Sailmaking

Collins menagerie

When it came to making sails for Kensa, we didn’t need to look too far to find a good sailmaker. We’re very lucky to live down the road from Collins Sailmakers, which just happens to be run by good friends of ours. The main reason we chose Collins, however, was because Nick made our sails for Planet when we went away on our trip. Having used these sails every day for two years, in 40 degrees of Greek sunshine as well as 40 knots of Greek wind with very few signs of wear at all by the time we got home a few thousand miles later, we know they are sails we can rely on.

We spoke to Nick about the rig and sails for our boat from early on in the project while Si was drawing up the sail plan in the later stages of his design. Very generously, Nick suggested that in the spirit of our project we might like to be involved in the making of the sails as well and we jumped at the chance to do this.

We spent one Saturday down at the loft building the mainsail; learning from Nick how the various stages of the process fit together and having a go at things ourselves. Si spent a summer while he was at university working for a sailmakers in Falmouth, so had an idea already of how machines worked. I was less useful, given my ineptitude with even the most basic of sewing skills, but took plenty of photos to make up for it.

Si then spent several evenings leading up to the launch working on the main and mizzen in the loft and consulting Nick whenever he needed to. In the days just before our launch, with no time to spare and the mainsail not quite finished, Nick very kindly stepped in and completed it for us in his own time. Following the launch, Simon finished the mizzen himself.

To give you an idea of how our sails were made, here is a ridiculously over-simplified step-by-step guide to the process, illustrated by photos and explanations of how we built our mainsail. Our sails are very traditional and simple when compared with their modern counterparts, and I can’t stress enough the level of skill that goes into making a sail. This is just a Blue Peterish glance at the basics:

1.Design sail, choose material and cut the panels. In our case, the sail plan was done by Simon and then passed to Nick, who used his software to cut each component panel out on the plotter. In the past this process would have been done by hand, but now sails are able to be cut precisely to a digital design (much like Kensa’s kit-like framework); saving time, materials and ensuring accuracy. There’s a little time lapse video of the plotter cutting our mainsail panels here. We chose a hard wearing tan cloth for our sails. Not only is it the most traditional option, it’s also the most practical given the amount and type of use they will see. Fish blood and guts on a white sail would not be so becoming! In the past, when sails were made of natural materials like flax or cotton, they were tanned with cutch (a vegetable extract) and oak bark to protect them from rotting or perishing in sunlight or damp conditions.

2. Glue together and seam up panels. The cut edges of the cloth are first sealed with a hot knife, then the panels are glued together with double sided tape before being machine seamed to form one single, large panel.

Seaming up the main

3. Cut and tape up the leech. This is the vertical edge of sail furthest away from the mast.

Cutting the leech

Once the sail was all in one piece, Nick trimmed this to shape and stitched a tape into the length of it for strength.

Taping the leech

4. Make and fit patches. As with any other item made from cloth, sails need reinforcing locally in places where they are going to be under most strain or subject to chafe. This is typically going to be near the peak, tack, throat and clew (the corners of a gaff or lug sail).

Si worked to make up patches and tape them in place, which Nick then seamed up on the machine.

5. Add cringles, reef points and eyelets. Seeing the sail as it was below at the end of our day in the loft made it feel as though it was almost finished, but in reality there was still quite a bit to add. We purposefully chose a very simple rig for Kensa, so accessories (there’s probably a technical term for that…) were minimal.

Buddy helping

And here it is a few months later, along with the mizzen, on their first trip out back in October!

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Spars and rig

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Kensa has five spars; the main mast, main yard, mizzen mast, mizzen yard and the outrigger or bumpkin. We had always intended to build these from scratch from Douglas Fir or similar timber. However, as time went on during the build, we realised that this was going to be not only time consuming but costly. So we went about sourcing our spars in a slightly unorthodox fashion…

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We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Bob Edwards for two of our spars. Bob owns a beautiful Carrick 18ft restricted class gaff cutter and has over the years replaced and made spars for her himself. We were extremely lucky that not only did an old bowsprit prove too bendy for Magpie but perfect for our outrigger, but also that Bob was kind enough to break his main mast early last season, leaving us with a very useable length of timber for our main mast. Clearly the latter was no laughing matter for Bob, although within weeks he had already built a beautiful new main mast for Magpie in his workshop.

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Our main mast is a bit of a mongrel. Being unstayed, it needed to be both very strong; something that could be achieved by a solid wooden spar but not without ending up with an extremely heavy mast. Carbon is both exceptionally strong and exceptionally light, so suited our purpose perfectly, but is an expensive and bespoke material. So we were delighted when we were offered a large section of carbon tubing, made by our friend Steve Neal at Fibrefusion as a test piece for the carbon mast during the build of his own boat Daisy May. It was the right diameter for Kensa’s rig plan, and so became the middle section of our mast, scarfed between two sections of Magpie’s wooden mast.

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Once Simon had joined the mast together using thickened epoxy, he painted and varnished it, adding a simple set of iroko ‘ears’ to fix the halyard to. After testing the mast in fresh winds, we decided to sheath the lower and mid sections in fibreglass for added strength. The nature of lug rig means that unlike modern Bermudan rig, the main stress on the mast falls on the lower end where it passes through the deck, and without stays to support the mast, this end must be above suspicion.

Making up the mizzen mast

The mizzen mast was more straightforward; thanks to Ian Webb at Percuil Boatyard, we managed to get hold of a hollow wooden mast which had originally been the main mast for a Falmouth bass boat. After cutting it to size and closing up the groove along the length of it where the roller reefing had been, we varnished it and fitted it down at Percuil.

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With the outrigger in hand, the only remaining spar for the mizzen was the yard. We had decided early on to use an old windsurf mast for this. Windsurfs spars are made or reinforced with carbon and are also designed to be light and strong. They are also perfectly Kensa sized, and Rick Iddison was kind enough to give us an old one he had that was no longer being used.

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In the end, the main yard was the only spar made from scratch.

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Si glued lengths of Douglas Fir together to make this. Douglas Fir is widely used for yacht masts and spars as it has a straight grain, glues well, and is available in long lengths.

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Once the timber was glued to length, Si shaped the pieces of the yard using a circular saw and plane, before clamping and gluing up the whole assembly.

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He then sanded and varnished it and it was ready to go!

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We’re very proud of Kensa’s low-tech eco-friendly rig. Our priorities for the rig is that it is strong, light and easy to use. Together with the sails, we have a simple, traditional set up which allows us to handle her easily in a variety of different conditions for a variety of purposes. Plus, it looks pretty!

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Last jobs before launching

Fitting the hatches

The last few days before the launch passed in a bit of a blur. Fibreglassing the decks was the last bit of structural work we had to do and by the time we finished this we had ten days left before our launch! Plenty of time…

Decks undercoated and coamings fitted

Most of the remaining work involved painting or fixing. We got an undercoat on the deck and fitted the coamings (the wooden border around the cockpit in the picture above). Coamings are designed to prevent water on deck from getting into the cockpit and ours are made of epoxy coated ply.

Glueing up rubbing strake

We also bolted and sikaflexed the rubbing strakes to the hull; longitudinal lengths of iroko which prevents damage from occurring to the hull. In traditional wooden boatbuilding, a thicker plank (or strake) was built in at this height to allow for inevitable wear, but nowadays rubbing strakes are added as separate fittings, which makes them replaceable if necessary. Miraculously we managed to fit both strakes without getting black Sikaflex all over our newly painted cream hull!

First fitting the stem band

We also fitted the stem band, which we were unable to add until the boat was the right way up. This was bonded with Sikaflex and screwed to the stem and welded at the bottom to the rest of the keel band by Robin.

Welding stem band

Adding the final coats of paint was satisfying; it was lovely to see Kensa come together as the boat we’d had in our minds’ eye for the last few months.

Painting blue stripe

Admittedly it would have been nice to have had more time, but we were incredibly lucky to have an army of friends and family who all pitched in to help in the last few weeks.

Painting the detail strip

We wouldn’t have completed Kensa without them and we especially want to thank Debs, who gave up every minute of her free time in the last few weeks to helping finish Kensa. She has been an important part of our project from the very start, helping with everything from clearing the path to the workshop to painting the sole boards with particularly noxious floor paint without complaint and we are so grateful to have her support.

Last coats of paint

The only real issue with painting – apart from too many solvents on a warm summer’s day – was the difficulty in moving round the boat and the workshop with wet things to avoid!

Interior painted

We painted the floorboards, the planks inside, the blue detail strip around the sheer. We painted the deck, the coamings, the rudder, our faces, hands and feet. There was a lot of paint.

Paintwork finished!

What else? We varnished the transom, painted the rudder and got that and the tiller ready to fit. Our best mate Fergus, who also happens to be a talented sculptor and furniture maker, made us eight beautiful cleats out of oak. Si’s parents shifted lead ballast, went shopping for last minute paint, parts and screws and cooked for us for the last few days. Without this we would have probably lived on crisps and Haribo for three days.

Newly varnished transom

Name boards, very kindly and beautifully made for us by Richard Smith, were attached and that was it. Done! Suddenly we could stand back and see Kensa as a ‘proper’ boat.

Name boards on!

Or at least, we could have done, had we had been able to stay awake….

Me finished!

Trying out our nets

We’ve been hoping for an opportunity to try our nets out for a while and Sunday gave us ideal conditions for it. Hardly any wind at all, neap tides and no swell. Given the forecast, though, Kensa was at Percuil, which meant we were more limited in our choice of spots for setting a net in than Portscatho. We made a really early start and headed for a spot just around the corner from the Lighthouse, near Shit Rock (just east of Zone Point), because we needed to be within reasonable distance of the river.

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It was a glorious morning sailing out of the river and we had it to ourselves at that time of day. On the way out we got the net ready to shoot; checking and double checking measurements and distances and depths. Gill nets must be laid with the headline at least 3 metres below the surface of the water, so we chose a spot that would be suitably deep to allow for that at any state of tides. We also needed to work out how long a stretch of water we’d need for our net, and to make sure the floats and anchors were on a long enough scope. We’ll get a lot quicker at this I’m sure, but the first time involved quite a lot of thinking!

getting nets ready

The next issue was to work out how to shoot the nets. We cleared space and set up the nets and floats with ropes flaked and ready to throw over and pay out, and tried to anticipate any areas of the boat that might snag lines or net. Finally, we worked out the best direction in which to lay the net given the wind, tide and our manoeuvrability and got ourselves ready to go.

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The first twenty or so metres went out beautifully, if accompanied by much concentration from us both to ensure the net paid out without snagging or tangling, which it seemed keen to do. There was very little wind, but enough breeze to ghost along under sail. This was perfect until the wind died completely and we had to get the oars out to move Kensa along. So the mid section of the net went out under more sufferance. Then the breeze picked up again slightly, so we managed to sail the last section out quite smoothly. All in all, it went fine and certainly as well as we could have expected it to for a first time. I would also imagine a new, dry net is much more likely to misbehave than one that’s seen a bit of use.

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We felt it was more important to practise shooting and hauling the net today and to get our heads round that than anything else, so we decided to head into St Mawes for a couple of hours and recover the net again later that afternoon. The net had a total soak time of six hours in the end.

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We picked up Debs in St Mawes, grabbed some much needed lunch and headed back out towards our net, past the fleet of pilot cutters in for the weekend.

pilotcutters

Shortly after the photo above was taken the wind died completely, so we spent quite a while sailing very slowly out to the net and trying to justify not rowing!

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As is often the case with anchoring, hauling the net was a lot more straightforward than laying it, although harder work on the arms.

spider crabs!

It was also made easier by the fact that there wasn’t an awful lot in it! Quite a few too small spider crabs, some seaweed, goo (which I’m reliably informed is in fact plankton) and not a lot else.

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But also nothing broken or lost, which was our main concern for the day. Next time we’ll be a lot more confident about using the net and in the meantime we’ve thought of a few things we can change both on the boat and in the way we go about it which should make a real difference.

stella in box

Stella is a fan of the net. Although she tends to sleep quite happily most of the time, we bribed her with a tasty bone while we were dealing with the net to make sure she stayed out of harm’s way!

After the launch…a few more photos

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Selling our first fish!!

We’ve finally had a patch of fair weather, which has been perfect for us to get out on Kensa and try out our kit. Monday was sunny with light winds but with stronger easterlies forecast for the rest of the week, so we decided to keep Kensa in the shelter of Percuil and head out to marks near there to fish.

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We were keen to try sailing Kensa up and down over a mark and practising fishing both under full sail and with the main brailed up, so we headed about half a mile south of the Lighthouse to fish round a mark down there. It was ideal conditions for there; the wind was light and easterly and not forecast to shift, so perfect for a beam reach in and out, meaning it was quick for us to sail both there and back, with no need to tack. Once we got down there we set about fishing up and down over the mark by tacking upwind under main and mizzen while trailing weighted lures and then sailing downwind back over the area with the main brailed up and the mizzen alone. Within a short while we were catching quite well, so we did this three or four times, by which time the wind had filled in slightly and the sea had built up a bit of an uncomfortable lumpy swell. We hadn’t had a bite for about half an hour, so we decided to head in.

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All in all it was a really good day; we managed to get Kensa working really well bar a few snags which we’re sorting out this week while the wind is fresh from the east. Nothing serious; for example, the mast needed wedging in its foot to avoid it clanking around when the main’s brailed up and we’re drifting. It was doing that quite a bit on Monday and managing to turn itself as it did so, meaning the yard ended up wrapped around the mast a couple of times. That’s now fixed and Si has also made Kensa a knife rack in which to handily store the fish killing equipment! Which we might actually need now it would seem! It wasn’t exactly a bumper catch, but the other great thing about Monday was the satisfaction of heading in with a respectable box of pollock.

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Respectable enough to sell, in fact! We are delighted to say that within half and hour of arriving back into Percuil The Atlantic Fryer, a brilliant fish and chip van in Portscatho, had become our first official customer! Ross fries all his fish to order in beef dripping and makes his own chips, batter, mushy peas and pretty much anything else you could want with your fish and chips. They are the yummiest we’ve ever tasted so we were happy with our first ever sale!

Atlantic Fryer

And it would seem that everyone else was too; Kensa pollock sold out quickly and we’ve had requests for more. So we’d better get catching again soon!

Ross

Bringing Kensa home

Although May’s weather was still quite unsettled for this time of year, we were lucky enough to find a calm day a couple of weeks ago and made the most of it to lay our mooring off Portscatho.

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We came round to Portscatho on Planet, our gaff cutter, with the mooring on board and decided on a good spot in the Pit. We then used Planet’s staysail halyard to hoist and lower the anchor and chains for our mooring, with much appreciated help from our friends Debs and Chrissy.

Ready to lay the mooring

I was slightly apprehensive about laying a mooring, given the large quantities of heavy chain and the importance of the job.

King Harry Chain

In the event, it all happened without hitch, rush or panic and was over and done with surprisingly quickly.

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In fact, the worst part of it was towing the mooring equipment down the river to Planet from the shore at the beginning of the day; the dinghy was decidedly precarious!

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A few days later we had a couple of days of fair weather and decided to bring Kensa back home to Portscatho to try out her new mooring for size. It was great sailing round from Percuil, if a little gusty, and Kensa performed really well with a reefed main and mizzen.

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Thankfully, we managed to pick up the mooring on the first go, which was a relief given the likelihood of an audience, and we even caught a pollock on the way!

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Annoyingly, the weather then turned and Kensa spent her first few nights on her mooring with fresh north westerlies. With little change in the forecast and a weekend booked up with other commitments, we decided to try out the Land Rover and trailer and get her out of the harbour before a gale came in. This way she would be out of the way of bad weather and we could fit the fishfinder while on dry land, which would be significantly easier.

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Although the moorings inside the porth in Portscatho are well sheltered from most wind angles, the Pit moorings are more exposed. Unfortunately we are not able to get a space in the harbour itself for Kensa, so for now we will be either getting her out of the water or moving her to Percuil if strong winds (in particular easterlies) come our way. On the plus side, at least our mooring is accessible at all states of tide, so we can get out and back at any time of day!

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Getting Kensa on the trailer went well, if somewhat awkwardly and slowly. It’s another job that we’ll end up doing quite a lot but which we’ve never done before, so I would imagine after a few more practices we should speed up significantly! The Land Rover’s a beauty and we’re both really pleased we’re now able to be self-sufficient with Kensa and launch and recover her as necessary. We’re also pleased the mizzen mast just fits under all the telegraph wires going up Gerrans Hill from the harbour. That saved a job!

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Back at home, we spent a few days working on fitting a fishfinder and a new locker inside the boat. We also fitted more pipe to the coamings to prevent chafe and allow nets and gear to be hauled inboard without snagging, and most importantly made up and fitted a main sheet traveller. We’ve been using a rope traveller for the time being until we could be sure of the best arrangement for the boat.

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Once we’d established this we had a hunt around for the best materials and happily found that the old scaffold pole handrail in our garden would be perfect for the job after a few mods.  So with all this done and easterlies forecast for the week we decided to relaunch at Percuil last Saturday and it wasn’t long before we got out for a spot of fishing…..but more of that tomorrow!

Fitting the deck

Another slightly late set of photos….

Filleting up inside

Once we’d turned Kensa over things seemed to progress very quickly. This was partly because the deadline was looming and we were by now running on technically illegal levels of caffeine and solvents and partly because the nature of the work left to do meant we had a series of short finite tasks to complete.

Finishing filleting

But mainly, and most satisfyingly, we actually were a lot quicker at getting certain jobs done. Because for the first time we were repeating processes which had been completely new to us a few months back and finding – very pleasingly – that we were considerably more confident and competent. So things like epoxy filleting the last joints which had been inaccessible while the boat was upside down were straightforward jobs that we got done quickly. That said, there were still a few tiny spaces to get into to achieve this….

Quite a small space

Once we’d finished making her watertight, we got on with fitting Kensa’s deck structure. In order to do this we needed to plane back her sheer (the top edge now that she was the right way up) to get it level and fair.

Planing back the sheer

Most of Kensa’s deck structure was already in place given the construction of her frames, but for extra strength and fixture points we still needed to add the carlins, longitudinal wooden battens.

Fitting the carlins

We bonded these with thickened epoxy and clamped them in place before epoxy coating them.

Deck structure all fitted

Next we cut the deck panels to fit. These are 9mm plywood, in order to be flexible enough to take the deck’s curve.

Deck cut and ready to fit

Once the panels were cut to size, we coated them with epoxy and got on with fitting the outer transom. As I was writing this post, I looked back through our Twitter feed to remind myself of the order in which we did some of these jobs. I happened to idly glance at the date of our posts and was filled with slight horror when I noticed that the photo below was posted on 1st August, a mere 18 days before our launch date! We still had quite a lot to do then… This may explain why I have little memory of last August!

Decks epoxied!

The outer transom is essentially a large bit of plywood the same size as the transom which covers and protects the plank ends and acts as an aesthetically pleasing fascia or fake bum for the boat.

Fitting outer transom

This was cut and shaped and bonded to the hull using thickened epoxy. We clamped it in place where we could, but used a prop to hold in the bottom end of the transom where there were no suitable clamping points. The only alarming thing about this was that the other end of the prop was wedged up against the end of the shed. Although we love the shed to bits, it is old and frail in places and we worried slightly that this much pressure might be too much for the end wall; in a fight between boat and shed we rather assumed Kensa would win! Fortunately the epoxy cured without any mishap and the shed is still as intact as it ever was…

Side decks fitted

With the deck panels coated and dry, we set about fitting them, using thickened epoxy and a combination of screws, penny washers and ratchet straps to clamp them in place while the epoxy cured.

Sitting on deck!

Actually, we ran out of penny washers. So in absence of a handy Screwfix, we decided the most expedient option was to drill holes in 2p pieces. I believe this is some form of high treason and probably punishable by death, but we risked it anyway and got the job done in half the time.

Side decks epoxied

Once each section of deck was fitted, we epoxy coated them ready to be fibreglassed.

Foredeck fitted

The foredeck went on last, partly because it was the most complicated shape and partly because there was still work to be done fitting the mast step before the area became covered and hard to get to.

Decks epoxied

While we were waiting for the epoxy to cure we worked on the sole (floor) boards; the last pre-cut pieces of the boat ‘kit’ to fit.

Cutting out sole boards

Having test fitted them, we cut out the individual locker lids and coated them in two layers of epoxy.

Epoxying sole boards

This was all simple enough, but rendered complicated by the size of the boards themselves. Thanks to British weather, we had to keep moving them in and out of the workshop in order to find enough space to work on them while avoiding rain and epoxy mixing, which they don’t do well!

Deck fibreglassed

Finally, we fibreglassed the deck with one layer of thicker 600gsm cloth and epoxy. Having learned to fibreglass on Kensa’s hull, it was bliss to come back to it with some experience and a flattish surfaced to lay it on and find that it really wasn’t that difficult to do!

Painting the hull

Well, here you are! Just what everyone needs on a sunny Friday evening when the pubs are opening…some pictures of paint drying!! I bet you’re all riveted. We’ve finally got a computer with a decent sized screen, so I thought I’d sit down and sort out any loose ends from the blog. Things got pretty hectic in the weeks leading up to our launch last August, so I neglected to write about the last few jobs of the build and I’ve been meaning to for ages. Some of these are worth explaining, but some – like this one – are not.

So here are some photos of us painting the hull last summer, just before we turned her over. Six coats of undercoat, wet sanded between coats and three coats of topside cream, together with two coats of underwater primer and antifoul below the waterline. Quite some solvents!

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Learning to fish

So by now the boat’s good, the weather’s good and the fishing’s good. It’s just the catching that’s the problem… It’s not just what we can catch in terms of our fishing abilities (or lack thereof!) but also what we can catch without being locked up for gross shellfish embezzlement and lobster lifting.

Kensa near Killigerran

Every time we’ve been out on Kensa in the last couple of weeks, it’s been to test out a new arrangement of rigging, or the ballast tank, or to practise using a new bit of kit. While we’ve been out we’ve been fishing with hand lines in a ‘might as well try for some fish while we’re out here’ sort of way. Kensa’s moored up the Percuil River at the moment, so getting out to decent spots to fish takes a while. Without an engine, we have to tack up or down the river at least once and there’s reasonably strong tide to contend with too. We’ve caught a few mackerel and pollock on these trips, but we’re talking enough for a very tasty dinner or two. Not enough to sell. So although it’s possible to fish like this, it’s certainly not profitable. Had we sold the mackerel we caught the other day when we went out to test out the pollock board (it did not catch any pollocks but worked as a marvellous sea anchor!), it would have been the most expensive fish ever sold once we’d taken into account the three hours spent getting back in from the lighthouse against a strong ebb tide and a gusty northerly.

Simon and Stella

None of this is a great surprise to us, and to an extent such is the nature of fishing. We were never planning to base our business around fishing from Percuil, even if we’d hoped the weather might have allowed us to have made some more trips from there with a greater return by now. There’s a lot we can do to improve on this.

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Firstly, as we’d always planned, we’re moving Kensa round to Portscatho as soon as possible. The weather is much more settled, strong easterlies are unlikely (although not impossible) in the summer months and we should be able to work in Gerrans Bay from a mooring in the pit from now until the autumn. We will probably need to pull her out for any strong east sector weather that comes our way, but that’s to be expected. So on that front we’ve been getting together all the kit we need to lay a mooring here and we’ll do that as soon as we get a day with light enough conditions to do so. It’ll make a real difference to us to be able to get to fishing grounds almost as soon as we leave the harbour and we’ll learn a lot quicker when we’ve got plenty of space and fishing areas to play in.

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So what are we going to do to catch more fish?! Clearly experience is not on our side, but this is all part and parcel of what we’re doing. We need to find ourselves good fishing marks and learn how to target the right species with the right kit. We’ve been identifying as many established and known marks as possible and every time we go out we’ll find more places that are good for catching fish. Or we’ll find more places that aren’t good for catching fish….either way we’ll build up our knowledge over time. Here’s a mark we found the other day. It’s called Shit Rock.

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So this brings us to our choice of tools for the job and the vast possibilities that lie ahead for blaming them if we don’t catch any fish… The first thing we’ll be using is a pollock board. This was recommended to us by a friend fishing from a similarly sized boat in Newlyn, who really rates his and uses it often. It’s basically a rig of lures which you troll for pollock with, along with a small plastic dive board which is attached nearest the boat and designed to sink until you’ve caught fish or are going too slowly, at which point it bobs to the surface. We may have had limited (no) success with this so far, but this is likely to be because weather conditions and time constraints meant we could only get far enough to try it out over predominantly sandy ground. This is not ideal for catching pollocks, who are like the emos of the fish world and prefer to hang out in dark rocky wrecky places, listening to depressive soft punk.

Setting the pollock board

Secondly, hand lines. Or a variation thereof. We’ll continue to use basic hand lines and spinners or feathers for catching mackerel but we’ll upgrade a bit for everything else. We’ve been setting up poles that we can use for catching bass that will fix to the boat and extend outwards like big fishing rods; the idea being that you can have four lines with lures fishing at one time while moving along without them tangling with each other or getting in your way. This is used quite a bit by inshore fishing boats and should suit our set up well. We’re making these up at the moment and will try them out soon. If you don’t hear much about them for a while we probably haven’t got the hang of them yet. If, however, we catch a monster bass using them I will shamelessly post photos on every social media network available.

Thirdly, we’ve got pots. I mentioned a bit about these last time. Everything’s going well with getting all the kit together and we’ve got great places for catching crab and lobster in Gerrans Bay, but we hit a bit of a snag with these today. Basically, the rules are that unless you have a shellfish permit (free to obtain for anyone fishing commercially) you aren’t permitted to land more than two crabs or lobsters in total in any one day.  Once you get a permit, you can land as many as you like (provided they aren’t berried females (pregnant) or undersized). So we went about getting a permit as we’d always planned and discovered that only registered boats are eligible. This is a problem for us; as you probably know by now, we fit into a strange niche in fishing legislation, being under 10 metres and unpowered other than by sail and oar. This means that we don’t need to be registered and therefore don’t need to fish with a licence or quota. This is brilliant on most levels, but scuppers us when it comes to obtaining shellfish permits and funding for useful things like insulated fish boxes amongst others. We spoke to the lovely people at Cornwall IFCA (Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority) to clarify our position and they confirmed that unfortunately despite operating formally, openly and within the law, they will not be able to issue us with a permit. So this season at least, we will be selling crab and lobster but no more than two a day. They will be priced at £150 each, on a first come first served basis.*

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On the subject of licensing, it is now pretty much definite that licensing will be brought in shortly for our category. It is not certain exactly when this will be or how it will work, but from what we understand it is likely to be akin to the process of obtaining a tax disc for an old car that is exempt; you fill in the paperwork and get a tax disc but you don’t pay anything. It shouldn’t change much in practice, but everyone fishing from an unpowered sub-ten boat will be accounted for and able to be monitored. As IFCA explained, once this happens we will be able to get a permit for shellfish. So the future is bright and lobster coloured.

Kensa at sea

Finally, we’ll be using nets. This is likely to be our bread and butter and should bring in more fish than any other method. There are lots of different types of nets of different sizes and shapes available depending on what you’re trying to catch, but the type we’ll be using are called gill nets. These are vertical panel nets that you set in a straight line, weighted at the bottom and anchored to the sea bed and secured at the top with floats. Essentially an underwater tennis net. Nets, and gill nets in particular, are controversial and we’re aware of this. The controversy stems from the high efficiency of gill nets, which means they are associated with a high incidence of bycatch. Gill nets work by trapping fish in the mesh as they try to swim through the net and historically this has meant that both protected species and undersized fish have been needlessly caught using this method. However, gill netting is now much more closely monitored and there are regulations in place regarding minimum mesh size and location. Furthermore, it is the case that gill nets that are set correctly with the right mesh size are not only highly effective but also highly selective. We’ve taken all this into consideration when deciding to use nets and when buying them and we’ve also gone to several authorities and individuals for advice. We’ll be using two different gill nets with different mesh sizes, both designed to catch only larger fish. One will target bass and the other mainly pollock and cod. Both have mesh sizes well over the minimum measurement and have been proven to fish with very little bycatch (small fish just swim through the mesh) and environmental impact. We want to use the most sustainable methods practicable and we’re happy that this set up meets our aims.

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We also spoke to IFCA about the issue of outboards. This is something we’ve been pondering for a while. Clearly we are neither allowed nor intending to use an outboard as a means of propulsion while fishing or travelling to and from fishing. That’s fine; we have no desire to do this and are not about to spend all this time designing and building a boat and business around unpowered fishing only to slap an outboard on the transom and try to get away with it. It goes against everything we’re working to do. But it’s been niggling us that working from a boat with only sails and oars poses a safety issue. We would far rather be able to get an outboard out of a locker and attach it to Kensa to motor ourselves out of difficulty in the (ideally only ever hypothetical) case of adverse weather or gear failure than to have to call the lifeboat out. Similarly, we don’t ever want to be in the position of being able to get someone else out of danger but for an engine that we had decided not to carry onboard.  We feel it would be irresponsible to ourselves and others not to, so we’re telling you and everyone now that that’s what we’ll be doing!

Stella and the mackerel head

Our final, high risk fishing method involves the dog. She’s been mightily interested in fishing and boats so far, loves being out on the water and jumps in the punt before we can get a look in. The only things we’ve come home to find destroyed so far are the covers of two books; one about boat design and the other about fishing. So she’s clearly a clever discerning dog. She’s also a massive fan of fish. She saw us catch a mackerel the other day and was very interested in it indeed. We gave her the head to eat while we were barbecuing the rest of it and she loved it. So our plan is to train her up to sniff out the shoals for us. In the best case scenario we’ve just given her a taste for fishing and for mackerel; in the worst case we’ve just given her a taste for sitting on a boat and trying to eat everything we catch. Either way training a mackerel hound is worth a try. Frankly we need all the help we can get!

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*Not really. They will be normally priced, but we will take bribes.

The first slugs of summer…

Kensa on her way back to the water

We’re getting there! Kensa’s back in the water and we’ve finished the water ballast tank and fitted a bilge pump. The temperature rose for long enough for us to get the fibreglassing work done we were hoping to do and after some fairly chilly days touching up paint and fitting the pump we relaunched Kensa at Percuil a few weeks ago.

Painting in the cold

Once we were afloat again, we spent some time testing and checking the water ballast tank was working and making a few adjustments to the bilge pump set up so that we were happy with filling and emptying the boat of water (a fairly high priority really…) and it was pleasing to see that with the ballast tank full she floated right on her designed waterline. Luckily we managed to find one lovely bright (albeit freezing cold!) day to go out for a test sail a couple of days later and we were really pleased with how everything worked.

Ready to sail

Unfortunately, not long afterwards the weather turned again and threw one gale after another at us for about a month. So we got on with other jobs repairing boats, painting and demolishing houses. Different houses, obviously…

Test sail

Then just as we were beginning to despair of spring ever arriving at all, the sun came out for a couple of days and everybody smiled! And the doom, gloom and doubt about our business choices came good again as we finally found some lighter winds and warm air which we’re tentatively hoping might last a while. With this came a flurry of activity from us both and we’ve spent the last week collecting more potting and netting gear, sorting out Kensa’s summer mooring and picking up some of the fishing books again which had become somewhat dusty and untouched over the past few weeks.

Our kitchen is once again harbour to an array of fishing gear and if I leave Si for a second he purloins a chopping board, a knife or our washing up bowl to use to make or store lines and nets. This morning the transducer for the fishfinder was in the sink and this afternoon there is a gill net on the kitchen table. We spent a romantic evening last night with Si watching YouTube videos of people laying nets with a dubious jazz soundtrack (at least I think it was nets…?!) while I checked the weather for the zillionth time this week.

Si trying to keep warm

Si spent an afternoon last week down at Gorran Haven talking to a retired fisherman who had some pots and gear for sale. He had started fishing in the thirties, so of course remembers fishing under sail well. He was so helpful and full of advice, talking Simon through the various designs of crab pot and considering which would work best for us fishing without an engine. Nowadays, most boats have electric pot haulers, so the weight of lobster and crab pots is less critical than it was when they were being hauled by hand.

Si came back from Gorran armed with two pots, infinite lengths of rope and lots of stories. One thing that Mr Pascoe said that was taught to him by his grandfather particularly stuck in our minds. Apparently, when you start seeing slugs and snails about in the garden, crabs are on the move and it’s time to start laying pots again; a reference to brown crabs’ migration inshore in late spring. At the time in a freezing easterly this seemed an unlikely prospect for the near future, but then last night while out walking the dog I looked ahead at the path and realised it was full of snails on a kamikaze mission from the bank to the flowerbeds. Never been pleased to see them before!

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The last couple of months have taught us good lessons about the uncertainty of fishing. This was of course something we were aware of from the start, but I don’t think we’d fully appreciated how dispiriting prolonged bad weather can be when you have all your interests invested in a new business and you’re trying to make it work. All this is nothing new, however. For generations, Cornish fishermen have spent spells of bad weather (sometime entire winters depending on the fishery) working ashore as labourers, painters and decorators or in other trades, waiting for the weather to improve and fishing to start again. The other night I was re-reading ‘More Tales from a Cornish Lugger’, an excellent and highly amusing account of the Cornish mackerel fishery in the 1970s written by the lovely and brutally frank Paul Greenwood, a good friend of ours ever since we met him in Brittany on his Looe lugger Erin, while on our way home on Planet. The following passage sums up the last month beautifully and gives us much encouragement for the future:

“A winter gale might be over and gone in twenty four hours. There again, it might last a week, or a really bad spell of weather could set in making it impossible to go to sea for a month. You never knew; life as a fisherman is a complete lottery. There are good times when you think you will never be poor again, and times when the boats are double roped and fendered alongside the quay as the storms run up through the Channel one after the other. […] It is then that you seriously doubt the wisdom of the life, but when the sun shines again and you can once more enjoy the freedom to range the Channel hunting the mackerel shoals, then bad times are soon forgotten and you wouldn’t swap your way of life with anyone.”

The lighthouse from Kensa

Why aren’t we catching any fish??!!

I’ve thought long and hard about what to blame this on and have decided, eventually, that it’s all the ballast tank’s fault.  The thing is, despite our best efforts, we just can’t seem to catch any fish from where Kensa is at the moment. It’s a lovely spot, but utterly void of marine life. I would blame overfishing and factory trawlers and those evil evil supermarkets and their buying power, but I think it’s more to do with the fact that Kensa’s currently about two miles from the sea and firmly on dry land.

Kensa on dry land

It’s been a strange long winter and we’ve been away from home quite a bit. Si’s lovely dad Martin died last month and it wouldn’t feel right to pick up our blog again without saying how lucky we were to have had him with us from the start of our project. He was such an enormous support and help to us and we are so proud that he was there to launch Kensa with us in August. Without Martin Simon never would have gone sailing in the first place and been inspired to make a living from boats. For a while now when we’ve lost somebody we loved we’ve made a habit of going sailing on Planet and doing a voyage in their memory. So as soon as Kensa is back in the water, our first trip out fishing is for Martin.

si martin kensa

Before we went away we took Kensa out of the water to dry her out as we’d noticed a small patch of dampness in the water ballast tank area. The water ballast tank is an ingenious little feature that Si included in her design to improve her performance and stability in a range of conditions and to allow her to be as seaworthy as a much larger boat in heavier winds and seas. It’s an enclosed tank space in the centre of the boat which is filled with sea water via a seacock and pumped out using Kensa’s main bilge pump. You can see it in the picture below; it’s the unpainted section next the person asleep. I have no idea who that is. In average to stronger weather conditions we’ll be keeping the tank full of water in order to keep Kensa stable and floating to her designed waterline and in calm conditions or when we have the whole boat heeling with fish (obviously this will happen ALL the time…..!) we will pump out the water to empty the tank and make her lighter for rowing when there’s no wind to sail or to keep her floating higher if we are weighed down by a catch.

The water ballast tank

So, all of this means that the tank area is constantly wet. We decided not to seal up the tank completely before we’d finished rigging and testing Kensa out so that we could have plenty of opportunity to check everything was working as it should be. As it was, despite having coated the planks inside Kensa with two layers of epoxy we were slightly concerned to notice slight discolouration on a small area of two of the planks in the tank area which suggested it was possible some water was seeping into the planks from the inside. Having emptied and dried the tank completely while she was still afloat, we’re happy we’ve eliminated the possibility of any water coming in from outside (and I’d like to see it try, given the layers of fibreglass, epoxy and paint it would have to get through!). So we decided the sensible option would be to get her out of the water and fully dried out before lining the tank with a layer of fibreglass. This way we’d avoid any niggling concerns about possible water ingress once we were fishing properly and using the tank every day.

Getting ready to fibreglass the tank

We’ve got the glass cloth panels cut to size, the epoxy keeping warm in our house (it’s become a dubiously semi permanent fixture in our living room!) and we’re just waiting for some slightly warmer weather to get the job done. Although it’s not too cold for working outside or painting, epoxy resin is difficult to work with in low temperatures. It becomes very thick and slow to react the colder it gets and if it’s applied to cold surface or in a cold ambient temperature it may not fully cure properly, which can lead to a very bad fibreglassing job indeed. And unlike a bad paint job, which is bad enough in itself, rectifying a bodged bit of fibreglassing is nigh on impossible to do well, not to mention costly! So although we can work small wonders with a tarpaulin and some fan heaters, a starting temperature of above 5 degrees would be good!

Making up fishing kit at home

The good news is that once that’s done, we’re ready to relaunch Kensa and get fishing! There will obviously still be quite a few teething problems to overcome, but we’re sort of looking forward to that too, in the knowledge that sorting out any snags and reaching a point where we can sail and fish effectively from our boat is an exciting challenge in itself. We would have liked to have made more progress with that by now, but given the weather we’ve had for the past few months I’m really not sure we’ve missed all that much. More easterlies anyone?

Simon and Stella on the jetty

The other good news is that waiting for the weather to improve gives us time to get on with other things, like making up fishing kit, updating this and most importantly, training up our first employee and crew member Stella. For those of you who haven’t already met her (turns out she loves going to the pub….nightmare!), Stella is a ten week old spoodle with a penchant for chewing wood and ropes. Quite how this will work out on a wooden sailing boat I don’t know, but we’re hoping to channel this into knot tying, pot hauling and tea making capabilities before the year is out! So far she is showing every sign of loving the water – as she should do with a spaniel for a dad and a poodle for a mum – and now that she’s had all her jabs, we’re hoping to take her for a little row in the punt this week. In the meantime, here she is cutting her teeth on an off cut of Kensa’s planking and generally looking (not entirely accurately) like butter wouldn’t melt….

Stella eating Kensa

Latest News

Sometimes priorities have to change. Due to family illness, we are taking a break from Teach a Man to Fish for the time being while Simon spends time with his Dad. I will continue to add photos and update the blog where possible and we will be back on the water as soon as we can. In the meantime, Happy New Year to you all and many, many thanks for all your support in 2012.

Rudder and tiller

Some jobs during the boat build felt as though they took proportionately far longer than they should do given their eventual importance on the boat. At least in my head. For example, I did not for a minute begrudge the time and effort that went into making Kensa’s keel; this is an important part of any boat. Everyone knows that. Some parts of the boat however, like the sheer clamp and the carlins, were quite the opposite. To be fair, their ultimate quality has a huge effect on the structural integrity of the hull, but nobody knows what they are, you can’t see them in the end and they took ages to make and fit.

Making the rudder

So imagine my joy when we set about making a rudder and tiller for Kensa. Here were readily recognised nautical items, imperative in the manoeuvring of the boat and yet surprisingly quick and easy to make! This is one job I could have strung out for ages, making us look like heroes….but having written half an honest post (half a post honestly that is, rather than a half honest post) I am too lazy to go back and start again.

Glueing up the rudder

Essentially, what happened was…Si designed the shape for the rudder, which was CNC cut along with other components out of ply in three pieces ready to be stuck together like a sandwich. We glued these together, sanded them, then coated them twice in clear epoxy. Then we painted it. That was the rudder.

Making the tiller

For the tiller, we found a suitable piece of oak and worked out where to cut it to by measuring it up against the boat. Then we shaped it so it was pretty and easy to hold, epoxied it and varnished it. And then we joined the rudder and tiller together with a bit of stainless bar that we had lying around and bolted the rudder onto the hull. To be fair to Si, the stainless pintles and gudgeons (essentially a boatbuilding word for a gate hinge) that we used were made up of profiles designed by Simon and cut by Steve at Fibrefusion. They fitted perfectly and proved to be a very neat and efficient way of bespoke fitting a rudder to our hull. But that was it! Job done!

Finishing the tiller

There is one other thing. The piece of oak that we used to make Kensa’s tiller was in fact given to us, along with several other pieces of old unwanted timber, by Graham Thomas, the landlord of our excellent local pub The Plume of Feathers. The oak came from the Plume and had been in the cellar there unused for as long as Graham can remember. So if we end up in the pub at the end of a day’s fishing, we’ll know to blame our tiller!

Fishing for the Hungry Sailors

We had pretty poor weather between filming with the Strawbridges on Kensa and them cooking for us and only a couple of days in which we could reasonably catch fresh enough fish for them to cook. But luckily the day before the dinner we were blessed with some sunshine and quiet weather so we left Percuil as the sun was rising and headed down the river for our first full day of fishing! There was very little wind but Kensa went nicely under full sail until just off Amsterdam Point where the breeze died completely and we had to row for a bit.

We stopped off in St Mawes to pick up Debs then headed out to St Anthony and round the lighthouse to try out some new spots. It was very quiet once we were round the corner with only an unimpressed seal and a couple of shags for company. Not having an engine does have its downsides, but fishing without any background noise is very peaceful indeed.

We had a good chance to practise handling Kensa under sail in the morning; brailing up the main sail (gathering it up into itself quickly using a rope on a pulley-type system) when we wanted to cut speed quickly and working out how close to the wind she’d sail, what she’d tack through and so on. Essentially like a Top Gear road test of a new vehicle, except without the bigotry.

Happily we caught quite a few decent sized pollack in the morning, along with a couple of mackerel which we were rather hoping might turn into a shoal but didn’t. After we’d dropped Debs off in St Mawes and grabbed some lunch / shamelessly admired Kensa looking pretty on the beach, we headed back out again, this time in search of bass which The Hungry Sailors were keenest to cook. No joy, but plenty more pollack and lots more fishing under sail until the light faded and we were forced to head back up the river.

So despite a lack of bass, we had a great day fishing and were very happy to deliver three beautifully fresh and generously sized pollack to the TV crew in St Mawes the following day. Dick and James Strawbridge cooked us a delicious meal that lunchtime, featuring our Kensa-caught pollack in a beurre blanc as a starter!

The Hungry Sailors!

We’re going to be on telly! Look, here is a picture of us with some slebs!!

A few weeks ago we spent a couple of days doing some filming with Denhams for an ITV series called The Hungry Sailors in which father and son Dick and James Strawbridge sail around the Cornish coast, meeting local food producers and cooking meals using the ingredients they source. We took the Strawbridges out on Kensa for a couple of hours, then later in the week ate a delicious dinner cooked by them in St. Mawes featuring some of our pollack caught from Kensa only a mile or so away the day before!

The series is due to be screened on ITV sometime early next year and as soon as we know dates and times we’ll let you know!

YouTube videos

I’ve just added another little time lapse video which shows the whole boat build from start to finish in 11 seconds…well at least an idea of what happened! You can watch that here and other videos of the boat build on our YouTube channel, where we’ll keep adding more videos all the time.

Keel band and bilge runners

Given that we’ll be largely working Kensa out of Portscatho it was important that we built her not only strong enough to take the ground in the drying harbour, but also with keels resilient enough to not mind a bit of wear and tear in case of adverse weather. So once we’d added the bilge keels themselves and finished painting the hull, the last job to do before turning over was to fit a strip of stainless steel to the length of the keel as well as to the two bilge keels.

Si drew up a simple design for them and Steve at Fibrefusion profile cut them at his workshop. This was the quickest and easiest way to get them to fit Kensa as closely as possible, using as little material as possible and therefore saving on both waste and cost. Obviously getting  a single strip of steel the length of Kensa from Falmouth to Portscatho would have been a bit impractical for us, so Si had it cut into smaller segments, which Robin Edwards then welded together for us to form a single length.

Once we’d checked them against the hull, we drilled holes to match the pre-drilled holes in the steel and filled them with thickened epoxy to avoid any water ingress. We then re-drilled them and bonded the strips to the keel and the bilge runners using a combination of screws and Sikaflex, in order to allow for some flexibility of movement. The first rule of Sikaflex seems to be that no matter how careful you are or how many pairs of gloves you wear you will always end up with just as much on you as on the thing you were applying it to; judging by how much black adhesive we were covered in by the end of the job I’d say those keel bands aren’t going anywhere!

Turning over

“When are you going to turn her over?” was probably one of the most asked questions in the first few months of building Kensa, closely followed by “How are you going to get her out of that shed?” (more of that to come) and “Do you fancy a quick early door?” The last one generally coming from either me or Simon as six o’clock came round and we caught a waft of cold lager drifting out of the Plume of Feathers door…..

Standing in our boat for the very first time

Once we’d fitted the stainless keel band and bilge runners we were ready to turn her the right way up. Although Kensa fitted perfectly in the workshop, it didn’t leave too much room to manoeuvre…getting to the kettle was bad enough, but turning the entire hull was another matter. We armed ourselves with tyres, rolls of old carpet and four brilliant and massively over-qualified volunteers; Bob, Robin, Oliver and Aaron; all of whom have worked professionally moving boats, building them, mending them or sailing them. Carlsberg don’t do turning over teams, but if they did…..

Half way over!

Between the six of us we managed to successfully turn Kensa over in the workshop without having to do more than take one of the strip light bulbs out to give us a bit more height to work with. We turned her on her side first and steadied her there, shifting carpets and tyres to support her. Then we slid her across to the other side of the workshop and turned her the rest of the way. It was momentous, but happily for all the right reasons!

Our newly turned over boat

Seeing our boat the right way up for the first time was a brilliant moment, filled with a bizarre mixture of pride and relief. For weeks we’d been craning our heads round trying to see how she’d look by bending down and looking at her upside down behind us, which did little other than induce dizziness and some explaining to do if anybody happened to walk around the corner and up the path at that moment. So today was very special indeed!

Our lovely team of helpers!

If you can imagine the feeling of having spent a long time making a cake and getting to the point of turning it out of the tin willing it to stay in one piece and look as you’d hoped (I can, just about, although I can’t say it’s a regular occurrence) and then times that by a lot you will have an idea of how it felt today. And even better to get in and stand in your cake for the very first time! Lush.

Inside structure

Kensa’s First Fish!

It was such lovely weather a month or so ago when we were working on Kensa with Planet anchored at Percuil that we couldn’t resist taking her out for a sail……or at least a bit of a sail. We’d finished the mizzen mast, yard and sail and the wind was fairly light so we decided to row out of the river and see how she went.

It was lovely seeing the mizzen up and getting an idea of how she’d look under sail. Every time we add another bit to Kensa she looks more like the original drawing in Si’s design and although this shouldn’t come as a surprise, it is always pleasantly satisfying to see her growing according to plan.

Obviously, by the time we’d rigged the mizzen and cleared tools and spare oars out of Kensa it was later than we’d anticipated, so we had a fairly slow row out of Percuil and down to St Mawes against the tide, which by this time had turned and was flooding. But we got there in the end and decided to head round to St Anthony.

Annoyingly, just as we got ourselves into a good spot for fishing the breeze began to pick up. Given the direction, we decided that given our basic rig it would be sensible to head back into St Mawes bay in case the wind got any stronger and started to push us towards the rocks or out to sea.

It was frankly a slog rowing back around Carricknath Point and into the shelter of St Mawes. With the main up as well we would have had no problem sailing it, which made us all the more determined to get Kensa finished and ready to go. But I’m glad we know for the future that we can row her into a reasonable breeze should it be necessary and still make progress, albeit slowly. Once we were sheltered again we were able to do a couple of reaches across from the castle and back to the other side under the mizzen. Clearly she steered about as well as a shopping trolley like this, but it gave us a brilliantly exciting glimpse of how she’ll eventually go under sail.

And the best news of the day was that for the short time we were out off St Anthony, Kensa caught us a fish! One small mackerel to be precise, which you can see me squeezing in delight in the picture above!! Not exactly a monster catch for our first time out fishing, but a very respectable place to start. And as the saying goes, a haul of a thousand fish must begin with a single mackerel.