Engine box, steps and sole bearers

14/06/2024 0 By Chris Phillips

It has taken me a while to get accustomed to the new working regime since starting the job with Gordonstoun. I started on 18 March, towards the end of her winter refit period, and we (the permanently contracted crew) were living in the school and commuting daily to Inverness marina to work on Ocean Spirit. This all felt a bit discombobulating, especially as the school accommodation I was in was not of the greatest standard of comfort, but it was only three weeks before we started the season with a run through the Caledonian Canal (due to rubbish weather preventing a trip around the top) to our normal operating base at Plockton, near Kyle of Lochalsh. During the short period of refit, I started to establish my winter routine of travelling home for weekends, during which I was able to start making some progress with the companionway and engine box area. Building the engine box and the front panel, with its teak steps, was an enjoyable little project, and I am very pleased with how the steps have turned out – see the pictures. This was another project for which I managed to use some of the recycled teak lab worktop – I still have plenty of this left for all the other areas where I plan to use it! The engine box is quite a snug fit around the engine – the side pieces are bolted to the outer flanges of the engine bed assembly, so I have had to ensure good access to the innards once it is all closed up. On the positive side, access from the top is very good, as the entire engine is mounted quite far forward; however, access to the sides needs to be through purpose built hatches, in particular for the water pump on the port side, which whilst on the standard engine is mounted facing forward and nice and easy to get to, on my engine, due to the presence of the second alternator, is mounted low down and facing aft on the side of the block. Still, I have fitted three access hatches, one of which is for this specific purpose! The front of the box took a little thinking through, as it needed to be slightly sloped, and to make a good fit to the side panels whilst being capable of taking the weight of a person using the steps on its front face. Again, I am pleased with how this has worked out, and securely latched as it is, I am hoping it will not prove to be a source of rattles!

During these weekends I also ran the remaining sections of bilge suction hoses and fitted strum boxes and the electric bilge pump (not yet connected electrically as there are not yet any electrics!) in the sump. It just remains to fit the main manual bilge pump in the engine compartment once this is fully insulated. I also fitted the fuel transfer pump (a manual Whale Gusher 10 pump) and its associated hoses and valve between the main tank and the previously-installed copper pipe. Finally I made a start on the engine compartment insulation, using up some soundproofing insulation I had in stock to do the aft face, whilst waiting for ASAP to send me the correct boards to do the rest.

Once the sailing season had started in earnest, doing my first few weeks on Ocean Spirit shadowing Ian (the chap I’m replacing) and Trev (the second skipper), whilst having the odd week off here and there to recover from the exertions of working on a (to me) small boat. These weeks off have of course provided me plenty of opportunity to continue making progress, albeit interspersed with visits to and from friends and family. This last week for example I have been entertaining my parents, so have only really visited the boat to show them the boat. I also had the opportunity earlier in the week to show Serchthrift to Pete Hill (who some of you may have heard of in relation to his previous junk schooner Badger) and his partner Linda, members of the Junk Rig Association who were anchored in Puilladobhrain (top end of Seil) in their latest boat Kokachin, which is a marvellously junky-looking French design called a Jonque de Plaisance, and to which I was treated to a reciprocal visit (https://www.kokachin.org/). We were able to compare notes and ideas, which was good, and I was pleased that Pete, veteran of several self-build projects, seemed mildly impressed by my efforts so far!

In the meantime however, I have managed to progress well with the sole bearers, which has been my major project since April. I had acquired some nice lengths of Douglas Fir for this job, and the first step was to establish a datum for lining up the rest so I get a vaguely level cabin sole. For this I used the forward most bearer in the main cabin, which butts up to the main bulkhead on frame 3. It was fairly easy to measure and cut this one, just needing to ensure I got the bolt holes drilled in the right places and to cut a rebate in the aft face to nestle over the steel plate floor. This I dry-fitted temporarily, ensuring it was level both fore-and-aft and athwartships, so I could use it and a level to ensure the rest of the bearers lined up. Next I had to tackle the bearers which would slot over the top edges of all the other plate floors. I have opted to raise the sole 30mm from the designed level, just to provide a modicum more area to the sole, particularly as my saloon is further forward than in the original Wylo design, so the slope of the bottom plates would otherwise intrude more into the forward end of the sole. As it is I should just have a narrow wedge each side at the forward end which is sloped in line with the hull plating. As a reult of this, rather than simply bolting timber bearers flush with the top of the plate floors, I slotted the underside of the bearer stock to fit over the top of the floors at the desired height. One unfortunate side-effect of this, which I had not taken into account, was that the pre-drilled bolt holes in the floors were a bit low, and therefore some have ended up passing through the bottom edge of the timber bearers, which made for some tricky drilling but should not have any long-term repercussions. They still hold the timber in place (along with the copious amounts of black goo I have used) and take the vertical loading as required. These needed to be individually cut for length either side of the centreboard casing, allowing for the intended passage of plumbing hoses on the port side, and dry fitted, again ensuring alignment with the datum at frame 3, as well as each other. Once these were all measured and cut they received 4 coats of paint before being permanently fixed in place with bolts and goo.

In order to take the fore-and aft bearers, these (which I shall call the primary bearers) could not of course be cut to take half-lap joints or any more complicated type of joint, due to their steel core, so I had to prefabricate a number of “hangers” – little plywood sockets which get glued and screwed to the face of the primary bearers to take ends of the fore-and-aft bearers. Once I had a collection of these, I started designing the intermediate web of bearers which is required to ensure a solid sole. The gap between frames 3 and 4 (at the forward end of the centreboard slot) is quite large, so I knew I had to have at least one further transverse bearer and probably a vertical prop to ensure the whole assembly didn’t bend in the middle. In fact I started off cutting two transverse members, but after a rethink and incorporation of a prop forward of the mast step, I did away with one of these, opting instead for a trio of fore-and-aft members stretching two-thirds of the distance between the frames, supported at their aft end by one transverse bearer, itself resting either end on the hull plating (with a 4mm rubber gasket to ensure plating and end grain do not make contact). You can see from the photos how this forward section of the saloon bearers finally went together, with much cutting of half-lap joints (with increasing levels of accuracy!). Whilst devising how all this was to go together, I had to consider a couple of other requirements: firstly, the ability to unbolt the entirety of the upper centreboard case from the flange and lift it without removing the entire sole, as well as accessibility to the studs which hold the centreboard pivot assembly; secondly access for the mast step and the mast retaining bolt. Therefore some of the bearer sections are easily removable without disturbing too much else. The aft sections (either side of the centreboard case) were straightforward, even if one had to be angled inboard as the sole narrows aft. Once cut, jointed and dry-fitted, I then had the whole lot out again for painting (ensuring I didn’t slap too much thickness of paint at the joints!). Once they were fully painted, I then had the happy job of fitting all the requisite parts and screwing the whole assembly together – very satisfying! I now have the solid basis for building up the saloon furniture.

Since completing the sole bearers I have had to go back to work and then this week have been busy hosting my parents and laying waste to the garden whilst they are here! However, I have been tinkering with a couple of little jobs – one was building the boat’s toilet from its requisite parts (I obtained the bowl, pump and seat separately!), which caused amusement when I had it in the middle of the living room. Also I have now fabricated the fresh water and waste tank vents from copper pipe, complete with (hopefully) watertight ball-seal fittings to prevent ingress of water. I am quite pleased with these, although I did end up having to buy a pipe-bender to bend them into shape, which of course cost more than I had ever intended laying out on these fittings.

I am heading back to sea again this weekend, with just one weekend off until mid-July, where I get a whole 3 weeks off! Those 3 weeks will be used to complete some of the cockpit and deck joinery – seat backs, deck boxes, galley hatch and possibly dorade boxes, as well (I hope) as attacking the pushpit to adjust and adapt it to fit the boat, which will involve some bending and welding. Watch this space!