Thursday, 29 September 2016

Another Update from Sheffield

We had a phone call from Phil yesterday evening after his planned visit to Sheffield. He had expected, following updates last week, that he would be inspecting a completed shell, ready to sign off so that we could make a stage payment and thus release the shell for shipment to Stafford on Friday.

As you will be able to see from the photos which Phil also sent us, progress was not as far as had been expected and a revised date has been set for shipment next Thursday.

Of course this is disappointing, as much for Phil as for ourselves, but at the same time the quality of work does seem to Phil to be of the expected high standard. The more custom parts, such as the semi trad stern where we have requested some differences from what they normally deliver, are being done by Jonathon Wilson himself. (That's him in the last photo - we have not met him but Andrew has!)

You can just make out the start of the structure to form steps up from the deck to the roof which is the main feature that we want, based on our previous experience. There are numerous situations when this is useful but most especially allows Mike to operate a lock on his own if necessary and also as back up if Christine encounters a particularly difficult paddle or gate when Mike is on the tiller. (Lock ladders, whilst not traditional and installed for safety reasons, do make lock operation much easier)

Since we understand that the crane and transport have been now booked for next Thursday, it is fingers crossed that all will be well and that the fitting out stage can begin in earnest. However, at this stage the last thing that we want - and Phil is keen on this as well - is for the finishing to be skimped as this can make all the difference between an OK shell and a really good one. Guess which we would prefer!

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Shell progress

We had a telephone update yesterday from Phil which also gave us the chance to raise two or three queries as a result of Andrew's feedback last week.

We were concerned about the method for attaching fenders and would have preferred the gunwale edge solution on Take Five but after consulting Jonathon Wilson it seems that we are too late as he has already cut in the holes for recessed fender eyes in the hull sides, below the gunwale level. We will have to live with them!

Andrew captured a sketch of the bow thruster locker (see earlier blog) but Christine was concerned about how this impacted on the bow seating. The sketch looked different from the photos. We tired to get a feel for it by setting it out on our bedroom floor! Phil had a discussion both with Christine and the builder - he was satisfied that the outcome will meet Christine's expectations. After all, it is she who more frequently sits at the front! (Oh dear, there will be trouble when she reads this)

We were also assured that the thruster locker (absent an actual bow thruster unit!) will be able to house an anchor and that the access lid will be sufficiently large for this purpose. Christine was also re-assured that the tube is sufficiently strong not to be damaged - it turns out that it is made from thicker steel than the hull sides!

The current estimate is that the shell will be ready to be transported to Stafford on Friday next week but Phil will make another visit on Wednesday, a week today, to check the finished product so that we can release the money to unlock the factory doors when the lorry comes to collect it!

The schedule then has about two weeks for the ballast and floor to be laid before it is worth us visiting. This next visit will, however, be quite crucial as it will be the point at which most of the major layout decisions will be fixed and then no going back! Since the windows will already be cutout in Sheffield, there is only limited scope for moving any bulkheads but there are plenty of details within that yet to be settled.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Another Set of Pix

And now we have Phil's pictures arrive:

Andrew's Visit to Sheffield

We were not able to fit in a trip to Sheffield at this stage (we had diary commitments Thursday and Saturday) but, according to the schedule, this was to be a crucial time to sort out any shell details with an expected delivery to Stafford some time next week. As a result, Andrew kindly agreed to spend the day driving up from Devizes and to meet with Phil, the builder, on site. They could then both inspect progress and talk with Jonathon Wilson.

The first feedback was from Phil who called us by mobile around 4:30 to explain that, unfortunately, construction was not as far forward as he had hoped and that delivery to him is probably now going to be the following week. However, he is very satisfied with the work done and does not want to push them into finishing it too quickly as it is details at this stage that will affect the boat long term, especially its ability to avoid rust - the paint needs a good surface and no tiny rough points. He hopes to let us have some photos later.

Andrew did not reach home until rather late as he hit traffic around Birmingham but did manage to upload his photos during the evening and those below in this blog are his. (Photographing steel constructions in a shed is never easy!)

There was another boat being worked on at the time, but a bit further advanced. It seems that Tyler Wilson are having an open day tomorrow and were about to tidy up the workshop!

As the photos show, the shell is complete in its basic form but comes from Newcastle with a full trad stern cabin sides. Here in Sheffield they will start to shape that next week. This was what Andrew was most expecting to talk about and indeed this took up most of the hour and half that he and Phil were there.

We had already decided to fit a bow thruster tube and locker for 'future proofing' and the design drawings for this are made in typical boatbuilder style! The tube and locker are just behind the gas locker which, in this boat, is right at the bow.

We were interested to see just how much bracing there is to the roof. This should make it much firmer to walk on and Andrew commented on the smoothness of the outside - on Take Five we had always noted the slight waviness at the major support points.

This is the engine bay - note the skin tank on the side. The cooling water from the engine will eventually be connected to this so that it cools from contact with the water outside.

The shot from the outside of the swim also show what looks like the obligatory step. Although this is meant to help a boater climb back out after falling in, our experience is that this is not within our physical capabilities which is why we purchased a rescue ladder. The spec for the new boat also comes with a rope version as well.

There is still plenty to do: the windows have been marked out but not yet cut, the bow and stern doors as well as the side hatch need to be fabricated and fitted, all in addition to the semi trad layout already mentioned.

Andrew also picked up that the fixings for side fenders have yet to be agreed so that is something we will need to take up with Phil as soon as possible. The other boat in the shed had recessed fittings which looked rather fiddly. Our practice is to remove fenders every morning when cruising and then put them on at the right height each evening.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Update on Build Schedule

We have now had further details on the shell build schedule. It is expected that the work at Newcastle will be complete by 9th and that the part complete shell will be moved on Monday 12th. We had been concerned to try to arrange a visit before this, in order to check out what is to be done on the semi trad. We have sent photos of Take Five in order to describe what we are looking for, but not to be copied slavishly. We expect the fabricator (as with the builder later) always to use their experience to point out anything we ask for that is ill-advised. It is also the case that this is an industry not noted for an excess of paperwork, with a lot of the details being worked out in situ! Our main concern is to replicate the extra steps that allow ready access to the roof - we found this addition to Take Five to be one of the more useful things that we did. It makes considerable difference when we are boating on our own - even more so when Mike is effectively single-handing.

When it comes to the internal layout, the first step after the floor is laid is to mark out much of the design. This is when a lot of the important decisions that will affect the effectiveness of the design when in use can be made or reviewed.

However, it seems that the latest plan from Tyler Wilson is that the semi-trad work will now be done in Sheffield - presumably they have the skills there to deal with the  more bespoke aspects of the construction. If all goes well, then the shell should be on its way to Stafford between 21st and 23rd of September.

This is really good news for the project timescale but unfortunately means that we will be unable to trek up to Sheffield in order to assess the trad stern before it is too late to tweak it. Fortunately we have managed to persuade Andrew to go up on 16th together with Phil so that the shell can be 'signed off'. We will have to be satisfied with seeing photos remotely . . .

In anticipation of this being successful, we have now been sent an invoice so that Tyler Wilson will release it to Stem to Stern! At least at that point will be the proud owners of a hunk of steel!

Keel Laid

With Phil off on his annual hols there was little we could progress in the remaining part of August. Just as well, really, as we had two and a bit weeks of hard labour - aka looking after two grand daughters. Also just as well that we know quite a lot of interesting but free places to visit otherwise it would have been a big dent in wallets! We really do not know how holidaymakers with families ever manage to afford a week in Cornwall given the admission prices some places charge!

Seriously, we had a great time, including a couple of woodland BBQs and even some days warm enough to spend on the beach!

As soon as Phil returned he headed off to Newcastle-under-Lyme and took a look at how the shell was coming along. He sent us three photos - hopefully the first of a whole library yet to come!

It was rather a relief to see actual progress being made rather than just ideas on paper. There is now a real prospect that we will actually have a new boat next year!

What was a surprise was to learn that Tyler Wilson will only be doing the heavy metal bashing part of the work at Newcastle-under-Lyme. When the structure is complete - hull and cabin - they will transport it up to Sheffield to finish it and put the first primer on before it is then delivered to Stafford. Presumably there are different skills involved that make the extra transportation worth it.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Signing on the Dotted Line

We arranged to call at Stafford on the day we left our second cottage in Durham, aiming to be there by 3 pm. (We were subsequently staying in a couple of hotels on the way back so that we could be back home in good time on Monday with Joanna and Adrian returning home in the afternoon, leaving Alice and Jess with us for the next two and half weeks)

The first part of the journey went well but traffic on the M6 was less helpful and we took over 90 minutes longer than expected. This meant that we did not have the anticipated lunch break and had to eat on the go.

This was Mike's first visit to the factory unit - no doubt there will be several more before next Easter!

We had already exchanged a number of details and Phil was able to show to us the first CAD drawing of the layout and other details. Of course there was a lot to talk about. Two main changes were agreed. Firstly, we inverted the layout of the main bedroom and the bathroom so that we can sleep the right way around. It seems that all the time we were on Take Five we were the wrong way around -that is, with our feet to the front which can mean that they are higher than our heads. Not that we ever noticed!

The second major change was to the engine. Beta have recently extended their warranty to a similar period to Vetus and they provide a much higher capacity domestic battery alternator. Although there was perhaps still a slight advantage on sound insulation, we preferred to go with what we knew and so Beta it will be.

We have also included a bow thruster tunnel and locker. We do not want a bow thruster but for a relatively small amount extra is seemed sensible to make the provision in case we either change our minds or as a selling feature when it comes time to sell. The tunnel and locker are the harder parts to add as a retrofit. We also added an upgrade to the electrics so that we can also have a washing machine. We do not anticipate great use but on longer trips it is increasingly hard to find launderettes these days and this will reduce the amount of clothing that we have to transport to and fro each trip. We have also added a separate freezer that will be in a pull out drawer underneath the dinette.

Everything agreed, Phil called in his neighbour from the next door factory unit to witness as we signed the contract and the drawings.

The good news also was that Tyler Wilson, Phil's preferred shell builder, can make an immediate start, using their works at Newcastle under Lyme and so a formal completion date of 1st March next year could be put into the contract. It still seems a long way away but there is a lot to be done and no doubt we will have several visits to fit in as the work progresses.

At this stage we were able to let all the other builders know that we had made our choice.

Sorting out a Specification

With no boat for the planned trip during the four weeks of August we opted to rent a couple of cottages for the fist two weeks. The Windsor family had already arranged to have their annual week in Cornwall in the second week- we properly keep well clear! On the other hand, we were also going to be looking after two grandchildren for the rest of the month and, for a number of years, a trip on the boat has proved a good way of doing that.

The first week we spent just outside Leek and the next in County Durham. Both cottages were excellent and we did have a pleasant two weeks - albeit with variable weather. We managed a number of walks and to explore areas that we have not been to for a very long time (Peak District) or ever (Durham)

We arranged with Phil Herrington to look at Stamford on Monday 1st August at Sawley Cut. However, we also committed ourselves to making a handover visit to Take Five to meet with the new owners. After driving up from Cornwall on the last Friday in July, we met with them mid afternoon and spent just over an hour answering questions. In some ways, at this stage, it was a relief to be able to leave and not to look back on our decision! Too late anyway.

We continued over to Leek and checked in to the cottage we were renting. On the Saturday we went into Leek itself and then on Sunday afternoon, Andrew came up to stay overnight before we drove down to Sawley on Monday morning.

Martyn, the owner of Stamford was exceptionally accommodating and allowed us plenty of time to look around and to answer almost endless questions about details of the design and layout. Some of his choices flowed from the fact that he does not expect to cruise it much but for it to be a semi-static second home. Our needs will be slightly and subtlety different.

After about an hour, we and Phil adjourned to the coffee shop at the nearby Sawley Marina where, over a couple of cups of coffee each, we went through many details and sketch drawings, we were satisfied that, still keeping largely within his original estimate, we could have a layout that met what we are looking for.

At that stage we introduced our latest idea of moving the main bedroom from the front to the middle, together with a walk-through bathroom between it and the front bedroom which will have two bunks. Drawing on ideas from other designs that Andrew and Christine saw on their visits, both the main bed and one of the bunks will feature a small pull out element so that both can be six inches wider for sleeping than we had on Take Five.

We had a lengthy debate about engine. Phil strongly recommended Vetus as it was offering a much longer warranty package at a slightly lower price than Beta. We are familiar with the latter which, whilst not being technologically exciting, is a solid design with many years of experience behind it. It would have been our engine of choice but we accepted the argument presented to us for Vetus.

By lunchtime we had covered all aspects of the boat and at the end then shook hands on an agreement to commission our boat from Stem to Stern, subject just to agreeing a formal contract. Exciting times ahead.

Looking for a builder

As we described in almost the last blog for Take Five , Andrew and Christine visited a number of possible builders at the beginning of July whilst Mike was in York. By the end of the evening we had decided which builder to talk to first.

Somewhat to Mike's surprise, the clear recommendation was for Stem to Stern (Phil Herrington) in Stafford. Surprise, because this name only came onto our shortlist as a result of seeing it on a list and was one that we had not heard of before. Phil has a good background in boat building and relatively recently set out on his own again with the aim of producing good quality boats. He has a factory unit on the edge of Stafford so that the fitting out takes place in good working conditions and timescales will not be subject to weather conditions - unless snow prevents people getting to work! However, in the end, between the final shortlist much came down to intangibles and how the interview sessions went.

He was not working on a boat at the time of the visit (he was doing some camper van conversion work) but arranged for us to see the last boat which is now moored in Sawley Cut. We did try to arrange to call on him on our way back home from Swanley Bridge but alas he was working elsewhere that day.

We continued to discuss details by phone and email and set up a visit, together with Andrew, to see Stamford at Sawley on 29th July on our way up to Leek for a couple of week's break. We did say to Phil straight away that he was our preferred builder at that stage.

We now had a better handle on the cost and so quite a bit of the intervening couple of weeks involved sorting out our finances. This did present a bit of a surprise. Our initial intention had been to use the ability under our Santander flexible mortgage on our house in Wadebridge to cover at at least some of the costs. We had done this several times before including purchasing Take Five. Everything seemed possible until we started to make the arrangement rather than general enquiries. The mortgage ends in just over a year's time but we had expected to be able to extend it - after all there is plenty of equity in the property! After the first few questions were settled, the matter of our ages came up. It seems that banks consider anyone over the age of 75 to be wholly uncreditworthy and, as our 73rd birthday arrives in September, they were unable to take the matter any further.

We had come this far knowing that we do, in any event, have access to sufficient assets for the project but that it will significantly reduce our liquidity. However, we will stop paying monthly mortgage payments quite soon.

In any event, further recent trends in the financial markets (don't mention Brexit!) make the holding of our investments of little immediate benefit - at this rate they will be charging us to hold them rather than the other way around. Just think, when we did such retirement planning as we did (not a lot!) we could rely on long term interest of around 6% and probable returns on high quality investments of up to 10%! Will those days ever return? It certainly does seem as if saving is no longer seen as a virtue - at least until you hit 75!

The upshot was that we had to spend a little time liquidating some investments so that the whole of the project cost is now in place. (Phew!)

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

What's in a name?

Since you have arrived at this new blog you will have already worked out that Alchemy is something to do with the name we have opted for. Choosing a name for a new boat was never going to be easy - when you buy a second hand boat there is at least the existing name to take on - of course it can be changed and no-one really seems to think that doing so brings bad luck anymore!

Christine was clear from the start that it would not be Take Five - why? - you will just have to ask her! So some discussion was necessary - which we put off for some time. Eventually, Mike suggested that something to do with gold might be a start point as it will be delivered a few months before our golden wedding anniversary! (Yuk, I know it is sentimental . . .)

After throwing around a number of options, Christine came up with Alchemy as something that turns base metal into gold. Now whether this speaks of the steel used to fabricate the shell or the qualities of the future owners is a matter for you to decide.

So that's the working title - until we get to the point at which the sign writing has to be done - probably in February - we can still change our minds. There are others with this name but that is always going to be the case unless one opts for something non-traditional (ie naff!). Please do leave any better ideas on the comments - the only thing we will lose is this blog name and that is the easiest bit of anything to change!

After a little more blogging to bring us up to date, we hope to include some photos as the build progresses.

A new start

This blog will be about our new adventure - commissioning the building of a new boat to replace Take Five which had served us well until three months ago when we decided to replace it.

Our last trip aboard Take Five ended with half term, up the Llangollen and finally to Swanley Bridge Marina where we planned to leave it for a couple of months whilst we had a busy period back home. The next trip was then scheduled to take the whole of August, with two grand daughters joining us again for the second half.

On the way from Macclesfield our thoughts about a new boat were crystallised when we called at a boatyard and made some enquiries. Not only were we pleasantly surprised about the likely resale value of Take Five but also very much aware of the benefits of upgrading to a new boat, fifteen years on from when Take Five was built.

Overall, the size and layout we have grown used to has served us well and it has not always been easy to look at alternatives without comparing back to what we know! At the same time, we also have ideas about what design weaknesses could be addressed in a new design.

It is perhaps a strange move, given that we had just spent quite a bit on replacing many of the key components including a new engine and propeller as well as almost all of the Eberspacher heating unit. However, it did mean that we could offer the boat for sale knowing that all that had been done and that, as far as we knew, the replacements were in good order.

From that morning in Middlewich the die was cast and it would have been difficult to reverse the inevitable trend. We continued thinking about it as we made our way over to Llangollen, with Joanna and Jess dropping Alice off to stay on board for the half term week.

By the time we arrived at Swanley Bridge Marina we were ripe for spotting that they too have a brokerage and so, that afternoon (with us due to leave the next day!) we made enquiries which seemed positive. They were very much in the market for taking on new clients as the supply of boats at the optimum length (60 ft seems to be about right - anything longer commands lower prices) that are in good condition. However, the person who could give us a valuation was not around but his colleague took all the details and arranged for us to get a call at the start of the next week based on a more detailed examination of the boat. They also gave us a couple of names of boat builders whose work they knew.

As it happened one of them was around at the marina before we left and so we took the opportunity to discuss options with him. Although he did not eventually make our short list he was most helpful and we learnt quite a bit about interviewing potential builders in the process.

We headed back home with some anticipation!