Sunday, September 18, 2005

More frustration

Under pressure at work and unable to get down to the boat at all this weekend...why do New York lawyers insist on working at weekends and making the rest of us come in and be there with them? Still, they're effectively paying for the work being done by the yard, so I have to humour them.

On which subject, the yard called me to say that they've done the work recommended by the surveyor. Things are looking up! I haven't had the chance to look at what they've done, of course, but still, yay! I might actually get this yacht into the water sometime before Christmas...

Monday, September 12, 2005


Little progress since my last entry, except that I managed to get down to Southampton one night late last week and get a third coat of varnish and a fourth coat of Dex on, and started to polish the hull, which ended up looking nice but is clearly going to take awhile based on how little I got done in the hour I had to spare.

No-one had started work on the surveyors' recommendations that I left with the yard. Grump.

I had to go overseas at the weekend, so everything is parked until this coming Saturday. I think I'll get some plastic sheeting to put over the companionway, and then at least I could bring the washboards back and get some more coats of varnish on them here at home. Be interesting to see on Saturday if the yard company has started work...

Sunday, September 04, 2005

The Joy of Dex

I spent two long days working on Arabella's exterior woodwork this weekend.

I sanded the three companionway washboards, filled a few cracks where the water had got through the old vanish, stained them to something approximating red teak colour, and then got two coats of varnish on to them, the following coats will have to wait until I can get back down to Southampton again. I took a look at the prices of 'marine' woodcare products in the swindlery and, after I had fallen over and got back up again, got myself over to Homebase a bit sharpish, where I paid about 50% of the swindlery's prices for filler and woodstain. I surrendered to the inevitable on the varnish itself, though, and paid the swindlery about £12 (gah!) for a small tin of International "Classic" and a can of No.1 Thinner - I just couldn't be sure that I wanted to risk the cheaper household exterior varnish from Homebase against sea water, even though logic tells me I probably could. In fairness, the International "Classic" varnish does go on well, as long as you thin it about 10-15% (and accept that you'll be applying more coats as a result), and it seems to give a good finish. I can slap emulsion on walls and ceilings with the best of them, but I'm no Michaelangelo with oil-based paints and varnishes, so I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of finish I ended up with, even with two more coats still to go. Using a roller seemed to work especially well, as long as I laid off the varnish with a brush afterwards.

I wasn't going to get caught buying expensive marine products for the teak rubbing strake, though - good old Cuprinol would certainly do for that job. Arabella's rubbing strake seems perfectly intact, but it had clearly gone for a long time without TLC and had dried and bleached to light grey colour. I used Cuprinol teak restorer (oxyialic acid, foul stuff - use latex gloves) which magically brought the original wood colour back, then sanded it thoroughly, washed it down with Cuprinol teak cleaner, let it dry out in the hot sunshine and followed up with three coats of Cuprinol garden furniture teak oil. Total cost: £9.50 on products (of which I used less than a quarter by volume, so there lots left for next season); about two hours' work overall, in between applying coats of varnish elsewhere; and a bloody great splinter in the palm of my hand which I haven't yet figured out how to extract without screaming like a girly. It struck me as I wandered about the boatyard how many other boats, ashore and afloat, had similarly bleached rubbing strakes. I can't understand why people don't care for them more. While varnishing seems to strike irrational fear into the hearts of at least 50% of the local yachties down here (based on the evidence of their boats, at least) oiling teak is the world's cheapest, easiest boat maintance job and the amazing before-and-after effect makes you feel really virtuous, too.

The final job, that I at least got started on today but will have to finish in a fortnight if the weather lets me, was the restoration of Arabella's handrails and companionway hatch slides. They appeared to have been done at some time or another in Dex or similar, given the rough looking finish. A lot of the old finish was flaking off, and the bare wood had mildewed, so I attacked the woodwork with a vengeance to find out what the teak looked like underneath before deciding which product to use (being chocked up only 10 metres from the swindlery is awfully convenient for this sort of last-minute decision). The result of all that aggression was some basically sound but unprepossessing woodwork, so I plumped for Dex 1+2 and got the mandatory 3 base coats on. I'm not a great fan of Dex, despite International's claims that it is a wonder product - I used it on my last boat and the woordwork never really came up very well, but it is easy enough to slap on and seals and shines the wood. As expected therefore, the woodwork didn't look especially amazing once I packed up tonight, but at least the wood was protected and I can concentrate on the finish with the next 6 or 7 coats, I hope.

I was fortunate to get finished on all of the above before the threatened thunderstorms swept in from the south west, and it was good to see the deluge of water beading up and running straight off the woodwork -even where I'd just used teak oil - so the hard work wasn't all for nothing. I think the teak rubbing strake looks great, the companionway washboards are definitely getting there and the 'Dexed' handrails, etc...well, we'll see.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Arabella on the move

Arabella made it safely down to the south coast today, and is now safely chocked up at the marina in Southampton. It's a going to be fine weekend with breezes of F3-4, sea state slight, so I'm going...varnishing, while I wait for the surveyor's recommendations to be carried out. Doh!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

SL400 sea toilet spares

Rydgeway Marine's 1973 brochure shot of the SL400 installation on a Pandora International

Arabella has a Simpson Lawrence SL400 sea toilet under the v-berth forward. It has a very low profile design (and needs it, to fit into the space provided).

I had one of those 'sinking feeling' moments recently when someone told me that it's impossible to obtain spares for the SL400 now Sowester-Simpson Lawrence are out of business.

That was a bit of downer: apart from not wanting to buy a new toilet each time a seal fails, it'd be difficult to find a replacement model that fits.

Anyway, I searched through the YBW forums. Good news: one of the forumites had spotted a while back that a former Simpson Lawrence employee had set up in business to supply parts for the SL400 (and certain other SL products). I checked out the website and not only does the ex-employee supply spares, he has also recommenced building the SL400, which tackles both of the concerns that I mentioned above.

The website is HERE, in case you ever find yourself caught short.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Where to berth her?

Woodrolfe Creek from the marina entrance at HW-4 (July 2005).

There's no getting around it - marinas are expensive old places. Moorings are a very sensible way of slashing running costs, if you can make use of them. I wish I could, but I'm effectively forced to pay top dollar because of my time commitments elsewhere. Planning sailing time ahead can be difficult, and if I can't just go and jump aboard Arabella at a moment's notice I might as well not bother owning her. For this reason, a marina is the only realistic option for me.

I purchased Arabella through Woodrolfe Brokerage at Tollesbury Marina in Essex. They were thoroughly nice people, and there was an impressive degree of co-ordination between the brokers, the marina management and the yard & repair shop, as well as an excellent club house with swimming pool and tennis courts. Inevitably I was tempted to berth Arabella at Tollesbury as the easy option. The reason I didn't is very apparent from the photo above! The approach to the marina dries out and access is possible only at around 2 hours either side of HW. When I referred to the tide tables, it soon became obvious that day-sailing was almost never going to be manageable at sensible times of day at weekends. Since this would not let me use Arabella at a moment's notice, sadly I ruled out Tollesbury and went in search of an all-tide berth elsewhere.

I soon found that most of the all-tide marinas on the East Coast are bunched up on the River Orwell near Ipswich, which is quite a bit further away from London than Tollesbury. The obvious exceptions are at Burnham-on-Crouch and on the River Medway, and however irrationally, I don't much enjoy either place - it's purely personal, of course, and I mean no offence to people based in those areas, but I find the Crouch too flat and featureless, the Medway/Swale too isolated from other areas and too restricted in sailing room by the muds and sands.

Once you have to travel as far as Ipswich from the centre of London, where I live, then the South Coast becomes a realistic alternative in terms of travel time. In addition, the Solent is the cruising area that I personally know best and there's wealth of easy and picturesque stopovers within easy reach of each other. The downside is that a lot of other people think the same way that I do, which pushes up marina prices and makes for some 'interesting' practical exercises in applying the ColRegs for multiple crossing vessels on summer weekends. Anyway....having checked out marinas in the Solent and Portsmouth Harbour, the new home for Arabella will be Southampton.

Interestingly, there was little difference between the Orwell Marinas and those in Southampton or Portsmouth price-wise (maybe £10-15 per month overall), which kind of exploded the myth of the 'cheap' East Coast for me. To be fair, Tollesbury was a lot cheaper, but that partly reflected its tidal restrictions.

Unfortunately, neither my spare time nor my experience would sensibly stretch to sailing Arabella from the Blackwater around to the Solent. I've wimped out and organised overland transportation - she should be moved at the beginning of September.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

She's mine! (and my wallet is now hers)

Top: Arabella as I first saw her at Blackwater Sailing Club (July 2005).
Bottom: the tasteful seventies colour scheme...

At last! I'm the proud owner of Arabella! Together with all the bills and logistical problems that every yacht-owner knows and loves, of course...

Yacht Insurance

The first insurance brokerage I went to was a well-known name. They had one of those handy "apply for a quote online" features which I filled in and submitted nearly a fortnight ago. Nothing happened for nearly a week, so I chased them up. The result was immediate: poor Arabella was rejected "having regard to her age and value." Ah well, welcome to the realities of owning a cheap, old boat. In fairness they referred me on to two alternative providers without waiting to be asked.

I approached both of the alternative brokers. The first came back the next day...with a rejection "having regard to age and value"! I couldn't believe it, how hard could it be to insure Arabella? To their credit, this company had a tie-up with a broker that could place the insurance with underwriters, and the tie-up was sufficiently slick that the other broker's quotation arrived in the same envelope, which I thought was impressive. The quotation was £180 for all risks, including up to £3,000,000 cover for liabilites to third parties. The insurance cover was for all UK coastal and inshore waters, which is all I need for the foreseeable future.

The second provider came back more slowly, but with a quotation of £130. Fifty quid won't buy me much in the swindleries, but down at B&Q it'll pay for a lot of teak oil or interior varnish, or an extending step ladder for getting on board Arabella when she's laid up, so I read both policies line by line to check whether the cheaper one had any holes in it. I coudn't find any - the only material difference was that the excess on the cheaper policy was £150 as opposed to £100 on the more costly one, so the cheaper policy it is then.

Surveyors' recommendations

The pre-purchase survey on Arabella revealed the need for two repairs/improvements, both of which were recommended but one of which really does need to be attended to before Arabella is put into the water.

The job that can't wait is the replacement of the through-hull fitting for the drain to the self-draining cockpit. This is a standard kitchen plughole and yellowmetal pipe that is so corroded that one blow with the surveyor's hammer collapsed it! Remarks about sending the damage bill to the surveyor aside, it clearly can't stay that way unless I want the boat to become a submarine, and a new bronze fitting is required with replacement hose attached by double-clips at both ends.

The other job is the installation of a diaphragm-type bilge pump. Arabella doesn't currently have any means of pumping the bilge out. Actually, she doesn't have much of a bilge either, but to me that just means the cabin is at more risk of damage if any water enters, so I may as well get it sorted out at the same time as the cockpit drain.

Inventory & Electronics

I'm glad I kept quite a lot of the cruising inventory from my previous yacht, because the essentials don't seem to have got any cheaper during the intervening five years. A rummage around in my self-storage unit has revealed that the things I don't need to buy include: 3 lifejackets; waterproof Navico handheld VHF (still with power in the battery!); handheld GPS plotter (but the electronic chart will need to be updated/replaced); deck scrubber; a couple of warps; Portland plotter and dividers; rechargeable heavy duty torch; hand bearing compass; and, embarassingly, a Navico TillerPilot together with a remote control unit, both of which I could have sworn were on my old boat when the buyer collected her, but weren't. Fair play dictated that I subsequently had to reimburse the buyer for replacements, so these bits are mine now that I have unearthed them. I also found:

- an old offshore flare kit: the flares are out-of-date, but the poly bottle that they came in can be recycled.
- a completely new and unused Walker trailing log in its original packaging. I have absolutely no recollection why I acquired this - it must have cost at least a couple of hundred pounds in the mid/late 1990s when I picked it up (at a Boat Show, I think) and I wouldn't have needed it on the old boat. Nor is it required for Arabella because a combined depth/log is already fitted. The Walker log is a beautiful piece of kit, though, a real reminder of 'solid British engineering' from the days not so long ago when we used to actually make things as opposed to selling nothings. I've put it back into storage as an 'investment'.

Arabella already has a Navico TillerPilot 100 on board, but I'll hang on to my (newer) Tillerpilot. It'll do as a spare and unlike the one on board, my model accepts GPS/Wind inputs via NM0183, which might be useful if I ever install a fixed GPS in the boat in the future. Similarly, my handheld VHF can act as a back-up to the Silva S10 VHF/DSC that's already on Arabella. Some of the posts on the YBW forum are less than enthusiastic about the Silva range of VHF radios, so a back-up might be helpful...

The Silva VHF/DSC can also be hooked up to a fixed GPS, so I've added the latter to my long-term-when-I-can-afford-it-projects list. My handheld GPS can be plumbed into the boat's electronics and clipped to a deckhead mount to act as fixed GPS and send information to other instruments and a compatible autopilot, but to be honest I've always preferred to have it to hand (it being 'handheld' and waterproof, after all) or stuffed into the nearest cockpit pocket, so I don't see myself going that way.

While poking around the nether regions of my storage unit, I also found a lot of little things that are nice to have and that taken as a whole would cost quite a bit to replace, such as nautically-themed mugs and tea-towels and a few Solent-specific books, such as Peter Bruce's very helpful little guides.

The cost of the items that I already have, in terms of replacing them new at the swindlery, is safely north of £1300 and I'm well pleased that I haven't got to spend it all over again.

Unfortunately, there are still things that I have needed to buy just to get going with. These are:

Fenders: 5 XM size 1 fenders (18") @ £9.00
Boat hook: Plastimo wood/alloy boathook @ £29.95*
Replacement emergency flares: Coastal pack @ £65.00**

*I could have saved about £15 on this if I had gone for the plastic version, but I really prefer wood and I was so chuffed at how much I had 'saved' by already owning some stuff that I got a bit carried away.

** It paid to watch the swindleries carefully here. The coastal pack, which was the bare minumum I felt I should have, contains 2 red handflares, 2 orange smoke flares and 2 red parachute flares. There was a considerable range of prices available online, but the trick was to check whether the price included post and packing - when I looked, p&p ranged from nil to £14.00. The price shown above was the best that I could get after trawling through 8 swindlery websites and included p&p. The most expensive all-inclusive price was £82.00. Incidentally, it was cheaper to buy the flares as a pack in a poly bottle than to replace them individually, so my old poly bottle has just become Arabella's new grab-bag.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

About the Pandora International

The Pandora class of yachts first appeared in the UK in 1967, although production only really got going in earnest when Rydgeway Marine of Lowestoft took over the moulds in 1970, and continued until 1991. The original (Mk. I) design evolved, over that time period, into the Pandora International and then the Pandora 700. All three models were available with fin, bilge or lifting keels.

The website of the Pandora Owners Association contains a wealth of information on the Pandora class, including copies of the original sales catalogues and layout plans, helpful articles and a discussion board. There's a link in the right margin of this page, or you can go straight to the website by clicking HERE.

In addition, the original brochure and various boat tests can be downloaded HERE or via the Downloads link in the right margin.

A well-supported website is usually a sign that a class has achieved cult status, and the Pandora is no exception. She may be diminuitive but with a ballast ratio of around 40% she has a reputation for being a capable sea boat, more than sufficient for safe sailing in the coastal waters of the UK. Some Pandora owners undertake more serious passages like crossing the Channel or the North Sea and, on the other side of the Atlantic, Bruce Buttimore did something a bit more ambitious in the Great Lakes.

In her time, the Pandora was quite the pocket racer. The original Van de Stadt design developed out of an earlier design for a racing dinghy, and to a certain extent the successive modifications that resulted in the Pandora International and her later evolution, the Pandora 700, were driven by changes to the IOR rules. Pandoras are still raced today, most notably at Abersoch where there is a very active class fleet, although you'll find them mixing it with other classes on the East Coast racing scene as well.

Above: Rydgeway Marine brochure shot of the Pandora International

Pandoras, especially the International and the 700, are noted for their longevity. Rydgeway Marine appear to have put a great deal of care and attention into building their boats at a time when some other parts of the UK yachtbuilding industry were churning out plastic leisure boats of dubious quality and seaworthiness. Just about the only quality issue that seems to crop up with any degree of regularity on Pandoras relates to the forehatch, which has been known to leak on a number of examples.

Based on anecdotal evidence, osmosis - the dreaded pox that seems to afflict so many older GRP yachts - seems quite rare on Pandoras. It usually seems to occur when they have been left in the water, year in and year out without being wintering ashore. The hull of Arabella, for example, had an extraordinarily low moisture content reading and no blisters when she was surveyed at the time I purchased her. A full copy of the survey obtained on Arabella prior to purchase can be downloaded HERE or via the Downloads link in the right margin.

Of course, there's no escaping the fact that any boat that has been around for thirty years or so is going to show her age; the only question is how gracefully. The previous owners of Arabella had taken care of her and between them, had carried out a programme of repairs and replacements: a new mast and standing rigging, new stemhead fitting, partially new running rigging and a recent engine with battery-charging circuit. In addition the mainsail and furling genoa were both less than 5 years old. In contrast the interior was very 'seventies, albeit almost as clean and well-cared for as if the boat had just arrived in 2005 via a time warp. The "cheerful" bright orange upholstery, which seemed to have been standard on a number of Pandoras from new, was a particularly bad-taste feature...which just had to go.

About Arabella

Arabella off Bembridge, June 2007 (image copyright Sailing Scenes, used with permission)

Arabella is a 21'10" (6.7m) Pandora International pocket cruiser/racer, designed by E.G. Van de Stadt and built in the United Kingdom by Rydgeway Marine Ltd of Lowestoft in 1974, with sail number K535.

Her dimensions are as follows:

LOA 21' 10" (6.7m)
Beam 6' 11" (2.1m)
LWL 18’9” (5.7m)
Draft 3' 0" (0.9m) (twin keel version)
Displacement 2,450 lbs (1,110kg)
Ballast 980lbs

Under my ownerhip, Arabella has undergone a substantial refit, the story of which is recounted in this blog. She is used almost entirely for cruising, but has taken part in the Round The Island Race with excellent results (30th overall in 2007 and 50th overall in 2009), considering that bilge-keeled Pandoras are generally dismissed as having inferior performance to their fin-keeled sisters.

Arabella is built of GRP, with moulded beams stiffening the solid GRP deck. Further structural support is derived from various partitions bonded to her shell and an extensive inner moulding. Her mast is roof-stepped, but the compression load is dissipated into the hull by means of a further GRP beam which forms an integral part of the roof moulding. Her twin bilge keels are made from cast iron and attached to the hull by keel bolts, which have been encapsulated in GRP on the inside of the hull.

She has a classic Bermudan masthead rig, with a main sail and a roller-reefing headsail permanently bent on during the season. The headsail sheets are led back to winches in the cockpit, while the halyards and topping lift are handled at the mast. The cockpit is quite generously proportioned for up to four people, but everything falls easily to hand for a single-handed helmsman.

Down below, Arabella sleeps four, as long as you are either closely-related or very good friends. The sleeping arrangements comprise a quarterberth running aft under the cockpit lockers, a settee berth and, forward of a half bulkead, a twin v/berth which converts to a double with the use of an infill. Despite her lack of size, she boasts a galley with a gimballed twin-burner stove and a sink with a fresh water hand-pump, as well as a sea toilet, the latter being located under the V-berth forward. She's ideal for a couple, with or without children, or with the occasional grown-up guest crew willing to use the V-berth.

I previously owned and refitted (well, to be honest, paid for the refit of) a larger and more costly Varne 850, Vega. I sold up soon after I met my girlfriend, now my wife, in Italy and found that the necessity to commute between London and Turin at weekends meant that she was getting very little use. The boat, that is, not my wife.

Arabella represented a return to yacht ownership after a gap of five years during which I got married, bought my first home with my wife, and started a family. Limited time and funds dictated a smaller and cheaper boat than before, and in particular one that could be used at a moment's notice and by me alone, if required. But I'm one of those annoying people who wants his boat to be just so. Before the sailing could start, therefore, the refit loomed...