This Month
October 2011
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31
Year Archive
User name:
Remember me 
View Article  Ensay Mist returns to base

Our co-owned Westerly Centaur "Ensay Mist" has returned to Northboats for the winter after a successful summer on her mooring at Ullapool that saw her sail the Summer Isles regularly and cruise in company with some of the Tall Ships that visited the Wester Ross village in July.
Unfortunately, craning-out day was yet another when the winds decided to blow (did they ever stop this year?) and it took a bit of careful handling to get her alongside the harbour, without denting the hull and scratching her paintwork, to allow the ace crane crew of Donnie, Sandy and Angus to do their stuff. 
Unstepping the mast was a challenge as she rolled to and fro playfully but lifting the hull from the water went smoothly and she was on her trailer within an hour.
Plans for the winter include more work on fitting her out interior, including tackling her sagging headlining, a common feature of many similar GRP cruisers of 1970s vintage. She will also be fitted with effective reefing gear as mature ladies are not supposed to show their bottoms in public when the winds get up.
I like sailing the right way up. Leaning as though one of your legs has been amputated is of limited interest during a leisurely afternoon cruise. Horror of horrors, it can even spill your drink!

View Article  Kinloss dinghy saved from flower-bed fate

Northboats has helped save a 40-year-old dinghy from becoming a flower planter in the Moray town of Forres. The 11ft 6in dinghy was apparently built in the late 60s or early 70s by RAF personnel at the Kinloss air base, a few miles from Forres, for use by its angling club. It spent most of its life at a nearby inland loch.With the shocking announcement earlier this year that the base was to close, however, the boat was earmarked for firewood or to end its days in the town as an ornamental flower bed. Forres is a five-time overall UK Britain in Bloom winner.

A former employee at the base heard of the plan and, thankfully, rescued her from an ignominious fate that no wooden boat should face. He and his son then began stripping her back to start the process of making her fit for a return to angling duties. We were then asked to re-frame her and to tackle some of the other deficiencies caused by the ravages of time.

The boat was rustically built, to put it politely, and the utility-timber planking is not of the best, but by carefully removing the remaining cracked frames one at a time to keep her shape, we were able to fit new frames of Scottish oak, traditionally nailed and roved in place. We also added a couple of new floors, too, plus a new aft seat in matching oak and a new quarter-knee to replace one that was missing. The boat’s owners now intend to make the boat watertight and return her to her original mooring.

She is much too interesting to be scrapped and we look forward to her being filled soon with fresh-caught brown trout rather than begonias and geraniums.

View Article  Small Ship at Tall Ships

The visit of the Tall Ships to Ullapool in July was one of the highliughts of the summer, especially as the small ship we restored over the spring, the 35 year-old Westerly Centaur "Ensay Mist", was there to play with them.
Ensay Mist's mooring was the ideal place to watch the festivities which included visits by Tall Ships Gloria, Christian Radich, Pelican and Wylde Swan and others, and the not so tall but equally beautiful Jolie Brise. The Stornoway coastguard helicopter and Lochinver lifeboat were on top form, as usual.
We had a wee sail out in company with Wylde Swan when she took guests to the Summer Isles for a day sail and from Ensay's cockpit she looked stunning. She's the largest topsail schooner in the world and with one of her topsails set for the run back up Loch Broom she looked mightily impressive.
Not so impressive was the Saturday weather when the clouds couldn't hold on to any more water and they split asunder in an unseasonal and unwelcome deluge, occasionally confusing which was sky and which was sea. No matter, everyone on board loved the experience and seeing the big boats from close range was memorable.
View Article  Portsoy 2011

The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy has grown over the years into one of Scotland's biggest nautical events. This year's event was blessed with glorious weather once again and Northboats was there with a stand as usual.
It was good to see the St Ayles skiffs racing, once more confounding the sceptics who say that plywood boats have no place in a revival of traditional craft. How wrong can you be, because these wonderful wee boats, designed by Iain Oughtred who was at Portsoy to cast his expert eye over them, and built to patterns supplied by Alec Jordan in Fife, have singled-handedly revived the whole art of coastal rowing. Anyone who sees enthusiastic crews training regularly from East Lothian to Wester Ross cannot fail to be impressed by their impact.
I was also good to see one of our own Northboats-built boats, a 16ft Shetland-style skiff called Feadhanach, taking to the water and joining in the racing, despite a nasty swell and unpredicatble winds. She looked splendid, especially with her new Douglas fir oars working well.
The STBF needs to take care, however. From what we could see, the crowds this year were more interested in buying ice-creams and visiting the non-nautical stalls than watching the boats. If it continues to slide away from being a truly boat festival, which is how it all began, we might be look elsewhere in future.  

View Article  Almost there...

Well, the refit of our Westerly Centaur, Ensay Mist, is almost complete. Over the past couple of months she has had a thorough refurbishment, including new hull colour and antifoul, new name plates and a complete overhaul of her interior. Though I say it myself, she looks very pretty.
With just 48 hours to go until she heads to her mooring at Ullapool in Wester Ross, there are still a million and one things to do, including trying to cope with unbelievable warm temperatures of 26C for the past couple of days which is extremely unusual for my boatyard where woolly hats and gloves are more usually to be seen.
The heat brought its own headaches, though. As the temperature inside the boat soared, it proved too much for the hot-glue that had been used by a previous owner to fix part of her forepeak headlinings to the hull. It gave way in grand fashion and the headlinings collapsed in a heap on the berths below. Just when I thought I was in control of all the jobs that need to be done, I have a major new one on my hand now.
Ah well, such is boatbuilding. At least the temperatures tomorrow are predicted to plummet once more. Back to the woolly-drawers drawer tomorrow morning methinks!
Happy sailing.

View Article  Row, row, row the boat...

The oars in their raw state awaiting the attention of spokeshave and planes
Engines are all very well and undoubtedly useful when they're needed, but there is nothing quite like rowing a small sailing boat on a fine day. So when a customer, who is taking one of the boats we have built on a "raid" later this month, approached me and asked for a pair of substantial oars that would be up to the challenge of five days of constant action, I was delighted to oblige.
The result is a pair of hand-made oars of Douglas fir with oak inserts and mahogany tips that should pull his 18-foot double-ended gaff cutter through Scotland's Great Glen in style.
The oars were made by hand, using hand tools only, and the looms were rounded using planes and spokeshaves, not a lathe. They were finished off by being coated in in Deks Olje. It all might be a little more time-consuming but the results from this traditional method are unique and delightful.
The oars also match the mast and boom of the boat itself, so the combination should be easy on the eye as well as easy on the environment.
Now all he has to do is to pull them into what is sure to be a headwind - unless he can find a galley slave to do it for him while he stands at the tiller banging a drum. For the slave's sake I just hope he doesn't want to go water-skiing....

The new oars are much longer than ones we usually make

View Article  "Ensay Mist" transformed

Antifouling is a disgusting job, not for the fashion conscious

April was one of the best months of weather we have had for years. May, traditionally one of the best, has been one of the worst, with gales, hail, rain and biting winds.
No matter, the refurbishment of Ensay Mist, the 1975 Westerly Centaur, has been continuing apace. Among the million-and-one tasks we've completed, she now has a completely new interior with all her cupboard doors having been stripped and varnished and new runners fitted. She has new seat cushions with new foam and covers and new matching curtains.
She also has a bespoke slide-away chart table for the first time and a matching bespoke dining table. Her new instrument panel, which holds the GPS, DSC radio and log, has seen the electrics also refurbished to ensure the instruments talk to each other properly.
She also has a new bespoke saloon table at which we hope to enjoy many a dram.
Outside, her hull has changed from red to blue. The hull was stripped and cleaned and after four undercoats, four topcoats of International Toplac have been applied. Her teak rubbing strakes have been stripped and repaired and coated in teak oil.
Last weekend the old antifoul was wet-sanded and a coat of new antifoul applied. Another coat will go on before she heads to her west-coast mooring in a fortnight.
There is much to do in the last few days. Come back soon for more updates.

Bespoke chart table and instrument panel
View Article  Comings and Goings
As one boat leaves, another one arrives.....   more »
View Article  Why hulls in the hills?


Congratulations - you have found the Northboats blog. I hope you enjoy reading it and revisit us often.

Northboats is a small family-run traditional wooden boatbuilding business set deep in the heart of the beautiful countryside of Aberdeenshire, Scotland. We are a wee bit away from the sea and the only smell of salt in our nostrils is when the council gritters treat the roads in winter.

We are probably nearer the summits of Scotland's highest mountain range, the Cairngorms, than we are to much of the coast, but being central it means most of north and north-east Scotland's coastline is within an easy car drive from here - or a slightly longer van drive if towing a boat.

That's why this blog is called Hulls in the hills.

I can't see gulls or puffins or dolphins from my workshop but I can see pheasants and buzzards and deer and badgers and the occasional hungry falcon just waiting for me to bend over to fix a leaky garboard or varnish a thwart so she can pounce and sink her talons into my backside. I am keeping a piece of 9mm Robbins Elite plywood down my overalls, just in case.

Keep in touch with us through theis blog and discover more about our current boatbuilding projects and all the fun and games as Northboats tries to beat the recession and the cuts and to keep one of Scotland's traditional industries alive.

If you want to get in touch, do e-mail me at I'd love to hear from you.

Happy sailing.

Mike the Boatbuilder


Favourite blogs