Glen-L Boatbuilder of the Month (cont'd)

David Ainge - Union Jack

I have often read that building in steel is fast. That was not my experience. Steel did seem quick in the early stages. It didn't take too many weeks to make the frames, erect them, put in the stiffeners, and tack on the hull plates. Before long I was walking around in something that bore a strong resemblance to a boat. The progress seemed great. Then the serious welding started, and went on, and on... One of the hardest jobs was shaping the carling. I couldn't roll it, so I shaped it with an oxy which took a long time. Nevertheless, eventually the hull was finished, and again living on acreage was helpful because I was able to have it blasted on site, rather than transport it to a yard and back, which was a big saving.

Building the ply superstructure was straightforward. I covered it with dynel-epoxy, being familiar with that system from my previous boat. Fitting out took about eighteen months full-time. I have to say that it was more enjoyable than the hull. I am basically a woodworker at heart, and on some of our hot, humid days the protective clothing for steelwork was very uncomfortable. I kept the general interior layout of Union Jack but made some modifications to suit our requirements. One example was that I did not make the settee berth-back into a second bunk which could be lifted up for use, because we do not anticipate any use for it. I also altered the wheelhouse sole so that at some future time the engine could be lifted up, and out through the door (not too often, I hope). I enlarged the cockpit a little (with corresponding additional drainage) and fitted a small table, because this climate demands a good deal of sitting outside, daytime and evening. I was uneasy about making the toilet holding tank a part of the hull, worrying about future corrosion in a hard-to-reach and nasty place, so I fitted a flexible tank instead. I could not see the point of having the rudder shaft emerge into the boat below the waterline, with the potential for leaks/drips so I raised the shaft tube, still using a stuffing box, of course.

I found the plans clear and accurate. They do require careful study at some stages, but the necessary information seems to be all there. Some additional measurements for setting up the stem would have made that job easier. I didn't get back to Glen-L with many questions, but when I did, the responses were quick and helpful.

You will notice in the photos that I had a proper set of steps to the boat. In view of the hundreds of times I went up and down them, sometimes carrying large items, they were worth their weight in gold. A ladder would make the job much harder, with greater risk of a fall.

We launched "Tabitha Too" ( our first boat was "Tabitha") nearly two weeks ago. It was a very nervous time, and it was hard to avoid some irrational worries. Building a boat is, after all, a very big investment in time and money, and we have all heard horror stories about amateur boats being launched. In spite of all that, the launch was uneventful. Tabitha Too sat about 1 inch above the designed waterline, and slightly high at the stern, but a full load of water should fix that. Our plan is to cruise the waters of the Great Barrier Reef for a year, so we moved on board on launch day. For the first twenty four hours I couldn't stop looking into the bilge for leaks, but that compulsion gradually subsided when I didn't find any. Speaking of water in the bilges, I had Tabitha Too surveyed during building, and the surveyor emphasised the importance of keeping seawater out of a steel boat. I have heard that they rust from the inside. He recommended one of the expensive prop shaft seals rather than a stuffing box, which needs a regular drip to lubricate it. Unfortunately, finances didn't stretch that far, so I used a traditional stuffing box, but underneath I fitted a drip box made from left-over perspex. It is quite big, so emptying it won't be a chore, and it keeps the bilge dry.

Our first boat was under-anchored, and we used to drag from time to time. We had a moderate size CQR with chain and rope, but even with a yacht which presented a fairly streamlined profile to the wind, it wasn't up to the job. I was determined not to be in that situation again, especially as Union Jack presents a considerable area to the wind. This time around I fitted the biggest CQR I could buy, and 1/2 inch chain. The breaking strain of that size chain is over the top, but its weight helps to ensure that in moderate winds at least, the pull on the anchor is horizontal, not upwards. Time will tell, especially if we have to shelter from a cyclone which is always a possibility in the tropical summer.

We have had one short trip so far. To get from the launch site to the marina we had to go out to sea for a few miles. It was blowing 20-25 knots, with a short, choppy sea. Tabitha Too handled it very well. We had to motor parallel to the swell for a while, and Tabitha Too rolled a bit, but she handled the conditions well and we quickly developed confidence in her. I think she will prove to be a very seaworthy vessel. We are looking forward to some very happy times on her.

A final word. Before I built my first boat, others who had been through the experience tried to tell me how long such a project would take. I didn't believe them. Looking at a 31 foot boat it doesn't seem possible that it would take 3000-4000 hours to build. Professionals, of course, don't take anywhere near that long, or they'd go broke. For the amateur, however, that is the reality if you are doing all the work yourself. If you want a boat of a similar size to Union Jack, and you can't find that number of hours, buy one, or build a house instead. I have built two boats and one house, and the house was much quicker and easier.

I am very happy to discuss my experiences with anyone else who is building.

Editor's Note: See all of David's Union Jack photos in Customer Photos.