Wow. I can’t believe it’s been almost a year since I last posted here!
So, what’s been happening?
Quite a lot, really, but also, until recently, in some ways not a lot. Let’s dig into it all and get caught up, shall we?
The classified top-secret job in the city was over, and I’d moved back home. Most of what I’d managed to save on that job was spent on all the stuff I mentioned in the last post, and as discussed, I’d since bought a workshop wet/dry vacuum cleaner, and a bunch of other tools and odds & ends of hardware that I’d need.
One of the things I hadn’t yet bought, was all the timber, needed for things like the gunwales (edges around the top of the hull), the laminated bulkhead beams, a pair of oars, the mast, sprit, and the tiller. The plans called for Douglas Fir (also known as Oregon Pine) and Spruce -ideally, Sitka Spruce (really strong, super light, but expensive even in the US). But these are all Northern Hemisphere species, and so, here in Australia, need to be imported and are horrendously expensive. When I located sources in Australia for them, the prices left me in shock for days.
So began my search for suitable Australian species of timber that would have similar weight, grain & strength characteristics to Spruce and Douglas Fir. It turns out there’s not as much of this type of information easily available as one might hope. That search took quite a while. It also highlighted one of the problems that living out in the country presents. Talking to the two local hardware & timber suppliers turned out to be surprisingly unhelpful.
Me: “What species of Aussie timbers do you carry or have access to?”
Timber guy: “Well, we’ve got hardwoods, and softwoods.”
Yep, so far as they were concerned, there were only two kinds of wood! Ah, the joys of having suppliers that only have to cater to the local farming and construction industries…
Putting my timber research on the back-burner, I focused on getting started on finding some of the specific hardware I’d need for the dinghy. Oarlocks (rowlocks) and the nuts, bolts and washers I’d need to hold the two halves of the dinghy together.
In my wanderings around the ‘net, I’d come across mention of what were called ‘Gaco oarlocks‘. Unlike regular oarlocks, they were carefully engineered to cause no damage to the oars, and at the same time, encourage the rower to use proper rowing technique. (See the link above for all the reasons they’re superior to other oarlocks – and no, I have no financial affiliation to the inventor, I paid full price for mine.) Not only were they supposed to be one of the best modern designs of oarlocks in the world, they had been invented right here in Australia! Clearly, this was meant to be. I ordered a pair, along with two sets of sockets for them, to cover the two rowing-stations the plans specified.
I put a fair bit of thought and effort into the nuts, bolts and washers that would hold the hull halves together. Certainly, I had no intention of building a really sexy looking Chameleon, with lots of gleaming varnished timber and gorgeous paintwork, like many of the pictures I’d seen of other Chameleons. Mine was to be a yacht tender and workhorse, that would get scuffed and banged about, dragged over rocks and coral, and haul all kinds of loads. “Pretty” was a long way down the list of priorities, because she wouldn’t stay that way for long. But at the same time, many of the pictures I’d seen of how others had bolted their Chameleons together, looked, to my eyes, really ugly. Poorly welded-on lugs to convert large nuts into wing-nuts, rusting nuts, bolts and washers… all of them looked to me like afterthoughts, and badly thought-out afterthoughts at that.
Surely there had to be something better. At a bare minimum, I wanted all the hardware to be 316 stainless steel, and if possible, it should all look good, as well.
I mentioned this in the Chameleon Dinghy thread on the Cruiser’s Forum website, and a very kind member linked me to some items from McMaster-Carr‘s extensive range of products. To my mind, they were ideal, and exactly what I was looking for. Instead of wing-nuts, there were wing-bolts, and the nuts were riveted to a large washer with multiple holes drilled through it. These nuts were designed to be permanently glued into place. This meant one less item (times the four that would be needed) that could be dropped and/or lost. The large washers and glue-in nuts were 316 stainless, and the wing-bolts were of 18-8 stainless steel, which, from a marine corrosion viewpoint, was almost as good. And they were available in a truly impressive range of diameters and lengths.
I happily placed an order, only to then be informed that due to the excessive paperwork required, McMaster-Carr was no longer shipping to Australia, except for already established customers. This struck me as weird, given that none of their items could even remotely be regarded as military secret technology, which is the usual reason for not allowing certain exports from the US.
In hindsight, I suspect this ‘paperwork’ was due to the Australian Govt now requiring overseas companies to collect the 10% Australian Goods & Services Tax on behalf of the Aust. Govt, even on small orders. Previously, they’d only done so for orders valued at more than AU$1000. Yeah, I wouldn’t be happy at being forced to be an unpaid tax-collector for a foreign govt either!
Feeling gutted at having the perfect items snatched away from me, I went on a long hunt across Australia and then around the world, trying to find someone else who could supply comparable items. No luck. I found similar products in woefully small sizes that were far too weak for what I had in mind, but nothing in the sizes I needed. It seemed that only McMaster-Carr had what I wanted.
This problem, too, went on the backburner for a while. Then I remembered seeing some mention of a ‘freight/mail forwarding company’. Could this be the solution? I investigated, and found that basically, they provide a mailing address in the US or whatever country you want to order from, then, when your goods arrive at their warehouse, they forward them on to you. For quite reasonable fees, they’ll do other things like inspect the contents and take photos for you, repackage items more securely, combine multiple purchases into one package to save on shipping costs, take care of the customs declaration for you, etc.
After some comparison study, I settled on a company called Shipito (again, no affiliation). Their prices are very reasonable, and they have warehouses all over the world, so I can see myself making considerable use of them once my cruising life begins. Not long after, I had all the McMaster-Carr bits I needed to bolt my dinghy together, with the bolt lengths very carefully chosen so that when fully tightened up, the bolt ends (already nicely rounded over, thank you, McMaster-Carr!) are flush with the bulkhead doublers, meaning they can’t snag anything. I also upsized from the 1/4″ bolts suggested by Danny Greene, to 3/8″ for extra strength.
It was now late August of 2021, and I’d had no work since the top-secret city job had ended in early June. To make things worse, the temporary 100% increase in unemployment benefits the government was paying during the Covid crisis (essentially an admission that the basic payment was ridiculously far below the poverty line, and that they knew the millions of newly-out-of-work families could never survive on it) had now ended. It had been that 100% increase that meant I could spare the paltry $250 it would cost to get the plywood to begin this entire project in the first place, but now I was back on subsistence level payments of barely more than $300 per week.
I really needed to find some full-time work again, and now that I was living in a small country town, without a car, and had just seen my 61st birthday roll by, that was probably going to be more than a little difficult. (Despite it being illegal in Australia to discriminate by age, I’d won more than one job in the past that had suddenly evaporated once they learned my age! They have their ways of getting around the law.)
Next: It’s time to get to work!