off it’s perch. The design was more or less finished and the CNC machine programmed to cut the plywood but I had no where to build her.

The Owers Agent and i had “downsized” from our Edwardian family home to a 1960’s “town house” at the start of my attempt to sail round Britain ( see ). This “new” house boasts an integral “double garage” which would just about contain two early mini’s ** so there was no hope of building it in there. Besides which, as the Owners Agent remarked, ‘just think of all the dust’.

Whilst Boris was negotiating with the EU, and Jeremy was sitting in the fence, I spent over a month looking for small workshop in the local area. It’s surprising how many little “industrial estates” exist in apparently agricultural buildings. They’re mostly car repairers of one sort or another, with the occasional woodworker or other craftsman. But they are all full. Having tracked down the owner of each place (and that wasn’t easy, for reasons best known to themselves) the usual anwer was “No mate, sorry we’re full”. ***

I hadn’t thought to talk with the owner of the barn where I had stored Vagabond – i knew his places were all used for agriculture. But one day I bumped into him and took the opportunity to explain my predicament. ****

He said he might have something suitable and took me to see it:

And this was after the jungle had been cleared from nearby.

It wasn’t exactly prepossessing on the outside but there was space inside that seemed to be out of the rain. It had been (variously) a chicken breeding barn, a calf raising shed (fitted out the Min of Ag specification circa 1960) and a storage place of the various junk that a large building firm acquires during 20 years trading. It was now going to be a boat shed.

After a little negotiation during which I was able to ensure that the sliding doors almost closed, and electricity would be available and the space would be cleared I agreed to take posession from the end of October. There was no heating – but the landlord put my in touch with a useful source of pre owned (sorrt pre-loved) wood burning stoves….

The larger junk was pushed to one side and I got to work, removing about 50mm****** of various layers of unspecified detritus from the floor and installing the stove (the chimney was fitted later). I even painted the concrete floor in an attempt to reduce the dust. 


The space was, if anything, too big and there were far too many drafts and sources of rubbish, so I built a tent within the space, using cheap(ish) tarpaulins. Lighting and power was installed by the landlord and he personally did the brickwork to make the doors work. An ACROPROP was generously supplied to improve the structural stabiltiy at the west end. The result became quite acceptable (in my eyes).

The Tent – with triple folding doors!

Just in time, too, for the plywood had been cut. Martina took me west to the coast of Wales to collect my flat pack boat (and another trailer). We sped homeward, with Martina hadly noticing the load (a little different to the journeys towing Terence with Riff Raff or Vagabond on board): the trailer was nudged through the doorway of the boatshed and that of the tent and I was ready to start.



* Physically, that is. You, the lone reader is free to judge my condition regarding other forms of balance!

** But only if you got out of them and pushed them into it with the car doors shut .

*** One such entrepreneur told me he’d keep my phone on file and call me if one of his tenants retired or died.

**** when I got the opportunity, after he’d told me how the Irish were dumping cows on Britain before Brexit happened and how he could’t get a good price on his cattle as a consequence.

***** 2 inches for any transatlantic readers

Early winter blues – part the second*

The evenings are now really drawing in: sunset in suburban Buckinghamshire is now around a quarter past four. Plenty of time in the evening to contemplate next summer, or even do something in preparation for it.

My loyal reader may rember my last post – as well as blethering on about crossing the North Sea, I mentioned projects not quite forgotten. Come on – it was in the first paragraph….

I had mentioned that I was thinking about building a boat and a half size Swallow Bay raider seemed a good idea. Would the yacht designer from Cardigan let me have a set? This was not rejected out of hand but deftly turned (by him) into another design project and voer the course of a couple of evenings in a bar, some “homework” and several phone calls, the self build project emerged. It just so happened that the Yacht designer was thinking of a tender for his yard….

The design was more or less finalised at the Southampton boat show:


A little Lug sail dinghy – water ballasted, of course, with a carbon fibre mast and yard but a wooden boom (so, as he said) you can mount more stuff on  it. Just under 5 metres long, with an open well** before the mast for anchors and the like and some sort of “electric” pod in another well forward of the rudder.  Quite how this pod could be lifted from the water when not is use was left vague – another problem for me to solve at a later date.

After some persuasion, the rudder was configured to be vertical and mounted on pintles rather than bolted to the transom.  A lifting centreboard, a well just aft of it where the water ballast would both flood in and flood out. Oars (now that’s a novelty for me) and precious little storage so a day sailer……Expected weight – less than 200Kg. By now the project had been given a code word – “yellow hammer” – no relation to that envisaged by Boris and his team.

I was expecting plans and lots of jig saw work but no – software and NC milling machines would make light work of cutting the panels out of 6mm ply.

“I think it best to start with a model” – no problem – at set of bits at 1 inch to the foot arrived in the post a few days latter and I spent a happy hour or two working out which bit was what:


The bottom, side planks, various bulkheads and the deck were pretty easy to spot but what on earth were the two parts that I’d marked up as W in the picture? ***

Another happy few hours were spent using instant glue to stick the model and my fingers together**** and a rough version of most of the boat took shape.20191006_175754

After further discussion with the designer a deal was struck – he’d provide me a set of full size parts and it just happened that he had a second hand trailer for sale – but, it was emphasized, Swallow Yachts is NOT returning to its roots in the marketing and sale of kits.

A delivery date was set for October – but where was I going to build it? What about at home – in the1970’s sized double garage. 

Even when cleared out of rubbish, tools and the general storage of stuff that you keep after you have “downsized” a pair of 1960’s minis would only just about fit. It wasn’t long enough!

So was the whole project stymied from the start? Had Yellow hammer failed to fly?


* an old Goon show mis-use of an ordinal number where normal practice is to use a cardinal number **

** I think there would be some diy added here, otherwise everything will fail out when the inevitable capsise occurs.

*** It turns out that they are formers to bend the transom into shape

**** I’m obviously in training for participating in Extinction rebellion events.