Hurry up and wait

Posted by Paul

Not much happening here. And I have little to report. But nevertheless here we are. Is anyone still reading? I dont expect there would be many left. To those that are still here I guess you are probably sick of reading me apologise for lack of posting, but I really dont know what to post when I havent really done anything or made any new progress.

So really what I am apologising for is my lack of doing any work on the boat. So perhaps that is a post. Perhaps an understanding or explanation of who I am or the mentality of me as a person as well as an amateur boatbuilder might help you understand whether you can do this and actually finish. Because you may be like me. Many others can and have finished, so of course you and I can. (What one man can do, another can do. From the movie the Edge). I actually cant yet say I can do this, because as is evident, I haven’t finished. Yet. But I’m still working at it, so I’m still in the game, but until I finish (is a boat ever really finished?) I cant speak like I have accomplished it. I have completed to float away stage and that is a mighty accomplishment by any standard, but its not yet finished, in either sense of the word.

Part of my problem now is I lack finishing skills. Perhaps a good analogy for my abilities is the difference between a cabinet or furniture maker and a carpenter. A furniture maker must make an aesthetically pleasing piece of furniture with fine attention to detail and the ability to make that fine job both work functionally and look pleasing. A major part of what a carpenter does is they build the frame of a house that will eventually be covered by plaster (dry wall) and be finished by someone else. Their concern is structure and function only, not aesthetics. I think I am the carpenter in this analogy when another irony of life, I am actually qualified, on paper at least as a cabinet maker! Go figure. Wherever I need to make it look good I am failing, or at least struggling. Or it isn’t up to the image I had in my mind of how a “nice finish” will look. Or, as is true in most of the cases, I just haven’t completed any one task yet.

That speaks to my skills or lack thereof. Now to discuss my mentality. This gets somewhat personal but I’m ok with disclosing it. I have issues! I dont think I have ever shied away from a description of myself as lazy. Its seems a bit oxymoronic that a lazy person would embark on a project like this. I knew it would be a lot of hard work and yet as a self described lazy person I started it anyway. Why? Why would I do that? Well, I wanted a liveaboard boat and couldnt see any other way that a lazy man could get one without building one. As I mentioned in my last post, I now know that perhaps the ideal way for a lazy person to get a nice boat was to buy a house and leverage the equity growth after an appropriate period of time. I wish I had done that sometimes. Other times I am so glad I decided to start this and am enjoying the process in finishing it. Its a rollercoaster ride for me.

To this end I started because I wanted to make something. Something I could point to and admire, even if just to myself. To achieve something. I think I am doing that, but until it is finished, the frustration of its unfinishedness feeds into my mental health issues. That said, the boat also represents hope. A dream yet fulfilled but very much alive. So its both a hassle and a reason to trudge to work. That and the dream of a retirement with my beautiful and supportive wife Johanna, keeps me going.

So thats just the start of it. I am also what I believe the scientist call scatterbrained (and may even have ADD or be on the spectrum somewhere). I find it hard to concentrate on one job at a time, my mind is always racing and thinking of other jobs to do while I am still doing or not finished the one I am doing. I will be doing something, need say a tape measure so I remember its another room, so I go get it, on the way I see another unfinished job and I think “Oh I think I know how to finish that” and start looking at it some more or measuring that job for what I might need, or actually start doing some work on that new project or something else other than finishing the job I was originally working on and that becomes the next unfinished thing I will walk past one day and figure on how to finish that. Long story short, I have hundreds of part finished projects on an unfinished boat, some ideas that plain didnt work and need redoing and some not even yet started. It gets so big sometimes that my mind shuts down and I walk away for a while. Sometimes a long while.

And then there are the general ups and downs of life. Disclaimer, my life is mostly up, I am a very happy man, thanks almost entirely to Jo and our beautiful home we have. The only reason I say almost is because there are always other things in life beyond anyone’s control. The pandemic, the politics and uncertainty of the time, and for me, my often feelings of lack of control over my own destiny that seemed I lost when I needed to be employed rather than self employed. Its another of life’s ironies that I feel less in control with a regular paycheck than I did when self employed, because back then I decided what days or hours I worked or didnt, even if the pay that month was an unknown. If for any reason you have other more important things happening in your life, then of course, a future dream, or a hobby gets put aside a while or until that issue is resolved. Even upheavals at work (which I currently have) can have a negative impact on progress on something like this. Mental health implications of my struggles at work often leave me unmotivated, which leads to no progress on the boat, which leads to frustration and a further decline in my mental health due to the guilt I feel about my lack of progress. I probably dont help myself by continually reading blogs and vlogs of cruisers out living the life, but my rationale is that I am living and learning vicariously through them. Anyway, I am not complaining even though it sounds at times like I am, merely trying to understand and comment on my reality, perceived or otherwise.

So here we are, life gets in the way of hopes and dreams right? But I get joy from where I am, what I have and where that may one day end up. So if sporadic progress and the occasional update on what I have managed to achieve is ok, then stick around. It might be a while.

What I am working on at the moment is linings and furnishing. Here being on a swing mooring adds a layer of complexity that can (and did) lead to mistakes. I measured a couple of panels wrong. What I should have done had I been pre launch or in a marina, is cut the ply and dry fit before then doing the upholstery on it. So below are a couple of panels that need to be redone or modified. No big deal, no major cost, but more work nonetheless. In the first 2 I forgot to make cutouts for the pipes and as a result the panel wont go in, so once I cutout for the pipes all good. The second 2 are just wrong all over because of a measuring mistake. Anyway, all part of the fun!

So I decided to put the boat in the marina for a little while to help me get work done more effectively and for a couple of jobs that could only be done in the marina. I actually needed her to be towed off the mooring about 100 meters away by the mooring service guys. I had the mooring serviced and then they used their work-barge to tow it in, because the motors wont start because the legs have been in the water for 3 years, because I ran out of time at launch to get the raising mechanism working. No-one to blame but myself. So rather than have a mechanic fix them (if indeed they can be salvaged now) on the swing mooring, its so much easier for the mechanics to work on the boat in the marina. I have purchased new motors so any salvage will be for resale. Getting the old ones out is a whole another story that I will explain in a later post.

I can only afford 3 months in the marina, so I have settled on Summer in the Marina. Some of the jobs I have got some progress on include repairing some rot I found in the core of the engine compartment lids that also form the rear steps. Everywhere and anywhere I put a through skin fitting of any kind I decored the balsa for an over size area around the screw or bolt or pipe or any fitting, back filled with resin then drilled or screwed into the filler. As I did in this image for through bulkhead wiring (I have now fitted winches to raise the engines but wanted the control boxes inside the boat out of the elements).

But with the steps, although I did de-core and back fill, I didnt make the de-core area big enough because I managed to miss the resin with the screws holding the hinges to the steps (another mistake, screws were meant to be temporary, replaced by bolts and nuts) which let rainwater into the core, where it spread and rotted the core. (Only fresh water will rot a timber core, salt water pickles it and it doesn’t rot). I got lucky that the rot occurred in a very repairable place. The lids come off and I fixed them in my garage. Actually, I made a very silly mistake when I first made the steps. By the time I got to making steps I was scavenging smaller offcuts to make larger parts, and I was hurrying to make a set of steps in order to use the steps as a prop at a boat show and only glassed the underside (to avoid fairing!) and then never remembered that I still had to glass the top, which resulted in a crack forming under the non slip paint, barely visible, but enough to let water in when it rained and eventually rot the core along the entire width. The other sides steps the rot only occurred around the screw holes, meaning the fix was much smaller.

I removed the rotted balsa, its easy to spot, it turns black where it stays, a lot just washes away. How I have no idea how but I had areas of void where the core was gone. I removed glass where I needed to and filled with new core, in one lid, plywood in the other the rot was only very localized so I just back filled with resin. But on the worst one, the rot had spread along almost the entire width of the step/lid. So I removed all the core and glass, filled with a section of plywood, because its cheaper than resin and then filled a much oversize section with just resin so the bolts aren’t anywhere near the plywood, and re-glassed it. Then I added peel ply for a paint ready finish. And just for the heck of it I used some carbon fibre I had. Funnily, you will see in the picture below, that the core was gone but the inadequate resin back-filling were intact as the core washed away around them. I feather ground away about 100mm overlap so that I could glass to it on top and bottom and re-glassed it. They are actually stronger now than they were had the rot never occurred.

I clamped a ply panel to the second one I did to keep the area flat as it set because on the fist one, the resin expanded and bulged so I needed to grind it back down to flat and re-glass it again. And finished them by trimming back the glass overhang on the edges. It also reinforces that boats decay, (everything does) just as fast unused as it does used. So hardly surprising that some maintenance and upkeep is required.

Another job that I am nearly (there’s that word again, nearly!) finished is the lounge cushions. But one I am taking some great pleasure in, because besides being highly visually impactful and of high functional importance to the comfort of the boat, it allowed me to exercise one of my other great passions, saving money. Some time ago I measured up and took the measurements to a professional upholsterer (they do exceptional work, specializing in retro restaurant booths and classic car refits) who quoted me $3500. Probably reasonable for the quality of the work they do. But alas, beyond my meager budget.

So I decided I would make them myself. I got a quote for just the material, that is, foam and vinyl and another material I didnt realise I needed but when explained I understood was vital; Dacron. The underside of quality upholstery vinyl is a fabric scrim (by contrast the cheap stuff I bought for the linings doesnt have scrim) that gives the synthetic leather stretch, but what that scrim does is act like sand paper on the foam everytime you sit or get up as it slides along the foam, eventually sanding it down to dust. The foam is by far the most expensive part of the cushion. So the Dacron layer acts as a shock absorber in that its layers can stretch against each other without breaking protecting the foam from the abrasive vinyl underside. Its also cheap. In a $3000 cushion set, its about $100.

I got a quote from another company that was about $1800 (The foam $1200 of that) but material only. And I was going to go that way when I had another look around for any other suppliers and found the one I finally settled on. Gary, at Flexible Foam Gosford. Firstly, you will not find a nicer person. But Gary is also a master craftsman. All he does is make the foam bases of cushions, he doesnt do the upholstery just the foam, and he has no peers. So much so that many luxury boat and Caravan makers use his services, one of them Palm Beach Motor Yachts. Google them. You will see what I mean. If he supplies them, what more can I say.

I made plywood bases for each cushion, after a bit of trimming and adjustment here and there. I tried to minimise the curves to make upholstery easier. I used 9mm for the backs as they would be against flat panels (and likely I will screw through the panels into the backs to secure the backs in place permanently as there is no need for them to be removed except if we ever want to recover them in a redecoration refurb. But the bases need to be removable to get to the storage below them. So I used 12mm ply on those. A tad heavy but once down, I doubt they too will be moved often if ever. I took these to Gary and we discussed the best foam options (for example, stiffer foam is better to sleep on but gets uncomfortable to sit on after a while on the other hand softer foam is much better to sit on but uncomfortable to sleep on). In the end we settled on a firm foam with super-soft top then Dacron, giving the perfect compromise (and what most PBMY customers opt for). For the backs we went with a slightly less firm foam but no super-soft, and the sides are almost decorative so just went with a budget foam and although I didnt order Dacron on them, Gary’s perfectionism and niceness would not allow him not to include it free of charge. Each layer is sprayed with contact adhesive and glued, first the base foam to the ply bases, then the super-soft if its used, then the Dacron. The Dacron overlaps the plywood and is glued to the underside of the base along the front faces of each cushion so that the vinyl has a nice uniform under surface to finish to, but not along the backs or sides that abut another cushion as they need a square flush edge. Had I gone with the first material quote I would have been gluing these myself (and I probably would not have known about supersoft or had the inner glow of knowing rich butts are sitting on the same foam bases I am!).

I bought 14 meters of white marine vinyl (about half a roll) from a supplier in Melbourne for $17 a meter including freight because I was buying the remains of a job they had completed. (Its usually double that so another big saving). 14 meters is just enough. I wish they had a few meters more to allow for mistakes, if all goes well it should be enough. And because I have saved so much money so far I am going to get a quote on having an upholsterer sew the tops for me. I can attach them or they can, I’m fairly sure it wont effect the price much either way.

So far I have spent $1450. I figure if I can find anyone to sew the vinyl for anything around $500 I am winning and I get as close to a luxury finish as I could ever have hoped for, for about half the original quote to make them. Its always a bit heart in mouth when I pay for something to be made based upon my measurements, until I get to fit them into the boat. And that sigh of relief when everything fits perfectly, well almost, I have just one area where the side cushion overhangs a little more than I had planned, I was aiming for about 5mm over but ended up about 20mm oversize. The overhang was to make shelf topping vinyl panels to match the lounge cushions, which I will now just make 20mm thick instead of 5mm and no-one will ever know.

The seat heights are just a little on the high side, the result of a number of compromises. Firstly, the seats are both dining and lounge. A dining chair seat is 500mm high, the average lounge seat only 400mm. So 450mm? Well yeah but we have the dishwasher riser at about 400mm and 50mm foam covering it wasnt enough not to feel it. So 500mm worked better. And finally there is the window height. We raised the dashboard height to allow for a bigger hatch in the bedrooms, so needed the extra seat height to allow for good vision from seated. So whilst Jo’s feet probably wont reach the floor when seated reclined against the backs, it became the most practical compromise. The first image shows the dishwasher under the seat that required the slightly extra height to ensure it had some foam over it. The second image shows the slightly too much over height of the cushion to the shelf, which I will simply hide by making thicker vinyl covers for the shelf tops.

There are 2 good reasons I dry fitted the cushions before they are finished with the vinyl coverings, first is I can still trim them if required but once the vinyl is on that becomes more difficult but also I couldn’t resist knowing they fit and are comfortable. These cushions are another of the jobs that were years in the planning. Its got to be nearly 10 years since I first laid out and made this furniture. Its immensely satisfying to finally see that initial vision nearing completion.

Once the cushions are covered, if there is any vinyl left over I will make thin (3mm) ply front faces for the underside fronts of the seats and laminate the kickboards to finish them off. If there isnt enough vinyl left I will use a contrasting color (probably grey that I am making wall panels out of). I have plenty of material now. I also found a 5 meter remnant roll of Lino for $140 delivered (in a floorboard print), at a local flooring supplier. Its 4.8 meters wide. The deck including the curved steps is about 20mm wider than the roll but maybe I can stretch the lino enough to make that up or if not put some kind of trim over the step edges (10mm each side) to hide that shortness, rather than have a join. Now one solution would be to run the lines the other way but I dont think that would look good. I made a cardboard template of the floor, transposed that to the roll in my garage and cut out a slightly oversize lino sheet and dry fit it to be sure. I will trim it back to exact and that will remove the wrinkles but the pic below gives an idea of how much difference something as simple as floor covering has on appearance. I have enough left on the roll to do the stairs and hulls on each side. Another bargain.

I havent decided yet what I will finish the dashboard with, probably also a lino product, plain white or grey and it will roll over the front edge down onto the bulkhead and behind the back cushions but am still not sure if that will also work on the kitchen side. The bench top that this would roll down to is not a wet bench so it can work with just a beading along the back edge of the benchtop to finish it neatly as I am sure that I will find another remnant of lino in plain color very cheaply.

One other job I have been working on is to get a working toilet on board. Of course I still have plumbing and wiring to do and I started hearing great things about an alternative that does not require either (well Ideally it needs a small fan running 24/7 like a computer fan so they draw next to nothing). A composting toilet. You can buy complete toilets for about $1200, but these toilets are fairly basic and quite effective if the youtube testimonials are anything to go on. They are often described as pooing in a bucket by both their advocates and their critics. For me, the key was to make it so it was as like a home toilet as I could make it. So I bought the separator pre-made ($200 on eBay) and will make the rest myself.

For those unaware of what a composting toilet is or does, the basic principle is to separate liquids and solids and dispose of them separately. Liquids and solids when combined becomes sewerage, which interact with each other to create the really nasty smells that go along with sewerage. The liquids can go into a bottle for disposal or in the case of a boat can be directly overboard (bypassing the bottle to a thru hull when at sea). The solids go into a fully biodegradable bag in a bucket and get covered with an agent (each time you go) to decompose it faster and cleaner. Because the agent draws out any moisture the dry solids break down fast into what amounts to fertilizer. The agent is usually straw, peat or some other kind of natural composting agent. So each time you make a deposit you cover it with a layer of the agent you use, which quickly subdues smells and the entire process is free of water and electricity (except for the small fan that exhausts overboard, this helps with a more rapid decomposition and to dispel odors). No holding tanks or pump outs, no hoses or maceration pumps to clog. And solid waste can be disposed in its bag in any rubbish bin on land as when the process is complete the stuff is inert, or buried safely or simply emptied overboard at sea.

Ironically, youtube testimonials say that by separating liquids and solids almost completely removes all of the problems with toilets on a boat and counter intuitively they just dont smell (the urine bottle smells worse than the solids bin and if the urine goes directly overboard then not at all). I cant find the downside. If you have experience with a composting toilet please post in the comments. What am I missing. Why are these not standard on any boat? I will eventually still have the regular vacuum toilet in the main bathroom but if this works I may never use it.

So I re-fabricated the toilet lid in the ensuite and removed the toilet base (using a multi tool, hammer and chisel) that I had already glassed into the space in order to increase the bucket depth (bigger bucket means less frequent emptying). Next I will hinge the lid in (the lid opens in order to empty the bucket and to redirect fluids to either the bottle when in a no discharge area or to the through hull when directly overboard is allowed). The 2 holes in the bulkhead in the pic below will still be utilized, one for liquid overboard to the underwater thru-hull the other will be for a hose connected to the fan on one end and the breather thru-hull on the other.

Its slowly coming together. So to conclude this post, hope is being restored to my world. Finally Trump is gone and a more compassionate politic can replace the hate filled incompetency that we have witnessed for the past 4 years. The USA is the beacon for the world, what passes there infiltrates all of our lives eventually. Now we can resume working toward a more humane and sustainable world and hopefully start to triumph over greed and start caring for the planet and each other again.

This weekend in Australia is a national holiday but is quite injurious and insulting to our first nations brother and sisters. However this holiday weekend has been good to me. I launched this weekend 3 years ago in happier times. (I hesitate to say happier times because the most important thing in my life, Johanna, and family and friends are still rock solid so any emotional blip are just that, just a blip). Getting some progress this weekend has me pointing back in the right direction. (Thank you so very much my darling wife).

My hope is being restored as I start to make small progress toward my dream. If like me, you lose hope from time to time, my wish is that my ability to maintain hope and progress, however painfully slowly encourages you too, to never give up on whatever it is you want to achieve.

Thanks for reading.

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2 thoughts on “Hurry up and wait

  1. Fred

    Hi Paul, I’ve been reading your blog off and on since my eldest daughter was a baby – and she’s turning 16 this year! Hard to believe. I can relate to most of what you wrote today, and I can tell you one thing – you are NOT lazy! I can tell, because I often feel pretty much like you describe above – and I only have to keep a 32-year-old 36 foot average white boat monohull afloat, and am not building a 40 foot catamaran. So who’s lazy here? It’s all in the eye of the beholder, and to any outside observer what you have achieved so far is absolutely amazing, even if it took so much longer than you hoped for at the start. Just keep going, and you will surely get somewhere. And enjoy your new toilet!

  2. Steve

    Hang in there mate, you still have followers and supporters.
    I drop by your site from time to time and hope there is something new to read. I’ve followed for a long time and I’m committed to seeing you finish this thing!
    Cheers mate.

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