Hand-crocheting a bow fender—updated

(This post has been updated. If you’re a keen crocheter read the first part and you’ll be in stitches at me trying to do a magic circle without the circle! I explain in Part 2.)

Part 1

The bow is the front bit of a boat (the stern’s the other end) so it’s the bit that tends to bump against the pontoon or whatever kind of dock you’re mooring to (parking).

Front of small yacht with mooring ropes, anchor chain, electricity cable and a big white & blue fender strung between 2 cleats on the pontoon.

Along the sides (gunwales) sailors hang fenders, which used to be made of hemp rope—because it’s strong, flexible and resists mildew—but nowadays are usually long chunky plastic floats.

3 different fenders at different heights above the water hanging off the guardrails.

Although many moorings have bow fenders fitted, it’s wise to have your own and the traditional bow protector is shaped like a curved sausage with elongated ends. Hence the name “bow pudding”. The bow is also where the anchor is, usually, stowed in a locker surrounded by the curved front rail known as the “pulpit” (the one at the stern’s the “pushpit”) and it goes over the bow with some kind of wheel or channel so the chain can run smoothly. So the bow fender can’t be there too, otherwise it would get in the way. The solution is to hang it below, with long ropes leading back to cleats on deck.

I’d had the idea to hand crochet a circular bow protector (more like a pie than a sausage) and I’d looked online to see if anyone had already done that and left tips—but all I could find was the sausage variety and the construction of that seems very fiddly. So I selected a length of rope, left about a metre then cross-looped the working end around my left arm twice, put my right hand under the outer loop, grabbed the inner one and pulled it through to form my first chain stitch.

8 bundles of rope on the floor of the cockpit with the one I started with in the foreground.
Cross-looping the working end of the rope around my arm twice.
My first chain stitch.

Then I chained 5 by just hold the first stitch in my left hand, putting my right hand through it, grabbing some of the working end of the rope and pulling it back through to form another loop. Then I joined the 6th stitch to the 1st by the same procedure except this time putting my hand through both before grabbing the working end—to form a slip stitch.

6 chain stitches in rope.

This should have pulled it all into a neat circle but instead it just joined them up. I think there’s something I forgot to do. Or maybe the rope wasn’t flexible enough. No matter.

The chain of 6 stitches linked.

I laid this developing crochet project across my knees and carried on round these 6 stitches putting a single crochet in each: instead of just pulling the working end through a stitch, I first pulled it through to form a new loop then went through that too and grabbed the working end again and pulled it through both loops.

Chain of 6 with single crochet stitches in each.

I carried on doing this but, to be honest, it can be difficult even with wool to work out which stitch is which and with this rope it was worse so I ended up going round and round but instead of creating a flat circle I found I was making a kind of rope bag.

Rope bag developing.
Rope bag complete.

Well, with handles in the right place, it would be just the thing to carry melons! But I needed a bow protector so I took it there to see how it would fit—and whether it would work!

Flattened rope bag with long spirals of rope on either side laid on the pontoon.

I think I’d subconsciously created a sporran! If you’re observant you may have noticed that this cream rope with blue flecks isn’t the one I started with: that was tan with red & black flecks. The reason is that this one’s longer and I needed that length to attach the protector to the bow.

Bow protector in place attached to pulpit, hanging over fender strung between pontoon cleats.

Does it fit and does it work? The answer to both is YES! I went out on my first solo sail yesterday and tried the technique of keeping the throttle forward to keep her bow on the pontoon so I could tie up the stern before the bow then switching off the engine. I wouldn’t say it went perfectly smoothly but instead of a bash there was a squelch. In fairness, that could’ve been the fender but I’m sure the bow protector helped.

Next step in this R&D is to do it again, using a similar rope, and see if I can work out how to get the initial magic circle right. My idea is to develop a large flat circle with enough rope left over from the start and the working end to run from the bottom to the pulpit then back to tie onto 2 top loops. That also would keep the bow clear of more coiled rope.

Part 2

Refreshing my memory about making a magic circle with this wee YouTube video (by Bella Coco) I realised I’d forgotten the circle—the basis of the magic! So I started again. Just watch the video as she explains it better than me. Hot tip: keep the start of the rope inside the circle when you work your stitches as it’s this that you pull to make the circular shape. Since I’ve explained the next steps I’ll just post the new pics—the only differences are that I did a round of single crochet from the beginning then 2 single crochet in each stitch, and I kept pressing the work down.

At the end I decided to use bowlines to secure it and I realised I didn’t need to put in extra loops at the top as there were already so many! So I just took one in the middle and two at the top. I don’t know the length of rope I used but here it is in 14.5 loops with my size 9 flip flops to give you an idea.

Rope in loops on floor of cockpit with author’s feet in flip-flops.
Leaving a good length of rope at the start. As much as you need for a bowline and to and from the deck.

Photos (c) the Author and may be used with a link to this post.


Messing About in Votes

Recently I’ve had the joy of spending time afloat on boats in Scottish lochs with friends who are supporters, members, former and future candidates, and officers of my UK political party Freedom Alliance—and it strikes me that there are some political lessons to be learned from messing about in boats. So this post is a kind of extended metaphor: what can nautical know-how teach us about being good party politicians?

Assemble a reliable crew

In order to do this, at least informal vetting has to take place and even people who are friendly, efficient and well-intentioned may have different points of view. It’s important, before setting out on a joint endeavour (such as an election campaign) to check that everyone has the same vision of the desired outcome as well as the same expectations of what contribution (which might not necessarily be financial but certainly an expenditure of time and effort) will be expected of everyone.

A sailing trip for some might mean a weekend of being drenched by spray hanging off the windward side of a close-hauled boat with the leeward gunwale just above the water; others might look forward to a crewman rubbing on their coconut suntan lotion while they sip a cocktail. Meanwhile the skipper might assume that everyone wants a not-too-challenging bit of sailing with time for a long lunch but with lifejackets always on, except at anchor. It’s worth checking!

In political terms, it’s perfectly possible to work with someone who says they’re basically a ‘paper candidate’ because they just don’t have the time or energy at the moment to do more than (maybe) an hour or two of leafleting and one afternoon of canvassing on the high street. That works if what you’re trying to do is just raise awareness of the party and of its policies on various issues. What’s more challenging is when someone puts forward great ideas and promises to action them, taking party resources to do so, then doesn’t. Some people are drawn to politics for the ego trip. One indication that you may have a good candidate is when you ask them to stand and they initially say ‘no’ then later confess they felt guilty about expecting others to do it for them.

Know the tide

If a political party were a boat, then the tide would be the predictable rhythmic movement of the primary element that upholds it and sets it in motion: public opinion. Tide tables and charts, calculations of similarity and difference, an eye on the calendar and the chronometer (clock), all these help a skipper gauge the strength and direction of this force but there’s nothing like local knowledge. While lazy tides in the upper Clyde vary only a couple of meters, less than 2 degrees of latitude south in Morecambe Bay, tides five times as high race in and out at the rate of a galloping horse.

There are some deeply-felt emotional commitments of the general UK public and of regional populations and local communities which, though manifesting seasonal changes, are predictable. The wise politician takes these into account when planning and navigating a course.

Sense the wind

The wind, in contrast, is a fickle element. Although, with the varying temperature of land and sea some breezes may be predictable, the wind can change suddenly in speed and direction. Even the prevailing wind, popularly thought to be simply southwest in mainland Britain, can not only vary with location but also with the season (northeasterlies are at least as common in springtime). They say a week is a long time in politics, well you can say the same about an hour at sea. The wise sailor is prepared to haul in, let out or reef (decrease the area of) the sail, change course and to drop the sail altogether and use the engine or just heave to, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm!

Being buoyed up by the media is exhilarating, as long as it lasts, but can be exhausting and only a fool relies on the constancy of the mediated crowd. It’s simply not possible to sail directly against the wind and heading too close to the wind can risk severe tipping (if the sail’s in tight) and the sail flapping. Conversely, sailing “goose-winged” (head sail out on one side, main on the other) with the wind behind you certainly gives you speed but a sudden gust can result in an accidental gybe sending the boom (bottom bar of the mainsail) swinging across the cockpit, knocking unwary heads, and precariously positioned crew overboard!

The political lesson here is keep a weather eye out and don’t rely on whatever the public is feeling this week, especially whatever the media is reporting they’re feeling, to continue. A reckless career can very easily go overboard! Without public backing nothing can be done but if sails are the policies put up by the party, then they can be scaled up or down and set out differently in order to work wisely with the fickle force of mediated opinion.

Ready the ropes

Seamanship’s a lot like being a Boy Scout or a Girl Guide (which are not the same, by the way): you have to be prepared. Sailing is all about opposition of forces, and ropes help maintain and direct the resultant force, so you need to have them handy and to know how and when to tie, untie, pull and slacken them. But ropes can be a hazard if you trip over them or they wrap themselves round the propeller!

The ropes don’t act directly on the forces driving the boat but they link most of the parts of the boat that do (the exceptions being the rudder operated by the hand-held tiller and the propeller operated by the engine). So, in the party, these are the links between the structure of the party and its policies, links that are the means of raising, deploying and replacing those policies. These internal party functions must be handy, reliable under strain and must keep to their designated place.

So, for example, means of internal and external communication by email, telephone, mail and internal mail, newspaper, television, radio and social media. This is the running rigging of a political party. It’s important to be able to identify these connections, to have them available for use and to understand how to use them.

Be clear about decision-making

There are two situations I feel are unsuited to democracy: cooking and sailing. Someone has to be in charge because if every decision is taken as an opportunity for renegotiation then the broth will spoil with too many cooks and the entire crew will end up overboard. Sometimes people simply have to do what they’re told, and sometimes, in a crisis, they will have to be told curtly and without immediate explanation.

There are several caveats to the above paragraph.

  • Firstly, a tyrannical skipper risks mutiny. This can be as mild as mates delaying their return from the pub cos they’re having more fun on land than at sea or as extreme as fisticuffs aboard. I’ve never witnessed the latter but I have been on a tall ship continuously at sea for weeks and it was clear that the extremely competent captain and first mate placed a very high value on crew morale.
  • Secondly, if an explanation (and apology for tone) can’t be given immediately it should not be delayed when the crisis is over.
  • Thirdly, sailing is supposed to be enjoyable and politics is supposed to make things better. So a skipper/ leader has to ask: is it? If the answer is “no” then things have to improve and (as Stan Lee said in 1962, when his government started 10 years of spraying Vietnamese forests with Agent Orange) “with great power there must also come–great responsibility”.
2 smiling bearded White men in cockpit of small yacht on loch. Younger man holds tiller & mainsheet.

Thanks to Di McMillan for permission to use photo. Copyright otherwise remains with her.

Topsides and hull

My last post on Harmony described repairing this 1974 Mirror dinghy, again, and how I (eventually) overcame my despair at yet another repair! As a boating friend said, old wooden boats are lovely but they need a lot of maintenance and, when it’s done, that feels worth it!

The broken stern transom gunwale glued with epoxy, and the inner plywood boards dried, I got on with painting. Yes, I could’ve stripped it all back but my pragmatic solution (to get her afloat this year) was that, if the wire brush didn’t take it off, it was staying on! So, after sanding, it was undercoat (International yacht primer) first on the bare planks, then everywhere.

Then it was the topcoat, a deeper Marine blue than the original Navy, giving a vintage feel and (as I’d been misled by the red label) getting away from the red top style borrowed from the tabloid newspaper that sponsored the original. Evening came and (several) mornings came, and then I had to face turning the boat over and surveying the damage to the hull.

The keel paintwork was pretty beat up and there were a couple of dents in the woodwork. Some rotten wood too that would have to be scraped away. So I went to work with the steel brush and took off all the paint and rot that I could. Then I cleaned it up and covered it up again to dry out for some days. Boat repair takes time.

Reluctantly I realised I’d have to get out the epoxy again. So once more with the mask, gloves and goggles. Actually it took a few applications.

Then repainting. Now that the wood was nice and dry. The same Marine colour as the topsides. The same vintage look with just the nameplates showing lighter.

So now, repaired and repainted, the only thing left to do was to check the trailer. Well, I found good and bad news. But that’s a story for another day.

Ship shape

I wasn’t looking forward to repairing and repainting my Mirror dinghy, again. My social media handle “gumptionology” comes from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and the author, Robert M. Pirsig, got the word “gumption” from an old Scottish relative. It’s a common old word here and means a combination of initiative and know-how, get-up-and-go, va va voom, Kraft. There’s a few translations.

The problem is I really didn’t have any. I’ve been wanting to sail this boat for a few years now. For various reasons, it hasn’t happened. The latest set-back was (probably) some local fishermen deciding to take Harmony out on the canal. They obviously understood boats (she was upturned when I found her, so the rain didn’t get in) but they didn’t understand how heavy old wooden boats are – and how fragile the bow and stern transom and gunwales are – especially when hauled out of the water!

I’ve already blogged about when the bow broke, but this time it wasn’t the bow transom (that’s the bit at the front) but the gunwale (the bit at the front on the top). Added to that, everything has been such a hassle this past year and a half while everyone has been under the spell of the Covid cult. So trying to get a mate to come out and help me shift and repair the boat, or even just go for a row, has been difficult. I have had some help, for which I’m very grateful, however I knew water was probably getting in and I knew I needed to do something about that.

Finally, I got round to it. Pirsig coined the term gumptionology to refer to the art of being and feeling up to a task. He gives some helpful hints. One is coffee and I made sure I had a couple of cups before I left the house. I also freed up the afternoon so I wouldn’t feel time-pressured (that’s another). Then I decided to do one thing at a time.

The first thing was to dry the boat, make sure she stays dry and inspect/ remove any rotten wood. I really wanted to do that, and the repair and the paint job all on the same day as this heatwave is forecast to end in a couple of days. But I decided to focus on the first task and try to do that well.

Pirsig stresses the importance of good mood. As the stinging nettles drive me crazy when I’m working outside on the boat, I decided to take some old-fashioned manual hedge cutters to them before even starting that first task.

I already felt a little better. Being out in the sun and actually dealing with the problem instead of ignoring it helped. However my heart sank when I ran the wire brush over the paintwork and easily peeled off the “bubbled” navy blue paint below and astern of the thwart (seat). Rotten plywood. That had to come off.

Even as I worked, the sun was drying up the damp wood and I realised most of it could be rescued, with either a coat of epoxy glue (as I’d previously done on the hull supports) or with primer, then successive coats of paint. As long as the wood wasn’t rotten and it was dry! I tidied up the paint and wood scraps to transport back home to bin and put the fabric cover back on to let the boat breathe and get even drier.

As my biggest worry was rain (not uncommon in Scotland) the next day I put into action a cunning plan. £25 had bought me an inflatable dinghy and pump that really shouldn’t have been used outside a swimming pool. At the shallow end. Ben my cute terrier and I had paddled it up and down the canal over lockdown a few times (me rowing and him lolling over my legs and being famous on Facebook as every passerby fell in love with his doggie charm). Not unsurprisingly, it had sprung a few leaks and, though I repaired them with StormSure glue & tape, I felt it was safer to use it as an extra cover for Harmony to keep the tarp convex rather than concave and so prevent puddles forming and water ending up inside.

When I got back the next day, knowing I would find a dry boat (which would’ve stayed dry if I’d been more clever about getting the tarp off) made me feel more enthusiastic. I’d need that good mood because today I was going to use epoxy. Another of Pirsig’s hints is cleanliness and good order so first I wiped the whole topsides down, from gunwales to centreboard case, with a dry cloth, which got slightly wetter as I went along. This is a good move for various reasons:

  • dust gets onto paint and in your eyes
  • dirt hides damp and damage
  • beasties get dislodged and don’t get painted!
  • it’s a visual check of the whole boat
  • if paint gets rubbed off just with a cloth, it needs scraped off and repainted

It also gave the exposed wood a bit more time to dry and I could see the underlying layers of plywood were staying in place as they dried.

Next to prepare the gunwales for the epoxy using a file – and also a fern to slip through the crack at the stern and brush out any beasties! I figured I’d get all the filing done before using the glue so the dust wouldn’t stick and the vibrations wouldn’t displace what was supposed to be stuck together!

When you go looking for trouble on a boat you generally find it. I’d seen a very professional repair done on a Mirror that revealed all the original wood and clear varnished the inside and I must admit it was lovely. However I’ve learned that the pragmatic approach works well with boats and I knew that I’d never get her ready for even the autumn if I undertook all that. So I decided I’d only take off what wouldn’t stay on and simply file and sand then epoxy and repaint.

The proper mindset for using epoxy is paranoia. (Imagine the scamdemic were really true and act accordingly.) Basically, if you put enough masks on so you can’t breathe, and wear so much eye protection you can’t see, you’ve got a fighting chance with it. Make sure you do all these things before you open those tins. Because you can’t do any of them afterwards!

  • Pee
  • Drink water
  • Wipe your eyes
  • Blow your nose
  • Take photos
  • Text
  • Switch off alarms
  • Read the instructions!!!!!

Firstly lay everything out on a cloth. Because everything is going to get sticky and you need to know what’s what and where it is. If you’re using 5:1 don’t even bother measuring out 5ml just go for 10:2 because you’ll need it. If the job is smaller than that, you don’t need epoxy, you need chewing gum!

Everything is about time and temperature. READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!!!! Separate the syringes and keep them separate so you know which is which and only put the resin syringe in the resin and the hardener in the hardener. Panic is part of the process (it goes with oxygen deprivation) but the important thing is that when something goes wrong (it will) don’t mess about wondering how to do it perfectly: JUST DO IT!!!!

Working with epoxy is very Zen. If Zen consisted of making a gloopy sticky mess that defies gravity when you want it not to and runs when you’d rather it stuck and sticks the fingers of your gloves together (or your fingers if you’ve been STUPID enough not to wear gloves) and makes you either pass out from lack of air or pass out from toxic fumes!

Panic started when I realise the double pronged tack helpfully holding the bow gunwale apart (so I could gloop the glue in) wasn’t going to go back in place without a fight despite initially shifting slightly. I had minutes (which felt like seconds) to get those pieces of wood clamped together – without a clamp. I did at one point consider just standing there for 8 hours till it cured. (That glue is pretty strong!) Then I sprang into action, doing everything I’ve just warned not to!

I tore off my hat, gloves, masks and breathed in some air! I looked around wildly for a piece of rope then wasted time trying to figure out how to get it off the inflatable (just do it!) then wasted even more trying to move all the epoxy stuff —magnificently now in the way — without touching it. Then more time uselessly trying to keep a rope taut from amidships along the bow gunwales then back to the cleats on the cabin roof. Finally I looped it round the padded block (which the boat should’ve been on) over a cloth to exert pressure on the gunwale and finally to the cleats.

Sticky, sweaty and most probably high (don’t phone anyone at this point, in fact try to avoid human beings and animals and plants and breakable objects entirely) I messed about trying to tidy up the gloops a bit. Mostly in vain. Then a red deer appeared. Well. It was red and it was a deer. A moment of stillness and beauty.

I realised I had done enough for the day. One way or another. I washed my hands in water, wiped them on cloths (fairly ineffectually) and covered up the boat again. For another day of repairing and painting.

Harmony with inflatable atop covered by blue tarp and grey fabric cover with green tarp over front wheel of trailer.

How to live under Lockdown

As the panic about the “pandemic” worsens, I’m revisiting a previous post called 10 Tasks to Survive Brexit. (Remember then?) Because here in the UK we’re now not only being cut off from Europe but, together with many people in many countries, we are being cut off from each other. Community groups are folding, plays and play groups cancelled, team sports have stopped, schools are closing and varsity has retreated up its ivory tower and locked the door. Spurious miscellaneous items are disappearing from supermarket shelves, business for Big Pharma is booming and everyone is terrified of human contact and is binge-watching boxsets. And it’s our own panic that’s doing it.

Some would call this commonsense. I wouldn’t but I’m not now going to argue the case. Instead, I’d like to suggest how to live under Lockdown:

  1. Plant vegetables. Get out to the garden, plant herbs in hanging baskets and windowboxes or even sneak out to the allotment. On Good Friday it’s a Christian rural tradition to plant potatoes. It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in Christ. Believe in the life cycle. Remember: this too shall pass.

  1. Plant flowers. Plant a tree too! Resist the high-handed madness of your local authority and their war against trees. We need them.
  2. Go vegan. Seriously. The NHS is overloaded, you really can only afford good nutrition. And if you live in a country without free healthcare, even moreso!
  3. Get a dog or two if you can and take them out for (long) walks three times a day. That vitamin D will perk you up and you’ll need the serotonin to stop obsessing about whatever is happening on TV, phone and computer screens. This is perennial advice. When humans go batshit crazy, animals suffer. Take care of them. They will more than repay you. Get a cat, while you’re about it.
  4. Make things. Learn to knit, crochet (buy wool in charity shops) weave, make macrame and ceramics and cook if you don’t know how – and branch out if you do. Home cooking can be therapeutic, social and far cheaper (and healthier) than over-packaged store-bought ready meals with way too much sugar and salt. This might not be an option if things get worse – it might be absolutely necessary. So get ahead of the curve!
  5. Repair things. Google: sewing, darning, changing a fuse, changing a washer on a leaky tap, learn bicycle/ motorcycle/ car maintenance – or even rebuild a boat – go online and learn! You think you can rely on tradespeople not being affected by this madness? Think again!
  6. Teach. You know things. Share those skills. Online, by conference call. Just do it.
  7. Reuse, recycle, upcycle and barter. There are lots of schemes, like Freecycle. Yup!
  8. Try to be happy – and help others to be. I’ve lived in countries where the economy is a joke. It’s difficult but people are resilient and you adapt. You don’t have to wait for the glorious socialist revolution in order to share planned or spontaneous moments of joy and people are all around you. That’s still true. Stop obsessing about yourself and wallowing in your own misery and anxiety. Get up and get organised. Look around you – who’s worse off than you/ How can you help? Stop waiting for some higher authority to tell you what to do. HELP PEOPLE!
  9. Read. No, not just (social) media posts – read them as little as possible. At times like these, they’re mostly poison to a healthy mind. Read books and magazines and long, thought-provoking articles. Get around to it. Improve your mind. Stop opining and get informed. Learn the joy of good education and to put all this into perspective.

Above all, STAY ALIVE!

Knitting doll

“Knitting Doll” Image (c)Alan McManus, wooden knitting doll from Ridley’s House of Novelties

Walking: Falkirk to Linlithgow

With the world on climate strike, one academic year barely over and the next about to begin, I decided to enjoy the rare Scottish sunshine and walk the next section of my good days journey to Edinburgh along the Forth & Clyde and the Union canals. Ben, my faithful doggy companion, had already proved his worth in the 2.5 hours it had taken us to get to Falkirk High, by train, bus and walking (which should have been a half-hour train ride) as he’d simply flirted with everyone in sight and taken their minds off broken-down trains. We really didn’t mind and Falkirk Arts Festival was looking bonny in the sun.

Falkirk Arts Festival bigger

We’d done a side walk from Falkirk High to the Kelpies in February and back but the last section, from Auchinstarry in October last year, had also ended at this canalside train station so that’s where we started – at the famously long and eerie tunnel with its fairy lights and red-green traffic lights at either end.

The tunnel wasn’t just eerie it was also wet! I put Ben on the lead and walked warily over the cobblestones further into a fairyland under the hill. Not a place for the claustrophobic – although you can always see the light at both ends – and we had to flatten ourselves against the wall to let a couple of cyclists past. But, if you manage to miss the narrow streams of falling water, when your eyes adjust, it’s rather lovely.

Outside again and the warmth of the air and blue skies were a pleasant surprise. After all, this was Scotland, in September! (If there’s an R in the month, it tends to rain almost constantly; if there isn’t, it just rains a lot.) The Union canal, narrower than the Forth and Clyde, was popular with cheery narrowboaters, who (from their accents and amiable incomprehension of mine) hailed from Across the Pond and Down Under.

It is also full of beautiful old bridges (the newer ones are more functional than aesthetic) whose builders weren’t always happy with their financial lot, as a sign explained.

The milestones intrigued me and it was only further on that I worked out what the numbers referred to: we were 2 miles to the west of the beginning of the Union canal at the Falkirk Wheel; 29.5 miles from its Edinburgh end. There was also a sensible notice for cyclists (though the rude ones would be going too fast to read it):

Old stone is quite a feature of these canals and the next example was a weir with an overflow burn below, keeping the level of each reach (canal section from lock to lock) – and providing Ben with his favourite tipple: rainwater.

Further along, I spotted white deadnettle among the ferns, which look a little like snapdragons but the leaves sting! At the next bridge was a spray of rosehips.

And then, unexpectedly, a field of pinto ponies! And was that smoke from Grangemouth? Yes, then that must be the Forth, flowing majestically down from Stirling, under the Kincardine bridge towards Queensferry and the North Sea. And the lovely Kingdom of Fife, the setting for my latest Bruno Benedetti Mystery – which I must get finished! And another lovely bridge.

Some Ben action shots now: (if you flick through them quick you can see him jumping around happily):

Purple clover hiding in the grass, a stark star of cow parsley and the delicate violet-coloured flowers and large , typical geranium leaves of wood crane’s-bill.

On to Polmont where there was a nice long quay with mooring rings and a shut-up narrowboat snugly tied up, with another one chugging along.

The town is famous for its prison for young offenders but, before that, the ambiguous legacy of Alfred Nobel. Not exactly peaceful!

In prison or out, life goes on, and so did the path. With Ben irrigating the vegetation and another narrowboat approaching. I spied a great big clump of yellow vetch and took a close-up.

A welcome rest! I sat on the milestone while Ben had his lunch then, in solidarity with our Greta, went on strike. Right in the middle of the path. I persuaded him to sprawl on the grass just before a cyclist happened by.

I had been dawdling. I knew it. I’d stopped so often to get my phone out of my backpack to take photos that I finally gave up the pretence of being technology-free. And I’d just ambled along chatting to everyone, who chatted back. It was that kind of day. But, when I saw this sign, I realised that I really should get a move on. Later on I worked out that, at this point, it had taken us 2.5 hours to walk a total of 2 miles! It really didn’t help that Ben occasionally walked back the way we’d come.

But there were quiet meadows to contemplate, lovely old stone bridges and sheep lying down in shady pasture.

I didn’t notice this sinister thing lurking in the murky waters when I took what I thought was a poetic shot of riverbed reeds. Bicycle inner tube? Freshwater eel? A very lanky pike? Then I spotted this keystane and thought of Burns’ immortal line about midnight’s black arch.

On the other bank, a herd of bulls and one on his own. I turned veggie at the age of eight and vegan a few years ago. Since seeing sheep carcases hanging on the walls of a slaughterhouse, I’ve avoided farmed animals. I watched The Animals’ Film with my brother decades ago (it turned him veggie, again) but I don’t watch all the shocking footage that’s so widespread these days. I know what goes on. When I lived on a small Hebridean isle, the only beings I didn’t connect with were the cattle and sheep. I knew their fate. I didn’t want to get to know them.

bullsBut recently I’ve been following some animal sanctuaries on Instagram. The pigs that have names and get butternut squash and bellyrubs are the same of sentient  species, more intelligent than dogs, who are imprisoned in cages as piglet-making machines, who scream in terror before being clubbed or shot or knifed or skewered or gassed to death. Male chicks, considered as non-profitable processes in the egg industry, are suffocated or mechanically shredded – human hands pick them out on purpose and set them on that conveyor belt. Cows cry at what awaits them, as the deception of the kindly farmer finally hits home.


So I was glad that these ones were out in the field in the sun. And I was sad that human greed, for milk and meat (ignoring the effect of both on the body and the planet) meant their early and terrifying death.

But then there was the sun reflected on the water. Which must have meant something. And the path went on – and here’s a bicycle! Okay it’s got no brakes and the back tire needs pumped up, at least, but it’s free and yours for the taking!

The picnic place beside the canal basin looked nice and, before another lovely bridge, a sign that we were nearing…ah but you’ll have to wait and see!

And then a ford and, past a wee narrowboat shimmering in the sun, and an ivy-covered tree in a lovely wood, there was…

Well you’ll have to wait because, at this point, Ben bolted ahead – straight for what appeared to be a very small sausage dog on a lead which was promptly hoisted to shoulder height by his owner (clearly used to this) and turned out to be a ferret! I apologised and the unsuccessful (and unrepentant) murderer went back on his lead.

The Avon Aqueduct! (And we’ve come a whole 3 miles since that last sign – which is 5.5 altogether. In three hours. Oh well.)

It was beautiful. I’m sure Hugh Baird was proud of his creation. I really got the sense of crossing over towards the east coast. The canal continued and Ben seemed happy to, and there were lots of pretty flowers along the way.

This may be water mint and that’s bullrush – but the tower is definitely not the Wallace Monument. I think the sun was getting to me when I came to that conclusion and forgot my Central Scottish geography.

A wee burn below the canal, a milestone to show how brave we were (seven miles – fancy!) and some splendid huts that may or may not have been for boaters.

I fell in love with Linlithgow. What’s over that bridge? Look at those cute canalside cottages! What a lovely spire! What is it? (St Michael’s Church, with the Palace behind it – or St Michael’s Kirk, wi thi Palace ahint it, in the vernacular.)

Journey’s end was the sight of these lovely old canalboats, including a workboat tipped a bit astern as the ballast would be heavier forrard, and a teashop.

Well I know what’s my first stop for the next stage: Linlithgow to Ratho. But that, as they say, is another story. My last photo: a lovely veranda and Linlithgow Loch behind.

lovely veranda

[All photos (descriptions more accurate than titles) are copyright the author and may be used with a link to this post.]


Below the waterline

Having replaced the broken forward transom (bow) of my Mirror dinghy, I now had to deal with the peeling paint, rotten wood and delaminated plywood below the Plimsoll line. I wasn’t looking forward to it. Inching the boat off the trailer was fun – involving two large trailer straps with hooks and ratchets, an empty oil barrel and a conveniently-placed ring on the side of a concrete shed. I could have asked for help but I’m a bit impatient. (Which is what led to all the damage to the bow and the hull in the first place!)

Boat on a barrel
Boat on a barrel with lifting straps

Boat lowered onto the grass and turned over onto planks, I could survey the hull. The sensible long-term solution was to replace the damaged plywood but (as it isn’t part of the hull per se but rather supports running parallel to the keel which seemed principally to bear the load of resting on the trailer, and as I really wanted to get the boat out while there was still some good weather) I decided to remove what I had to and epoxy the rest.

And so it began. Removing the peeling paint was easy enough. It just peeled off. Unfortunately the same was true for much of the first two layers of plywood. Faced with not enough support if I kept removing layers, I decided to only take off what was rotten and stick the rest down. That, at least, was the plan.

Paying attention to what lay beneath the paintwork, I discovered some other areas of the hull (along the keel and mostly on either side of the centreboard slot) that needed attention.

Rotten wood had to be scraped out with a wire brush, and flaking paint and epoxy removed between the keel and its metal strip protector.

Fortunately this repair coincided with a fortnight of fabulous weather, so I could be confident that the exposed wood really dried out. That, however, was the limit of my confidence. If I did all this and the boat didn’t float, Plan B was to sell it, with full disclosure. To cheer myself up, after replacing the bow, I’d decided to put a fresh coat of Bondi Blue topcoat on the topsides and finally affix the name of the boat: Harmony. Henceforth ‘it’ would be known as ‘she’.

Below the waterline, the forward hull wood and paintwork was undamaged but looked more cheerful with another coat and gave me something to do while other places were drying out.

That done and dried, I started sanding the mid and aft hull, especially where the wood was newly exposed.

Finally satisfied that the surfaces were ready, I prepared to apply the marine epoxy and glasscloth as I’d done for the forward transom and gunwales.

This stuff I’d bought from Trident UK and (unlike the Galeforce 1:1 ratio) it needed 1:5 hardener to epoxy so this time I did use the calibrated syringes. I also donned my protective goggles and pulled my neck warmer up over my nose.

I won’t bore you with all the details of the various applications of fibreglass cloth and epoxy but I soon realised that I’d need to get more if I wanted the plywood surface more even.

A mate sold me some polyester resin (with hardener) to save me the trip to the chandler’s – and I soon discovered that everything they say about the fumes from this stuff being noxious is true! And much more than epoxy. Even outside, with a breeze blowing and looking like a Martian, it was making my head spin. So the advice to use a particle mask or respirator – even when just sanding the stuff down – is sound.

As before, the sticky strands of glasscloth drove me crazy when I was trying to get the cloth to stay in place.

Polyester 3
Strands of glasscloth fraying on plywood

You really need to pay attention to the amount of hardener (1-2% only!) and mix mix mix before you apply it – otherwise, as I found out, the 20-30 minute application window shrinks to 5-10! So it was all very tedious but eventually the hull stopped looking like the surface of the moon as layer after layer of cloth and resin approximated the levels of the surface of the hull planks and protective plywood.

It didn’t help that one fine day I was sanding down the surfaces (which I did between each application) and managed to get some hardened resin dust in my eye. That served me right for thinking I could get away with not wearing goggles and put me out of the game for a few days with a painful swollen eye – which I had to bathe every few hours.

Robert M. Pirsig, the “engineer’s philosopher” who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, warns against trying to fix a machine when you’re in a bad mood (cos all you’ll do is damage). A wooden boat, nowadays, maybe doesn’t strike most people as mechanical but it floats because of the physics of opposing forces and I think that’s sound advice. So, even though the sun shone, I resisted the urge to just get it done and instead did some jobs around the house I’d been putting off.

Recovered and refreshed, I did one last lot of sanding down the globs of resin that spattered the hull – despite my best efforts – then wiped down the whole upturned boat with a wet cloth, then a dry one, then wiped the resin with white spirit (to ‘take the bloom off’) dried that and started to paint.

The undercoat covered a multitude of sins, I knew, and I really should have applied another coat, and maybe primer (though I wasn’t sure of the order) but there was either a previous layer of paint or of resin underneath and with midsummer approaching I really wanted this boat on the water. So the Rustic Red went on (and ran over the Bondi Blue in places and had to be sanded off).

Not the prettiest paintjob but Harmony, after weeks out of the water, was finally ready for the big moment: would she float?

And, with the help of a good strong mate, I soon found out. YES!



When the bow broke

It was all going swimmingly. I’d shipped the oars and the Ship’s Dog and I were floating along the Forth and Clyde canal, watching the reflections ripple across the old stone bank and listening to the birdsong.

Bow and canal
Bow and canal

(Actually the Ship’s Dog was too busy lazing in the stern of my Mirror dinghy to bother about the banks or the birds.)

Ben astern
Ben astern

And then, disaster struck!

Bow broken
Bow broken

I did know that the forward transom (as the rounded triangle at the end of the bow is called) had a line of fracture running along parallel to the deck and up to the top rail. When I’d bought the boat, I’d seen it had been repaired at some point and a mate had just filled in the cracks with some epoxy (very strong glue) and we’d hoped for the best. I remember him saying something about having either some resin or some hardener left over, and me being surprised – as it said to mix them equally on the tin.

Now, the original fracture, resulting rotten wood, the weakness of the epoxy mix (maybe on both occasions) and my impatient hauling on the bow rope to drag the boat onto the trailer (which doubles as a launching trolley) instead of positioning it correctly in the water so it would just float on – all combined disastrously and the bow broke.

I was not happy. Would I have to sell my beloved wee boat, Harmony, after only a few months of ownership – and most of them over the winter? I couldn’t afford a professional, so I emailed a Glasgow charity that specialises in boatbuilding but they failed to reply. I could have phoned them but, at that point, I was getting over the initial shock and decided to take up the challenge myself.

Onto the Trident UK website, where I purchased a forward transom kit.

New forward transom & bow heart
New forward transom and bow heart

Before doing anything, I had to remove the old forward transom. I’d toyed with the idea of leaving the sound bottom part in, but I knew the join had to be sturdy so that the top part didn’t rip off again. Especially, with the mast and sails up, in a strong wind in the middle of Loch Lomond! So, out with the old and in with the new. (I didn’t like the look of the hull, once the old fibreglass sealing tape had come off the inside.)

I’d only be using glass tape from the outside – as I wouldn’t have access inside without removing the deck and I didn’t want to go that far. I hoped the new seal would be watertight! First I had to fit the new bow heart (the darker, thicker small spearhead of wood) to the new forward transom (‘the transom’ usually means the more rectangular one at the stern, not this roughly triangular one at the bow). Then, see how the new forward transom would fit. (The photos are out of proportion but they show the same pieces of wood.)

Now to refit the ring fasteners for the bow rope and the forestay (the front cable that holds up the mast).

Outside of new transom with fittings
Outside of new transom with fittings

Next I had to fit the new top rail. That involved removing all the old copper ‘stitches’ so the new wood could fit. And also removing the rotten wood at both bow ends of the gunwales (the long, narrow, curved pieces of wood running around the top edge of the hull.

Removing the old fibreglass tape uncovered the irregularities of the join. Here’s the starboard side of the hull, with the new forward transom nailed onto the wood running under the deck (perhaps not advisable, as it introduces a breach and the nail can rust, but I’d no other option).

Close up of space between transom and starboard hull
Close up of space between transom and starboard hull

Then the sanding began! Port and starboard sides of the hull, and the bottom. Not forgetting the inside, on and above the deck. This took forever. And the metal tip at the hull bottom broke off.

The insides, above the deck, needed sanded too. Forever, and a day.

Sanded deck
Sanded deck

The rot in both gunwales, hidden under the old epoxy and paint, was more extensive than I’d thought.

Extensive rot on starboard gunwale
Extensive rot on starboard gunwale

I was tempted to ignore it but it would cost more effort eventually and I didn’t want to end up having to replace the gunwales entirely. So out it all had to come – including the nails that had gone through the damaged upper edges of the hull (that metal clip was useless). And all that needed sanding too.

So now it was time for the epoxy. I used the West System.

West system
West system of marine epoxy, brushes, syringes and glasstape on deck

I didn’t use the syringes with these 1:1 tubs of resin and hardener from Gaelforce, or the brushes, because the mix was as thick as peanut butter. I also didn’t need the clamps to keep the inner and outer gunwales together, as replacing the only screw almost at the end, with a slightly longer one, did the trick. I filled the gap with epoxy and strips of glasscloth then more epoxy. Then I had to face doing the same thing, but now further down. Where it would have to cover up a multitude of sins – and, below the waterline, make the difference between being watertight and springing a leak!

The glasscloth was sticky (I troweled the epoxy onto the wood first) and the single strands of the weave got everywhere. Finally, the first process was complete but would need another application to fill in the gaps.

So then came the next coats, using a 1:5 mix (which the syringes came in handy for) from Trident of 105 (resin) and 205 (hardener) epoxy – with some 403 microfibre white filler powder to add to the mix to get it to a thicker consistency. I also filled in the gap between the bow heart and top rail, and coated the nails.

Port and starboard sides, after a lot of sanding, were now looking much better.

Time for the undercoat, with white Pre-Kote International.

At this point, I was beginning to feel hopeful again. It looked good. Would it be watertight? I painted on, with blue Toplac International.

Finally, with all the topsides done, my (fairly bad) paint job was complete!

Would she float? Before I find that out, I need to sort out the warped planking and flaked-off paint underneath the hull. Till next time!