St Ayles Skiffs

Just getting to the end of this year’s skiff refurbishment for the Arran Coastal Rowing Club.  The boats are well used and probably travel getting on for 3,500 miles per year under oars.  We need to ensure that the finish is fit for purpose and is protecting the timber of the boat.  We also need to avoid accumulating more and more finish thereby adding unnecessary weight to the boat.  For the most part the boats are finished bright rather than painted, though in fact the older boat, Iolair, is painted outside but finished bright inside – which is where most of the wear takes place.

At each refurbishment we aim to sand down to remove weight and provide a key for the new coat.  Firstly the refinish consists of treating any bare wood with a coat of epoxy – generally we do not need much for this step – and then we sand down and apply the next coat which is a two part Hempel Diamond Cote finish.  A 750ml tin is enough for a full coat of varnish either inside or outside the boat and we apply the varnish with a roller and then ‘tip’ it off with a sponge rubber ‘tipper’ which distributes the varnish evenly and removes any roller marks.  It is a quick process and you really need a ‘supervisor’ to spot any ‘holidays’ or runs.  The finish isn’t bad either!

Fortunately we have lots of enthusiasm within the club and lots of people volunteer to sand and varnish – it promotes ownership and we book for sanding and varnishing in just the same way as we book for an active row.  Quaint it may be but it works.

Skiff Maintenance

It is worth considering the importance of skiff maintenance now that boats are reaching more advanced years.

Many of our boats are painted but few are varnished and this means that it can be difficult to monitor for signs of deterioration of the wood in the boat or even find the onset of rot.

This is an example of a boat that needed extensive repair where a sound paint / varnish finish had been applied but where the water had managed to seep under a break in the varnish. The result was serious and could have been disastrous. The varnish finish had separated from the timber and a film of fresh water had managed to seep underneath, saturating the wood and leading to extensive rot. The result was that about 4 feet of stem had to be replaced and the timber removed could have all fitted into a shoe box.

One of the advantages of salt water is that it does far more to prevent the rotting of timber though in the end the rot can still win through. By contrast, fresh water supports the conditions promoting rot very well indeed and for that reason if a boat is not kept dry and under cover then it is important to sheet it properly when not in use – including the ends of the stems and aprons. In addition we should prevent an accumulation of fresh water inside the boat and always do what we can to keep boats dry – not easy to do in Scotland, but to preserve our boats as best we can, we must try. This is particularly important for clubs where most of their rowing is done on fresh water.

Anyway, on inspecting this stem, rot was found from the stem head to the waterline and a little further. Fortunately the rot had not extended into the apron as between the stem and the apron there was a sound layer of epoxy put there at build. Fortunately neither had the water penetrated down the apron from the stem head. Had that been the case then an additional repair would have been necessary to replace a length of apron as well.

That said the original intention was to use CPES – (clear penetrating epoxy sealer) to harden the wood and allow it to last until the end of the season before doing a proper repair – but that turned out not to be an option, so the whole thing was replaced. (So my hope expressed in the video turned out not to be an option!

It does not matter whose boat this is, we did manage to catch the damage in time and it is a timely lesson to us all to ensure that we do look at our paint finishes regularly and carefully and do keep those finishes tidy. It is worth probing the timber a bit with a bradawl too and taking off some of the paint to check the condition of the wood underneath. Remember that what appears to be a sound paint or varnish finish can be separated from the timber and trapping a dangerous rot cell underneath. The video that accompanies this indicated what was wrong and where but whilst it suggests the use of CPES, as stated above, the stem was too far gone.

It is also worth noting that as these boats get older they put on weight – not just water seeping in, but a coat of paint adds something like 2 kilos each time. So for those of us who have managed to get the boats into maintenance each year, we tend to put two coats of paint / varnish on inside and out and that adds weight – two pots of finish per coat – that’s getting on for 4 kilos! Multiply that by 10 for a 10 year old boat and you’ve just added maybe 40kgs – or an additional half crew member!! Yes we do tend to sand some of that weight off, but seldom all of it – so it’s worth having a serious maintenance programme occasionally aimed at making a really good job of the finish and taking off some weight first. This will also enable you to check for rot at the same time.

Another point worth noting is that the keel / hog / apron timber specification at build is for Larch – however do note that there are three main forms of larch in Scotland – European and Japanese – plus the hybrid. The European larch is the one we need to go for in our boats as the cell structure is much better for boat building. The cell structure of Japanese and hybrid larch is different and as a result that timber is not as resistant to rot. That said, it is difficult to discern between the types of larch in the plank and the only sure way to tell the difference is by having a look at the cones and twigs – not quite so easy in the timber yard! So I suppose you need to find a reputable timber yard and trust that they are selling you what they say. Even then just take the time to get a really good coat of finish onto your boat and monitor it. Obviously a good option is to go for a bright finish and then you will be able to see any discolouration of timber early if it does get attacked by rot.

Kingfisher Refurb

There are lots of small tender type hulls lying around on beaches and in yards.  Many owners have forgotten they have them and have moved on to a new tender, a ‘little rubber boat’ os something like that.  As a result there are quite a few glass fibre hulls lying around that could be done up and if not they will sink into the detritus of the yard or the beach or the shore.  For many of them all you need to do is to strip off all the wood.  Replace the inwales, gunwales, breasthook and quarter knees and at that stage you have the makings of quite a nice little boat on your hands.  Then you add the sternsheets, rowing thwart, and a pad for a motor and then paint / varnish it.  Always remember that these boats will be used by single crew, two or three crew, so remember to make sure that you position thwarts amidships or for’rard so that a rower will be in balance on his or her own as well as with someone sitting in the stern and / or bow.

It takes a bit of time, but does not need to cost too much and there’s a bit of fun for kids or a tender for very little money.

Refurb – Various

Just dug one of these hulls out of a bramble patch – the fibreglass is fine, but all the timber has to be replaced.  Looking forward to that one…

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