Tuesday’s painting session went well

Thanks to Ray Norris’s space heater and the bits of water pipe  some kind soul left in the shed  yesterday’s painting session went very smoothly  and the second coat of primer on the inside of the hull is (finally!) complete.

The space heater really warmed the place up and the paint went on very easily as a result. We put the tarpaulins over the waterpipe hoops, and I       don’t think the tarps are touching wet paint anywhere. We left a small tube heater inside to keep temps up a bit while the paint is  drying.

Total time including prep and covering up was 2 hours. Provided (Easter!) Sunday brings at least three people to the shed  it should be  no problem sanding down lightly, wiping with white spirit and  doing a coat of undercoat. Ray is going to bring  us another bottle of gas for the space heater.

Getting on with the Oars


When our build started like most of the Seil Skiffies I had no experience rowing with longer oars, only distant memories of Bingham’s Pond (come in number Nine your time’s up etc  etc) and in those days the oars were only long because I was short. Sculling about in my wee dinghy and occasionally wrestling with the odd spades that are supplied with inflatables is no comparison with the delights of skiffing.

Back in September I set out some preliminary thoughts about oar-making here:-


My thoughts were largely second hand, as that post shows. Since then a little experience has been gained, many more articles read and as a result the ideas modified quite a bit.

The basic choice is between shorter and longer oars and rightly or wrongly our first set is going to be short, at eleven feet three inches. This is in line with the views of our building team and the absence of any local feeling in favour of going longer. Once we’ve got some sea miles under Selkie’s keel we may treat ourselves to a longer set and we’ll be watching what our competitors are using, particularly if they beat us.

We’ve also decided not to be too clever with our first set, so we’re not making wooden copies of high-tech racing gear. Our oars will be solid rather than hollow, rectangular in section with a maximum width fore-and-aft of 70mm and depth of 30mm. To keep them light I’ve given them Western Red Cedar cores and for strength Douglas Fir front and back faces. What follows is a description of how they’re made, partly for the benefit of those even more amateur than I and also for constructive comment please.

The overall length breaks down into a solid Douglas Fir section forming a handle twelve inches long and the rest glued into the shaft, then an eight foot section with the light core and the final section solid Douglas Fir tapered to the outboard tip. The blades are 4mm good quality marine ply to this pattern:-


It’s been good fun doing these, getting the Great Hut full of wood shavings and gluing up with gorilla glue, in the hope that it may attract some of them to the team.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMarking the handle for shaping


Lovely smell of wood shavings


Handle roughed out


Looking better


Mark which way it goes


Glued in


Blanks for shafts assembled


Ready for finishing

To complete the oars I’ll be adding hardwood blocks to take the thrust against the pins and plates with holes for gearing.

Update 13 March

That’s the blocks and plates made and glued in now;-


The blocks are oak and the pads 9mm super-elite plywood that Captain Cormorant had accidentally left lying around in my shed. I’ll need to treat him to a nice eel for his supper to compensate.

The pads will each have three holes drilled to slot over the oak thole pins to give us three gears. The gearing is expressed as the ratio of the length of oar outboard of the pivot to the inboard section. The oars are 135 inches long overall, so a thole pin 31 inches from the inboard end gives a ratio of 3.35, 34 inches gives 3.00 and 37 inches gives 2.65. That gives a good range for varying conditions and strengths of the rowers.

These oars aren’t the lightest in the world, weighing in at about 4.5kg unpainted, but it’s easier to plane a bit off later than to put it back.

Update 24 March


That’s them ready for the final coat on the blades.

Man wanted to make footbraces

The oars and rudder are in hand, but there is still a vital part of the skiff to be constructed.

The stroke oar’s footbrace is fixed, though we will be able to use blocks for shorter people. or the remaining three footbraces the current idea is to make them in the form of a rectangle where the runners slot over the actual frames of the boat and the distance is adjusted by either moving the whole device so a different slot is over the frame or possibly moving the footboard in separate slots in the top of the runners. Making the footbraces like this means the rowers will be bracing against the strongest part of the structure of the boat and the footbrace does not have to be actually glued into the boat.

(If anyone understands what on earth I am on about and can send me a drawing I can post here that would be very helpful!!)

Each footbrace will be slightly different due to the curve of the hull. What is needed is for someone to make templates out of cardboard then take them away and make the three footbraces. We have some heavy duty ply to make them out of, and one of the building team will be happy to come jup to the shed and explain in more detail what is required.

Painting Progress

The first coat of primer was put on the inside today. Unfortunately the epoxy filleting done yesterday had not gone off properly, so it was not possible to sand these areas down . . .  and there are still a couple of places where more epoxy is needed. There is also the fixed stretcher board for the stroke oar, which Ewan glued in place this morning. We didn’t paint these bits, and in addition we missed out the underside of the seats, as by the time we worked out that someone would have to lie on their back inside the boat to paint these bits there was too much wet paint around  for this to be possible.

So –  more accurately – the first coat of primer was put on 90% of the inside today. We are going to get some more epoxy  this week and finish the filleting on Thursday. We can then sand the whole interior and put the first coat of primer on the bits we were unable to paint today.  Then it will be full steam ahead with the rest of the painting.

Nothing is ever as quick or simple as you think it will be the first time around . . .

Tips from Ullapool


Ewan had a great visit to the far North to look at the Ullapool skiffs and reports as follows.

If we have weather like now the Skiffie Worlds will be fantastic. Ullapool was sparkling in the winter sun and a trial row in the school boat was arranged specially for me. Her official name is Cul Mor but her builders have named her “Pull” to go with her sister Ulla.



At first Topher had some problems raising a crew, as the other boats were going out later, but Jan hijacked a couple of mountaineers who were heading for Stack Polly and so Dougie and Struan got an introduction too. This seems to be one of the best things about the skiffs – they are so easy to set up and row that everyone can take part, although I admit the two pressganged climbers were pretty fit.


Ullapool rows with shortish oars, 11 feet 2 inches I think. It seems proven that oars between say 12 and 15 feet are liable to cause bumping. With short oars you sit slightly off-centre on same side as your oar; above that length you sit opposite the oar port, so 16 feet is fine if you can actually lift an oar that weight. For smaller and unfit older people like me the shorter ones are fine. If the rowing experience isn’t comfortable and unthreatening only alpha-people will take part, so don’t let’s put anyone off.


On Sunday morning I rowed two miles with light 11ft 2in oars and wasn’t out of breath. We had a great excursion down past where the Worlds will take place to an abandoned croft, where we climbed a hill and breathed in the view.

I noticed that Topher was feathering his oars, which is unusual as it isn’t easy with the kabes and pins that most skiffs have. He told me that people who have rowed before usually want to feather. New recruits don’t.

Feathering heavy oars is hard on the wrists and probably doesn’t increase speed. The intention is to reduce windage on the return. Narrow blades don’t catch as much wind as modern racing blades, so it may not make much difference.

There may be an attempt to ban feathering, but right now you can feather if you can work out a way of doing it..

This ties in with oar and oarlock design. Rectangular oars are strong, easy and cheap to make. Feathering oars need round(ish) sections where it matters.

It is extremely difficult but possible to make oarlocks in wood that allow easy feathering. It can be done with two pins if you like the noise of the constant clunking. The Cornish gigs tried feathering but I’ve heard they may have banned it.

It’s good to “gear” oars to vary length for conditions, basically ending up with more inboard in rough conditions or a small rower, extending out in calm water. You do this by adding little buttons that catch on the pins, or a pad underneath with holes to go over the pins. This is difficult with feathering oars and it ends up being down to the skill of the rower.

I would like to make a set of lightweight rectangular non-feathering oars 11ft 2ins. I can work up a good design for these.

Our most likely frequent competitors will be Kilmelford and some will row on both boats. Hence I’d like to persuade them to do the same as we do.

I got some information about rudders too.

There’s a discussion going on and clubs have been asked to send in a photograph of their existing rudders, just to find out what teams are doing. I’d like to keep the Seil rudder right in terms of the concept – looking traditional and “right” even if not state of the art – with the stock following the line of the aft stem, the leading edge of the blade as vertical as possible without an outrigger, the blade itself a nice hydrofoil shape. Also controlled by an oak tiller to the side with fore and aft extension, as central rudders are very uncomfortable for the cox and a yoke with strings can be tricky.

I found a great idea for low cost rudder gear – glue in end pieces from old stainless steel rigging screws, connect with stainless rod. Strong, looks good and works.


Rubbing strips along keel can be made from heavy polypropylene cut into strips. Tough and slippery with an element of “give” looks fine and works. You get a sheet and rip it up, can be profiled with a hand plane.

Launching trolleys at Ullapool are made from cheap timber, supporting the skiff at frame 6. We need two wheels and some stainless tube for axles.



The painting begins

The skiff was turned on Sunday after the final sanding session.

A wee bit more work is needed to fillet in under the thwarts and the  breasthooks on the inside, but it was too cold for the epoxy during  the week.

… the average age of volunteers was reduced by decades in one fell  swoop! The first coat of thinned down primer went on very quickly  with the willing hands of the 1st Kilbrandon Guides.

First coat of primer going onThe painting team


Jobs list for 17th February

The final parts of the gunwales are on and will be unclamped. The cox’s seat (improved version, not the fairies’) is in as well. Structurally the hull is complete, just over five months since we started laminating parts, and that includes a long break at Christmas and New Year when it was cold and the fairies were drunk and lazy.

Tomorrow it’s more scraping and sanding, sanding, sanding.

And …

Artists of Seil – Stand by for painting duties!

Update late afternoon 17th

Sanding not quite completed today but a cheerful afternoon was had and another couple of hours will see everything ready for painting. Our lovely Seil skiff deserves the best and another session next Sunday will be enough.



Gunwales still nearly done

This is taking a bit longer than we bargained for, probably because we were rude about the fairies but maybe also because our work at these critical points is highly visible and has to be right.

We had to put the inwales in two stages as we didn’t have sufficient clamps to do the lot at one go and unthinkingly did a complete side first, but it would have been better to glue in two forward or two aft pieces together, as we could have then ensured they fitted each they perfectly. As it was although everything was fine on the dry run we had to re-trim one end of the second side when we came to glue it in, as its partner had slid forward a couple of millimetres.

Now we’re absolutely on the last lap with the external pieces almost ready for glueing. Again the shortage of clamps means one side at a time and we’ll try to get at least the first one done before Sunday, when there will again be plenty to do.

Gunwales nearly done


Today the inner parts of the gunwales were cut to length and scarfed for gluing up during the week. This just leaves the outer strips, which may well be done by some fairies before next weekend.

We’re not too sure about this, as we found that they had tried their hands at building a seat for our cox.


8th Feb

Yesterday we cut the scarphs and shaped the ends of the outer inwhale pieces and test-fitted them. We also shaped the breasthooks.

Today we had intended to glue up the outer inwhale pieces both sides, using brass screws to fix the inwhale pieces to the short blocks and so leaving us plenty of clamps to clamp the pieces to the long blocks. However, the screws were not man enough to pull the rail in tight against the blocks so we ended up using all the clamps (over 30) on one side. We will do the other side tomorrow.

You can never have too many clamps
You can never have too many clamps