Category Archives: Boat Work

Boat Work

Bad times

Well what with one thing and another it seems that we won’t be completing the row this year.  Its a great shame but the project isn’t dead in the water and I hope to have some news on how it’s going to progress very soon.  Frazer wrote a nice bit for the facebook page so being the proactive blogger I am, I have copied and pasted it below the video.

On the plus side you can now watch the pitch video that the wonderful girls and guys at Maverick made, which will undoubtedly cheer you up/make you giggle/make you shout irately at the lubberly talk.  I look forward to all the ‘feedback’ about our performance at the next regatta 😉

It was, as Frazer says, a real pleasure working with these folks and the lovable crew. It felt pretty surreal at times and I’m glad the shower scene was left on the cutting room floor (at least I hope it’s on the floor) but overall it was great fun.

Fear not though, Puffin is ready for action and we didn’t do all that work for nothing!

Frazer writes…

“Dear Rowing friends
An update on the ‘Skiff Around Scotland Adventure’….
Apologies for the lack of updated information over the past weeks, I am sad to say the adventure won’t be taking place in 2015, for a number of reasons the voyage will need to be done another time.
It has taken me a good few weeks to wrestle with aspects of disappointment, frustration and irritation with regards the realisation that we won’t have the opportunity to row together around Scotland, an opportunity to achieve something meaningful as a collective, sadly missed this year.
I would like to thank all those that have supported the initiative, those with warm words of encouragement and those of you that shared their expertise and experiences. I have learnt a lot, met inspirational people and enjoyed the process of making a TV Documentary Pilot with an excellent production company …(Take a look at the attachment, copyright Maverick TV)
I am sure the adventure will be met in the future, Puffin is prepped and capable after all
Ian and I have really appreciated your interest and the time you’ve taken to support the adventure. We will hopefully meet many of you during the regatta season and beyond.

Take care, row hard and keep-in-time,

Warm Regards

waiting waiting…

It occurred to me that we’ve gone a bit quiet on the blog and facebook page and I thought I’d better update you all on what’s been happening in the background.

Puffin is looking great – in the last few weeks Frazer has got the new oars done and I’ve finished and fitted the new rudder and tiller and varnished the gunwhales about a billion times.  The swallows in the shed are doing their level best to redecorate the new paintjob with many small, post-modern additions and so we’ve moved her to Norman’s shed to fit the buoyancy bags and finalise the seating.

The main hold-up and reason that we’re going nowhere fast is that the production guys that have been filming us for the last wee while have been pitching their taster video (which I hope to be able to upload here soon for you all to enjoy/laugh at us) to a couple of channels to see if they want to commission a programme.  They’ve done a fantastic job and have generated considerable interest but that inevitably means lots of extra work for them and a bit of a nightmare in terms of planning for us.  I think we’ll get some news either good or bad in the next week or so which I’ll share with you without delay dear reader.

Our initial plan was, of course, to start at some point in May but given the level of winds that we’ve been experiencing in the last month I’m actually a bit relieved that the TV element has pushed back the start!  I’m looking forward to the Mediterranean Summer that’s bound to start any day now…..

scottish summer

a bit of carpentry…

Been spending lots of time getting puffin back in prime condition.  This week it was the turn of the gunwhale rot which proved an easy fix. The rot was restricted to the area around the pin-hole which is covered by a mahogany plate.  I kept cutting until the worst of the rot had been removed then epoxied the living hell out of it before inserting a piece of marine ply which was subsequently sanded flush.  There were a couple of hairline gaps so I made up a quick filler using the marine ply sawdust and got it all looking sweet. Shame it’s going to get covered with a plate after all that! One more of these to do then the gunwhales can be oiled and varnished.


In a hilarous turn of events, Frazer and I both decided to do private projects that we kept secret from one another (fortunately they weren’t the same projects or there would have been trouble!).  After our many lengthy discussions about using ash for the oars, Frazer decided that the best way to convince me was to build a prototype and I must say I’m impressed. Forgot to take a photo of it but his solution to the weight problem (ash is heavier than the douglas fir I was championing) was to drastically reduce the dimensions of the cross-section to take advantage of the strength of the timber.  This has yielded an oar that weighs about the same as the NB oars but is much more slender.  Photos to follow.

In the meantime I built a replacement rudder and tiller.  The core is made of a high density plastic so we don’t have to worry as much if it gets knocked.  The shape is a cobbling together of a number of designs that our club engineers have been toying around with which should hopefully give us an effective rudder that is half the weight of Puffin’s original one.  See ‘arty’ video below. I actually changed the two top sections from plastic to ply to reduce the weight still further.  The tiller (no pics yet) is made of laminated 18mm ply and looks like you could do someone a mischief with it!


Hull top coat

Despite the season’s best intentions it was a pleasant Spring day yesterday so we made the most of the ambient temperature and got the first of the two top-coats onto Puffin’s hull.  There’s so much more to focus on than the change of colour (which we’re really happy with) but seeing her in her new outfit makes it feel like Puffin has undergone a bit of a rebirth.  We’re not perfectionists about the painting – she’s going to be hauled up on beaches and slipways and this invariably means scratches and scrapes – but we do want to make a good job of the finish and so there are a few runs and dribbles that will need sanded off before the final coat.  The yellow strip below the gunwhales will be white when we’re done and hopefully the combination with the deep blue hull will evoke a Saltire-ish feel.

For the purposes of practising video documention (but mainly to avoid the lion’s share of the painting) I filmed a few bits and pieces and stitched them together with some redneck music – it felt appropriate.

Paint’s here!

We’ve finally got the special and reassuringly expensive boat paint! The hull has had it’s first coat of undercoat mixed with top coat courtesy of Frazer, who spent his Sunday afternoon inhaling paint fumes in a confined space and came out looking totally at ease with the world.  We have to wait a couple of days before applying the topcoat and seeing the final colour and I can’t wait!

The idea was that we get the underside done so that we can spend more time monkeying around with the new innards without having to worry about flipping her over again. It does mean, however, that we’ll be treating her with kid gloves once she’s right way up to avoid scratches and scrapes.


Flip and Sand

One of the things we wanted to get out of the way asap was the sand and repaint of the underside.  Once this is done we can flip her back over and get cracking with the new buoyancy bulkheads, seats, beer holders and all that good stuff.  Taking Puffin off the trailer and flipping her over was not a job for 2 men (however buff and manly those men undoubtedly are) so we roped in some of our club mates who want to row with us on some legs of the journey.

Armed with the raw power of North Berwick’s finest men we flip-reversed the skiff in no time and got her sanded to provide a key for the new paint.  The existing colour scheme is ok but we’re going to change it to Bondi Blue with a white trim to evoke the spirit of the Saltire and give a nod to our own club colours.  She’ll need a couple of coats but I suspect she’ll look awesome in a short space of time.

After she’s dried it’ll be another flip then the inner paint job which is going to be a lot more time-consuming with lots of nooks and crannies to sand first. We make progress!

A little sawing

The new expedition re-design meant we had to remove the decorative stern and bow pieces in order to make room for the new tiller and Gopro mount.  The pieces were carefully sawn off so that they can be returned to their owners or even reattached at a later date. Both pieces had been carefully carved and the puffin head had been imaginatively decorated with a beak full of silicon sand-eels but there’s no room for embellishments when Puffin becomes a sleek expedition vessel!

Bums on seats

Its time to delve into the dark underbelly of skiff rowing – and we’re talking bums here.  Unlike the sliding seat racing boats the Oxbridge set use, the seat in a skiff is fixed and your body is the thing that has to move with each stroke. This inevitably creates friction and, as we all know, friction is not always your friend.

Skiff-bum is a common complaint after rowing for any length of time and whilst it varies from person to person the general symptoms are pressure sores, welts and even open wounds if you don’t look after your botty properly.  To put it into context at the finish line of the NB Men’s Open last year (an 18 minute race) my bum was bleeding freely as a result of poor short choice.  We won though so it was totally worth it.  Critical to prevention of skiff-derriere are seat-type, protective shorts, gel pads and even vaseline (which some members of NB rowing club apply in commercial quanities).

Seat setup for Puffin is something we want to get right from the off so we’re looking at a wide variety of options. Each of the North Berwick skiffs has a different setup that affects the body in its own way depending on the angle front-to-back, depth and the curve of the edges.  The first one I knocked up out of some spare CLS was heavier than any of the NB ones but allowed me to plane a really deep curve on both the front and the back to minimise bum-seat contact. It may seem unusual to curve both front and back but although the leading edge of the seat is often the main pressure point and source of grief, in my experience just as much pain can be caused by bum-cheek compression at the stroke finish when you’re leaning full back.  Curving the back of the seat away could minimise this but time will tell.

Upon dry fitting it feels pretty nice to sit on but it’s one thing to sit in a static boat in a shed and quite another to row 25 miles per day on. We’re working on a few variations which will be tested in the April sea-trials.

First look

Puffin has had a clean out and we’ve had a (killer) whale of a time unscrewing things, re-screwing things, taking things apart and forgetting how they went together.  The good news is that after a bit of sanding and planing we can see that there’s not much wrong with her! There’s a bit of rot around a couple of the oarlock holes but nothing that some new hardwood and epoxy can’t fix.  Her hull looks sound but just to be on the safe side we’re getting NB’s chief boat engineer Norman to come out and have a gander. Fingers crossed she passes the medical.

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We’ve got a boat!

Although we’re part of the fantastic North Berwick Rowing Club which has built and races 3 St Ayles skiffs, we needed a skiff that could be customised and tinkered with for our expedition.  Step in Johnny Johnston from Eyemouth who was trying to find a new home for Puffin – a skiff they had built for St Abbs Rowing Club that is no longer used.

Johnny is a real character.  He’s originally from Port Seton and after a spell in the merchant navy spent most of his life as a fisherman operating out of Eyemouth.  He has been a driving force in promoting the St Ayles skiff and was really keen to get involved with our project.  We’re delighted that he’s offered to either cox or follow us with his reconditioned fishing boat “Good Hope” for the first leg from Eyemouth to North Berwick.

We nipped down with Gareth’s pickup to collect Puffin and she’s now safely esconced in Ian’s tractor shed.  Condition looks good although we’re a bit worried that she was stored outside with no cover for a couple of years before being dried off. We’ll soon see if this has caused any rot!