Sunday, February 19, 2012

Repairing the Optimist

Eight years ago we bought an Optimist, elderly, new-painted, surveyed by my wife's cousin who had long been a sailor. That is to say, he had met his wife in a sailing club when he was 21. Well she wasn't his wife when he met her of course, that followed - oh shut up Richard. - Anyway the thing is, the paintwork is now in need of repair and on scraping, a total of nine fractures appeared, plus one I knew about and had already reinforced. Elsewhere the woodwork was sound, and given that the boat was built (by calculation based on serial number) in 1963 I was impressed. I phoned the chap from whom we bought it to find out more of its history but he didn't return my calls. I have since done more scraping and found that wherever the paint came off easily he had used that well-known undercoat, Dirt. It had been slapped straight on, concealing rock impact damage from our amateur boat surveyor. The greater surprise was how well the paint had stuck to a dirty surface, and after a thorough sanding some of it even now remains under my ministrations.

Iain Oughtred's book had said, surprisingly, that a boat hire company had found their plywood boats outlasted their fibreglass boats. But I'm not surprised any more. Apart from where the plywood edges were exposed to water, it's absolutely solid.

Marine ply isn't available locally but the woodyard assured me that CD external grade ply is glued with the same waterproof glue. The locals build boats with ordinary building plywood, rummaging through the stacks for sound sheets of the stuff. I am nervous of reinforcements because of what Seppings said - "partial strength produces general weakness" so I limited myself to 4mm thick ply, feathered off at the edges, and a patch of fibreglass on the outside of the hull.

My one previous repair had held up though when I chiselled it off I found it had only ever been held by the silicone sealant round the edges, I having a misplaced faith in epoxy without a filler as a glue. This time I followed the 'structions and used the correct filler, Epiglass HT120, a very light fluffy powder, only once having to grind off the fibreglass afterwards through my usual c'lossal stupidity, in this case omitting to hold the glass tightly in place with strips of masking tape. The efficacy of prayer is called into question when I indulge in boat repair. Trouble is I know what to do and what to do is this:

Use More Care.

I hate mixing epoxy resin. It means endless pairs of rubber gloves. Peeling them off for just a small smear of hardener goes against the Miserly Principle. The face mask is horrible and you have to wear one because I think the filler is powdered glass. I had to nick some syringes out of the surgery at dawn, and even then the place was heaving with receptionists. Gits. Why can't they all be late when I want to burgle the supplies cupboard? The glue lasts about 20 minutes before it's unusable, so there were lots of mixes and lots of syringes.

Glassing the daggerboard slot was fun. - The glass went everywhere until I hit on the idea of putting a sheet of polythene over it, and pushing some folded sheets of closed cell foam into the slot, which worked perfectly.

In the evening we had the new medical students to dinner and one of them admitted that she was 'quite good' at windsurfing, and I asked her "Does that mean you won the National Championships or something?" and she giggled and said "in 2006". Which she did. So I asked more, and she said she wanted to try kite surfing because the boards are tiny and the kite just needs inflating and then you're ready to go. Kite surfing meant it was much easier to take the gear - a sailboard is big and has to be lugged up onto the roof of a car, whereas the kiteboard is small enough to go in the back. She also said it was easier than windsurfing. She told me you could go at about 25 knots, windsurfing. She'd learnt sailing as a child, and windsurfing was an extension of it. All of which insights delighted me, though she did make me feel very pathetic and insignificant, a hideous old man learning to sail in a child's dinghy. - She was the same age as our daughter.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I am now a Playwright like Shakespeare was and this is my play.

Scene 1. The kitchen.

Radio: Bay of Plenty, Showers. Wellington the Cup'o'tea Coast, showers. Nelson -

My wife: Shall we shorten these trousers to make shorts?

Radio: Canterbury, Fine. Otago, Fine.

Me: What was Nelson?

My wife: Fine

Me: You don't *ucking know, you weren't listening and you're a bastard*unt.

Okay, it isn't exactly Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty place from day to day to the last syllable of recorded time and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death out out brief candle, but I'll work on some of the speeches. The Radio can have a few more lines, f'rexample.

I need to know what the weather is in Nelson each day on account ov I have taken up sailing. I always wanted to, and there was a nice little dinghy on a trailer with a phone number, and I immediately thought "Why, I could buy that and keep it in the drive and never use it, like everyone else never does", and my wife agreed with me so I didn't buy it.

Instead, I got the children's Optimist out and dusted it off and persuaded John to teach me how to sail it. John is sixteen and I am even older and you'd be interested in how slowly a boat designed for a nine-year-old goes with two adults on board. But I had a heap of fun and after he'd finished laughing at me he let me go solo, I having established that sailing consists of zig-zagging up and down the lagoon and not much else. I was surprised how quicklier it went with just me on board, but I had read that Ben Ainslie dominated all Optimist conditions when he was fifteen and weighed ten stone which is nearly what I weigh. I know you don't know who Ben Ainslie is because you don't pay attention to famous sportsmen, but he's an Olympic gold medallist and stuff. There are a variety of famous sportsmen that nobody interesting has ever heard of. Another one is Shane Warne, whose sport comprises driving a large Mercedes and deliberately running over cyclists if he judges their apparel unbecoming. - I gather from his Tweets he doesn't like Lycra. -

The children's Optimist is an early one, and three inches too short and half an inch too wide, according to the UCI equivalent of Optimist sailing. I mentioned the adventure to one who sails on the Thames who replied, just a trifle snootily:

Pretty good for a shoe box with sails. I like boats with lovely curving lines that look like they would glide through the water with hardly any bow wave. The Optimist is a good baby's bath tub...also with a sail.

Lovely curvy boats are pretty, agreed, and the Optimist isn't. But to borrow from Fraunhofer who remarked, when someone noted that there was a visible flaw in one of the lenses he had made - and his lenses were then the best in the world - 'I make my telescopes to look through, not at.'

Furthermore we have uncovered two huge advantages of the Optimist.

1. It's small enough to fit in the van.

2. Its flat bottom means it's stable for me to learn in.

To borrow from Kirkham (another telescope maker) 'If I had to do it all over again, I'd use a smaller instrument'. - This I learnt when I built an equatorial mount for my telescope. It weighed an enormous amount and when fixed on top of the tripod the trial of manoeuvring it through the house stopped me ever using it. It takes four minutes to get the Optimist into the van, three minutes to unload it onto the shore of the lagoon, and another three minutes to rig it.

I did toy with taking measurements and making a bigger boat, but I'm suspicious that I'll then need a helper to launch it, and usage will go down to just two Saturdays a year and much grumpiness on the part of the person on shore.

Unf. all this enthusiasm means using the van to go to the seaside (a mile) in order to learn how to use no petrol in an outboard motor. This is in contravention to the principle whereby I switch my computer off when not in use because that is how I plan to save the entire planet. (Me switch off lights & stuff = planet saved. Me leave microwave on overnight = environmental catastrophe. Funny thing, one's conscience. It has no capacity whatever to understand scale.)

Actually, saving the planet may be a lost cause if the oceans really are more acidic than they've ever been before, which rather depressing chunk of research I spotted the other night. I happen to know that tiddly little microscopic plants in the oceans produce up to four-fifths of the world's oxygen, and if the concentration of oxygen in the air drops from the current 21% to 18%, everybody dies and so do their budgies and hamsters. You'd have thought even economists might give this rather stark fact some mild consideration when they decide that the best thing to do is to drill for oil round the coast of New Zealand in the hope of finding some and burning it. - I think I ought to blog this. Then my 6 followers will switch off their computers at night.