Pathfinder project post, May 2022
In this post I don’t want to just write a long or short list of the work that I got done on the boat this week – although I will do that, rather I want to explore some of the things that iv’e been thinking about for when I get to the detail and fitting out stage which isn’t far off now. Some of the kind of things iv’e been thinking about might be thought of as ‘green’ solutions to old problems although I detest the term because very little about sailing is actually ‘green’ – even plywood, epoxy resin , modern ropes and sails can only be high end products of a very industrial world. There again, some of the detail is just detail and there’s a lot of that to be going on with – in fact I think it was Olin Stephens who said “boats are a mass of detail” …….and it’s the detail that takes the time.
This green thing…..
So today then my main intention for the post was to talk about some of the features of a boat that might be thought of as green or less green – it’s a basically silly definition though because boats and sailing are certainly not ‘green’ although maybe a bit less not green than a big motor boat with big stinky diesels !. The kind of thing I was thinking about with this post and for my own project is the possibility of going engineless completely or maybe doing an all-electric boat……not that I think that an electric boat is a ‘green’ concept because it still needs a high end battery and power unit, that’s got to be made in a big industrial plant somewhere and then we’ve still got to make the electricity. On the engine/no engine side I do still favour having a small motor because of past experiences in arriving off the Brittany coast in very little wind, dog tired after a long passage and having to make several miles up an estuary against a foul tide ; hard work with an oar and easily done with even the smallest outboard motor.
As a general principle I want to think of the Pathfinder as an engineless boat and to sail the boat in that manner – that’s mainly a mental game of not relying on an engine which just means mostly being able to sail well in light winds, to play our strong tides to the best effect and then to apply muscle to oar and sweep when needed.
Some of the other things that iv’e been thinking about do coincide with looking at the middle of the boat where the battery , the galley and the food locker are going to be – then thinking about battery, stove, cooking gear and suchlike. I’m planning for the biggest single AGM battery that I can shoehorn into the central compartment because that will form essential ballast – to that effect the battery wants to be as heavy as I can get it so that means ‘simple’ tec rather than Lithium high-tec unless Mr Musk finds a way of building super efficient Graphene batteries at some time in the future ; for now though a simple lead/acid battery won’t break the bank and a decent quality one should have a service life commensurate with the future of the boat and my own sailing life.
Iv’e been thinking a lot about the simple aspect of cooking on the boat and of course making the essential coffee that keeps me going – I notice that few of the established dinghy cruisers make a brew on passage whereas I often do, especially when I’m on a 24+ hour channel crossing where i brew up every couple of hours. My first thought was to set the boat up with 2 different cooking options – the first being the way that many of the Mini-Transat racers do it in their lively little 6 meter yachts….using something like a ‘Jetboil’ stove suspended inside the boat ; then as a separate arrangement having a larger and more stable stove set-up for main cooking. For several reasons I don’t like small gas camping stoves except when I’m near large commercial campsites and where I used to scavenge half used gas containers and where some years I hardly ever bought gas because I ran my trips on other people’s thrown away canisters….amazing that someone will just throw away a half full gas cylinder worth £12 or so.
Gas (Butane or Propane) is expensive of course and I really notice that now with the price of Camping-Gaz which I most often use for main cooking on our our camping/road trips – I still own 4 or 5 of the largest camping gaz cylinders because they’re what I bought for my Frances 26 and then used for a while on the Liberty ; the most efficient (cost-wise) way of buying gas is the largest cylinders possible and definitely not the tiny and almost useless aerosol style cans. During our camping trips Iv’e used a second option for many years where the fuel is basically free and on boats I have largely swapped over to alcohol stoves – my chosen stove being the all stainless steel Origo/Electrolux which will run on methylated sprits (UK) alcool brule’ (France) or bio-fuel (alcohol) . On the little Liberty I stocked up with the 2 liter meths bottles that our local hardware store sell at about a fiver a pop and I used to keep up to 10 liters on the boat for long trips in Brittany until I discovered that most French supermarkets carry their cooking alcohol in larger containers.
Iv’e no idea how to judge whether alcohol or meths is a ‘greener’ option than gas except that i know the basic chemistry of alcohols and that many of that chemical group can be ‘brewed’ quite easily and then concentrated by simple distillation…..don’t ask how I know how to do that !. Our camping option by the way is using a battery powered wood gasifier stove and I was all set up to make a short video about using one – while it’s an excellent piece of kit and that iv’e just been messing around with mine using broken up plywood waste from my project it wouldn’t be the safest option on a lively boat….not the worst option either because gas problems on boats are both catastrophic and well understood.
Anyway, my secondhand alcohol stove has arrived so……
If you’re wondering where all of this is coming from then the simple explanation is that I’m at the stage where I have to start setting up to power the boat (and sweep it), to ballast it, to cook on it and so on…..another explanation is that iv’e always thought of this boat as my ‘bushcraft’ boat where sailing skills meet foreshore and woodland skills ; I used to teach the firecraft, cooking and camp-craft side of bushcraft and I intend to use a lot of that in my future adventures with this boat. The other side is that I’m greatly concerned by the use of the term ‘green issues’ by the so-called progressive and ‘Liberal’ left in a similar way to how ‘health and safety issues’ are used by anyone who wants to stop somebody else from doing something enjoyable…..my examples being wildswimming in lakes and rivers or climbing trees as a young lad. Green issues……seems to be one of the modern weasel-words that doesn’t actually mean what it seems to stand for and rather it seems to be a way of trying to beat us over the head with a big ‘green’ stick for force us one way or another or to buy certain products over others……or, in the end, just to justify higher taxation.
It gets worse I think….several years ago just down the road in Plymouth we had a visit from the highly vocal and opinionated Swedish girl who seems to only hate my generation ; anyway, long story told short but she then put to sea as ‘crew’ on a former ocean racing yacht built in high-end carbon fibre and all of the press seemed to go into a fap-fest about how ‘green‘ the adventure was……as if anything about a high end toy like a 60 foot racing yacht could be ‘green’. That’s one of the problems with the whole green idea – massive hypocrisy that we get preached to about whenever a current royal failure jets off to the world economic forum in their private jet and then comes back to preach the gospel of green and how we, the plebs, need to more green, whether that’s us not having cars, not having central heating or eating meat……or whatever is the current idiot myth of the green prophets.
You wouldn’t believe it but I actually started my writing day in a good mood !…..and if you’re wondering then I cut out a whole load of ‘going off on one’…..must be the paint fumes again.
Where I work is a small back bedroom converted to a work space and as I look out of our back window I’m basically looking through the foliage of the copper beech (Fagus sylvatica purpurea) that has recently opened it’s buds and gone into leaf…..the beech are one of the last plants that I started off here to go into leaf. While I was working I got a sudden flash of color and movement in my peripheral vision as a small yellow and grey bird landed on and grabbed onto the telephone cable coming into the house – it swung there for a moment and then took off again vertically up towards the cottages gutter line…..i suspect and hope that they’re nesting up there. I don’t know my birds well enough to tell you what it was – a Tit perhaps , with the gardens maturing and far more trees on site I noticed this year what a huge increase we’ve had in our garden insect life and bird life…..one is based on the other I think.
The hull changed dramatically again this week when I used all of the previous week’s effort of making and dry fitting parts in two long days of finishing and gluing on quite large bits of boat : the foredeck and fore/side decks all went on as did the stern deck, it’s doubler, the cuddy face and one side and finally the aft side deck and it’s bearer. That was quickly said but in total that was a whole week of work finishing this morning with planing and sanding the deck edge all round, backing out about half of the screws and filling the holes. I even got under the foredeck and primed under there….oh, and prepped all of the holes to fasten the bunk/deck access hatches – that’s 48 holes bored, epoxy filled and bored again.
Today I left it a bit late to do the epoxy filling of the deck edge holes and I left the mixed resin standing in direct sun for a few minutes, then wondered why the pot was getting hot in my hand – a small amount of resin and filler went full exotherm in my hand and to be honest I should have just left the job until the end of the day but it does mean that I can sand everything flat again this evening.
The big visual difference is the cuddy I think – where I was a bit worried about the apparent height of the side when it was a bare panel of plywood it looks a lot different with the side window cut out – in fact it makes the cuddy look longer and lower. The awkward job this week was at the aft end of the cuddy side where the foredeck extension and the aft/side deck meet with the bottom edge of the cuddy side and the aft/side deck bearer ; there was some colourfull language when I was trying to bend in the side deck bearer which actually went in after the side deck was on…..it’s all on though. What I failed on was the aft/side deck coaming -I made several patterns with the orange plastic material you can see in the shed roof and none of them looked right….so that’s a ‘return-to’ job for next week.
I made a bit of a mistake with the side window attachment points so my first job next week is to cut those out with my power multi-tool and make some new ones – the new version will be plywood plates that are bonded onto the inside of the cuddy sides and which will have a smaller cut out leaving an internal flange to take the acrylic windows.
So, in this post there are two plans deviations going on – first is the open back cuddy as above and the second is a wider (deeper) stern deck. The original plans show a narrow stern deck which gets bored out for the mizzen, my version is a lot deeper because I intend to mount a long but narrow PV panel (Solar panel) there and either a 40 or 50 Watt semi-flexible panel should fit there – I’m thinking in terms of a large AGM battery under the mid deck and two solar panels to charge that with ….either one small panel either side of the foredeck or a larger one on the cuddy roof. Long term iv’e been thinking about an electric drive so I want as large a battery as I can take and as much charging power as I can fit. The only part of that which I have to fit during the build is the large AGM battery which I think will be similar to the one I fitted on my last cruising boat ; that was 160 Ah and I’m going up a bit with this build – the battery i’m intending to fit weighs in at 60 Kg so that will be most of the ballast weight accounted for.
At the moment and I suspect for a long time to come an all-electric boat is well outside my budget but a gert big battery would be useful in terms of it being most of the ballast plus it would mean being able to use a tillerpilot and a fixed VHF/GPS unit plus lights and electrical accessories….during my 110 day Brittany cruise for example I kept my power hungry laptop charged with the big ships battery and a tiny ( 20 Ah) PV panel. I may end up with as many as 3 Pv panels – one across the little aft deck and one each side of the cuddy roof.
In a series of posts last year I took an evidential/statistical look at the things that go wrong with boats at sea – the main outcome of that was something that I suspected was the case that the single largest cause of RNLI call outs to sailing boats and power craft was simple machinery failure…..the engine won’t start.
Some readers may remember this little incident reproduced here which happened during our last cruise with the little Liberty.
I was at anchor aboard the Liberty just off the entrance to Bow creek which is just about the last side creek of the tidal Dart before it narrows and thins out just before the Sharpham estate – my plan for that day being to drop down the Dart on the first of the ebb, hang a left at the entrance and make my way around Berry head and north across Torbay to meet up with my partner later that morning in Torquay itself. My problem was that the engine, a 6 Hp saildrive Mariner outboard just wouldn’t start and still wouldn’t start after tinkering for half an hour…..one thing I discovered was that the Ht lead was broken ; anyway, I decided just to have at it with the tide, the lightest of wind and my longest canoe paddle.
By kneeling well onto the side deck aft and the guardrail unclipped I managed to heel the boat enough to get the canoe blade to bite and I basically ‘power-stroked’ my way down the Dart – paddling on whichever side would give me the power side in the long curving river. It went well except for some anxious moments with one of the ferries and the rest of the passage was an easy sail……but it made me think about better alternative power for the ‘next’ boat.
As I said earlier the boat is just beginning to get some hardware and detail, this week it got it’s first bits and pieces actually fitted or at least prepared for ; the big eyebolt for the bobstay and winching point is epoxied in as is the small eyebolt that will take the board uphaul tackle……then lots of holes drilled , drilled again and epoxy filled for the access hatches.
Most days I mainly have to think about the small problems that i’m dealing with day to day on the build……like how ‘this‘ bit attaches to that bit or will do when I fit it , now though I have to start thinking about the details of the fit out where I have to make decisions soon about what I spend hard cash on. The battery comes quite high up on the list because I need to have it here to build the box for it and then fit the center deck around that ; it was funny last week when I cut out the glass coverings where the access hatches are and went “what’s this wire doing here?”…..the 2 runs of electrical cable I previously installed before fitting the bunk deck last year !.
I’m pretty sure that i’m going to set up for an outboard motor and I think that would benefit from having a plywood doubler inside the transom and which means working that out, making it and fitting it before I put the stern locker lid piece on……and sanding back the primer paint where I went and painted ‘cleverly’ before fitting the stern deck. I’ll talk about engine choice later on , right now i’m remembering a long slow passage from Fowey to L.Aber-Wrach and being glad of having an engine to power me up the estuary on a falling tide……long passage/very tired. I’m definitely also having alternative power and what I think that will be is a sculling oar and sweep oar at the least…..not sure if the boat can be rowed conventionally as she’s quite wide. My canoe paddle is getting it’s own stowage and lashing as this should be an easier boat to paddle with the canoe blade – with one side deck on and that side seats on iv’e already experimented with it’s paddling position.
The big things on the horizon are that Iv’e got to start looking around for a trailer for the boat and I think it’s going to have to be a break-back design and fully EU compliant which I think means it having a builders plate with the right words on it and me having the appropriate compliance certificate for taking it across to Roscoff on the ferry. This week iv’e also got to put together the enquiry and proposal for my intended sail plan and send that off to a sailmaker – if that goes to plan then I can finalize the rig specification and order the stock to build a birdsmouth section mainmast ; right now i’m thinking that the mizzen might be a simple alloy tube sliding down through a section of 60 mm PVC pipe set through the stern deck and stern locker. We have a company locally that can coat alloy so it might get powder coated or whatever coating is good for alloy tube….the mizzen by the way might have a sleeve as might the short gaff mainsail.
This week I simply carry on with main construction just like the last fortnight – this week I move around to the port side where my first job is to make the cuddy side and part bulkhead on the port side and then attach it and the port side deck ; the other port side jobs being to make a seat that side where I previously ran out of plywood , make patterns for the coamings and make a mock up of the cuddy roof. I’ll be doing lots of detail work too because what I tend to do now is main work during the day and then come back for an evening session and do some small jobs like for instance painting under the foredeck or side decks -it’s useful to have paint or epoxy coating going off overnight.
Next week I have to shift my main attention to the middle of the boat and to the cockpit where I have to start working out the arrangement of the big storage lockers and to getting the cockpit lockers ready to finish and close…..that reminds me that one important detail job aft (among many) is to work out where to mount the first of a pair of bilge pumps.
That’s about it for another week in the shed……see y’awl next week.