As soon as I saw Dora I knew that she was special. There was something about the clean, smooth lines of her design that just felt right. Balanced. Considered. And what is lucky, is that she has managed to maintain the vast majority of her original details and features – such as her beautiful hatch.
A beautifully crafted piece of teak timber construction, this dual side opening glazed hatch sits on the fore deck, directly above the cabin and bed below, resting neatly on corner pegs that twist upwards to support the weight of the panel. With all the timber in relatively good condition, all it needed was a clean, a light sand and a few smotherings of oil to bring it back to life.
The glass is also original, and it was a tough choice between replacing the glass with a new double glazed panel for energy efficiency, or keeping it as it is… In the end I opted to keep the glass as single glazed and replace it when / if it breaks. But we’ll also see what happens come winter and the chillier nights perhaps…
But this hatch epitomises what is special about working on a project such as Dora – you have history to work with. Seeing the craftmanship and love that went into making her is humbling and being the next custodian in her life is a real honour. In fact, this hatch will soon be replicated to replace a small one that Dora has lost. Giving back feels good.
I remember very clearly the forts that my brother and i used to build most Sunday mornings. Towels and sheets slung between upturned boxes, the clothes airer and chairs stacked precariously on one another. These small, temporary structures fulfilled the purpose of our imagination and could be amended at will – turning from a fort to a ship with ease. Many of you will have similarly fond memories of building these spaces as children, yet the transient and tiny nature that we celebrated so highly at some point became something that we avoided.
Bricks and mortar – solidity – space – these became what many of us coveted as we grew. A room of our own and eventually a home of our own. Whether we stayed local or travelled afar, many of us thought that the bigger the home the more successful we were and therefore the happier we were also. We pushed ourselves to strive as large as possible – we worked hard and we deserved it. The bigger the better right?
But now, in a time of record levels of anxiety, stress and depression, we know that the pressures of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ is not healthy and certainly not globally sustainable.
Reimagining what home actually is, is more important than ever – both as a community and as a structure. The term ‘alternative lifestyles’ and ‘lifestyle design’ have boomed in popularity over the recent years as people find alternative paths to living that perhaps do not involve a brick house full of things that they don’t really use. We are filling the physical void along with the emotional void that consumption brings. We buy things again – because we deserve it…
But what do we really deserve? A roof over our heads – sure. But does it have to be on a massive brick house? Not at all. It may be an off grid cabin, it may be van, it may be a boat, like Dora. It may even just mean living in the neatest space you can rather than sprawling over as much footprint as possible.
Home is many different things but it’s value should not be measured in square metres.
Quite a momentous time. From the early days of arriving in the yard and having kilos of dead mussels scrubbed from her hull, through the hours of scraping, sanding, filling and priming, through to multiple layers of paint below the water line (Jotun Pioner Topcoat) – then above the water line (Dulux Weathershield 3 pack trade gloss white)…
Dorabella is finally coming back to life. And doesn’t she look grand.
There is something magical about paint. Within a relatively short space of time, something can feel brand new, rejuvenated – alive again. It was a very exciting time when Dora was finally ready for the first lick of colour on her hull.
As i mentioned in the last post, the world of marine paint is complicated indeed – anti-foul or not anti-foul, how many ‘packs’ – let alone the colours. For many, navy blue or red are the only colours a boat should be. Green is generally considered unlucky (although, this may be due to boats being rendered a;most invisible in bad weather), and options are often very limited. This is one reason why I chose the Jotun Pioner system – I could choose my colour from over 200 standard variations or get a custom colour mixed up… this may not seem like a big deal, but it really was. I am a big believer that colours convey personalities – and I just knew that Dora needed to be a pale sky blue kinda girl.
And now – another 5 coats later – she is.
There is something about a fresh clean blanket of snow that makes everything feel just so crisp and clean and new, isn’t there? All the dirt and imperfections are gone… even if the effect is fleeting. This is how it felt when Dora received her first coat of undercoat primer (Jotun Vinyguard Silvergrey Primer for those of you interested). All the little dings had been sanded back, the loose paint scrubbed off and she was fresh and new with a layer of grey primer… a wonderful feeling indeed.
Now. A few words on choosing marine paint. Even though my day job involves knowing a fair bit about paint and how to specify paint, the marine world was a real eye opener. There are so many options available and every person you meet will have their own opinion. To antifoul or not to antifoul – that was the question for a long time. My advice? Speak to a supplier of marine paint. Let them know your exact structure type, how you will be using your boat, where it will be moored and of course, the condition your hull is in. Let the experts guide you through the minefield of marine paints.
I opted for the Jotun system of Vinyguard primer and Pioner Topcoat. This was the best for me and Dora (being suitable for wood, a single-pack system and great below the water line performance and pretty reasonable too) but let those in the know help you too!
There is nothing sexy about removing layers of dirt, muck, dead mussels and dead weed by hand. Power washing may be an option for a glass fibre reinforced plastic (GRP) boat, but a timber boat like Dora? Not a good idea. The force of the water would literally pop through those seams and do all sort of mischief. So a scrubbing brush, a wallpaper scraper and a broom it was. Days and days of lying in the gravel, covered in filthy water as the layers of grub were slowly washed away from Dora’s hull… and once it was finally all gone, I could see her hull properly.
There were a few dings, a few patches and a few areas where the paint was worn through more than others so you could trace her previous colours, but generally – her hull looked pretty good. The relief was incredible, but I also sort of knew that she had good bones. It was just nice to see them too…
This, I could work with.
I bought Dorabella without seeing her. I know. The sort of thing that people do on reality TV DIY shows – and you sit there cosy on your sofa shaking your head in disbelief when they miraculously realise they have spent loads of money on the property equivalent of a self-disassembling clown car. ‘Man – how can people be so stupid!’ you exclaim. I know. I’ve said it myself. Multiple times.
But I am also a firm believer in the gut brain. Something told me that Dorabella was a real find. It’s corny to say, but I knew that she needed to be with me. I’m also a firm believer that people (and things) find you at the right time… Dorabella and I found each other at exactly the time we needed.
And so, she was purchased, and transported to her new, temporary home in Shoreham. The lovely Boatswain and his team took her in, settled her in her cradle in the yard and I got to see her for the first time…
Firstly, she felt bigger than I was expecting. Due to my day job, I’ve got a very good grip on knowing how big things are, but boats just seem bigger out of water somehow. She was in need of a good old scrub and wash – particularly to remove the seafood salad of mussels that were dangling from her underside. She was dirty and looked a bit sorry for herself. And hells bells, she stank.
But I loved her immediately.
Meet Dorabella. A 35ft gentleman’s cruiser designed by Eric French in Poole and built some time in the 1940’s in Christchurch, Hampshire, UK by the Elkins boatyard. She has a mahogony hull and teak top, with lovely bronze fittings that have aged a treat. At around 78 years old, she was in need of a lot of love when I found her, but like they say of iconic movie stars, she had lovely bones. Beautiful lines and gorgeous original features. It was a real treat to find her and start the process of converting her into my new home…
Back in spring 2018, I found Dorabella, or Dora for short – a 1940’s timber hulled gentleman’s cruiser on Ebay. I fell in love with her and decided to make her my new houseboat. She needed a hell of a lot of renovation, but as they say of movie star icons, hells bells she had good bones.
But of course, moving from a house to a houseboat means a lot of downsizing. Considering exactly what you need. And what you don’t…
So my new Marine based Minimalist life was created. This blog will follow the practical renovation of Dora along with my new transition to tiny house boat living. It will be a mixture of design, diary, tips on minimalism and the occasional rant. Welcome aboard.