Diary November 2014

Never mind fixing boats, I thought I’d fix my dog last week so I took her to the vets, menopausal old mutt that she is.

Lots of blood, pus and horror and sickly slurping with the doggy tongue so we gave her some antibiotics and she picked up nicely but a week later she was down again so it was off to see the doctor.

Nothing we didn’t know already, a stinking, open Pyo’ and an emergency hysterectomy was all that would save the day.

“What’s this going to cost?” I enquired.

“About £650 but if it looks bad we’ll give you a call.”

It wasn’t about the money but it’s useful to know what’s incoming and the price didn’t seem out of the way, though she isn’t far off end-of-life, and the kids would love a pup so we opted not to euthanase, handed over the other end of the lead and left them to it. That was Friday lunchtime. On Saturday morning they called to say she was now fluid resuscitated, she’d been a little shrivelled up when presented, but was now ready for theatre. Good-oh, then they called again later to say she was recovering nicely but another night in hospital was a good idea as the op’ had taken its toll. No problem there either so it was Monday lunchtime when the call came to collect the old hound.

“Is the insurance company paying?” was the first question.

Now I’ve costed this out many times, being a lifelong dog owner, and my conviction remains that by the time you buy any sort of worthwhile cover it’s cheaper to put half the premium into a piggy bank, spend the rest on beer and still have more than enough set aside by the time your pooch hits about ten years old and needs that inevitable season ticket to the vets to pay for a double head transplant.

“Nope,” replied I.

“Did you get a price?” was the second question.

“Yes”, I confirmed, “Six hundred and fifty or a call to say it had gone all expensive and I’ve had no call no call so it’s six hundred and fifty quid.”

I watched her face cloud over as she tapped at the keyboard then she gulped as she broke the news.

“It’s doubled,” she said.

Now here’s how it seems to work… you present with your sick animal and in that instant they have you like an addict to his fix. Even if old Mrs Miggins sets aside her desperate desire for Tiddles not to die long enough to ask the price she’ll be given a rock-bottom number to keep her on the hook so best not to ask. They then hack their way inside your pet, spoon out some giblets then sew what’s left back together and screw you over as far as they dare on the basis that it’s not like booking your car into the dealers for a service then finding a fault with the brakes. In that case you can go have a look and make a judgement call but when Muttley is inside out on the operating table others have to make these split-second, life-saving calls and you’re damn lucky you got off so lightly. But don’t worry, I would later discover, they offer all sorts of ways for Mrs Miggins to pay for her winter gas and electricity, food and small Christmas presents for her grandchildren and pay off the veterinary sharks before they smash her arthritic knees with a baseball bat.

Without wishing to go all verbose on this occasion, the upshot was that I challenged their system for having doubled my bill and invited them to enjoy their new pet unless they sorted themselves out. I did offer to buy the dog back for £650 but said they could keep it if they could get a better offer.

In fairness, the big boss called me personally later in the day and he was a decent enough chap and in the end the wife bought back the dog at a fair price – though I’m sure the kids were halfway sold on the new puppy option. It left a sour taste nonetheless and all the next day I told the tale to everyone I talked to only to be met with,

‘Well that’s what vets do…’

Not to me they bloody don’t! Last time I had an old dog I had a wonderful vet called Mr Hamilton who would’ve made James Herriot look like a rogue so this new way of doing things is a real eye-opener. I was therefore in a bit of a grump when we took to the workshop later that day to see what was what with putting the lids on our sponsons. We got them pretty much ready to go but as ever it became an epic. It’s one thing to look at the archive shots and say, ooh, isn’t there a lot of bolts in that but it’s not until you get into prepping the thing that you realise just how many you have to deal with and just how involved it is. What’s seldom realised is that we often have to cram a dozen years of random, never-drawn development on the machine into only a few weeks of construction so that it remains historically correct but we like to understand it too and why it was done.

Here’s a chunk of Righty’s lid partially prepped. None of the rivet holes are yet countersunk nor are any of the holes deburred around the back or in the sponson core. There’s the big hatch in the middle with a lid held down by a squillion 2BA screws.

That’s not the real number, but the list of fasteners for a sponson top is impressive nonetheless.

26 x functional bolts with captives/Helicoils & washers to anchor the sponsons to the spars. 49 x redundant bolts, with Helicoils & washers at the unused spar stations. 71 x 2BA captives, + rivets Approx 270 x 3/16" blind, countersunk rivets Approx 45 x 1/4" blind, countersunk rivets

There’s not a lot of aeroplane going on at the moment so the man formerly known as ‘Aerospace-Rob’, being a founder member of the Bluebird Project, returned to his roots and did some riveting on the old boat. It’s good to have him back.

There’s a lot of those to get through so everyone had a go including Gillian who, long, long ago joined us with hopes of working on Bluebird but ended up one of the Barra’ Babes instead. Well, she’s served her apprenticeship – as was the original plan for new volunteers when taking on some aeroplane work – so she finally got her hands on the boat and her workmanship, or ought that be ‘workwomanship’, is exemplary.

It took a few sessions to get the captives into both lids but they’re done now and looking all very fine and splendid. Notice also in the shot below that the paint has been keyed with a sander where it is to be riveted to an internal frame or an extrusion and they are all keyed similarly too. It makes the choccie sauce stick like poo to the bedclothes.

Each captive needs three holes – the big one in the middle where the screw goes then two more 3/32nd holes for the rivets that keep them on. Each is countersunk and the captive is put down with a dash of choccie to be sure of no dissimilar metal shenanigans two hundred years hence.

There’s another small, circular hatch at the back with another round of captives.

And, finally, another hole at the front that was drawn but without a cover for some unknown reason and in the archive pic’s it seems to be closed with some sort of tape or sticky paper. We made a little lid for ours that we could fasten down.

There’s another four 2BA captives under there, plus it picks up on one of the redundant bolt fixings for the ‘spar neutral’ position. You can see other spare bolt holes and now the rivet holes are countersunk and that small hole to the right about an inch across was never drawn but was opened later when the original sponsons leaked so badly that they were poured full of expanding foam. We’re confident that ours won’t leak but we opened the holes anyway so we could check inside just in case and because they’re historically correct.

The two circular access holes, by the way, seem to be to check for water ingress. The one with a cover and the ring of captives is at the back at the bottom of the slope where the sponson reaches its maximum depth and the one we’ve made a cover for is at the bottom of the slope at the front.

With the lids prepped it was time to sort out the sponson itself and finally cover in for good all that green horror. One thing I suspect I’ve not mentioned so far is we bring the spar frames to a state of perfect height and levelness with a thin layer of two-part epoxy putty. In some cases the upper faces of the spar frames, because their attachment angles are a welded part and things move when you weld them, are a smidge low at one end or slightly canted over so we put a millimetre of putty on them then carve and sand it back to leave everything perfectly flat for when it meets the outer skin. That way when you pull the rivets or bolts down it doesn’t distort the skin.

It has the rather inelegant nickname of ‘dog s**t’ in our workshop.

Now this brown stuff is not to be confused with choccie, which is gloopy, rubbery stuff. Dog s**t sets hard as iron and is a nightmare to work. It initially comprises two sausages of different coloured material not unlike Plasticine that you knead together then roll into slender lengths that you flatten onto the already keyed surfaces of the spar frames. Once it’s set and been smoothed to height the choccie goes on top of it.

There you go – how gloopy is that? The stuff gets everywhere but it’s the reason we reckon the sponsons will be watertight this time around. Notice the orange things poking out of it. In a moment of absolute brilliance, Mike realised that if we put those squishy earplugs in the threaded holes they would gently expand as they’re designed to do in your ear canal and stop the choccie getting down amongst the threads – he named them ‘Wotsits’ for their resemblance to the cheesy snack of the same name.

The result of this would make fascinating reading were you ever to consult a process sheet for putting down a sponson lid. The relevant section would go something like…

Apply dog s**t and allow to harden.

Dress dog’s**t to finished height (check with a straight edge).

Insert Wotsits in all helicoils and captives in ‘spar forward’ position.

Apply choccie sauce to a depth of 2mm +/- 0.5mm.

Remove Wotsits.

With everything ready to go and the choccie slathered everywhere the time finally came to slap the lid on Righty and give closure – quite literally – to the last two years of green horror.

After that… a riveting jamboree.

We love blind rivets, those that are pulled with a gun rather than the solid type that need a hammer and a block and must be cut to the correct length and their myriad other considerations, whereas the others just need to be poked down a hole, the gun applied to the stem and a button pushed to be rewarded with a hiss and a pop and the job firmly joined together. And in this case we also got around the unending dilemma of which type of rivet to use in those tricky corners because with the lid there’s just no way to get on the back anywhere so it’s out of our hands.