Saturday, December 30, 2006


The archaic meaning of the word ‘mistress’ is a woman loved and courted by a man. Now many a boat has been named ‘Mistress’ and you can see why. Men may court and love their boats more than they do their real-life mistresses or their wives after the courting and the sound of wedding bells have ceased.

Back in the early nineteen-fifties Edward Allcard sailed his 34 ft wooden yacht, “Temptress” from New York to Plymouth, via Casablanca and Vigo, and if my memory serves me correctly, a beautiful stowaway revealed herself some days after his departure from New York. The tale of a hidden maiden aboard a yacht that was no more than 34 ft in length leads one to believe Edward was not entirely honest with his account. From memory, the story in English newspapers majored on the theme of a mistress who had no passport, no money, and was desperate to gain entrance to the UK. By her feminine charms Edward was bowled over, despite his superficial protestations, and instead of taking her back to New York, he willingly accepted her as a crew member.

Little of this may be accurate, but the theme of a link between mistresses and boats is certain. I for one know of the charms of the many boats I have owned, mostly small, and hence beautiful - if the saying, ‘Small is beautiful’ is true. My latest mistress is ‘Faith’; she’s a 14 micro-sailboat being built in my garage. Some would not describe her as being beautiful, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and to me she’s very beautiful and worthy of my adoration. I sense there is a major difference between ‘Faith’ and all my previous mistresses for I’m convinced she will be with me until my dying days. She has all I require of a sea maiden: cheap to keep, not too demanding and she knows how to handle stormy waters; when there’s a calm sea she’s patient and contented. She’ll look after and care for me until my need is no more.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Parts you don’t see

Stonemasons of the past, like those who built St Paul’s cathedral, took enormous pride in their work. After a long apprenticeship attaining the skills of their trade, a master stonemason would have given them their papers certifying they had carried out their indentureship, with an endorsement that they had gained the experience to fit them as qualified stonemasons. So the skills and knowledge of the profession were passed from one generation to the next.

Stonemasons specializing in church buildings would probably have been devout Christians with a calling to serve their God by using their hands to glorify Him. Having such a powerful motivation, it’s not surprising that they carried out their carving with enormous care, even shaping ‘secret’ gargoyles only seen by God to the best of their ability. Unless the mason did his job well he could not be satisfied when engraving his particular identification mark into the stone, just as a silversmith, with pride, embosses his registered hallmark into the silverware he has created.

Boat builders of note are not ashamed to attach their trade symbol and an identification number to any vessel leaving their yard. Their very reputation is stamped into each vessel. They have a double motivation to make sure that boats crafted by them are sound, because it’s not just their reputation that’s at stake, but they also have a responsibility to ensure the vessel will not let the crew down.

While I am building my own small sailboat, I am very conscious of doing my best to make her fit for her purpose – that’s to build her soundly, and to construct her according to the designer’s plan. For the derivation of the greatest satisfaction I press myself to achieve the highest standard of craftsmanship of which I am capable, and, like the church stonemason, I want those parts not seen by the casual observer to be of that same quality as those parts readily seen. I am not seeking my own glory in any of this, nor can I truly say I am doing it for God’s glory, but those parts of the boat hidden from view must be done well for my own satisfaction, and also for an assurance to myself that all will be well when boat and I are tested by the sea.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Comfort Afloat

Physical comfort is relative, but there can come a point when one is not at all comfortable. People will pay a lot to have comfort, and those who are in pain will make sacrifices to rid themselves of it so that they can have a measure of comfort.

What material comforts would you have aboard your ideal yacht? Standing headroom could be the most important requirement, but for some this would be well down on their list, because they would argue that most of the time when aboard their yachts they sit, rather than stand. In that case, comfortable seats would be their priority. When moving about the boat, being able to hang on to substantial hand rails or grips can add to the crew’s comfort and improve safety aboard. Any constraints restricting movement within a boat that can be removed will add greatly to the comfort of the crew - simple things like having floorboards that slope upwards either side of the cabin sole to compensate for the angle of heel when the boat is sailing to windward, and locating the galley near the centre of the yacht to reduce movement when in a seaway; and having a locker for the waterproof clothing at the entrance to the cabin so that wet items need not be taken into an area that should remain dry.

The Paradox sailboat that I am building is at the stage where the interior is being built and this subject of ‘comfort’ is high on my agenda. Although I shall not be have standing headroom, unless the hatch is open, I’m trying to make the boat as comfortable as possible. Perhaps a younger man would be more concerned about making his boat work with a minimum of comforts, maybe because of his limited budget or because he simply does not have the patience or time to make her more comfortable. For me, comfort is a priority, and therefore if I can build my tiny boat so as to be easy to operate with the minimum of effort, this will add greatly to my comfort. Fortunately, Paradox is well designed in the ergonomic sense; most items of ‘furniture’ within the cabin are just right, for example, the steering lines are at the correct height, so that little effort is required to hold them, and the transverse seat is at the exact height to enable the crew to see the horizon through 360 degrees, but there are touches a builder can add, such as providing a place for pots and pans so they can be within easy reach of the cook, and having pumped fresh water, rather than bottles with screw-on tops. I like the idea of being able to get at my crockery and cutlery without difficulty; therefore I have devised very simple racks for them within hand’s reach. I’ll be buying a comfortable waterproof cushion, similar to the sort provided with wheelchairs for their users who sit on them for long periods of time. I shall have mine, not just for sitting on, but for kneeling, especially when I’m preparing or cooking food at the galley. I’ve made a table that can be placed athwart the cabin for use when I’m seated on the transverse seat or when I’m lounging on the self-inflating mattress. This versatility means I’ll be able to use it as a navigation table, or for when I have a meal, or to support my computer, book etc.. My instruments, such as the compass, the echo sounder and the GPS, can be seen at a glance when I'm seated at the helmsman's seat.

Some boats are more comfortable at sea than others, and generally the comfortable ones are the heavy displacement craft, because their very heaviness cushions or reduces the effect waves have on the boat. For her length, Paradox is heavy, and the fact that she has a flat bottom lessens her tendency to roll - especially when sailing downwind, unlike narrow yachts with bulbous keels.

The fact that I’ll be able to operate my Paradox from inside the cabin when the weather is inclement, means I’ll be able to keep myself warm and dry, which will add greatly to my comfort. All in all, Paradox will be one of the most comfortable boats I will have had the pleasure of owning, although she’ll be my smallest 'proper' yacht.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Setbacks and Perseverance

To persevere is to continue in a course of action, in spite of difficulty or with little or no indication of success. My mother used to say, “Try, try again, and if you don’t succeed try again!” Sometimes that’s the lot of the boat builder, but for me, although I’ve had success with my latest project, building a Paradox trailer sailer, now and again, I have had to persevere until a particular item came right.

It is said that genuine Christian saints have this characteristic of ‘persevering’ with their faith - although they have their setbacks. Life for them is no bed of roses; indeed, because of their beliefs they can suffer ridicule and prejudice. Some would say that could apply to any person who practises a religion, and that atheists or agnostics also have their setbacks. The the rule of setbacks is universal,and perseverance may be needed to overcome them.

Boat building can become a sort of religion in which the rule of perseverance must be practised; without adherence to this rule it's unlikely a boat would ever be built. Without persistence, a boat builder is lost. He cannot be fainthearted. He must try, try and try again, until all problems are overcome. He has to be bold and confident. Once he doubts his ability to succeed, he is lost.

There can be little activity more stimulating for the boat builder than setting about his project. Whenever he tackles a new job, large or small, there is always a constant challenge. How best can each task be done well? He has to plan every sequence; then make available the necessary tools and materials before building that particular part. If the job goes wrong he must try again; perhaps by tackling it in a different way to achieve success. Perseverance is a fundamental characteristic of the successful boat builder.

By overcoming setbacks through perseverance the boat builder is richly rewarded. He has the satisfaction of seeing his progress, and, eventually, if he perseveres enough, he will have the greatest reward when he sees his finished vessel.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My Return Home

My last entry to this blog was about perfection and imperfection, and two months have passed since I considered the nature of these qualities.

While being in Australia, touring the eastern coastal margins by caravan, I have been challenged by the enormous variety to be found in nature - within the rainforests there are enumerable species of trees, plants, birds and butterflies, not to mention insects such as ants and termites, and, just to consider the variety of wonderful and beautiful orchids in the rainforests, is mind-boggling. All of these natural phenomena are marvellous to me, and so many of them seem perfect in their design and function, each being dependent on others for their survival. Take the shy cassowary as an example; this is a large bird that grazes on the fruit of the forest and unwittingly distributes seed via its droppings, thus sustaining the forest which the bird needs for its own survival and for the continuing existence of other creatures.

Travelling broadens the mind, so I’m told; although that may not necessarily be a good thing, particularly if one is easily influenced by harmful or bad practices readily accepted by those who live in foreign lands; for example, the white man through greed has decimated countless acres of Australian rainforest to replace it with sugar cane plantations and cattle ranches; in so doing he has virtually destroyed not only huge tracts of forests and the creatures within them, but the Aboriginal people who inhabited those areas for thousands of years without changing their nature significantly.

One effect my two month stay in Australia has had on me is to put things in perspective. It has shown me the vastness of the earth, and by contrast the smallness of man; yet despite his apparent insignificance he has wrought devastation on the planet. I confess I, to a degree, have by my boat building and travel by air to that ancient continent contributed towards man’s defilement of the earth upon which he depends for his future survival.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Imperfection and Satisfaction

Paul the apostle in the first book of Corinthians, chapter 13, verse 10, declares, ‘But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away.’ This statement is within a dialogue about the gifts of faith, hope and love, where the writer explains that love is the greatest of the three.

That ‘which is perfect’ refers to the second coming of Christ, when Christians will be perfected, and the fullest understanding and experience of Christ’s love will be known by them.

That ‘which is in part’ is the imperfection of the present age, where Christ’s love is known in some measure, but not in the fullest sense; therefore, for the Christian, perfection will be achieved on that blessed day when Christ returns to the earth for His saints. Meanwhile, there is no perfection here on the earth, which is subject to decay, as a result of the curse placed upon it by God. (Genesis 3:17-19)

What bearing does this have on our lives? Well, it affects us at all times. We strive for perfection, but we are bound never to achieve it. Frightening, isn’t it? Just imagine, when we travel by car, aeroplane or boat, none of these means of transport is perfect, and yet we have faith in them. Fortunately, more often than not, they do function safely, enabling us to reach our destination - despite their imperfections.

When I am engaged in building a boat for my own pleasure and satisfaction I always strive for perfection, and yet I know I can never achieve it. There have been times of disappointment, because I did not reach the standard I desired. On the other hand, although I did not attain complete perfection, what I did achieve was a higher standard than I would have obtained had I not striven for perfection. If I had set a lower standard, I’m sure I would have fallen below it, which would never have given me satisfaction.

By always striving for the best possible standards in all that I do, I create for myself opportunities for satisfaction - although the result of my efforts inevitably fall short of perfection; therefore the boat I am building will not be perfect, but there is the possibility that I may derive satisfaction from her.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


“I have a dream,” were the words of Martin Luther King, and what a wonderful dream - the equality of the races, a world without prejudice - but how impossible, because of the fallen nature of man. King’s dream was based on his belief of the Christian tenet of the equality of people before God, all created in the image of Him who made them.

It is said dreamers are very dangerous people, and why? Because reality is no barrier to their wildest ambitions, and they will overcome extreme difficulties to achieve what at first may appear to those without vision, impossible – flight to the moon was at first, only a dream, but without those wild dreamers who dared achieve the impossible against all odds, the world today would be as in the Dark Ages.

In our times there is no lack of dreamers; indeed, man’s accomplishment in scientific knowledge and application makes possible the fruition of dreams that were previously utterly beyond the reach of man. Perhaps not too far into the future, the fight against the common cold will be won. In times past, adventurers like Christopher Columbus took the boundaries of man beyond the horizon where he and his crew did not fall into an abyss. To achieve her dream, Ellen MacArthur sailed single-handed around the world faster than any other person, due in part to the technology that went into building her trimaran, but in the main, her achievement was dependent upon her unwavering belief in herself.

We all have our dreams; some are easily achieved, but others will never become a reality. My dream is to own a Paradox sailing boat, and to that end, I am working hard at building her, whenever I can find time. As she grows week by week, month by month, I can see there's a chance that my dream will become a reality, but when she'll be finished can only be a guess based on the length of time it has taken me to date. Therefore I assume that what remains to be built, i.e., the interior, decks and cabin top, will take at least the same amount of time it has to reach the current state, which would mean she could be on the water in the summer of 2007.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Beating the Weather

If I had wide enough access to my back lawn I would have built my Paradox sailboat there in a purpose built boat shed, but instead I’ve been forced to keep the boat in the garage on a trolley so that I can wheel her in and out between showers to give me space for building her on the driveway.

Yesterday afternoon the rain stopped, which meant I could take the two large, heavy pieces of the boat’s bottom into the house for joining together without getting them wet. The forecast indicated a dry sunny day for the bank holiday Sunday. This was the weather I was looking for, because there would be a period of 48 hours without rain – long enough for the epoxy to harden. My wife was away for the weekend, which meant I could have the house to myself without fear of impeding her movements in the lounge. By early evening I had glued the two pieces of plywood together while they were laid out on the lounge floor, the carpet suitably protected with plastic bin lining.

Last night I had a few restless moments when I fitfully woke and thought about the possibility that I may not be able to extract the glued pieces from the lounge, because together they might be too large, but my worry was unnecessary, because late Sunday afternoon I found I could easily lift the joined pieces on to their side, and by using three rollers I was able to slide them along the floor and out of the front door, where I levered them on to the upturned boat which was on her trolley. It really couldn’t have been easier.

I was rather chuffed with myself by having taken the initiative when I heard the forecast.

May of this year has been the wettest since 1983 and that would be the case to test my patience and ingenuity, since I am building my boat in the open air, but I mustn’t grumble, because I’m making good progress.

Fixing the bottom to the upturned hull will need to be done on a dry warm day and the long range forecast predicts the weather will improve over the next few days. I’m optimistically looking forward to the task.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Putting Things Right

Boat building is not like house building where most joints are at right angles or at forty five degrees, such as where bricks meet at the corners of a room or where the lintel and side frames of a door meet. Roof supports may be angled so the roof will shed water, but unless the building is very unusual there will not be many multiple curves or differing angles to test the builder, but with boat building some surfaces where they join can have variable angles such as a chine log following the curve of the hull while meeting frames or bulkheads at differing angles.

Well, it’s been my joy over the past fortnight to fix the sheer clamps and chine logs to the Paradox sailing boat I am building. Shaping them by hand while using a plane made me sweat, and when it came to forcing the chine logs into place with the aid of sash clamps a good deal of effort was needed to accomplish the task, but what a joy it was to see them in place. The next job was fitting the floor supports and water tank frames into the bottom of the boat. To make them level and in line with the chine logs transversely I used a straight edge to check them as I planed the edges that will come into contact with the bottom of the boat. There must be a good bond between them and the boat’s bottom.

Yesterday and today I fitted the baffle to the inside of the transom. It will prevent water entering the hull through the opening for the tiller and it will also act as a ventilator. Another little job I did was making the mould for the lower gudgeon and pouring the epoxy into it with loads of chopped strand matting. I was a bit surprised when it started to cure quickly because of the amount of heat generated by the chemical action during the solidification process. I’m wondering if I’ll be able to withdraw the copper tube wrapped in sticky tape which I placed in the mould to make a cylindrical hole for the pintle. If I get a good grip on it and sharply tap the gudgeon I’m hoping that will do the job. Failing that, I’ll have to heat the tube to melt the epoxy in contact with it.

In all of these and similar tasks there’s always a bit of fudging to make things right, because nothing is ever perfect and therefore it’s necessary to add a bit here or take bit off there until thing fits. There’s a saying that love can cover a multitude of sins, but the boat builder uses epoxy to hide a good many faults! Whitewash is a quick fix that covers for a little while, but good quality paint can give a really good finish to a moderate job, so there’ll be no whitewash on my boat, but plenty of epoxy and paint to put things right.

Monday, May 15, 2006


When building a boat, the sequence of events is crucial to a successful outcome, as is the case with many activities involving the putting together of materials and objects, such as when building a house, manufacturing a car or laying down a road; therefore it’s useful when the boat designer includes with his plans a sequence of construction. Matt Layden, the designer of the Paradox sailboat I’m currently building, does include such an instruction.

A flow chart drawn in preparation for building a boat could be a useful aid; for example, start with a comprehensive study of the plans to understand the building process, then note such things as: materials and tools required to complete the task; a rough timetable of when stages may be arrived at and what those stages comprise. Each stage will have its own sequence; perhaps all the small items should be built before assembling the hull, as was my course of action. Every individual item comprised of three or more parts, has to have an order of assembly; the parts themselves have to be fashioned then joined, before being protected by paint, epoxy or fibreglass.

A very useful feature of Paradox is that the sequence of building naturally flows, enabling each part to be shaped and joined to the previous ones. Get the initial parts right, then the other parts will determined by them. Measuring and checking before cutting wooden components is essential. Double checking and perhaps triple checking brings rewards, because errors are thereby avoided, saving materials and time.

I have made a few errors while building my boat, but fortunately none have been too costly in time, money or effort to put right. One thing I have become very aware of is the sequence of the building process. Get that right, the task becomes easier and building the boat is more rewarding.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Big Steps and Small Steps

Neil Armstrong, when he set foot on planet Moon said, “That’s one small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind.” It was a momentous event, one of great significance, heralding the exploration of the universe by man. Some time in the future, men and women will surely walk on Mars and explore further into space.

Neil Armstrong and “Buzz” Aldrin had landed their space capsule on the Sea of Tranquillity.

In our own lives we have those small steps that, in fact, accumulate to become giant leaps. There are days, hours, minutes and seconds when, with the aggregate of events, much is accomplished. For me, there was one such occasion yesterday, when after a 6 hours gluing session, my Paradox sailing boat at last resembled a real boat – albeit, without a bottom, a deck or a cabin. Until that moment to the untutored eye she would have been nothing more than a collection unrelated articles.

Figuratively speaking, for the boat builder, the process of building a vessel is a series of small steps, which, when linked together, become giant leaps, until finally, there are no more leaps and the boat is finished. Then, like the American astronauts when they touched down on the Moon’s Sea of Tranquillity, the boat builder can triumphantly declare, “The Eagle has landed.”

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Thinking Time and Working Time

“Sometimes I sit and think; other times I just sit!”

What has amazed me is the amount of time needed for working out how best to build each part of ‘Faith’, the Paradox sailboat I am currently building. Interpreting the plans correctly requires time; transposing the information to the materials takes time; checking everything is time consuming, but if care is not taken, mistakes can be made, which can be very expensive in time and effort.

Much time can be saved by spending time gathering information about how others have built their boats. In this respect downloading photos and articles from the Internet can be very helpful.

Working time is not always easy to come by because there are so many demands upon ones time. A whole day is very valuable, but even a half of a day can be useful. Quite often it’s a matter of fitting in the odd moment here and there, in between doing those things that have to be done.

A certain mindset is required – that’s a determination to overcome those demands that steal time from the project - time must be spent on building the boat, and yet important things must have the priority. Building the boat is secondary, or is it? This dilemma is a conundrum that poses a question of precedence.

The stage I’m at now is assembling the frames, transom, stem and side panels, prior to gluing them together. It’s a time for checking that everything fits snugly. To do this easily I’ve constructed a building trolley on which the boat can easily be taken in and out of the garage. Being able to work outside is less restricting than being in the confines of the garage and there is the advantage that the boat can be protected from the elements when I’m not working on her.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


I’ve just been watching Liverpool and Chelsea in the semi-final of the FA Cup, with the final score at 2-1 in favour of Liverpool, but how excited were the fans! I’m not really inspired by full grown men kicking around a ball, but I can see how passionate followers of players and teams become. In the end there can only be one winning team that takes the trophy, and the shareholders of their club rub their hands in glee as they know dividends will be coming their way.

No doubt many football enthusiasts will not understand how I can be excited and challenged by building a small wooden boat. Today was a case in point; the challenge of making the heel of the mast fit the step was one of those events. How could I fit the mast into the step socket which was attached to frame number 2? The solution was to jam the frame between the gutter down pipe and wall of my house; thus the frame was held upright ready for me to lift the mast vertically and drop it into the step socket. After many minute changes to the foot of the mast and the step, the two became a perfect fit, but that will not be the end of the matter, because I’ll need to make further adjustments before coating both the mast and the step with several layers of epoxy.

I can tell you I was excited when the job was accomplished; similarly, yesterday I drilled through the mast step support for a distance of over a foot to make a drain for any water that may enter the vent box, but my greatest excitement will be when the boat is finished prior to launching her for the first time. There’ll be no shareholders rubbing their hands with glee because of the profits they will receive, but I’ll reap the benefit of my labour with the satisfaction of doing a job well.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


A thousand mile trek is but one step at a time; so the ancient Chinese proverb goes, but when you take two steps forward and one step back it takes twice the time! That’s what’s happening in my pilgrimage of building a Paradox micro-sailboat. Perhaps that’s not an accurate analogy, but certainly my march is not in a straight line, neither is it with a constant beat of left, right …… left, right, until reaching my destination, i.e., a finished sailing boat ready for the water.

On some days progress is negligible, but on others it is perceptible. I want to be at the end of the journey, and yet I want to enjoy the experience, and paradoxically prolong it. Just entering the garage where the rib cage is almost ready for assembly, that’s four frames and a transom, I smell the pleasant fragrance of wood shavings. My heart beats more fervently at the prospect of the next challenge and I set my mind on achieving an objective before giving up for the day. Just one step will be in the right direction towards the goal, but with many such steps the task will be accomplished.

The mindset is not to think of the many steps, but rather to concentrate on making the current step well. I must do it with adroitness, without error; whether it’s measuring, cutting or fixing, all must be done to the best of my ability. There can be no place for slipshod work; nothing but the best within my ability will suffice. Only then can my steps be achieved with satisfaction.

For those undertaking a boat building project with any substance where duration and commitment are required, a certain mindset is adopted that may be compared with that of a long distant runner, irrespective of the pain, difficulties and setbacks; all effort is focussed on finishing. Getting there is all important.

Monday, April 10, 2006


Happiness; what is it? Usually it is a fleeting moment of inward joy, elation or ecstasy - a feeling that sometimes arrives unexpectedly. This afternoon was such a time.

Initially, as I started working on the transom, a biting northerly wind whipped around the corner of the garage where I had set up my Black and Decker work bench. Dark clouds and few spots of rain made the prospect of cutting the support cleat for the baffle an uninspiring task. Two of my fingers were a bloodless white as I gripped the jigsaw, but I persevered with the mechanical operation of keeping the oscillating blade exactly on the curved pencil line. I followed its path, but it was as if some other person were doing the job, and I was amazed to see the angled saw unhesitatingly stick to the graphite path. One more cut, this time vertical, finished the semicircular cleat, composed of two pieces of ply for the required 25 millimetre thickness.

Using a fine bradawl I pricked a series of small holes into the cleat for brass pin tacks in readiness for fixing it to the transom; meanwhile, the epoxy and hardener were being warmed in the kitchen while awaiting their destiny of being mixed in a ratio of two to one respectively. A half thrust of each pump delivered the required amount for this small job. There followed some vigorous stirring of the liquids to mix them thoroughly.

Having transferred my bench, transom and cleat to the garage to be out of the wind and rain, I had time to spread the mixed resin on adjoining surfaces before it became too cold for easy application. With some delicate hammering I tacked the cleat to the transom.

That’s when a glow of satisfaction transformed my face from having the gaunt appearance of a chilled white skull with dark sunken eyes, into a beaming, smiling ruddy physiognomy with the complexion of a juvenile shepherd like the biblical David, toned by sun and wind. At that moment I realised all the frames with their cleats and floors had been assembled; they only needed to be trimmed and cut for the sheer and chine strakes. Even the hull panels had been prepared for joining, and shortly afterwards I would start assembling the hull. I was as happy as a sandboy!

Thursday, March 30, 2006

More Faith

It looks as though my web site will almost be without change for the next few months because I’m stuck into building ‘Faith’, a Paradox micro-sailboat. There’s only a certain amount of time for doing things, and if one is spending five hours a day putting together a boat from raw products, there simply isn’t time for making web pages.

Since my previous post I’ve cut all four frames, the transom and the side panels. Next, I’ll need to make various cleats for storage racks and floors for the frames; then I’ll have to scarf sections of the side panels before joining them. I wonder how long it will take. Much will depend on the weather and other factors could come into play.

For the reader there may not be much excitement in reading this, but for me there’s much satisfaction in knowing that substantial progress is being made towards attaining my ‘Faith’. As progress is made, so surely will my faith will be strengthened. Faith feeds on faith, as grace grows upon grace. There’s a snowball effect - as the ball rolls down the hill it gathers momentum and grows in size until there’s no stopping it!

Friday, March 17, 2006

‘Faith’ Building

Faith building sounds like something to do with a fundamental Christian religion; the thing pastors, deacons and evangelicals work at day in day out. They have this fervent conviction to bring as many to the Lord as they can, but not without the aid of the life-giving Holy Spirit. (John 3:6)

‘Faith’ is the name I have given to the ‘Paradox’ micro-sailboat I am building. After a long deliberation considering many names, ‘Faith’ was the most appealing, because I require faith more than anything to make my dream of ownership a reality. I need faith in myself to complete the job, which entails hundreds of hours of loving labour. All the materials for building the boat have to be assembled, fashioned and joined together to bring about a unified vessel of function and beauty.

After a winter’s hibernation I have resumed building the little boat, but as yet, I’ve not started the hull, apart from cutting one frame. The mast, boom, yard, rudder, stock, tiller, laminated beams, reefing mechanism and ballast have all been made. Before I can start the hull itself, I must make the yuloh, which is a device something like a long paddle for propelling the boat by zigzagging it in the water at the stern. Perhaps I’ll be able to shape the wooden parts of the yuloh and glue them together before the end of next week; then I’ll have a big clearout of the garage in readiness for making the remaining frames.

Faith feeds on the reality of hope – that which is not seen materially, but which is the reality of things to come. By the acting out of faith, faith itself is strengthened. (Hebrews 11:1, 2)

Sunday, March 12, 2006


In the autumn of last year I started to build a Matt Layden Paradox micro-sailboat, but when the winter weather made its presence felt I was forced to stop building her. Now that spring is not far away I’m psyching myself up to resume the building process. To prepare me physically I undertook the task of re-lagging and boarding the loft of my house and I’ve installed a folding ladder. All the climbing, bending and laying flat-out on support boards and rafters, along with the stretching required to reach almost inaccessible spaces under the eaves, has toned up my muscles in readiness for the work of planing, sawing, and hammering that will be necessary to build my boat, but only yesterday I saw an advertisement for the sale of a Phil Bolger ‘Birdwatcher’, complete with a trailer and engine, and my heart pulsed at the very thought of owning her. This was indeed a temptation, which, if I succumbed, would mean a setback in building ‘Faith’, the Paradox of my dreams.

A few years ago I went to Edinburgh to see what was then the only ‘Birdwatcher’ in the UK, with the purpose of buying her, but for reasons I’d rather not go into I had to change my plans after making a tentative offer. She was not in the best condition, since she had been left exposed to more than one fierce Scottish winter, and when I saw her she was covered with snow and ice. Parts of her deck had rotted and her pintles and gudgeons had rusted, but these could have been replaced without too much expense.

I was disappointed not to be able to have her as my very own, because there could be no better craft for exploring the shallow waters of the Thames estuary and the Essex and Kent tidal rivers. If I were to succumb to the bewitching lines of this Siren ‘Birdwatcher’ she would demand my attention, which would steal time set aside for building ‘Faith’, my dream Paradox. Yes, I could manage two boats, but ‘Paradox’ and ‘Birdwatcher’ are both suitable for shallow water sailing, so what would be the point of owning two such vessels? Which would I use for a particular outing and where would I keep two trailer sailers? Logic overrules me having two similar boats, not just because they do the same job, but because of the extra expense of running and maintaining more than one boat. ‘Paradox’ will be the easier of the two to launch and recover while trailer sailing, and, besides, I have purchased all the wood and many fittings for completing ‘Faith’; therefore, I must be faithful to my original choice and commitment. I must put ‘Birdwatcher’ out of my mind and focus on the task ahead of building my dream.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Jack London

Jack London had a very short, but action packed life; he died in 1916 at the age of 40 after having spent most of his life writing both fiction and non-fiction for a living. Perhaps his best known book is ‘The Call of the Wild’, which is about a dog called Buck, but the story I love best is ‘The Cruise of the Snark’, that tells of Jack’s own adventures sailing the Pacific in a 55 foot yacht built for the cruise and paid for by his prolific writing

Jack was a seasoned sailor, gold prospector and rancher, and while engaged in these occupations he amassed a wide range of knowledge and experience that helped provide detail for his writing. While a seaman on a variety of vessels, both sail and steam, he travelled widely, visiting Japan, Alaska, California, Mexico, Hawaii and England.

Much of ‘The Cruise of the Snark’ is fine literature with vivid description, tempo and deep insight into human nature.

Here’s a short passage to give you the flavour of the book:


That is what it is, a royal sport for the natural kings of earth.
The grass grows right down to the water at Waikiki Beach, and within
fifty feet of the everlasting sea. The trees also grow down to the
salty edge of things, and one sits in their shade and looks seaward
at a majestic surf thundering in on the beach to one's very feet.
Half a mile out, where is the reef, the white-headed combers thrust
suddenly skyward out of the placid turquoise-blue and come rolling
in to shore. One after another they come, a mile long, with smoking
crests, the white battalions of the infinite army of the sea. And
one sits and listens to the perpetual roar, and watches the unending
procession, and feels tiny and fragile before this tremendous force
expressing itself in fury and foam and sound. Indeed, one feels
microscopically small, and the thought that one may wrestle with
this sea raises in one's imagination a thrill of apprehension,
almost of fear. Why, they are a mile long, these bull-mouthed
monsters, and they weigh a thousand tons, and they charge in to
shore faster than a man can run. What chance? No chance at all, is
the verdict of the shrinking ego; and one sits, and looks, and
listens, and thinks the grass and the shade are a pretty good place
in which to be.

And suddenly, out there where a big smoker lifts skyward, rising
like a sea-god from out of the welter of spume and churning white,
on the giddy, toppling, overhanging and downfalling, precarious
crest appears the dark head of a man. Swiftly he rises through the
rushing white. His black shoulders, his chest, his loins, his
limbs--all is abruptly projected on one's vision. Where but the
moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is
now a man, erect, full-statured, not struggling frantically in that
wild movement, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those mighty
monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on
the giddy summit, his feet buried in the churning foam, the salt
smoke rising to his knees, and all the rest of him in the free air
and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying
forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is a
Mercury--a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them is the
swiftness of the sea. In truth, from out of the sea he has leaped
upon the back of the sea, and he is riding the sea that roars and
bellows and cannot shake him from its back. But no frantic
outreaching and balancing is his. He is impassive, motionless as a
statue carved suddenly by some miracle out of the sea's depth from
which he rose. And straight on toward shore he flies on his winged
heels and the white crest of the breaker. There is a wild burst of
foam, a long tumultuous rushing sound as the breaker falls futile
and spent on the beach at your feet; and there, at your feet steps
calmly ashore a Kanaka, burnt, golden and brown by the tropic sun.
Several minutes ago he was a speck a quarter of a mile away. He has
"bitted the bull-mouthed breaker" and ridden it in, and the pride in
the feat shows in the carriage of his magnificent body as he glances
for a moment carelessly at you who sit in the shade of the shore.
He is a Kanaka--and more, he is a man, a member of the kingly
species that has mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over

And one sits and thinks of Tristram's last wrestle with the sea on
that fatal morning; and one thinks further, to the fact that that
Kanaka has done what Tristram never did, and that he knows a joy of
the sea that Tristram never knew. And still further one thinks. It
is all very well, sitting here in cool shade of the beach, but you
are a man, one of the kingly species, and what that Kanaka can do,
you can do yourself. Go to. Strip off your clothes that are a
nuisance in this mellow clime. Get in and wrestle with the sea;
wing your heels with the skill and power that reside in you; bit the
sea's breakers, master them, and ride upon their backs as a king

And that is how it came about that I tackled surf-riding. And now
that I have tackled it, more than ever do I hold it to be a royal

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Wave over Wave

Here’s a shanty by Jim Payne on the theme of a sailor’s lot when sailing ships were commonplace. The ditty tells the story of a sailor who was wedded to the sea rather than his wife. He’d been a part owner of a schooner for 40 years, and couldn’t understand why he preferred life at sea with all its hardships to being at home with his wife and children.

The modern small boat sailor goes to sea for adventure, not out of compulsion or necessity, but for enjoyment and challenge. Even with electronic aids, diesel engines, and well engineered equipment, today’s recreational sailors can’t escape some of the hardships experienced by old salts in the days of sail, because the sea has no mind of its own, but it can exact the same costly price wherever weakness may be found in ship or man.

Wave Over Wave by Jim Payne

Me name's Able Rogers, a shareman am I
On a three-masted schooner from Twillingate Isle
I've been the world over, north, south, east, and west
But the middle of nowhere's where I like it best
Where it's wave over wave, sea over bow
I'm as happy a man as the sea will allow
There's no other life for a sailor like me
But to sail the salt sea, boys, sail the sea
There's no other life but to sail the salt sea
The work it is hard and the hours are long
My spirit is willing, my back it is strong
And when the work's over then whiskey we'll pour
We'll dance with the girls upon some foreign shore
I'd leave my wife lonely ten months of the year
She made me a home and raised my children dear
But she'd never come out to bid farewell to me
Or ken why a sailor must sail the salt sea
I've sailed the wide oceans four decades or more
And oft times I've wondered what I do it for
I don't know the answer, it's pleasure and pain
With life to live over, I'd do it again

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Three Voices

Over past months I’ve scoured Internet archives for good poetry on the subjects of the ‘sea’ and ‘ships’, but my search has borne little fruit. There’s a fair amount of mundane stuff out there, but little of substance with poetic merit. This next poem by Robert W. Service is the best of what I have not published to date.
The Three Voices
The waves have a story to tell me,
As I lie on the lonely beach;
Chanting aloft in the pine-tops,
The wind has a lesson to teach;
But the stars sing an anthem of glory
I cannot put into speech.
The waves tell of ocean spaces,
Of hearts that are wild and brave,
Of populous city places,
Of desolate shores they lave,
Of men who sally in quest of gold
To sink in an ocean grave.
The wind is a mighty roamer;
He bids me keep me free,
Clean from the taint of the gold-lust,
Hardy and pure as he;
Cling with my love to nature,
As a child to the mother-knee.
But the stars throng out in their glory,
And they sing of the God in man;
They sing of the Mighty Master,
Of the loom his fingers span,
Where a star or a soul is a part of the whole,
And weft in the wondrous plan.
Here by the camp-fire's flicker,
Deep in my blanket curled,
I long for the peace of the pine-gloom,
When the scroll of the Lord is unfurled,
And the wind and the wave are silent,
And world is singing to world.
Robert W. Service

Saturday, February 11, 2006

A Shanty

Rudyard Kipling has written many a good yarn and some provocative poetry. For today’s entry I’ve chosen, ‘The Last Chantey’. This is a dirge in the form of a sailor’s shanty bewailing the loss of the oceans when God finally does away with the seas at the time of creating His new heaven and new earth. (Revelation 21:1 ‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.’)
The Last Chantey
"~And there was no more sea.~"

Thus said The Lord in the Vault above the Cherubim
Calling to the Angels and the Souls in their degree:
"Lo! Earth has passed away
On the smoke of Judgment Day.
That Our word may be established shall We gather up the sea?"

Loud sang the souls of the jolly, jolly mariners:
"Plague upon the hurricane that made us furl and flee!
But the war is done between us,
In the deep the Lord hath seen us --
Our bones we'll leave the barracout', and God may sink the sea!"

Then said the soul of Judas that betrayed Him:
"Lord, hast Thou forgotten Thy covenant with me?
How once a year I go
To cool me on the floe?
And Ye take my day of mercy if Ye take away the sea!"

Then said the soul of the Angel of the Off-shore Wind:
(He that bits the thunder when the bull-mouthed breakers flee):
"I have watch and ward to keep
O'er Thy wonders on the deep,
And Ye take mine honour from me if Ye take away the sea!"

Loud sang the souls of the jolly, jolly mariners:
"Nay, but we were angry, and a hasty folk are we!
If we worked the ship together
Till she foundered in foul weather,
Are we babes that we should clamour for a vengeance on the sea?"

Then said the souls of the slaves that men threw overboard:
"Kennelled in the picaroon a weary band were we;
But Thy arm was strong to save,
And it touched us on the wave,
And we drowsed the long tides idle till Thy Trumpets tore the sea."

Then cried the soul of the stout Apostle Paul to God:
"Once we frapped a ship, and she laboured woundily.
There were fourteen score of these,
And they blessed Thee on their knees,
When they learned Thy Grace and Glory under Malta by the sea!"

Loud sang the souls of the jolly, jolly mariners,
Plucking at their harps, and they plucked unhandily:
"Our thumbs are rough and tarred,
And the tune is something hard --
May we lift a Deep-sea Chantey such as seamen use at sea?"

Then said the souls of the gentlemen-adventurers --
Fettered wrist to bar all for red iniquity:
"Ho, we revel in our chains
O'er the sorrow that was Spain's;
Heave or sink it, leave or drink it, we were masters of the sea!"

Up spake the soul of a gray Gothavn 'speckshioner --
(He that led the flinching in the fleets of fair Dundee):
"Oh, the ice-blink white and near,
And the bowhead breaching clear!
Will Ye whelm them all for wantonness that wallow in the sea?"

Loud sang the souls of the jolly, jolly mariners,
Crying: "Under Heaven, here is neither lead nor lee!
Must we sing for evermore
On the windless, glassy floor?
Take back your golden fiddles and we'll beat to open sea!"

Then stooped the Lord, and He called the good sea up to Him,
And 'stablished his borders unto all eternity,
That such as have no pleasure
For to praise the Lord by measure,
They may enter into galleons and serve Him on the sea.

Sun, wind, and cloud shall fail not from the face of it,
Stinging, ringing spindrift, nor the fulmar flying free;
And the ships shall go abroad
To the Glory of the Lord
Who heard the silly sailor-folk and gave them back their sea!

Rudyard Kipling

Saturday, January 28, 2006

A Whale of a Time

I thought this little article I prepared for the smallsailboats Yahoo! discussion group might be appropriate here.

It tells of an encounter with a pod of whales when I was attempting to sail to the Azores in the yacht ‘Aziz’.

When we were about 500 miles out, and west of the Bay of Biscay - it was after an early morning kip - I woke to examine the scene. To my horror, nestling alongside, almost within reach, there was a huge whale, about the same length as the boat! I gasped, as my heart missed a beat; then to my utter concern I saw another dark shape immediately in our path, but even more startling, I observed we were in the centre of a large pod of these leviathans.

My first reaction was to avert a collision, but before I could release the self-steering gear, the benign creature in our path gracefully glided into the ocean depths.

Around me these wonderful, gentle, sensitive sea creatures showed no sign of panic; unlike the crew of ‘Aziz’. It was then I realised, they had the situation under control - they knew more about me and my boat than I did of them. With one flick of their tail they could have smashed us into oblivion, but instead they showed their friendliness.

The ship’s windvane self-steering, with its ever vigilant eye, maintained our course as our ‘companions’ escorted us for an hour or so. Finally they cavorted and snorted around us with the purpose of conveying their best wishes, ‘farewell’, and ‘bon voyage’, before making their departure.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Sea

It's said you either like the sea or you hate it, but maybe there are those who are amibivalent about it?

I love the sea when all is fine and the sailing is good, but when it's evil and cruel, I'm fearful and respectful of it.

My mother positively hated the sea; probably because her father, when she was very young and unable to swim, made her cling to his neck; then swam in the sea with her on his back. That must have been terrifying for her, so that an indelible memory of fear remained with her for as long as she lived.

The poem I have chosen for today’s log was written by one like my mother who intensely hated the sea.

The Sea

There are certain things -a spider, a ghost,
The income-tax, gout, an umbrella for three -
That I hate, but the thing that I hate the most
Is a thing they call the SEA.

Pour some salt water over the floor -
Ugly I'm sure you'll allow it to be:
Suppose it extended a mile or more,
That's very like the SEA.

Beat a dog till it howls outright -
Cruel, but all very well for a spree;
Suppose that one did so day and night,
That would be like the SEA.

I had a vision of nursery-maids;
Tens of thousands passed by me -
All leading children with wooden spades,
And this was by the SEA.

Who invented those spades of wood?
Who was it cut them out of the tree?
None, I think, but an idiot could -
Or one that loved the SEA.

It is pleasant and dreamy, no doubt, to float
With `thoughts as boundless, and souls as free';
But suppose you are very unwell in a boat,
How do you like the SEA.

There is an insect that people avoid
(Whence is derived the verb `to flee')
Where have you been by it most annoyed?
In lodgings by the SEA.

If you like coffee with sand for dregs,
A decided hint of salt in your tea,
And a fishy taste in the very eggs -
By all means choose the SEA.

And if, with these dainties to drink and eat,
You prefer not a vestige of grass or tree,
And a chronic state of wet in your feet,
Then -I recommend the SEA.

For I have friends who dwell by the coast,
Pleasant friends they are to me!
It is when I'm with them I wonder most
That anyone likes the SEA.

They take me a walk: though tired and stiff,
To climb the heights I madly agree:
And, after a tumble or so from the cliff,
They kindly suggest the SEA.

I try the rocks, and I think it cool
That they laugh with such an excess of glee,
As I heavily slip into every pool,
That skirts the cold, cold SEA.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

‘Master and Commander’

My brother was somewhat surprised that I had not read any novels by Patrick O’Brian, the Anglo-Irish novelist whose stirring tales of the British Navy in the Napoleonic Wars made him a literary celebrity at the age of 85, when he died on 2nd January, 2000.

He is most famous for writing a series, chronicling the fictitious adventures of Jack Aubrey, and Stephen Maturin, the main characters in ‘Master and Commander’, the first of 20 complete volumes. Jack is the Commander and Maturin is the ship’s doctor.

To date, more than 2 million copies of the Aubrey-Maturin novels have been sold; some place O’Brian with Melville and Conrad.

Having first been introduced to his genius through seeing the film ‘Master and Commander’, directed by Peter Weir, I was smitten. True to O’Brian’s attention to historical detail, the film tells the swashbuckling story of confrontation at sea between ‘Lucky’, Jack Aubrey’s English ship and a superior French man–of–war; Jack’s vessel only escapes by good fortune, courtesy of the fog, but her ruthless and loyal commander is determined to inflict revenge, thereby bringing honour for himself and Country.

What the film does not do, is manifest the literary skill of a great author and wordsmith.

For the sailor of a small yacht in our times, O’Brian’s novels can convey a sense of history and wonderment at the fortitude, determination, and resourcefulness of seamen who defended and fought for their countries in a bygone era. Their struggles were often determined by the vagaries of wind and sea, and soundness of their vessels, just as our ventures at sea are today.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sea and the Hills

‘Sea and the Hills’ is a compelling and enigmatic poem by Rudyard Kipling that demonstrates a certain knowledge and understanding of the sea gained through personal experience. How else could he conjure up description, atmosphere and location?

Who hath desired the Sea? -- the sight of salt water unbounded --
The heave and the halt and the hurl and the crash of the comber wind-hounded?
The sleek-barrelled swell before storm, grey, foamless, enormous, and growing --
Stark calm on the lap of the Line or the crazy-eyed hurricane blowing --
His Sea in no showing the same his Sea and the same 'neath each showing:
His Sea as she slackens or thrills?
So and no otherwise -- so and no otherwise -- hillmen desire their Hills!

Who hath desired the Sea? -- the immense and contemptuous surges?
The shudder, the stumble, the swerve, as the star-stabbing bow-sprit emerges?
The orderly clouds of the Trades, the ridged, roaring sapphire thereunder --
Unheralded cliff-haunting flaws and the headsail's low-volleying thunder --
His Sea in no wonder the same his Sea and the same through each wonder:
His Sea as she rages or stills?
So and no otherwise -- so and no otherwise -- hillmen desire their Hills.

Who hath desired the Sea? Her menaces swift as her mercies?
The in-rolling walls of the fog and the silver-winged breeze that disperses?
The unstable mined berg going South and the calvings and groans that declare it --
White water half-guessed overside and the moon breaking timely to bare it --
His Sea as his fathers have dared -- his Sea as his children shall dare it:
His Sea as she serves him or kills?
So and no otherwise -- so and no otherwise -- hillmen desire their Hills.

Who hath desired the Sea? Her excellent loneliness rather
Than forecourts of kings, and her outermost pits than the streets where men gather
Inland, among dust, under trees -- inland where the slayer may slay him --
Inland, out of reach of her arms, and the bosom whereon he must lay him
His Sea from the first that betrayed -- at the last that shall never betray him:
His Sea that his being fulfils?
So and no otherwise -- so and no otherwise -- hillmen desire their Hills.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Wind and the Sea

I know precious little of Paul Dunbar, except he wrote a poem in which he personifies a relationship between the wind and the sea, such that they connive together for evil intent, while shamming repentance for their wilful acts.

Paradoxically, we know that neither of these natural forces can be cognisant of themselves, and yet both can be very cruel to the point where after terrifying their victims (those who sail in ships) utterly destroy them, consigning them for ever to Davy Jones’s locker, and because of the evidence, we sailors can get to believe that both the sea and wind are mindful of what they do - we know from experience that they have moods and feelings, perhaps capricious at times, but as a cat plays with a mouse before releasing it after losing interest or relenting, so the wind and sea may, by whim, release their captives.

The Wind and the Sea by Paul Dunbar

I stood by the shore at the death of day,
As the sun sank flaming red;
And the face of the waters that spread away
Was as gray as the face of the dead.

And I heard the cry of the wanton sea
And the moan of the wailing wind;
For love's sweet pain in his heart had he,
But the gray old sea had sinned.

The wind was young and the sea was old,
But their cries went up together;
The wind was warm and the sea was cold,
For age makes wintry weather.

So they cried aloud and they wept amain,
Till the sky grew dark to hear it;
And out of its folds crept the misty rain,
In its shroud, like a troubled spirit.

For the wind was wild with a hopeless love,
And the sea was sad at heart
At many a crime that he wot of,
Wherein he had played his part.

He thought of the gallant ships gone down
By the will of his wicked waves;
And he thought how the churchyard in the town
Held the sea-made widows' graves.

The wild wind thought of the love he had left
Afar in an Eastern land,
And he longed, as long the much bereft,
For the touch of her perfumed hand.

In his winding wail and his deep-heaved sigh
His aching grief found vent;
While the sea looked up at the bending sky
And murmured: "I repent."

But e'en as he spoke, a ship came by,
That bravely ploughed the main,
And a light came into the sea's green eye,
And his heart grew hard again.

Then he spoke to the wind: "Friend, seest thou not
Yon vessel is eastward bound?
Pray speed with it to the happy spot
Where thy loved one may be found."

And the wind rose up in a dear delight,
And after the good ship sped;
But the crafty sea by his wicked might
Kept the vessel ever ahead.

Till the wind grew fierce in his despair,
And white on the brow and lip.
He tore his garments and tore his hair,
And fell on the flying ship.

And the ship went down, for a rock was there,
And the sailless sea loomed black;
While burdened again with dole and care,
The wind came moaning back.

And still he moans from his bosom hot
Where his raging grief lies pent,
And ever when the ships come not,
The sea says: "I repent."