First survey: April 2012
The boat is on a substantial 4 wheel trailer, supported on each side by cushioned outriders. A large and tattered tarpaulin covers the topsides admirably supported by the mast, stepped in its tabernacle and rear support. Algae growing on the warps suggested that she has been in this state for some time. Along the top of the mast but largely under the tarpaulin, rests the roller-reeling forestay, still wrapped with its jib, now various shades of brown grey and off-white. The trailer is rusty, in pieces and has one, possibly two flat tyres. The boat looks tired and neglected and every bit its 50 years. This a project that has lost its sparkle in the eyes of its current owner and he wants to sell.
There is a hole in the hull, above the waterline, just forward of the stern. The hole, large enough to get your fist though, has been mostly cleared of the rot that probably caused it, and rather than provoke despondency, should engender optimism in the mind of a prospective buyer. For the hole lays bare the nature of the timber used to create this hull and the boat building technique used to craft it. And this hole lies over substantial supporting timbers, themselves undamaged, and should be relatively straightforward to repair. Double diagonal mahogany was a practical and long lasting building process used to produce curvaceous and elegant yachts, robust fishing boats and all manner of boats for the navy; promising indeed. This hull was made from two layers of approximately 10mm timber at approximately 90 degrees and almost certainly glued together with resorcinol, apparently with no intervening layer of canvas or calico. The timber was a rich reddish brown. It may be mahogany, from any one of several species that carry that name, and any one of several tropical countries that produce these species, or something entirely different. Both New Zealand and Australia produced then some fine durable timbers, and still do. Perhaps time and more research will tell. The hole, and judicious poking around with a small sharp object, also provides some reassurance that much of the wood surrounding it is in good condition. Above the hole, a short section of gunwale and rubbing strip is missing. Again this gives a glimpse of what is underneath. The gunwale is composite, and covers the join between hull and topsides. At this stage the full composition of the deck is not clear but what is clear is that the deck has been covered with resin-impregnated glass fibre sheet and, at least in this position, all is sound. The gunwale was fixed, but showed movement when grasped firmly. It was screwed not glued and movement suggested some problems with fastenings. In the 1960s, in New Zealand, it is likely that galvanized screws, or heaven forbid even brass, would have been used here. Earlier and later, we might have hoped for bronze. This will require attention. But it is possible that a loose gunwale allowed water behind. This lay there and eventually caused rot that crept down a plank edge and found some imperfect wood to decay. An alternative explanation is that someone backed the boat into a sharp object and created the hole above the waterline. Small areas of damage in a wooden boat gradually become bigger. Fifty years is a long time on water.
Two lengths of the cockpit combing were also in the process of being repaired, both where it meets the cabin. It is impossible to see now how these joins were originally made, as on one side a mass of epoxy covered the join and on the other side a more recent repair was underway, with laminations of new plywood replacing about 12 inches of the original. At the stern a length of coaming of about 36 inches long and 4 inches high had been removed, where the combing meets the deck; a common area for water collection and consequently rot.
There is another hole in the topsides, not quite covered by the tarpaulin, and in the cabin roof. Any doubts about the deck and cabin roof structures are lost as these holes reveal 9mm plywood, albeit cut away roughly around the holes. The roof is also covered in glass and, except for the immediate vicinity of the holes, looks to be sound. The ply is fibrous and stiff and the layers show little delamination, even right next to the holes. And there is an instant clue about the cause of these holes. Four neat drill holes show where a stantion support has been removed. It is likely that water had been finding its way through these holes for at least part of the previous fifty years and, via the holes, the sealing under the glass cover, down the deck at this point and then down the Cabin sides. Even best quality resorcinol-glued mahogany ply cannot cope with rainwater ingress of this nature. In some ways, the roof would have been better off without its glass covering as then it would have been able to breath, and dry. As it is, water has been sitting there for many years. Rot was inevitable!
The stem and keel were next. All looked sound and responded well to knuckle knocks. I would use a small hammer or even a blunt awl, but the owner was watching so some discretion was necessary. Naturally it was not possible to explore under the keel, but the wood on either side of the lead keel was sound. The rudder was not in place but the rudder supports were massive, sound and immovable. All visible fastenings were bronze. The paint was peeling, but underneath much of the wood was sound. That is where there was wood.
In common with all other wooden boats that spend long periods out of water, the wood has shrunk to reveal long cracks between planks. All good so far. I had expected gaps in the paintwork. Wood swells and takes up when it is returned to water. Unfortunately the gaps between some of the planks on Oslo were more than shrinkage cracks. Some, but not all of the gaps had been cut out, probably with an angle grinder or similar tool (perhaps more optimistically with a depth-limited router, but I doubt it). Even worse, much worse, some of the gaps were filled with rock hard impenetrable epoxy, of a kind more familiar to an automobile panel beater than a boat builder. As we shall discuss later on, opinions differ about the best way to conserve old wooden hulls. The current owner of Oslo had been advised to coat the bottom in epoxy and he had made a good start on this. It must have been hard, backbreaking and precise work, but not the work that I would have done. Some plank edges were as they should be, with gaps of a mm or so, some has been opened out to nearer 5mm. Others were epoxy filled and some were taped, probably awaiting a similar fate. Those that were open allowed, with great relief, a determination that the inner layer had not been damaged as the outer planks had been cut apart.
Penetrating the stern deadwoods was a bronze stern gland assembly supporting a stainless steel driveshaft, itself bearing the bronze three bladed propeller. This turned, with some force, but any turning was a positive sign. The stern gland was well fixed to the sternpost with bronze bolts and attached was a copper plate to which once was attached a sacrificial anode. Mostly good here.
Up the ladder and into the cockpit. This was small, painted white, with wide seats and drains, presumably to drainage pipes below. The cockpit floor did not have drains, only small holes into the bilges below. This was an unusual arrangement. Water flowing into the cockpits would first meet the seats and at least some would flood the small depression around the drains, but surely most would flood the floor and enter the bilges. Someone had worked hard to create a self bailing cockpit, but it is doubtful that it would be particularly effective. Much depends on the bilge pumps. The combing would be challenging to repair, but certainly possible.
The cockpit had three hatches to the bilges. Aft there was a small one opening to the nuts holding the rudder bearings. These are substantial and bronze. Next down two larger floorboards giving access to the propeller shaft and rear of the engine and below these to the bilge itself. These floor boards provide the first glimpse of the inner face of the hull planking and the floors themselves. First the planks. These were painted and even though the paint was dirty and flaky, the timber was mostly sound. One worrying feature of double diagonal construction is not the planks, but the stringers on which they are supported and bent. In a conventional build the supporting timbers run vertically and provide no surface for dirt and moisture to collect on. With double diagonal, however, the stringers run with a shallow fall only and provide surfaces for rot to thrive. These stringers were dirty, but not damp; paint had peeled along their upper faces but there was no soft wood. These areas needed washing and painting; not much more. Likewise the floors. These support the floor boards, the bulkheads, the engine bearers and prevent water in the bilges sloshing backwards and forwards. The floors were sound, albeit very grubby withe deposits of dusty and sand wherever they could collect. More ominously, some of the limber holes under the floors were also filled with something that would surely prevent water draining down to the lowest point, where the waiting bilge pumps reside. I say pumps because there were two, neither fixed. Blocked limbers are a problem that needs to be resolved.
The first glimpse of the engine is also interesting. The drive shaft bolts to the engine’s rear flange with four stout, but very rusty, bolts. These will be a problem to remove when the time comes, and come it must as this glimpse of the engine revealed some problems. Rust appeared to be growing from every surface. My guess is that at sometime the bilges were full of seawater and it did coat the engine, perhaps for a long period. Engines that rust from the outside in are not necessarily as bad as those that rust from the inside, but cleaning it up and checking it out will need to be done off the boat; a substantial undertaking and one that makes my knees hurt at the thought of it. Oslo has limited space around the engine. I may need to hire a midget.
Moving forward, the main hatchway is fine. Bare wood that looks like teak surrounds a substantial hatch cover in threes parts; all functional and complete. Step down on to the engine cover. Nicely varnished ply, well constructed with a flip up lid that flips to reveal a dinky single cylinder Yanmar with an integral, and very small, diesel tank. The same surface rust overlays the engine on this side. The engine bearers are fine, oily, but secure. Close lid and move on; the engine needs to come out for a recondition as even if it worked as it is, it would be foolish to rely on it. The present owner has had the engine working, so it sounds promising. Moving around, the switches are old and loose wires dangle in recesses. The boat clearly needs a rewire. VHF radio and depth sounder have been fitted, but are not here now.
Moving forward in the cabin it is clear that the forward part of the boat is tidy. There is paint peeling from the tops and faces of the stringers, but the wood underneath is sound. The nuts holding the keelboats in are solid and sound. The bilges are cleaner here than further back, and dry. The beam shelves and carlins appear to be sound, but get difficult to explore further forward. The mast step is massive and sound. Both batteries have corroded terminals and both appear to be very old. Even with the battery switch to BOTH, there is insufficient power for a single light.
Turning away from the boat itself it was time to explore the rest of its gear; boom, gaff, bowsprit, tiller, rudder, boxes of old paint and assorted ropes. No anchor, warp or chain. Bowsprits are relatively new to me and force me to explore the hull again. This bowsprit has a tennon that penetrates a mortise on the Samson post, itself firmly stepped to the forward keel and held firmly by the deck and deck bearers. It is as firm a support as is possible in a timber boat and it needs to be as this sprit converts the tension forces of the jib stay and staysail stay into a compression force countered by the Samson post. Everything here was fine, but extending from the tip of the sprit are lateral and lower stays. The lower stay is chain and fastens to the keel. The lateral stays are more problematic. They fix with a thingy bobs to what’s it’s supported by wooden plates behind the keel planks. Thick carvel timbers may be able to take these strains but thinner diagonal planks apparently cannot. The supports need attention and one has been removed for this propose, leaving 4 round bolt holes.
But overall, this is a project that immediately shone in my eyes. The boat was wooden, of interesting heritage, gaff rigged and it cried out to me for help. After some negotiation I bought the boat and part of the deal was that it would be delivered to me, literally over the hill but about 10 miles by road. The deal was done and I set about building a cradle to put her on and arrange a crane to lift her nearly 4 tons from trailer to cradle.
Oslo now at home, chocked up on blocks and poles are ready for some renovation.