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Building a trusty trailer-sailer

Barrie Raby

Perhaps it is the Yorkshireman in me that requires utmost pleasure per pound spent, but I like to think it's more than that. As a boy, I had dreamed of building my own boat. I felt there would be huge satisfaction in getting afloat in a craft that had begun as a pile of potential firewood on the garage floor. Now I had more time, perhaps I could realise this ambition, and build a boat to use on the delightful South Devon estuaries where I live. But what kind of a boat? Well, certainly not one that required real boatbuilding skills. It had to fit inside my garage, be stiff, forgiving and easy to sail, with a wide beam for on-lxiard picnics. It would be a day-sailer with a lifting centreplate and a small cabin. This led me to Hartley's, a New Zealand firm, which produces plans for craft from canoes to blue-water causers. I chose a 14ft (4.3m) trailer-sailer with a 6ft 6in (1.97m) beam. Hartley's reassured me the boat could be built by anyone with basic skills. I ordered iroko for the frame and marine ply for the planking, together with Balcotan glue and'silicon bronze fasteners from Robbins of Bristol. In due course, my pile of firewood arrived. I was committed.

The building begins

The transom frame positioned on the
stocks. Note the taut string centreline

Frames, stringers, stem and hog
assembled: the hull starts to take shape

The first piece of ply planking has been
nailed and glued In position

Hie plans showed I had made a lucky choice. Full-size templates made the frame-cutting straightforward. I got busy at the jigsaw and soon had a heap of weirdly shaped cut-outs resembling nothing like boat components. The method of jointing the individual pieces was simple. They were butt jointed and overlapped with plywood on both sides, which was nailed and glued. Once the frames were assembled, it was time to build some stocks, on which the hull would be built upside down. With all the frame positions marked out, I took great care at this stage. The truth of the structure is dependent on the accuracy of the stocks. To my relief, the outline of a boat emerged. Over the next few weeks the keelson, with a slot for the centreplate, was laid. The stem was then fabricated and glued and screwed to it. This in turn was secured to the frames. Now the stringers and chines could lie bent round the frames from stem to transom. I was now facing the exciting part: planking the hull. I doubted that the 6.5mm ply could be persuaded to take the complex curves, particularly around the bow section, but it had been done before and I knew that if I persisted, I would be rewarded. As the plans gave accurate cutting guides for the plywood sheet, I tackled the less complex sections first to boost my confidence. The trick, I found, was to position the planking by loose nailing and trim it to an exact fit by having several dry nins. Once assured that the shape was correct, it was time for the real thing. As the planking is glued and nailed in place, there is only one chance to get it right. Fortunately, the planking fitted snugly. The bow section was tricky and necessitated positioning the cramps at predetermined places to hold the planking while it could be persuaded into place and nailed. Even now, I wonder how a sheet of ply can lie made to accept such curves. Once the planking was completed, the biggest challenge was behind me. The subsequent tasks of building the centreplate box, constructing the decking and cabin and fitting-out would be time-consuming but achievable. A local blacksmith cut me a centreplate, weighing 50kg, from mild steel. It is raised and lowered by blocks and pivots on a silicon bronze bolt. I made a rudder with swinging blade. It was time to consider the rig. The plans called for a Bennudan sloop with a sail area of 130sq ft. Luckily, I spotted an advert for a sale of redundant sailing gear, including wooden masts. The advertiser turned out to be an elderly ex-dinghy designer who let me have a 20ft (6.1m) wooden mast, which needed minimum refurbishment, at a very reasonable price. I felt sad that his sailing days were over when mine were just beginning. I picked up a mainsail from another advert for the princely sum of £15 but I had to have the jib made - the extravagance! I acquired a used trailer, refurbished in an agricultural sort of way, and modified it to fit my boat. About 12 months after receiving the plans, the completed trailer-sailer stood in my yard, looking smart with her white topsides, red bottom and blue boot top. The cabin, decking, mast and home-made boom were newly varnished and the sails seemed to fit. I felt quite smug with the result.

First outing At this stage, I wondered if this was to be a case of it being better to travel than to arrive. The boatbuilding project had been most enjoyable. Would I enjoy sailing her as much? Would the reality match the dream? I took Maiale (as she was named) for her first outing. The chosen site for this great moment was the Axe estuary. As I was paying the launching fee, I heard someone say there was a pretty boat on the slip and my head swelled. Perhaps they meant another craft - but, no, mine was the only one there. Pushing her off the trailer into the water for the first time was a memorable moment. Bobbing on the water, waiting to be boarded, she looked much smaller than when she was on her trailer - but she was mine! Sails seemed a bit too adventurous for the first outing, so my partner, Anne, and I used an old Seagull (bought for £50) to propel us up the estuary in a cloud of exhaust fumes. The outing was a success: my little boat handled well in my inexpert hands and not a drop of water entered her hull. Being on the water is going to be fun, I thought. It would be too embarrassing to give you all the details of our first attempt to sail Maiale. Suffice it to say that I gave the holidaymakers who were watching the boats in Paignton Harbour a great deal of amusement. The gentle breeze took control and we bounced around the harbour until we fetched up under the far wall. Eventually, I persuaded the

old Seagull to start and, with red faces, we made for the open sea. Anne showed commendable restraint at my antics. Given some sea room, it was time to get to grips with this sailing lark. Soon, some of the basic skills I had learned at Salcombe so long ago started to come back, and we had an enjoyable day's sailing across Torbay. I realised it was time to cram in some sailing theory to add to my meagre experience, so I enrolled on a Day Skipper course. Indeed, I soon realised that the sea is an unforgiving place for the incompetent and have subsequently completed courses to Coastal Skipper level. I have enjoyed every minute of them.

A great choice

Maiale has now given me six years of sailing pleasure. Of course, there have been moments that are better described as experience rather than bliss, but they have added to my knowledge and improved my level of competence. We have sailed Maiale on most of the South Devon and some of the Cornish estuaries and undertaken short inshore voyages. Our picnic days on the Dart amid glorious scenery, or cruising up Bow Creek on the midday flood for a pub lunch at Tuckenhay, have been the fulfilment of the dream. Maiale is an excellent sea boat and, because of her shallow draft with the plate up, a good creek-crawler, too. Despite my best efforts, I have not been able to capsize her, which demonstrates her stability. The downside is that she is not a startling performer; too beamy and heavy to be a fast mover. But I can launch and sail her single-handed. We can get six aboard comfortably, and when it's just the two of us, we can stretch out for the night on the two 6ft bunks in the little cabin.

I have met only one person who knew what type she is, and that's because he had built a Hartley 16. What a shame that more of these versatile trailer-sailers haven't been built in this country. How relieved I am that my home-made tub, bringer of such joys, did not end up as another pile of firewood. She has certainly met my criterion of maximum pleasure per pound! PBO-03