Sailing adventure on minimal outlay.

Category: Uncategorized (page 2 of 5)

Must learn to say no.

Firstly, I must apologize for not posting anything at all for nearly three months. I really don’t know where the time has gone to be honest, I have been very, very busy. Work loads in the building trade tend to achieve a kind of white heat of frenzied activity in the summer as people try to complete their various projects during our short “dry” season. I also try to utilize the good weather and longer days to get any projects of my own done before the dark, dismal season of hiding from the elements puts paid to my enthusiasm. I’ve managed to construct our long stagnant greenhouse this year, rebuild my old classic Landrover ready for Winter and make good inroads on the new road trailer for Idris. I haven’t managed to get much time in front of the computer though, which is why I’ve not detailed much of my summer Halcyon 27 sailing on here yet.

Not a sight I had expected to see first thing on a Monday morning.

Not a sight I had expected to see first thing on a Monday morning. A shabby shackle was to blame it turned out. Luckily the old girl had the sense to lie down in the mud and not on anything sharp or pointy.

The summer hasn’t been completely fun free though, far from it. I’ve had a great time with Idris on the occasional weekend exploring along our coastline or making trips to Dartmouth, Lyme Regis and various coves whenever I could. I’ve made  new friends through the Starcross Fishing and Cruising Club (S.F.C.C) which resulted in an unexpected sail to the Scilly Isles in August which was absolutely fantastic. Mishaps this year have been few, although I did have to make a heart in the mouth dash to the Exe following reports that Idris had taken a solo trip onto the Exmouth shore one fine evening. More of that later on though when I’ve compiled the rest of my summer photos. I promise I will set to work as soon as my actual, real, paid work allows me the time.

Motoring home from the Sidmouth Folk Festival early in the morning to catch the tide over the Exe bar. Captured by Captn Bob aboard "Erin".

Idris Motoring home from the Sidmouth Folk Festival early in the morning to catch the tide over the Exe bar. Captured by Captn Bob aboard “Erin”.

Halcyon 27 trailer.

Like a great many things in life, an improvement in one area can bring about some unexpected problems elsewhere. Take for example my recent change of sailing craft. The five years spent with “Macavity”, my dear old bilge keel Westerly 25, have been a great experience and have taught me many, many things in a boat that could happily be used around shallow estuaries without concern. The great thing about starting “big boat” sailing with this affordable project Westerly has been that, even with all the work I’ve had to do to her, after selling her on, five years sailing has cost me around £2000 all in. £400 per year. This compares pretty well against most other sports or outdoor pursuits….especially things like skiing! In fact, if I hadn’t wanted to expand my sailing horizons, this figure would have carried on decreasing with every extra year I’d have kept her. The most expensive period of ownership is the year you buy the boat and then have to spend money getting her right.

Macavity 2011. The expensive year.

Macavity 2011. The expensive year.

A beautiful sanctuary the next morning. Couldn't resist a dawn stroll about on our little island before the rest of the world got up and ruined it.

2015. Our last year adventuring together.

I have now of course spent the money I raised by selling “Macavity” on a new, slightly bigger and more comfortable project boat, “Idris” my Halcyon 27. I’m in the middle of my first summer with her and am having a great time finding out just what she’ll do and what she won’t. She won’t, for example, stand up if I’m stupid enough to run her aground on a falling tide. She won’t sail over some of the shallower areas I’ve strayed onto with “Macavity”. Much more importantly though, she won’t fit onto any kind of trailer I have or I can afford to buy.

I did consider cutting up my old yellow twin axle trailer to make a sturdy Halcyon 27 carrier, but it seemed such a waste.

I did consider cutting up my old yellow twin axle trailer to make a sturdy Halcyon 27 carrier, but it seemed such a waste. Luckily, this old Navy boat launcher turned up on ebay in the nick of time.

This gives me a fast approaching Autumn dilemma. I have to get a good deal of repair/improvement work done on Idris over the coming winters, including replacement of the stern gland, some engine repairs plus some bulkhead to hull glasswork and other osmosis or damage repair. Ideally I want to do this at home near my workshop, I can’t afford yard storage anywhere so she simply must be brought back to our house somehow. I have two options then, either pay a haulage firm to bring her back and sit her in a cradle on the drive where she will be immobile until I pay them again to haul her back to the Exe, or to fabricate some kind of heavy duty trailer for her. The main problem with employing a haulage firm are that I would have to do this twice a year every year I owned Idris. I think the cost of this would eventually force me to part with her. The second problem is that she would have to be taken across a field in order to get here.  I know from past experience, this is not always immediately possible due to rain, livestock or crops.

Like all bargain buys though, it is not without its faults. Would you trust these wheels to carry a 3ton Halcyon? No, me neither.

Like all bargain buys though, it is not without its faults. Would you trust these wheels to carry a 3ton Halcyon? No, me neither.

My heart skipped a beat then when, one evening in June, I spotted an old Royal Navy 3500kg  galvanised boat trailer on ebay, sitting in a farmers field with seized brakes and an invisibility cloak of woven Somerset nettles. Surely this old thing could provide most, if not all, of the parts I need for my super trailer? It was built in typical military style, tough as old boots. If those brakes would free up, it could be the sale of the century. I put a speculative bid in of £375….it became mine for £350.  Bargain.

Love me tender…

She needs some tender loving care alright.

She needs some tender loving care alright.

A bit of local work in the next village saw me confronted with what might end up being my next little project (once I’ve got a sturdy trailer welded up for Idris that is). A friend has had this little white lightweight dinghy tucked away under some trees for a good many years with the intention of fixing it up and sailing it. It was apparently his fathers boat and ended up being his when his dad couldn’t use it anymore. Reluctant to sell it and with no time to fix it, it’s got pretty ropey. All of the woodwork has rotted out and the little road trailer is as rusty as an old Cornish Fiat. When he asked me to make him an offer on it I was a bit taken aback. On the one hand, it could be sorted out with some effort and wood scraps for minimal cash; on the other, did I even need it and how much do I offer him?

Bit of a scrub and I think this could be my new tender.

Bit of a scrub and I think this could be my new ferry.

Anyhow, needless to say, it’s now mine. I figured my little green, plywood tender isn’t going to last forever and it’s not quite safe enough for two grown adults plus luggage and dog. This thing should make a fine little sailable tender and I think we’re both happy with the transaction. For now though, it’s going to live under the trees.

Escape from Poole 3

The day had arrived. Everything was looking good, north easterly winds and smaller tides which were ebbing from an early morning start and then turning when we should be just past the sleeping Portland Bill monster. The small hop from the bill to our planned overnight anchorage would then be against the new flood tide but it’s a weak flow in Lyme bay so our forecast north easterly should push us over it ok. A well deserved sleep outside of Lyme harbour at anchor should see us fit for the last leg along the coast and into the Exe with the afternoon flood. We were ready to go for it. We were pumped.

Our proposed route worked out very well. All tidal gates met and passed despite being swept a bit further west than I would have liked at first. The five pence pieces represent our overnight stops.

Our proposed route worked out very well. All tidal gates met and passed despite being swept a bit further west than I would have liked at first. The five pence pieces represent our overnight stops.

The alarm went at 04.30. I leapt out of my bunk and checked the weather out of the companionway. The weather was dark. I remembered it was still early March and set about making tea and sandwiches for our get away. There was no sign of any movement anywhere as I went up on deck, which was nice as I had done no night sailing to speak of and didn’t want any ferrys or fishing boats confusing my already overloaded brain. The tidal calculations I’d done the previous day had been assembled, along with a theoretical route along which we could check our progress at intervals by taking bearings at certain times. If all else failed, we had the little hand held garmin gps to back up any dodgy results.

I shattered the peaceful blackness surrounding our bobbing caravan by hauling up the anchor chain and detaching ourselves from Poole harbour for the final time. The chain was fed down through the fore deck and the anchor was tied on it’s chocks in case it made an unwanted break for freedom. The last hour of the flood tide was still gently pointing us at the chain ferry and entrance as I clunked Idris into gear. We slipped out into the main channel and away. I didn’t set the genoa until we had got most of the way to the fairway buoy but I could already feel the mainsail heeling us over and taking the strain off of the motor. That easterly wind that had been blowing for days had gone north easterly and gave us a perfect reach, I shut down the engine and didn’t start it again until we reached Lyme some thirteen hours later.

We were all wrapped up well but somehow it seemed to make little difference.

We were all wrapped up well but somehow it seemed to make little difference.

After the first hour from the fairway buoy and at each hour after that, I was intending to get a fix to check our drift wasn’t going to take us too far sideways to the west. There were a few things I didn’t want to get close to and although I’d spent a long time over the tidal atlases (yep all three of them), and charts, it’s best to be sure. First we had to miss Old Harry and his little race, next it was the far more serious St Albans race, then the Shambles, then finally the Portland Bill race. Trouble was, after an hour of blasting along in the dark, it really didn’t seem to be getting much lighter. I couldn’t get a fix and couldn’t see any navigation lights so I resorted to the gps. After a few minutes of panic it fired up with a fresh set of batteries. It seemed we were being pushed west a fair bit more than I’d anticipated, hmm….better keep an eye on that then. An hour later it had finally got light, but not very, due to what seemed to be a thin fog or mist all around us. In fact we weren’t to see land at all until we closed on Lyme Regis at around tea time. This was a bit disappointing as I’d really wanted to see the Bill as we sailed past, even at a distance. Oh well, just have to keep the old Garmin on I guess.


I spy with my little eye.....

I spy with my little eye….., with such poor visibility our entertainment options were fairly limited. What a glamorous pair we looked though, eh? Sailing can be just so much fun!!

We made good time all the way to the Bill and were covering ground at just over 7knotts when the ebb was at it’s strongest. The wind was fresh all day and the swell was rolling us about uncomfortably. Having realized the tides were stronger than I’d thought, I held onto our original tack out of Poole all the way until we were a safe five miles south of the Bill at exactly slack water. The original plan was to change our heading more Westerly once out past St Albans race, but as the tide swept us sideways faster than ever it became clear this was unnecessary and wouldn’t get us the required clearance around the shambles. We just skirted the edge of St Albans race as it was, and the sea state was worrying me. It probably seemed worse than it was due to the foggy disorientation and our tiredness, we felt pretty sick. We also felt cold…. really, really bloody cold. There was none of the suns warmth getting through that gloom and the whole bleak grey landscape chopped, whistled and slapped around us relentlessly. A lot of therapeutic eye spy was played despite there only really being sea, waves, fog and various biscuits for ammunition. Just as we were rounding the shambles, we had a fantastic diversion in the form of a family of strange sparrow type birds that fell on our decks and spent the next few hours exploring every crevice of the boat and stealing our biscuits. I still have no idea what they were up to, but a bird expert of ours has suggested they might have been migrating north across the channel and decided to hitch a ride. They were great fun to watch and landed on each of us at some point, including Orla.

Orla, Bird No.3 and GPS.

Orla, Bird No.3 and GPS.

One of our family of stowaways clearing up the crumbs.

One of our family of stowaways clearing up the crumbs.

Idris went beautifully in these conditions. Once clear of the Bill, at around 13.00, I could point her at Lyme and have a leisurely ride with no further scary obstacles to worry about. The wind had by this time veered futher east which gave us a near downwind sail all the way to the harbour. Good news then? No, not really. A tail wind towards Lyme also meant the wind would be driving straight into our anchorage all night. The sea was throwing us about again and there were no sheltered harbours, bays or headlands within reach unless we wanted to risk drying out against a wall in West bay. Bearing in mind our lack of experience with this, and the strong possibility that West bay (and Lyme for that matter) would already be fairly busy after this weeks conditions, I resigned myself to another sleepless night at anchor. Even this, however, was a long time coming. Although the tides across Lyme bay aren’t that strong, they were now firmly against us and our progress slowed. Eventually though, the familiar  cliffs materialized through the fog and we gratefully began to pick out various features.

Relief all around as we finally drop anchor at Lyme Regis.

Relief all around as we finally drop anchor at Lyme Regis after 13 hours of sailing around some really nasty hazards without actually seeing any of them!

Anchoring as close to the harbour breakwater as I dared with this wind, we were chucked about inside the boat mercilessly. At night I had to put the lee boards up to keep us in place as we attempted to get some rest. For the first time on the whole trip little Orla was really scared and wouldn’t leave my bunk, which didn’t really matter as there was no way I was going to be able to sleep through this anyhow. So, after wearily walking Orla on the beach and bolting down the last dry remnants of our weeks food, I spent the rest of the night being beaten against the woodwork of my boat whilst trying to work out if the anchor was dragging towards the rocks and disaster. Another fine lesson learnt.

The fate of Macavity.

I’ve been prompted into action, by one of my much valued appreciators of the site, to give a quick update on the fate of Macavity. As you will have gathered from previous posts, I decided that after five years of brilliant exploration and discovery in dear old Macavity, the time had come to try a bit harder and go a bit further. This meant that I would probably be better off with a different type of boat (long keel for more stability, better accommodation for long trips, inboard engine for crossing shipping lanes, etc). I needed to upgrade, and so ended up buying “Idris” as an ongoing project from a boat breakers. I then had to put “Macavity” up for sale to recover some of my money.

Fairwell old girl, and good luck. You've looked after me well.

Fairwell old girl, and good luck. You’ve looked after me well.

It turned out that I valued my own spending on her a bit too high to start with and got little interest at my starting price of £4000. I didn’t know quite where to pitch her but I knew how much I’d spent on her over the past five years and thought this was quite a fair price. I wasn’t even allowing anything for my own labour (of which there was much), so be aware folks, you won’t ever get rich by restoring old boats!! Anyhow, it soon became clear that all I was getting were people wanting a bit of a day out with no actual cash offers being made. I reduced the asking price to £3500.

Martyn and his brother making sure all is lashed down properly. She looks great with her fresh antifoul.

Martyn and his brother making sure all is lashed down properly. She looks great with her fresh antifoul.

At this point it was spring again and I was beginning to get some serious interest with people wanting to view Macavity most weekends. The second serious offer came from a chap who I instantly liked just from his attitude to the boat. He turned up with his father with a great enthusiasm for her and asked all the right questions before making a sensible offer and agreeing to take her on then and there. Within two weeks the money was in my account and Macavity had been trailed up to Wareham, craned into the water and carefully tied onto her new moorings. I have absolutely no doubt that her new owner will continue to keep her up and improve her as I’d intended to myself and I hope he and his family have as much fun with her as I have. Thanks Martyn.

Helping to load Macavity up ready for her trip up to Wareham.

Helping to load Macavity up early one morning ready for her trip up to Wareham. A sad but happy day.

Escape from Poole 2

Our second day began bright, sunny and springlike with a few wispy patches of the early river mist still hanging over the water. Having  got ourselves out for our morning walk and breakfast, we decided to have a little tour around the harbour. We dropped the mooring and motored out to the channel heading back towards Poole and Brownsea island.  It truly is a beautiful expanse of water and we could now see it in all it’s glory for the first time. I tried to identify the various little islands and low lying shores in the background as we chugged along, slowly getting a feel for the relative positions and distances. A bit later on we unfurled the genoa a bit as the channel widened and a light breeze came in from a more helpful angle. As  we sailed along the North edge of Brownsea, I thought we might as well get the mainsail up to see how it set. Amazingly well, was the answer to that. We heeled well over and shot off immediately at quite a rate….I put a reef in, we were in no hurry and still had little idea of the area. A very pleasant morning indeed, we soon shook off our tiredness and began to enjoy the sailing.

A beautiful morning to potter about getting our bearings.

A beautiful morning to potter about getting our bearings.

I was gaining confidence in my new vessel and we had now tested all of her main components . She was very different to “Macavity”. She’s bigger, heavier, faster, more tender and she carries her way much further,   but I could see that I’d soon get used to her. As we rapidly approached the chain ferry at Poole harbour entrance, I could hear myself stealing the words of the great Charles Stock “Well, we could just go out and take a look”. Becks looked doubtful as it was nearly midday and the inshore waters forecast had warned of f5/6, 7 later. It didn’t seem too bad though and I had no intention of going far as I hadn’t yet had a chance to prepare a passage plan, I just wanted to check out the entrance/chain ferry/tide combination and maybe have a look at Old Harry.

Turned out she was quite right. It was a bit rolly  outside after a prolonged period of easterly winds blowing down the channel. This, combined with the strong tide, meant that although “Idris” made a very good impression with her dazzling display of wave slicing ability and steadfast course holding, we eventually lost interest and turned around. In fact the only other craft we saw on our brief excursion to Old Harry were the royal marines in their black ribs and the offshore lifeboat storming out to help some poor bugger, I should have known really, my poor crew put up a brave show of it but finally cracked after a particularly harrowing period of retching and demanded in no uncertain terms that we go back. Still, we did get a nice distance out from the entrance and could see what we had to miss when we left for real in the dark.

A full compliment of inappropriate clothing gets dried in the sun after a bit of a splashy excursion.

A full compliment of inappropriate clothing gets dried in the sun the day after our splashy excursion.

As we sailed back past the chain ferry into Poole again, it seemed strangely different in there. In fact there were white horses among all the waves which were now pounding against Brownsea island on our port side. The wind was indeed getting up…. a lot. Unsure as to what our next move should be, we picked up another of the thousands of empty moorings that bounced up and down all around us and had a cup of tea. It almost looked too rough to take the dinghy ashore, this was a problem as it was now nearly five in the evening and Orla was crossing her legs. We were however, quite close to Brownsea island, a place we’d always wanted to visit, so whilst we were already cold and wet we thought we might as well give it a go. A rubber dinghy ride like no other saw us saturated and clinging to the landing platform in front of Brownsea castle, we’d made it. At this point a smartly dressed chap appeared and cheerlessly informed us that Brownsea island was shut and we should not land but rather we should bugger off immediately and remove Idris  from his mooring. The freezing, sodden but mercifully short trip back, was made mildly more fascinating by the fact that although the waves were now breaking over the bows of our dinghy whilst simultaneously submerging the little Seagull on the transom, the determined little thing always coughed back into life just before stopping completely and letting us get sucked back out to sea past the ferry. I love that little Iron outboard.

My Hero!! The trusty old seagull 40+ has extricated us from many sticky situations. I don't know why, but it always seems able to help in some way.

My Hero!! Our trusty old seagull 40+ has extricated us from many sticky situations. I don’t know why, but it always seems able to help in some way…and yes, it always starts.

A tad demoralized, we dropped the Brownsea mooring and headed for the East side of the harbour hoping to get some shelter under the lee of the shore behind Sandbanks for the night. Depths appeared to be quite shallow in that area but eventually we found a spot that would keep us afloat, so we picked up a  Sandbanks yacht club visitors buoy. The stove was lit and we hung our wet gear all around it before again clambering into the ancient Avon for a hopeful excursion to the primest stretch of prime real estate in the south. It was a much easier trip, with so much more shelter from the surrounding town, and soon we were enjoying a twilight stroll along immaculately raked golden sand before a warm welcome and some superb food in the club house bar/restaurant. We relaxed and reflected on our day over a couple of beers, a success in all I felt. I knew what to expect on the way out when we got a better weather window, I knew how well the boat went and strangely I’d completely lost any urge to visit Brownsea Island. We ordered another couple of beers. A little later on, we pondered on the wisdom of always carrying a torch with you when on the water, as we struggled to locate Idris in the dark. All was well though, and we let the dinghy find it’s own sheltered spot, tethered at the end of its painter behind our floating home. Utterly knackered we stuffed a load more charcoal on the fire and lay in our bunks with a cup of tea, gratefully absorbing the heat. The wind moaned in the rigging all night and the boat rocked about gently but we didn’t hear it for long this time.


Escape from Poole 1

My original plan was to wait until the end of March, when my license for Poole Harbour expired, before taking a week off to potter about in Idris waiting for a suitable weather window and the slog back home to the river Exe. I had a rather ambitious, rose tinted dream of crisp sunny skies beckoning me West whilst being wafted gently onwards by a steady north easterly breeze. In this plan Becks could have a gentle introduction to our new craft and the whole episode would be a beautiful haze of hot meals and red wine in a snug, charcoal warmed cabin followed by two sparkling days of progress accompanied by dolphins, sea otters and unicorns.

All ready inside...

All supplies stowed. Warm and cosy inside…

....still working on the outdoor stuff.

….still working on getting the outdoor stuff sorted. Orla in a seagull induced trance.

Needless to say, it didn’t happen like this at all. It wasn’t even a little bit like this. In fact it was pretty bloody horrible. Firstly I was getting itchy about the prospect of a good weather window miraculously appearing just when I wanted it on my proposed week off. What if it didn’t? With my Poole license gone I wouldn’t be able to go back to my nice safe winter mooring in Holes bay. In fact I wouldn’t be able to go back into Poole at all without shelling out a whole heap more money. No, leaving things until the last hour was not likely to work. Secondly, by the end of the first week in March, it was becoming clear that an enormous high pressure system was becoming stuck at the top of Scotland. This was likely to give me those perfect north easterly winds I had planned for…. but a few weeks early. So, after a swift bit of apologetic rescheduling of my upcoming work, I got moving on loading equipment and planning the route.

Orla at this stage finding the whole experience a lot of fun.

Orla. At this stage finding the whole experience a lot of fun.

Becks was determined she wasn’t going to let me do the trip alone and therefore we also had to take our new puppy Orla due to a lack of willing puppy sitters. Besides, we could end up being away for up to five days and we would miss the little pest terribly. So with bedding, provisions, dog food, charts, dinghy, pump, outboard, diesel, petrol and countless other bits and pieces, we set off for Poole.  We arrived at lunchtime. The fine folk of Davis’s boatyard had agreed to let us launch our ancient  inflateable from their slipway. This meant we could then leave my car on the west side of Holes bay for a few days, away from the extraordinary parking restrictions that blight the east side where I normally launch. It took two dinghy trips to ferry everything across and then I had to take the car away and find somewhere to leave it. With our mountains of provisions plus ourselves all safely stowed aboard Idris, we dismantled the rusty winter mooring shackles and back up lines before motoring slowly towards the two lifting bridges that separate Holes bay from the main harbour. It felt great to be underway at last, I’d become quite apprehensive about the whole trip. To sail an unknown boat in a rather sad condition following a long period of little useage, around some of the most notorious tidal nasties in the U.K at the beginning of March suddenly didn’t seem such a fun prospect anymore.

The view out of Holes bay. Perfect, apart from the filthy great road bridge blocking our path.

The view out of Holes bay. Perfect, apart from the filthy great road bridge blocking our path.

Fifteen minutes later, we were tied up again. It seemed we had arrived at the bridges exactly as everyone in Poole was leaving work. They wouldn’t open again for another two hours. We made tea. It got darker. We exercised Orla along the pontoons. It got darker. We made more tea. The bridge claxon shocked us into activity, it was now very dark and the bridge was lifting for us. Fire up the motor (thank god for that inboard diesel), nav lights on, charts out and headtorch on. We gunned the engine to get out and past the floodlit freighters and ferries before they had a chance to move off anywhere.

Killing a couple of hours between bridges.

Killing a couple of hours between bridges.

Out in the main shipping channel a baffling array of lights baffled us in all directions. Luckily during our two hour pontoon break I’d jotted down a rough sketch of which buoys would lead us away and their relative bearings. Having located the first one with some difficulty, we buoy hopped along a completely black and boat free river for an hour until we found somewhere a bit quieter with a good landing beach and a swarm of utterly deserted mooring buoys. It was a bit nerve racking as we were on a falling tide and could see nothing but distant shore lights and the occasional blink of a buoy in the gloom. If we had run aground we would have been left on our side for some 12 hours in the middle of the river somewhere (single long keel now remember). At 19.30 we picked up a buoy in 3 meters of depth, exhaled, lit the charcoal stove and rowed ashore to seek out a pub. A damned good pub it was too, The Yachtsman at Hamworthy. We toasted our own hopes of survival for the coming days and gorged on some amazing fish and chips. That night the wind blew hard from the East, shaking our little boat until everything banged and clattered about relentlessly. It was also well below freezing outside. We got very little sleep but we were in a safe spot and toasty so long as we kept feeding the charcoal burner.

Blue, cold March morning.

A beautiful, cold, blue March morning. Note life saving stove chimney to starboard of mast.

The following day dawned crisp, blue and shiny,  planning  the next step was completed in relative comfort and we had plenty of time to stroll along the beautiful empty beaches around Hamworthy with Orla. This was the best period of our four day “holiday”. It was going to go very much downhill from here on.

Home made Charcoal boat heater. MK1

Fed up with being cold and damp at the start and end of each sailing season and with a fair bit of winter work to do on the swing mooring, I decided to finish and fit the charcoal heater I’d originally been making for Macavity to Idris. A piece of heavy section steel box left over from a job putting security gates on a clients driveway gave me the idea originally. “Oh…” I thought as I was about to throw the left over end of industrial strength gatepost into a skip, “…that looks like it would be just about the ideal size to make a compact, upright pipe stove for my old boat.” and so it was.


Square box section heater. Free materials, just required a bit of thought and a welder.

Square box section heater. Free materials, just required a bit of thought and a welder.

You can see from the photo above that it’s a very simple thing indeed. I essentially divided the length of box into five segments. The fire grate is merely four steel bars tack welded into some holes drilled across the width of the box at one fifth of the overall height up from the bottom. The bottom fifth thus becomes the ash pan with a hinged plate on the bottom.. Above this I’ve left just over a fifth more height as solid firebox. I then cut out a square panel from the front the height of another fifth using thin discs in a 4 inch angle grinder. I made it as tidy as I could because it then had to be used as the fire door on a top hinge. (I tacked on a rough frame using some scrap pieces of flat steel to cover the air gaps.) The top two fifths of the tube are left as smoke hood/ heat transfer space before the top was capped off using another piece of heavy scrap plate with a pipe collar welded to it as a chimney connector. I had a pair of steel pipe brackets out of a skip kicking about which when welded to the sides of the box provided a good strong bulkhead mount with minimal heat transfer.

Test run outside the workshop proved a success but more chimney height was required to get adequate draw.

Test run outside the workshop proved a success but more chimney height was needed to get adequate draw.


A two section chimney would be required then. One section to go through the deck with another piece to be fitted when in use.

A two section chimney would be required then. One section to go through the deck with another piece to be fitted above deck when in use.

I have to say, this thing has worked far better than I thought possible. Having originally tried it with small sticks and boiler coal, I’ve now got a good stash of commercial lumpwood charcoal to use which is far superior. The coal wouldn’t really burn hot enough and didn’t get the required up draught going to keep itself alight. The charcoal burns very clean and hot and produces virtually no ash. I fitted it in the old heads cubicle on Idris on a weekend where I was planning to sleep on board. It was a typical miserable, cold, wet Winter weekend but with the little stove going it was beautifully cosy in the cabin. I had a real job motivating myself to do anything other than sit on the sofa berth drinking tea and reading whilst the wind rattled pellets of January rain across the windows.

Before anyone asks, yes I did simultaneously install a good battery operated carbon monoxide alarm just in case. I’ve no concerns though as with the extra three feet of chimney above the deck, it draws better than Picasso.

Quietly doing its thing, heating and drying my little living space on a mere handful of charcoal...smells great too.

Quietly doing its thing, heating and drying my little living space on a mere handful of charcoal…smells great too.

The chimney itself is made of two different materials. Inside the cabin I used a section of flexible car exhaust pipe (bought from a local motor factors) which proved to be a very good fit around the stainless milking palour tubing I’d used for the top section. The deck already had a large hole cut through it for one of the three brittle, leaky old vents that had been fitted previously, so I removed the offender and fitted my home made stainless pump cover cowel in its place.

Section of an old stainless steel milk pump provides a good through deck chimney mount.

Section of an old stainless steel industrial milk pump provides a good through deck chimney mount. Extra 3 foot of tube fits onto the stub when in use.

Improved Halcyon 27 Mainsail Reefing.

The mainsail on Idris is in very good nick. I don’t think it’s original and probably isn’t quite the right size but it’s a good quality Jeckles sail. The method of reefing is by three slabs, taken in using simple hooks at the gooseneck for the luff and permanently rigged pennants at the leech. All fine so far then. Sadly though, all of the fittings that do the hauling and restraining duties on the boom are shit. They are the cheapest, most  feeble budget plastic crap that you could imagine. On top of this, they are held on with puny self tapping screws and pop rivets which have clearly pulled free on multiple occasions already. This, to me, is not acceptable so I’ve taken the whole lot home to the workshop and spread it out on the floor to see how things can be improved.

Sails not original but very good.

Sails not original but very good.

The boom itself has been allowed to get fairly knocked about. The annodising has been grated away in several areas by contact with shrouds, shackles or the heads of unwary sailors. These areas have now corroded badly. There are also several areas of corrosion and damage where old reefing fittings have pulled free under load. I think the best I can do realistically is to clean up and paint any corroded areas, remove the remaining crap fittings, and bolt on something that’s actually up to the job. I make a habit of picking up any sturdy fittings I see going for peanuts on ebay  and so already had some big tufnol cleats for the leach pennants. The original pennants had been secured at the outer end of the boom by simply tying them each to a stainless staple thing badly screwed to the aluminium with self tappers. This arrangement had corroded, worked loose and in one case fallen off altogether. I took the last two off.

Crappy fittings fitted in a rather crappy manner.

Crappy fittings fitted in a rather crappy manner.

I prefer this method of securing the pennants to the boom. Simply stitch in an eye at one end and loop it around the boom under the foot of the sail. It gives a completely flexible means of positioning one end and doesn’t put any undue twisting force on the boom.

Little loop sewn and whipped with twine.

Little loop sewn and whipped with twine.

The reefing lines can then be run up to the cringles on the leech, back down the other side of the sail to a cheek block on the boom and then along the length of the boom forward to a big cleat near the gooseneck. A big cleat is very, very important here. If you don’t think it is, and are worried about how it’s going to look, then clearly you haven’t had the misfortune of having to reduce sail quickly on your own in a blind panic yet.

Bigger, browner, better cleats.

The bigger and browner the better.


Securely bolted and glued in place.


My new cheek blocks were indeed new (for a change) but nothing special. No ball race carbon fibre racing items necessary here, just sturdy fittings with good, well positioned mounting holes. I fixed them in place using stainless rivet nuts set into the boom and m5 stainless bolts. They were also bedded in on a thick layer of polyurethane construction adhesive to keep the salt water out and minimize any electrolytic corrosion in later years. I found out with Macavity that if I set the cheek blocks about 10 inches aft of where the leech cringle would end up at the boom when pulled down, this gives a good degree of tension to the foot of the sail and keeps the lines from scrunching up the leech when in use. This is personal choice though and you might wish to experiment before deciding on a final mounting point.

Fixing holes marked and drilled and stainless riv nuts inserted with this special crimping tool.

Fixing holes marked and drilled and stainless rivet nuts inserted with this special crimping tool.


Stainless riv nuts accept stainless fixing bolts....

Stainless rivet nuts accept stainless fixing bolts….

....which with a splat of poly contruction adhesive results in a very strong mount.

….which with a splat of poly construction adhesive results in a very strong mount. Trim adhesive sealer off with a razor blade when its dry.

That’s about it. The reefing horns at the gooseneck are fine so the only thing that could improve matters now is for the topping lift and main halyard to be run back to the cockpit for a quick single handed hoist when needed. I’m going to have to do this on the mooring at Poole though…. probably when it’s a bit warmer and dryer.

Beer bottle meths dispenser.

Just a short one. Last year I needed to devise a more suitable method of dispensing a measure of meths into my Tilley lamp preheat cup and the Trangia cooking stove. I had managed up until then quite well by simply pouring the stuff out of the bottle and mopping up any drips with kitchen roll, but on an emergency anchorage one day, sheltering from a sudden passing squall, I had the devils own job to get any liquid  into the burner to make a cup of tea. This was clearly a serious situation and I consider myself very lucky to be here to tell the tale. (As luck would have it, the squall soon passed allowing me to escape the very real horror of tea withdrawal and subsequent death.)

Lesson learnt, I set about making an easy pourer for future beverage emergencies. Here it is.

Spout for improved access to tilley pre heat cup.

Spout for improved access to tilley pre heat cup.

First, empty a small glass bottle with a large enough opening to fit a wine cork in. (Use cork not plastic bungs or it’ll just dissolve)

I find booze bottles are about the right size and more satisfying to empty.

I find booze bottles are about the right size and more satisfying to empty.

Get hold of a short piece of copper brake line from your friendly local garage.

Drill a hole in the cork and push the brake line through it.

Fill bottle with meths and push in cork.

Ta da! Perfect directional stability of pour even in the most dire of tea making conditions.

Ta da! Perfect directional stability of pour even in the most dire of tea making conditions.

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