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Speaker: A Slight Diversion from Election Fever: A Brief Essay on the Lost Art of Ferrocement Boatbuilding

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  • Nancy Blackett,

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    Here's a picture of Lonebird in the early 90's. I'm still inspired by the sheer willpower of Pete to get her built and keep her sailing.

    auckland • Since Jun 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Nancy Blackett,

    Here’s a picture of Lonebird in the early 90’s.

    Great photo, Nancy! And my seven-year-old son (Arthur Ransome fan that he is) will just about have a heart attack when he sees your name.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to David Haywood,

    you could replicate all the joys of sailing by deliberately giving yourself food poisoning, and then standing under a cold shower and ripping up wads of 100 pound notes.

    That depends a lot what sort of sailing you do. last time I delivered a boat. I flew to Fiji, hung out at the markets in Suva drinking instant coffee with milk powder at ten cents a cup, for a week then spent ten days at sea watching the sun go down and the moon come up with the same fifteen knot south east wind every day with out fail. Becouse every day was the same as the one before apart from the incremental change of the moon's rise, fall and wax I could notice the oddness of have a brain and living on a planet. I don't ordinarily think about that much.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4316 posts Report Reply

  • WaynePhillips,

    Great story!
    Declaring my interest, I'm a structural Engineer working in London.

    I went to a seminar a month or two ago which I found very interesting. On the nautical side I remembered that when I was in Vietnam I had noticed the water tankers supplying all the junks in Halong Bay were all made from concrete. I didn't think much about it at the time, but the lecturer showed slides with photos almost identical to the ones I took.

    On a more general construction side - mot many buildings are built in ferrocement, as the building codes for reinforced concrete all specify minimum concrete cover to the reinforcement to prevent corrosion. Ferrocement mixes have higher concentrations of cement and less larger grained aggregate, the effect being a reduction in the movement of chlorides etc through the concrete to the steel (which is essential for submerged hulls!). This means you can reduce the required cover and have a thinner section. There are also concerns about how it would hold up in a fire (the lecturer was adamant it's fine, but this goes against all we've ever been taught). Also, the amount of care required in the construction makes it generally uneconomic. The fine chicken wire layers require careful tying and you can't just mix and pour.

    Having said all that, there are some very impressive buildings being constructed in ferrocement. The case study from the seminar was the roof to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre in Athens.
    Hopefully this article isn't behind a paywall or geoblocked

    http://www.building.co.uk/stavros-niarchos-foundation-cultural-centre-roof-athens/5062682.article

    United Kingdom • Since Sep 2014 • 5 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brown,

    Well Harold, I never expected to see a post about ferro cement boatbuilding on Public Address. I, also built a ferro yacht (along with 3 other) on the North Shore in the early 70s.
    It was a stretched Hartley Tahitian 50 ft ketch named Aokautere. When we started we thought it would take 18 mths to build and cost about $12000. Three years and $36000 later we launched it, still not finished
    In Dec 76 we left NZ to circumnavigate. I had $60 my mother lent me and did not return for 5 years. My mother moved into a home recently and going through the house I found all the letters I had sent my parents. Some were up to 12 pages long. It was good to see the stories I tell,l were not too far from the truth. Though they were censored, there was no mention of drink. drugs or sex.
    We successfully circumnavigated. Our biggest achievement being the same 4 crew that left on the boat returned together (just!)

    Piha • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Paul Brown,

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    Our biggest achievement being the same 4 crew that left on the boat returned together (just!)

    I often say that the most dangerous thing in the sea is the crew.

    Another thought, we are on the verge of using 3D printer gantries to print ferro cement boats. And steel reinforcing can already be dispensed with, in favor of synthetic polymer.

    And how cool will it be to make boats on the moon!

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4316 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW, in reply to David Haywood,

    Unfortunately Harold is currently in hospital (he cracked a femur during some shenanigans after ...

    Best wishes to Harold for full rehabilitation to shenanigan-capability again (even if maturing caution means that capability might not be exercised so much?)

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 851 posts Report Reply

  • Nancy Blackett, in reply to David Haywood,

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    Thanks David, I think Arthur Ransome wrote fantastic girls. In my mind Nancy B grew up and became Nancy Wake.

    auckland • Since Jun 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Nancy Blackett,

    In my mind Nancy B grew up and became Nancy Wake.

    Wow -- weirdly I've also had that same exact train of thought!

    I've long wondered why Nancy Wake isn't much more famous in New Zealand -- for my money she's probably the coolest NZer ever. Perhaps they could put her on the banknotes when we get rid of the queen's head.

    I have actually often thought about a film script of Nancy Wake's life -- but it seems like it would have to be so big-budget that there'd be no chance of it being made.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood, in reply to Paul Brown,

    My mother moved into a home recently and going through the house I found all the letters I had sent my parents. Some were up to 12 pages long. It was good to see the stories I tell,l were not too far from the truth. Though they were censored, there was no mention of drink. drugs or sex.

    I never cease to be amazed by Public Address readers. Something gets published on the most obscure subject and suddenly dozens of people come out of the woodwork who know all about it.

    What a fantastic adventure, Paul! With those letters I'm thinking that there may be a book to be written about it all -- I'd buy a copy...

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to David Haywood,

    get rid of the queen’s head.

    Is that the civilized method?

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4316 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to David Haywood,

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    so big-budget that there’d be no chance of it being made.

    This seems cheap, really – maybe not the full budget? And the quality … I tried, but couldn’t watch more than ten minutes here and there …

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2091 posts Report Reply

  • Chris Fabling,

    Neat .. permission to board captain. My late cousin Athol Burns had an interest also in ferrocement ocean going yotts .. he & my father used to tinker in Wellngton when they had their boat building shed at Ballena Bay before moving up to Northland. I will add yr pix to my growing album of home-built yotts & as an extension to thep pix of Athol's .. many of which are still at sea & afloat ... Have a day or two at sea ..

    Auckland • Since Sep 2014 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Brown, in reply to David Haywood,

    I have thought about a book in a gonzo style of journalism. I used to tell my daughter bedtime stories of my travels. One of her favourites was from when we were sailing from Darwin to Bali. When sailing downwind in the trades we used to hang off the mainsheet and drag in the water to cool down. One day one of the crew was doing this when we heard an almighty scream and he came leaping over the side with a bluebottle jellyfish draped around his penis. After we had stopped laughing, we looked up a book about what to do. We chose vinegar over urine. My daughter who was about 7 at the time, went off to school the next day and told the story at Show and Tell.

    In the mid seventies it seemed. every second house had a boat under construction in the back yard. When Harold said his plasterers had done 29 boats, the guys that did ours(probably the same ones) had done 80. Although lots didn't get finished and some were pretty rough, there were still plenty sailing. When we sailed into Tel Aviv in 78, there were 4 kiwi boats there, 2 of them ferro.

    We nearly sold the boat in England, but after all working in different countries for a year decided to spend a year sailing home which I am glad we did, as on the way we spent 3 months in the Caribbean and San Blas Is and 3 weeks in the Galapagos, plus I got to surf in some fabulous places. I went that whole year on $700 and arrived home without my mothers $60. This was a pain at times particularly in Tahiti.
    I had arrived in England with long hair and a full beard and left with no beard and a shaven head. I had met up with some kids (I was 32) in Hamble (Southampton) where we had the boat. They had a band together and played support for the visiting groups that came to Southampton and Portsmouth. I ended going backstage for all the bands of the time 1979-80. the best being The Clash at Portsmouth Town Hall and their manager Kosmo Vinyl's birthday party.



    We sold Aokautere within a month of returning and never saw or heard of it again. I always check out marinas in my travels but not a word. While we would have been a lot better off financially building a timber boat, it did the job and set my life off on a different path. I ended up becoming a composite boatbuilder and have since done 7 Americas Cups and a Volvo Round the World Race on the Shore Crews and I am still a proud leftie (probably the only one!)
    And yes Harold, I dislike John Key as much as Muldoon. If not more so. At least you knew what Muldoon was like, he did not have the nice veneer. We took part with the boat in 2 of the anti nuclear blockades, one against the USS Buchanan. They were amazing, so many boats. We had to turn away people that many wanted to come. I cannot imagine the same thing happening now. I often wonder what became of all those idealistic baby boomers, do they vote for Winston and National now.

    Piha • Since Nov 2006 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Paul Brown,

    I have thought about a book in a gonzo style of journalism.

    Hunter S. is still one of my heroes, I had my first beating from a stranger with Hell’s Angels in my pocket, not really sure if that means anything but hey…
    I feel our paths may have crossed along the way…
    My experience with ferro cement was kinda second hand. Back in '76 I was building fibreglass 22 foot Bermuda rigged keelers for a while for a company in SE London when a guy came to the yard and asked the boss if he could build a 45 foot ferro sloop there, boss said yeah and took the rent. After the guy had got all the steel tied up, he used welded metal frames with 5mm round with 5x50 mesh with 12mm chicken wire over if I remember right. Anyway, he got to the stage just before plastering when the Council guy turned up and said we didn’t have permission to build boats at the yard, just to store them. He was gutted, had to move the thing elsewhere. I doubt if he managed to move it without wrecking the damned thing and I never heard about it cos my job went down the gurgler too. So, needless to say, Councils don’t rank well in my scheme of things.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart, in reply to Nancy Blackett,

    I think Arthur Ransome wrote fantastic girls

    Apart from poor old Susan, who got stuck with all the thankless tasks. Perhaps she was intended as a dramatic foil for the charismatic and fabulous Nancy.
    One of the nicest things I received from my dear grandmother was some of the original linen bound editions of the Swallows and Amazons series, complete with the wondrous maps. My grandad was a huge fan of Arthur Ransome and corresponded with him.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 821 posts Report Reply

  • Nancy Blackett, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    I agree that Nancy was more exciting but I think that Susan was portrayed as a vital and appreciated member of the crew. She was first mate and a competent sailor. Keeping the crew in order and the camp shipshape are the mate's job. There were lots of ways to be a girl in that world and all of them were interesting and capable. I still always wanted to be Nancy though.

    auckland • Since Jun 2011 • 4 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford,

    In the interest of bad taste. Who knows about the black ferro boat on fairy road Christchurch? It was really ugly, and I wonder if it survived the earth quakes.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4316 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to steven crawford,

    Who knows about the black ferro boat on fairy road Christchurch? It was really ugly, and I wonder if it survived the earth quakes.

    I seem to remember it from my childhood - it's been there many decades, an icon, a concrete symbol of someone's unrealised dream.
    Lately I'm not sure, I have a feeling it's gone. But I did hear a rumour that after the quakes someone lived in it for months. Could be complete ballocks, but it stuck in my brain.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2091 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    I seem to remember it from my childhood – it’s been there many decades, an icon, a concrete symbol of someone’s unrealised dream.

    Circa 2008

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4591 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

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    And now-ish ... Maybe it's in Samoa :)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2091 posts Report Reply

  • steven crawford, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    The story I was told is that it didn't float on launching day, because someone didn't do there homework. It was garden variety concrete, not the good stuff.

    Atlantis • Since Nov 2006 • 4316 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Just an update on Harold: he has greatly enjoyed reading all these comments, but has had a few setbacks in hospital, so unfortunately is unable to reply as yet.

    My wonderful aunt is currently organizing Harold's voting papers in hospital. She advises any potential visitors: "Harold is hanging out for election anecdotes so remember to pass something on when you see him. If you can think of anything that reflects badly on John Key you would make his day."

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 1156 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    And now-ish … Maybe it’s in Samoa :)

    As I recall, it fell over in the quakes and the authorities made the guy take it to the dump. Sorry.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

  • Lilith __, in reply to David Haywood,

    My wonderful aunt is currently organizing Harold’s voting papers in hospital. She advises any potential visitors: “Harold is hanging out for election anecdotes so remember to pass something on when you see him. If you can think of anything that reflects badly on John Key you would make his day.”

    My Mum was visited by electoral officers in her rest home. She is proud to have voted and is excited to know who wins.

    Dunedin • Since Jul 2010 • 3887 posts Report Reply

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