Milford Haven has a very nice boatyard.

Dear Reader. Would you like the good news, or the bad news?

Well, it isn’t that bad. Karisma is in Milford Haven! Myself and our pal Julie set out on Saturday afternoon (6th May) from Penarth, locking out of Cardiff Barrage for the last time at 15:30 (HW-2) for Karisma’s first night sail, expecting an approximately 18 hour journey to Milford. The weather forecast showed the tail of a system moving away, with stronger winds on Saturday morning dying away overnight. The wind was whistling through the marina as we settled our final bill (£45 for five nights, on top of two-hundred-and seventy-ish for the month of April- short term rates hurt) before slipping our lines. As soon as we left the barrage the wind dropped away to about 14 knots from the north-east, but the boat was being thrown about by a big, ugly swell coming straight on our beam as we made our way south to Rannie. Where does it come from? There is  not much sea north and east of Cardiff, and hardly anything to build up a fetch. But, that’s the inner channel for you. Julie hand steered as I got the kettle on as we waved goodbye to Penarth Head, standing stark above the lumpy, grey sea.

Minded that we were delivering the boat and not having felt like raising the sails downwind in a slop off Penarth, as we were passing Barry the sea flattened out, but so did the wind. We were down to about 10kn apparent, which is not enough to keep Karisma on the 5kn through the water that I wanted to average for the trip. We passed a moored tanker and eventually decided to pull the headsail out. It filled well enough but didn’t do anything much if we throttled back the engine, so we kept running at 2000 rpm. The headsail seemed to at least give a steadying effect in a still restless, churning sea. The only other leisure vessel was a fair old gin palace of a mobo which overtook us as we passed Rhoose.

South of the Aberthaw Caisson we were able to lay a waypoint off St Govan’s head, some 60 nautical miles to the West-North-West, without encountering any dangers. Accordingly, the steering duties were handed over to Sinbad the autopilot. Readers may remember indifferent performance the last time Sinbad steered us west, but on Saturday he proved an exemplary helm, keeping course for mile after mile. Here’s the course we took:

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This course meant clearing outside the Nash, Scarweather and Helwick sands, and the plan revolved around getting west of Helwick bofore local low water (22:45), so that we punched the foul flood tide in Carmarthen Bay, where it is generally weaker than in Swansea Bay. I was also keen not to run any risk of being set down onto the Helwick sands by a foul tide at night. Although the course looks relatively offshore, it didn’t feel particularly so, with the long, dark bulk of Gower on our starboard as the light faded away. Somewhere between Scarweather and Gower we saw a lone bull seal; by this point the wind had long ago died to nothing.

The pilot book makes the point that Gower is inhospitable to sailors at night because it is so poorly lit, and that’s certainly true. We struggled to make out the lighthouse on Mumbles, and saw little of any shore lights until we had Port Eynon abeam. The west cardinal at the western end of the Helwick sands is tremendously bright, however, and it gave us a definite point of reference as darkness flowed around us. We both remarked that the western horizon took on a strange, murky quality, with the horizon difficult to make out. Were it not for the cardinal being clearly visible whilst still miles east of it, we would have concluded that there was fog. It was a strange, slightly disquieting, slightly exciting, effect.

As the last light faded and still east of the Helwick cardinal, it became possible to make out a low orange flash behind and to the north-west of the bright cardinal. We had not expected to see the far shore until much closer, but this was undoubtedly the lighthouse on Caldey Island. We could see Pembrokeshire!

We had just passed Helwick in windless conditions when the tide turned, which was spot on for the passage plan and saved us having to punch past the sands. Caldey continued to flash its orangey beam, and before long a faint, indistinct red light became visible high up to the west. As we ran down the miles, this resolved itself into several red lights on three refinery towers actually inside Milford Haven. The wind had long since blown itself out, the sky was overcast, and darkness complete. We motored across Carmarthen bay through the long, quiet hours of the night with just the stern light, and the occasional big ship on AIS, for company.

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By 3am we had made better progress than expected and were some three nautical miles off St Govan’s head. Now we began to get a little jittery. St Govans is completely, and I mean completely, unlit, and we could not tell land from sea because the pre-dawn light – which so often dramatically shortens the night at sea- was still over an hour away. Our plotted course ran beneath St Govans and Linney heads taking the shortest route to the entrance to the Haven; that is, it was about 1Nm offshore. From a completely unlit headland. At night. That didn’t sound great, and worse, we had had a warning about lobster pots in that area from one of the old salts in Penarth Marina before departing. Whether a pot encounter was likely or not, it seemed sensible to turn west and stay a little further offshore. I had no qualms about entering the Haven in the dark; big ships are very obvious at night and the entrance holds no particular dangers for a small boat in settled weather, but we were ahead of our plan, so there was no need to rush either.

Rounding Linney Head, a grey dawn broke as we headed for the East Channel in the entrance to Milford.

And then, after a short motor up the grey- and very quiet- Haven, we found ourselves locking through Milford Lock at 07:00 and tying up on berth F4. The sky might have been grey, but the water was a deep green-blue, filled with the promise of sparkling sailing to come.

The total run was about 88Nm over the ground, taking 15 hours. Jenny and Eira arrived about midday to ferry myself and Julie home. We tidied up the boat, and as we did so I remarked that there was a bit of water in the bilge. Not a lot, but some, and there is usually none. That’s boats though, and I figured that I’d mop it up mid-week, when Jen, Eira and myself were coming back to spend a night (our wedding anniversary) on board.

Did you say something about water in the bilge?

Oh yes, the water in the bilge. Well, Jen, Eira and I arrived on Wednesday evening in beautiful sunny weather and stowed beds and food on the boat before heading out to sample the beers in Pembrokeshire yacht Club. The marina and club, which is based round the corner at Gelliswick, have a reciprocal deal- join the club for fifty quid and get a hundred quid off your berthing fee. A complete no-brainer, and something I was always trying, without success, to tie up between the Penarth marina and yacht club.

Before we headed out I checked on that water in the bilge. And found that there was about twice as much as we’d left there two days eariler. Not a huge amount- about a bucketful- but definitely more than we’d left there. I pumped it out with the bilge pumps (we don’t have an automatic pump, which is why the water was there in the first place) and contemplated. Could it actually be a leak? Surely not. The boat is always dry. The keel bolts come through into the bilge so that would be an obvious source of a leak- but I had checked the keel bolts after launch in January- and keel bolts tend to leak in a catastrophic sort of way. Surely it couldn’t be the keel bolts leaking. I had checked all the skin fittings and seacocks, they had all been dry at launch too. One thing I had done was fill the bilge with water and pump it out to check the bilge pumps worked properly. Could it be that the same water was just cascading back down the bilge pump lines, having been “stored” up there somehow, and not fully pumped out? Well that water was fresh and this water is decidedly salty. But maybe. Time for a beer.

We had a great night at Pembrokeshire Yacht Club which I highly recommend. A couple of Coors and all that stuff about water in the bilge was forgotten.

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I’m sorry, did you say something about water in the bilge?

A good night’s sleep, up and brew coffee, better check the bilge is still nice and dry, which it will be.

The bilge is absolutely completely full of water.

Bucket, sponge. Two buckets worth taken out. This has got in in about 12 hours, so we have a leak, it is quite fast and getting faster. Could something have happened to the keel bolts? Time to get the entire cabin sole up. Screwdriver out, saloon table up, cabin sole up, chaos and stuff everywhere. There was no obvious leak on the keel bolts, which was a relief, but one thing was clear. It was time for a marine engineer and we were going to need to get out of the water pretty quick.

The onsite marine engineers are Windjammer and I had heard good things about them, so I went straight round. In the office were Meurig and Dave. Meurig took my name and address; and on seeing the spelling of my first name- “Huw, the Welsh way”- asked if I spoke Welsh. Well, as it happens I’m learning- so Meurig flipped straight into Welsh and we did the rest of the explanation in the native tongue, which was more than I’d banked on but was a huge pleasure. So it’s Welsh from now on in Windjammer.

Dave was at the boat within half an hour and, after we tore more bits of it apart, we traced the leak to the heads seacock. Water was trickling out of the fitting whether open or closed, getting between the inner moulding and hull, and finding its way to the bilge.

The seacocks are the “ordinary” bronze type, and I’m as aware as the next chap that these aren’t approved any more because they de-zincify (is that a word?), become brittle, and fail. However, in my defence I have always checked them each season, they have always been sound, and pre-emptively replacing the lot with DZR (corrosion resistant) fittings has seemed a bit unnecessary. Anyhow, they are now giving up the ghost, and I suppose I should be grateful that we did not have a sudden or catastrophic failure with one snapping off.

The only remedy was to haul the boat out, having been in been in Milford Marina for a grand total of four days. We will replace all of the below water seacocks immediately, and do the above-waterline ones in the winter. The Marina were incredibly efficient, and it was quite something to see Karisma being trucked down the road to the boatyard with a queue of cars behind her. We are probably looking at a longish wait due to the workload in the yard, but as we are away doing other things for most of May, hopefully it will not have too much of an impact. And at least the boat can’t sink in the yard. Ah well. Roll on summer!

Oh, and I’ve bought an automatic bilge pump, too. Suddenly seems a good idea!

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Thinking about wind

We were planning to deliver Karisma to Milford Haven this weekend. The boat is ready, I victualled her yesterday and, as Jenny is out of sailing action because of Eira’s arrival, our pal Julie was coming to help me get the boat west. But, as so often happens in the Bristol Channel, the weather- that is, the first real blow for a couple of weeks- forced some choices, and none of them terribly good.

Julie’s excellent suggestion to head off overnight yesterday (Friday) direct to Milford was scuppered by forecasts showing the weekend blow moving into St Anne’s Head before we could get there, making our destination a lee shore in a fair old bag of wind. So I figured we would go to Swansea today (Saturday), which was a good idea except for a couple of problems: one, it isn’t Milford and two, it has lock closures over low water this weekend. Until yesterday, the forecast suggested we’d have light winds on Monday, so it looked like we could sail to Swansea, skip Sunday and complete our delivery to Milford on the bank holiday Monday. Worth the effort to get there, then. This morning though, the forecast showed a hard westerly blow all day Monday, meaning we’d be (at the moment) indefinitely detained in Swansea. This was the story of our 2016 sailing season, and I have to admit being less than keen to repeat it. Going today also meant arriving a couple of hours before the Tawe lock would let us in, and in a southerly blow the only possible shelter being to enter the river. That would risk running aground on low springs and maybe not even finding any shelter anyway. Or sail in circles in a rising wind. Finally I took a look at the Met Office inshore waters forecast: “strong winds are forecast…. force five or six from the south….. seven later… moderate or rough”, that sort of stuff. Even though Julie is a Yachtmaster and a much better sailor than me, it’s still the sort of stuff I always say we don’t sail in. Yet I’ve sailed in that sort of stuff offshore on plenty of RORC races… and yet, that was all on pretty big yachts. Perhaps it’s the sort of stuff I just don’t skipper in; or I don’t skipper a relatively light, small boat like Karisma in. I don’t really know.

In the end I canned it for the weekend, ultimately because I wasn’t really sure getting to Swansea was a better idea than staying in Penarth. But it’s another one of those fifty-fifty weather decisions which have got me starting to loathe the inner Bristol Channel. There are no harbours of refuge and everything is a lee shore most of the time; you spend your sailing life trying to second-guess the GFS in the various chunks and snatches of time you are able to put aside for sailing. Can we get from here to there before that window closes? When can we get from there to elsewhere? Will we be stuck somewhere? With a young family and a busy life, we just can’t sit and wait for weather windows. The unfortunate truth is, we need them on the weekends. Today would have been a bit of work, but we would have got to Swansea. But I’d rather be stuck in Penarth than Swansea, and stuck for this week at least we would be. Go or stay, stick or twist, round and round and round. The boat’s still in Penarth tonight, and we will try a direct overnight delivery (so we are not constrained by the tides) as soon as we can. But when you have a pal coming as crew, you can’t expect them to keep life constantly on hold for weather windows either- it’s not fair. Round and round and round.

So how much of this is an impression about the Bristol Channel that doesn’t hold up, and how much of it is a real picture of the wind and weather here? Well, I figured I’d try and get some actual wind history and compare it to someplace which gives the impression of perpetual light winds- that, of course, is the Solent. It is the centre of British yachting and you have to suppose that the weather has something to do with it. Sometimes it seems that almost everyone is there (certainly, and at least from a BC perspective, it often seems there’s nobody else here).

A bit of internet digging quickly made it clear that if you want this sort of info from the Met Office you had better be an academic or willing to pay for it. Being neither (and proud of it), further digging found a useful site called Rensmart.com. It is aimed at the renewable energy industry and nothing to do with sailing, but it carries an archive of wind speed data, gathered hourly, for the ten years between 2000 and 2010 for a good number of locations around the UK. After downloading the data for Cardiff Airport and Southampton EGHI and fiddling about in Excel (to convert m/s bins to Beaufort forces) I got this chart.

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What’s quite interesting about this is that winds above F4 are pretty rare both in the BC and the Solent; big blows are a little bit more common in the BC but not terribly so. What is striking, though, is that the wind speed is less than F3 for an astonishing 45% of the time in the Solent, versus just over 20% of the time in the BC. So while big blows in truth are relatively rare in both locations, the real difference is that light winds are very, very common in the Solent. In fact, according to the rensmart dataset, they are more common here than in any of the (generally representative) locations I looked at, across the UK.

Light winds of course open up those weather windows, and together with the density of harbours, there’s no better way to make each precious weekend count. I can’t see that we’ll ever base Karisma in the Solent- it is too far from home and too crowded, but you can see the attraction. Especially after another crappy trudge home to stare at the GFS.

 

New Crew

I’ve been neglecting this blog of late. There are a few reasons (none bad): Karisma has been season-ready since before Christmas,”winterized” but otherwise ready to go, so there hasn’t been much activity to report; but more importantly, we have been celebrating the arrival of a new crew member.  Please pipe aboard Eiriol Gwenllian (“Eira”), who was born on 5th March 2017 weighing 7lbs 13 oz. She already has several sailor suits and a baby lifejacket in her posession, and I’m sure she’ll soon be able to hand, reef and steer with the best of them.

Eira’s arrival also means some (long planned) changes to our sailing; we are going to move Karisma west to Milford Haven this spring, and be based at either the town marina or Neyland. The sailing in the inner Bristol Channel is just too rough and variable- flat seas one minute, monstrous the next- and the distances between ports just too far for us to comfortable sailing here with her on board. We would either end up doing doughnuts in Cardiff Bay all season, or not using the boat at all. In the flat waters and shelter of the Milford ria we can make much more of the season, with short trips between Lawrenny, Neyland, Milford and Dale all possible even if the weather is not the best. The beaches are a bit better too! We may then keep the boat in Pembrokeshire for the forseeable future. So look out for a blog about the move, hopefully shortly after Easter!

Ready for 2017!

Karisma came out of the water about ten days ago for her annual servicing. For the last couple of years I’ve tried to get all her winter work done before Christmas, because it means she is ready to go for the season and we don’t get caught up in the hullabaloo when other owners are desperately trying to get their work scheduled in the mad rush of March and April. Next year I am hoping to take her directly to Milford Haven close to the start of the season, but as we are expecting a new baby at exactly the same time (due date of March 14th!!) I do not want to be trying to organise the boat when I should be doing other things in the late winter/early spring.

So she’s been out, had her saildrive and engine serviced, been antifouled and polished, and tomorrow she will go back in the water with her engine winterised until the end of February. All we’ll have to do when the nights start drawing out is recommission it (about an hour’s work) and off we go. The sails came off in November and will be laundered and checked by Peter Sanders in January, too. It’s an excuse for another winter trip to the Solent and a night or two at Buckler’s Hard.

The only extra work has been to have a couple of gelcoat repairs done. One I knew about- back in the spring a newbie boat owner had kindly scraped his anchor along a metre’s worth of our bow and without putting his hand up about it (despite being our then-pontoon neighbour and us being firmly tied to our pontoon at the time he did it) and another small scuff amidships that I was responsible for, coming alongside on a windy day in Swansea. However the yard found another, quite substantial bit of gelcoat damage on the sugar scoop when she was lifted out- they made a repair around 40cm long on her transom, which I was pretty shocked about. I am always very aware of how vulnerable the sugar scoop is and I can certainly say we haven’t made contact with anything at all on the stern of the boat this season. Have to put it down to “OPBs” (Other People’s Boats) once again. It’s a bit like a supermarket ding, but dinging boats is a whole lot more expensive than dinging cars and I’m not expecting to get much change out of four hundred quid for sorting these things out. I like to think if I dinged somebody else’s boat I’d leave a word with the Marina, or just post a note through their washboards.

Still it is the season to be jolly, and I think you’ll agree, Karisma is looking absolutely great, so I really can’t be moaning! Merry Christmas to all of you out there, and bring on the New Year!

 

Hanse 301* Youtube Alert

One of YBW’s forumites, Ian Foxwell, has recently purchased Seahorse, a Hanse 291 (*the 291 is one of the near-identical precursors to the 301). She was formerly a well-known Solent racer (I had a conversation about her with Peter Sanders, our sailmaker, when we bought our sails, as he had previously made a set of laminates for Seahorse) and she is now kept on the Medway where Ian sails her with his family. They have a great youtube channel with loads of videos of family sailing, racing and cruising, which you can watch here:

Leecloths

A couple of years ago when we had our new sails, I had the sailmakers make up a couple of leecloths for Karisma’s saloon settee bunks. I have always intended to fit them but somehow never got around to it. When we’ve previously spent a night on the saloon berths, the thing we noticed was that you become very aware of the ‘edge’ of the berth, and so tend to keep away from it and sleep uncomfortably- a situation that would be improved by turning the berth into a two-sided ‘crib’ with a leecloth. Morover, as we will have a new baby next spring, the idea of being able to create a secure, enclosed space in one of the berths appealed, so I thought I’d get on with it.

The cloths themselves are ordinary blue canvas, about 6ft (the length of the berth) by 2ft, with five metal rings with an internal diameter of about 15mm sewn in along each of the longer edges. This was how I’d had them made, with only the vaguest idea of how I’d rig them up, and I was struggling for ideas. Searching on the internet, a lot of lee cloths are made with a rigid pole along the top edge, bottom edge, or both, to enable fitting into end ‘cups’ or running in a grove rather like the front edge of a sprayhood. However I didn’t want anything rigid involved, for a couple of reasons: a) stowage space on Karisma is tight, and I don’t need to be thinking about stowage for two to four six-foot long rigid poles, and b) under no circumstances did I want the lee cloths permanently attached to the settee berths. The usual thing is to fold down the cloth under the bunk cushion when not in use, but all the tools and hardware are stowed in the under-berth lockers. To get to these things (which happens often), I already have to dig past the settee cushion and the dry-mat (anti condensation) layer underneath. If the lee cloths were stowed under there too it would make getting at things terribly cumbersome, so they needed to be completely removable and able to be packed down in a locker. It also would be handy if, when in use, the lee cloths did not prevent access to the locker bins.

I asked a question on the myhanse.com forum to see if anybody had fitted leecloths to a 301 before, but got no replies. However inspiration struck on the ybw.com forum when someone asked a question about using toggles- the sort you get on a duffle coat- to tie down a reef in a sail. Ureka! I could use toggles, pushed through the eyelets of the leecloths, to attach them to the GRP moulding beneath the bunk and, somehow, to the bulkheads above the berth. I ordered a variety of toggles from Ebay, not being sure exactly what size would be needed. In the end it turned out that 30mm toggles were needed to fit properly through the 15mm eyelets. I also ordered some 4mm shock cord to rig the cloths up with.

Fitting the leecloths

Firstly, I measured up and drilled five holes in the inner GRP moulding below the settee berths, behind the line of the locker lids. Through each of these I fitted a length of shock cord with a 30mm toggle on the end. The lines are long enough so that they stretch as far forward as the front edge of the locker bin lids. This means that a few inches of the leecloth will remain beneath the cushion when fitted, which is important for keeping some weight on the cloth and keeping it in place when you’re lying in the berth.

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The lines are secured inside the lockers by another, larger (50mm) toggle on the end acting as a stopper to prevent the line and leecloth from pulling forward out from underneath the cushion (you could use plastic stoppers for this):

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Here it is on the port-side berth with the toggles pushed through the lower eyelets of the leecloth:

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With the bunk cushion back in place, the cloth is pulled out against the tension in the shock cord of the fittings so that about 2/3 of it is above the cushion.

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I then needed to work out a fall of lines to hold up the lee cloth from some high point, as well as tying them back at the head end (aft and nearest the viewer in the photographs) to the bulkheads next to the galley and heads respectively. For the high point, I screwed a stainless padeye high on the architrave at the top of the forward bulkhead. Here I came across a bit of a build issue: I fitted the starboard padeye first and fitted it vertically, screwing through the architrave trim and into the bulkhead beneath. When I came to fit the port side one, I found that the architrave trim wasn’t tall enough for the pad-eye to fit! yes, the thing is actually assymetric, being about 2cm wider on the starboard side than the port side. This was probably done in order to account for some inconsistency or other, either in the mould of the deck above (relatively unlikely) or more probably an inconsistency in the shape of the headlining when fitted. Either way, it’s rubbish work on Hanse’s part and does not reflect well on their fit-out standards of fifteen years ago.Here is the padeye on the port side, fitted horizontally rather than vertically like it’s counterpart to starboard. You can see the way in which the trim tapers towards the outboard end.

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The lines which hold the leecloths up are simply lengths of 4mm shock cord around 2m long with a 30mm toggle on each end. The first line runs from the second eyelet along from the rear bulkhead, up through the padeye (which is large enough to let a 30mm toggle pass through) and down back to the fourth eyelet along, putting tension on both eyelets and pulling the cloth up. Similarly, the second line runs from the third eyelet, through the pad-eye and back down to the fifth and final eyelet, where it pulls the foot end of the leecloth vertically up, resulting in quite a strong attachment.

This shows the full fall of the vertical lines on the starboard leecloth.

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The final job was to tie back the cloth at the head end, via a toggle through the first eyelet and a short piece of shock cord connected to a nylon snap hook which closes onto another pad eye fitted to the bulkhead. This makes a handy ‘gate’ which makes it easy to get in and out of the berth when the cloth is in place.

Here’s the starboard side cloth tied back to the galley bulkhead:

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And the port side cloth ties back to a pad eye behind the chart table. If the chart table is up, it’s unlikely that you’d want to use this berth for sleeping, but the tie-back passes easily round the table whether it’s up or down, so the choice is there.

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The overall result is quite stable and comfortable, and definitely up to the job of creating a ‘cot’ for use in port and for bag storage at sea etc. It’s been suggested on the Hanse forum to tie back the cloths to the handrail when at sea, rather than the bulkhead padeye- this is a good idea as it will hold a sleeping crew member in the berth more securely, although the reason I didn’t do it is that I think it might make the berths a bit ‘coffin-like’ with the cloth pulled tightly into the berth and so less enticing in port. For use at sea I might also make up an alternative set of lines in non-stretchy cord for the vertical falls which hold the cloth up, to increase the strength and resistance to movement of the cloth when in use. Things like this are asily done for very little cash because the use of toggles means things can be quickly swapped about and the toggles and line are very cheap. I also think the toggles create a pleasingly nautical look!

Here is the final fit of both lee cloths.

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In praise of…. International Woodskin 

For the last couple of seasons Karisma’s brightwork had been looking pretty shabby, with the varnish on the teak around the companionway peeling, and the coach roof grab-handles faded to a dirty grey. With the fine weather this week, and while it’s still warm, I figured I would do something about it before it takes a real battering and water soaks into all the wood this winter. I’d put it off for ages because I feared a real job of work, but a £5 bladed paint/varnish scraper from B&Q made quick work of all the old varnishes and tired patina, and a coating of International Woodskin– a sort of hybrid varnish and oil, which I have been told is long-lasting- provided a beautiful finish. Two more coats to go, but I’m pretty pleased with today’s results: