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Floating my Boat. How a novice yachtsman launched and sailed a gaff-rigged cutter sailboat.




I was charmed by the old timber boat for sale outside a boat repair shop. The owner had found it sunk at a mooring in the Swan River and removed the fittings and equipment, repainted it out and in, and lost interest. He put it up for sale for $6,000 and knocked it down to me for $5,500.


The rigging and equipment was a bewildering sight, arranged on a table and bench in the owner’s back shed. I had sailed a bit but my knowledge of classic boats was zero so I was unaware of their function, or even their name, but now I can name them: tiller, mast, bowsprit, hatch, gaff spar, stays, shrouds, turnbuckles, ropes (‘sheets’), halyards, vangs, pulleys (‘blocks’), clips, cleats, stanchions, pulpit, lifelines, winches. I hoped their place and function would become clear when I put them on the boat.


It took about five years to get the boat fitted out, repaired and launched. The $5,500 was a fraction of what it ultimately cost but brought me knowhow, friends and calm. But the cost!


$500 to the Hiab truck operator who moved the boat and frame from the boat repair shop to the sailing club while declaring the task was almost beyond him; $1500 on fixing the diesel engine; $300 on a marine battery to start the engine and power the bilge pump and navigation lights;  $400 on a jinker which replaced the frame and eventually launched the boat; $2500 on sails because it had none: for sailing club members this my most grievous omission; $50 on nuts and long bolts to go through the mast and secure the fittings that could not be applied directly to the mast because it was hollow; $100 to varnish the timber mast, boom, gaff spar, tiller and bowsprit; $100 on non-slip paint for the deck; $20 on a special drill bit to cut a hole in the hull below the waterline to bring in water to cool the engine; $200 on an electric bilge pump; $500 on fixed rigging (forestays and sidestays); $150 on anti-foul to slow weed growth; $50 on navigation lights; $60 on stainless steel chain attached below the bow to secure the bowsprit in place.


And $X on things I forget.


The mooring costs merit separate treatment.


$400 on a mooring site: a piece of sea bed; $250 on a heavy steel wheel which I floated to the mooring site on a barge and dropped down to the seabed; $75 on chain to connect the steel wheel to the buoy on the surface; $60 on the buoy; $50 on the mooring ropes and $45 to splice the ends to go around the foredeck cleats.


The launch was an ordeal. A tractor backed the jinker into the water; a cable was attached to the back of the jinker; the cable went out to a huge pulley on the seabed and back to a motor in the machinery shed; the motor pulled the cable in and the jinker out. When the jinker was in deep enough the boat floated off and was tied to the jetty, assuming you had tied a rope to the boat and assigned someone to stand on the jetty and tie it.


I never saw the exercise done without complications, danger and bad language. If the cable snaps it will kill someone.  


I researched how to raise the mainsail and gaff spar; there were three possibilities: track, hoops, and rope. I chose rope. I put loops of rope around the mast and attached them to the luff of the mainsail. I preferred to sail alone which was difficult because you need one person to raise the mainsail halyard and another to pull up the gaff halyard. Pulling up a halyard requires both hands so I pulled the main halyard up a couple of feet, put it in my teeth and pulled the gaff halyard up a few feet; alternating until the mainsail peak was at the top of the mast and the gaff pole was aloft. I kicked the rope rings when they became caught going up the mast.


I never took part in the proper races on a Saturday afternoon but raced in the Thursday evening twilight races. After the second outing my crewman resigned citing ineptitude. I had installed a bilge pump and couldn’t bear to drill another hole in the hull for the outflow so I adopted the practice of taking a hose from the bilge pump, putting it through the cabin door into the cockpit and placing it over the side of the boat pointed at the sea. On the second twilight I forgot to do this and my crewman found the hose at the bottom of the boat discharging water into the bilge.


The money spent on the engine was wasted because it was a farm not a marine engine and could only be cooled by fresh water. I was aware of this at the time of purchase but went ahead because the seller promised to source a heat exchanger to cool the engine without taking in salt water. He didn’t do so. I tried to flush the engine after each use which is difficult when the boat is floating in the water on a mooring. The engine rusted and developed a hole that produced a plume of water.


The boat brought me knowledge, friends, distraction and an expanded vocabulary.

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