Stunning French mill for sale

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‘Come and eat with us chez nous’ said my new friends Jean Francois and Cristelle. Nothing could have prepared me for where they lived. My jaw dropped and my eyes opened wide. I was speechless, those who know me know how rare that is. I was simply blown away.

Let me try and paint a picture if I can. We drove down small roads through stunning countryside, rolling hills splattered with brown cows, through forests of pine and along narrow lanes so little used that the centre of them was green. After a while we broke out into a clearing, over a bridge. ‘We’re here’ said Henri, park anywhere.

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Towering over their granite house is a viaduct, an extraordinary structure which is now condemned but it’s still imposing and makes an impressive backdrop. The sound of the river is constant, a wonderful white noise that immediately relaxes you and makes you start looking for a hammock to chill out in.

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The river is fed through various channels which can be opened or shut depending on the need it then runs under the three story mill house where its power can be harnessed to produce 12kw! of power from a massive cast iron turbine in the bottom of the mill.

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Way back in the 16th century the mill was granted unlimited and free use of the water in the river by the king of France himself. That law is still in force today making this mill an extremely unusual and unique property. The use of water in France is heavily regulated but thanks to this ancient law the owners of the mill can do what they like with it.

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There are no neighbours. All one can hear is the constant and soporific burble of running water. It is an absolutely stunning spot. It’s about as close to heaven as we mortals are ever likely to get.

Jean Francois and Cristelle had a calm, peaceful and laid back demeanor and I can completely see why. I suspect I would too if I lived in such an amazing place. Over baked oysters! I asked why they wanted to sell and it’s easy enough to understand, with the kids grown up and flown from the nest they are looking for a place a bit smaller.

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Over the years they have done an extraordinary amount of work to the place and it is in excellent condition inside and out. Jean Francois is a surveyor so you just know the property has been restored not only well but to all the French norms. Cristelle is a remarkably talented interior designer with a unique touch which really makes their house a home.

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Personally I think they are mad to sell the place but I do understand. So how much will it cost to own this absolutely awesome and unique place? They are asking 1.2m€ which is a pittance for what it is. Sure, there are cheaper places in the region but how many mills like this do you think there are? And how many of those are for sale? Answer: None!

What an incredible family get away home this would make or perhaps a gite or perhaps the original mill could be reinstated. There is so much potential especially with unlimited use of the water running past. The river runs all year around. The house gets sun all day long.

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In this ever more crowded and noisy world places like this are fast becoming extremely desirable. I’d buy it myself but I’m about 1.19m€ short! Jean Francois and Cristelle are super people and willing to discuss all reasonable offers. They are in no hurry and I can understand that too. I’m not sure life after such an awesome place will ever be the same.

For those who don’t know the Limousin area of France I can tell you that a more beautiful area can scarce be imagined. Secluded but not isolated. Welcoming people and stunning countryside and wildlife. If you love nature and peace and quiet you will feel very much at home.

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Please email info@woodenwidget.com and I’ll be happy to pass on your enquiry to them. I wonder who the lucky new owners will be.

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Dometic HS2460 hob sink review

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When I was designing the Slidavan I needed a small stove and sink combo. There wasn’t much of a choice for the small size I needed so it was an easy  decision to buy the Dometic HS 2460 sink and two burner hob.

It certainly wasn’t cheap at nearly 300€ especially for what it is, a piece of pressed stainless steel and a couple of fittings. But as there wasn’t really anything else in the size I wanted I decided to buy it anyway. At least it would be good quality and well made for that price.

Right up front I have to say I have rarely been more disappointed in a product or more appalled by a company’s pitiful after sale service. I can’t even say service because there is none. A more shocking example of incompetence would be hard to find.

Clearly Dometic has grown too big and it has become inefficient, the people who work for them obviously don’t care about their work as a consequence. Harsh words? Judge for yourself.

When I unpacked the hob I noticed that on each hob a screw was missing. I searched in the box and found a couple of small pieces of threaded metal. I took the burners apart and what I found was that one of the screws had sheered clean off. There’s only one way this can happen and that is by a poorly trained person who assembled it using way too much force. The screws are tiny. They only need doing up, they don’t have to be tightened so much that they sheer! That’s just shoddy assembly.

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Missing sheered off screws, flame coming out the screw hole and a small of gas. Not very safe really.

The fact that this glaring fault was not noticed by quality control demonstrates a complete lack of care and understanding. The stove is basically unusable as gas escapes from the screw hole and is poorly burnt so there is a smell of unburned gas. Hardly what you want in a small well sealed space. It’s dangerous, there’s no other word for it.

No only that but because the burners are not working correctly the flame has blackened the bottoms of all my pans which means that soot ends up on a work surface and then on my clothes so thanks Dometic. One ham fisted assembler, a blind person on QC and I am put in danger and my pots are black.

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It’s not the bottom of my kettle that’s curved, the grill the pans sit on is laughably bowed and when I move about the caravan they rock on the hob. It is extremely annoying and the sure sign of a product assembled with no care.

This is just the start. One of the most annoying things about this stove is the way the pans and kettle rock on the hob. Why do they rock? They never rocked before on my Force ten stove. They rock because the grill they rest on isn’t even vaguely level. As I move about the caravan the pans rock and it’s extremely annoying. And all because of shoddy design and assembly.

Why is the finish coming off the metal grill already? I’ve only had the thing a month so I can expect that to go rusty in time.

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Paint cracking off the grill part already.

One of the knobs is very stiff and hard to turn, it makes it extremely difficult to regulate the flame.

The rubber grommets fitted to the grill are pointless, or at least the ones on my stove are? They are supposed to pop into the pressed stainless top but some ham fisted (oh did I say ham fisted again?) assembler forced them into the extremely sharp holes and tore the skirt of the grommet so it cannot locate. Absolutely pointless.

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I fail to see the point of grommets that don’t fit in their holes. This one has been forced and is now damaged. Pointless.

Shall I mention that the manufacturer’s name printed on the top is already wearing off? I couldn’t care less if they have their name on my stove but it’s just another indication that this stove has been built down to a price. It’s cheap. It’s all cheap. I know caravan stuff needs to be light but come on Dometic, it has to last a few years too.

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A few weeks old and already the name is wearing off. I couldn’t care less about that but it is yet more proof of how poorly made this stove is.

So generally I’d have to say I am pretty disappointed with this stove and as I have to look at and live with these faults every day I am annoyed every day. 300€ is a lot for a piece of stainless with some knobs on it.

But what is worse than all this by far is the dreadful service I have (not) had from Dometic. Like most companies who do not want their customers contacting them they do not supply an email address nor a phone number just a stupid form (I hate forms) to fill out.

So I duly filled out the form and wrote my message. Did I hear anything back? Did I f***. Nothing annoys me more than a company who gladly takes your money and then ignores you. It’s just completely unacceptable. So I wrote again. What more can I do? This time I was annoyed and I actually did eventually get a reply.

Of course, no word saying they were sorry for the hassle, just a short rude email asking where I am. 1 out 10 so far. I replied and then heard nothing. Eventually I got a reply saying that my message had gone to Mexico hence the delay. I cannot say I am surprised. Dometic have clearly got so big that they are inefficiency personified. Absolutely pathetic. That was the last I heard.

A month has passed and I am no nearer to getting any kind of intelligent response from them. All I wanted was for them to send me two small screws and a couple of grommets. It would have cost them practically nothing and would have kept this customer happy but they couldn’t even manage to find my message or say they were sorry so I don’t hold out any hope at all that I will be able to get the spare parts I need.

It’s a joke. Pure and simple. If you are thinking of buying Dometic and like me you don’t have much choice then check your stove over very carefully before you buy it because if you have a problem you’ll just have to live with it because there’s no way of getting any sense out of Dometic which when you think about it is incredible really since they have no excuse to not receive your email as it’s a form on their own website!!

So as usual in these situations I fixed the thing myself. I found two screws, they don’t screw in because the old part of the screw is snapped off in the casing but the do at least stop the unburned gas from escaping and blowing the roof clean off my caravan. I threw the grommets away as there is no point them being there if they cannot be fixed in place. I cleaned the bottom of my pots and life goes on.

Since Dometic are incapable of helping me, despite taking my money I decided to write this review so that others can make an informed decision before spending their hard earned money on one of these weak, poorly assembled and designed stoves.

The sink is fine but there’s not much to a sink is there?

Completely pathetic. Absolutely inexcusable service (or lack of it) and a shoddy product. Really not much to recommend is there? One of the most disappointing products I have ever bought and without question the WORST after sales service of ANY company I have ever dealt with in over thirty years. Shameful. Absolutely pathetic.

Designing the Slidavan telescopic caravan

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Design is such a fascinating subject. So much can influence a design, from the thoughts and experiences of the designer to the things that either they or the marketplace dictate. Often there is legislation to consider. All of these things can have a massive effect on the end result.

More even than this though is the aspect of practicality. This is at the very heart of design. For me it’s the overriding criteria for a design. Of course I don’t mind if it looks cool or funky at the same time but I find that if you design something practical so that it just works it’s easy for people to understand and a simple working functionality is clear for everyone to see.

Take the 2CV, a simpler more practical car could hardly be imagined and yet this tinny, slow little car caught the imagination of the world. But you can be sure, no matter how cute it was, if it couldn’t get you from A to B then it would have failed as a design. I’m not saying the Deux Chevaux was a great car but no one cared about that because it simply worked and this simple fact is enough to endear people to a design.

In designing the Slidavan I confess I focused pretty much exclusively on practicality. The bottom line is, it’s all very well designing a fancy caravan with a nice flowing aerodynamic shape but it just adds complication to the build and the fitting out and at the end of the day you still have to drag this massive lump through the air at great expense and some trepidation. At the end of the day Woodenwidget is about offering plans that allow anyone to make a boat, bike or caravan. If the initial design is too complicated then the plans will be too.

If I couldn’t make the Slidavan aerodynamic, I could at least make it reduce in size when it was being towed, this makes much more sense to me. If you can make the caravan the same size and height as the tow car you can cut down on drag massively.

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Working on the practicality aspect again it seemed to me that the best way to get maximum interior volume and ease of build was to use a simple box shape. You get more in it and fitting out the interior is made much simpler as every angle is square. Ok, so a box is not great looking so it needed a simple way to disguise it. The answer was a curved roof.

This is perhaps the most complicated part of the Slidavan but it’s worth it because it puts a round shape on the top of the box which isn’t much I know but that one curved surface makes all the difference and draws your eyes away from the boxyness of the design. The curved roof also looks lovely when you are inside. What better than to look up and see curved varnished beams spanning your little home.

There is also a practical reason for having curved beams and that is because it is a good way to get extra headroom without paying a penalty for it. By lowering the sides, it helps the box to be longer, more rectangular and less like a cube. Again, it’s just a small thing but all these little things add up.

Curved beams, although a little time consuming to make, give so much to the design that it’s worth the extra effort. In any case, the end curves are cut out of the panels so don’t need beams and there are just a few in between and as they all share the same curvature, only one gluing jig is needed.

The down side to a curved roof if the difficulty that it brings to adding holes or hatches which are designed to go only on flat surfaces but quite honestly not having holes in a roof is a very good idea for lots of reasons. As nice as it might be to lay on your bunk looking out at the stars through a big hatch, the truth is condensation will form on a cold night and there is nothing more unpleasant than having a big cold drip of water in your ear at three in the morning. Ask me how I know.

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Also by curving the roof it reduces the chances of leaks as water cannot rest, it has to roll off. It does make using the roof for storage a bit more complicated but it wouldn’t be hard to make a simple framework over the whole lot if you wanted to. Solar panels are now available in flexible form so they could be laid over the top easily enough.

The Slidavan has two large windows, one in each side and another in the door at the rear so plenty of light comes in. There isn’t really a need for a hatch in the roof and since most of the heat is lost from warm air rising it seems to me that a hatch is just a good way of letting heat out of your space on a cold day.

All in all, not being able to put a hatch in the roof did not seem to me to be much of a sacrifice considering the advantages and great look of a curved roof somewhat reminiscent of a bow top gypsy caravan or a classic wooden yacht. One final advantage is the fact that a cloth roof is also very light and it always pays to reduce weight the higher up you go. It improves stability on the road.

The design, as all good practical designs often are, was born of necessity. I wanted a simple place to camp but I wanted comfort and space but nothing I saw on the market did anything for me. Everything was too big or too heavy. By researching caravans I discovered the rules and laws. What I discovered was that there are no special requirements for trailers under 500 kilos. They don’t even need brakes!

Normal caravans are so heavy that they need to be licenced and controlled. Your insurance will go up, you need special mirrors and you’ll drive so slowly that you’ll drive other road users quite mad. But what if you could make a caravan that weighed less than 500 kilos all in? Well, there are a few out there but they are all expensive, the cheapest I saw was about £4000 and it was just a cheap fibreglass moulded shape, too big to tow and yet too small to stand up or cook in. Some of the more expensive small caravans I saw were as much as £12000 but they had the same problems.

Teardrop campers seem popular, I suppose because they are small and relatively aerodynamic but there’s only a bed and if you want to cook, you have to go around the back. Maybe these caravans are designed for Africa or Australia or other rugged places where it never rains. Well I’m from Europe and it rains here so any caravan I wanted had to be big enough to stand up and cook in.

Obviously I considered a camper van but they are so expensive to run and they just sit there most of the year doing nothing which is a pitiful waste of money and resources. Plus they cost a fortune to buy and if they’re small enough to be economic to use, they’ll be too small and compromised inside.

Having discovered the laws about trailers it led me to thinking, why not make a lightweight caravan that simply bolts to a cheap naked trailer? So I began looking at ways to build a simple and light caravan. Having a simple box shape means making it couldn’t be easier. All I had to do was come up with a light and structurally rigid way of doing it.

The simplest, cheapest, lightest and easiest way I could come up with using easy to find commonplace materials was with was a sandwich of plywood over panels of extruded polystyrene to create a rigid, lightweight, tough, cheap and yet well insulated structure. One thing you do not want in a small space is condensation and this is why caravans are more comfortable than tents, because they are insulated.

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Here you can see one of the interior bulkheads being assembled. Note the wooden framework with the extruded polystyrene between the battens. A batten needs to be fitted everywhere a fastening will go. Another sheet of 3mm ply will be glued to this to complete the panel.

The down side to this system is the need for a very large and flat surface to make the panels on as twisted panels would stop a smooth telescopic action and the top section might jam. The other down side is that the framework needs to correspond to the window cut outs and interior pieces like bunks.

The first problem was easy enough to solve. The floor panel is large enough to use to assemble and glue all the other panels on. So long as you get the floor level it is easy enough and since the floor is made directly on to a square and flat trailer chassis it’s all good. As for positioning the interior framework well that’s just a question of pre planning where everything is going to go. Another big advantage to this system is that you really don’t need much space to build a Slidavan, although you do need a doorway wide enough to get the caravan out after it’s made! A single car garage is quite adequate.

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Here a panel is being glued. Weight is added to hold it down while the glue sets. The white panel with the curve on it is the jig for the roof beams. It is there to help add weight to ensure a good glue bond.

Experience comes in to design as well and having lived on a boat for over a quarter of a century I have learned a thing or two about small space living so I ought to be able to come up with a comfortable and yet practical interior design. The Slidavan is minimal and traditional in design. A bunk each side with the floor in the centre of the caravan under the highest part of the roof of course.

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The door at the back is just obvious. I don’t know why caravans so often have a side door. How can you load a bicycle or a sailing dinghy in from the side? The Slidavan can carry 100 kilos of extra weight so why not use it to transport your toys at the same time?

How to raise and lower the telescopic top took a little while to work out. I thought it would be nice to have an electronic top that went up with just the flick of a switch but there is no easy way to do this and it adds weight, cost and complexity. Far better to have a simple separate system that is not attached to the caravan at all.

There was a caravan from many years ago called a Hi-Lo and it used a hydraulic cable system which lifted the four corners and I am sure it worked very well but the complexity and weight ruled out such an option for the Slidavan. I had to find a better way.

As the Slidavan is symmetrical it made sense to simply lift the upper section from the centre. So one of the curved beams is placed centrally and a lifting device placed directly under it. I couldn’t see any reason why it wouldn’t work so I set about experimenting. At first I used a simple 10 mm threaded bar but the threads were too fine and after a few operations it seized up. That would never do. Whatever system I came up with had to be reliable.

These days it’s possible to buy almost anything so I did some research and found what is called a leadscrew. It’s basically a threaded bar but with a greater pitch and squared off threads. It is designed to handle large loads. It’s exactly the kind of thread that you might find on a car scissor jack. I had hoped to be able to use and modify a car jack as they are easy to find and cheap. However the lift of the Slidavan’s upper section is 700 mm and no jack I could find had that kind of range. 

So the final lifting mechanism is a 12 mm diameter leadscrew with a 3 mm pitch. That means that for every revolution the upper section would lift 3 mm. A bronze nut was bought along with the leadscrew as it is much less likely to gall. This was fitted in to a wooden tube and cross brace. The whole lot operated with a battery powered drill. A thrust bearing is needed to take the force and the weight and this came from the head race of a bicycle. Perfect.

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It takes a couple of minutes to set up the lifting mechanism and less than a minute to raise the upper section the full distance. This is fast enough for anybody. Once the upper section is up four bolts are fitted to hold it in position and the lifting mechanism is then removed and stowed under a bunk. The lifting mechanism weighs just three kilos which is very light considering it is lifting about 100 kilos.

The overall length of the Slidavan is logically dictated by the length of a sheet of plywood but of course not every country uses the metric system and although the sizes between Imperial and Metric plywood is similar is isn’t the same so the plans had to take in to account the fact that Imperial ply is 62 mm shorter. Oh the demands on the designer. But no worries, I would never want to alienate anyone from building a Slidavan so even if you use Imperial materials you can still build yourself a Slidavan.

So with all the design issues solved it was time to make a Slidavan. I bought a new naked trailer from a French company called Norauto. It cost a very reasonable 500€. It has a track of about 160 cm so I would build the Slidavan over the wheels. They also sell a wider version so if you wanted you could build a Slidavan and place it between the wheels. It does mean that the Slidavan would be a bit narrower but of you were looking to go off road the extra stability that the wider trailer offers would be perfect.

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The building of the Slidavan was straightforward. You can make a panel a day so it would take nine days before all the panels were made. Since it doesn’t take that long to make a panel it made sense to laminate a roof beam a day to save time.

All of Woodenwidget’s designs are light weight. There are a lot of good reasons for this. Using less weight means less materials. Less materials means less waste and lower cost. When you’re making a folding dinghy you want it to be as light as possible otherwise it just makes handling it a pain. A caravan can be heavier but you will still pay for a cavalier attitude to weight reduction. Every single thing that goes in to a Slidavan adds weight. A screw might only weigh a fraction of a gram but multiply that by 1000 and suddenly you’re looking at a kilo or two. It is quite shocking how quickly the weight adds up. So it just makes sense to keep this in mind right from the very start of the design process through to the end product.

There are loads of other considerations of course. How would the gap between the panels be sealed? How would the top section be held to the bottom during transporation. One by one these issues were solved always by first looking at the lightest option and only accepting a heavier solution if a lighter one could not be found or would not function correctly.

In the end the Slidavan structure including the full interior came in at just 200 kilos which isn’t too bad at all. The trailer weighs about 100 kilos so the Slidavan has an unladen weight of about 300 kilos. The law states that you can tow a unbraked trailer with a gross capacity of 500 kilos so 300 kilos leaves a massive 200 kilos of payload if required. However not all cars are able to tow this much weight.

For example, Bernie my trusty Panda 4×4 1.2 litre with just 65 hp is allowed to tow 400 unbraked kilos so that reduces the pay load to 100 kilos but that is still an awful lot of gear and in any case it would be far better to put stores and such like in the tow car and try and leave the Slidavan as light as possible.

Towing the Slidavan is a doddle. You can feel the extra weight when pulling away and going up steep hills but otherwise it’s all too easy to forget you’re towing a caravan! But as the Slidavan is no wider or higher than Bernie if I go for a gap with the car I don’t have to worry that the Slidavan won’t fit. On the road you can zoom along, even through the bends. The low centre of gravity keeps the Slidavan following like a trusty Spaniel. Not once has it felt even slightly dodgy. Even at speed on the motorway. Even being passed by big lorries is no problem. It hardly moves at all. It’s very reassuring. I have been blown about more in other cars without a trailer.

Theory is all well and good but the proof is in the pudding as they say. I have no idea what that means but it sounds good. Proof that tucking the Slidavan in behind the tow car comes in many forms. From the excellent stability under all conditions and from the way the front of the Slidavan stays clean while the rest of it can get quite dirty especially in the rain. But the best proof of all is the barely noticeable increase in fuel consumption

Since I have owned Bernie I have never managed to average better than 7.4 litres per 100 kms (or about 38 mpg) the Panda 4×4 was never a very economical car with it’s lofty stance, fat tyres and 4 wheel drive system but after 1000 kms of varied driving I was surprised to see that my average had barely increased to 7.7 litres (36 mpg) and that’s not just towing the Slidavan that’s with a well loaded car. I would have expected a slight raise in consumption just carrying the extra weight so it looks like the Slidavan hardly affects fuel consumption at all which is fantastic and sure proof that the concept is sound.

One thing I did do which may have made a large difference was to move the Slidavan closer to the car than a normal trailer or caravan. For some reason there is always a very long gap between the front of the caravan and the back of the car. I was not sure why this is done but perhaps for two reasons. One, to give more articulation when going backwards and two, so that you can open the tailgate of the car without it clobbering the caravan.

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What I can tell you is that I can still easy open the tailgate and even on full lock going forwards in the tightest circles the Slidavan does not get close to the car. And as for going backwards, well why bother? When your caravan is so light, why not just unhitch it and move it by hand? It’s too easy. I believe it is because I moved the Slidavan closer to the car that the fuel consumption is so good. Because it’s so tucked in it in effect becomes an extension of the car. Of course there is skin friction but the bulk of the air is deflected by the car. Result.

So the Slidavan looks cool, tows well, doesn’t increase fuel consumption particularly and is good at speed on the motorway. What is it like to live in? Well I have been traveling and living in the Slidavan for a few weeks now and I must say it is a very nice place to spend time. One day it rained all day. And I mean it rained. Did I care? Not a bit of it. Totally dry and warm. The double glazed windows didn’t even steam up. With its high attractive ceiling you don’t feel cramped or claustrophobic at all. Everyone who sees the Slidavan say the same thing and words like: Massive, spacious and huge are used.

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This amuses me no end as the Slidavan is a very small caravan but it doesn’t feel small. This is partly because of the high ceiling which runs the full length of the cabin and the large windows which let in a lot of light but also it’s because the front panel is painted white. The white panel was done so that it could be used as a 60” projection screen! But another advantage is the way it reflects light around the cabin.

Lighting is achieved by a strip of LEDs hidden behind the forward beam. You can’t see the strip and the light it gives off is excellent and because it reflects off the white wall it illuminates the whole Slidavan very well. The white wall also adds a feeling of spaciousness while the wood panels offer warmth and ambience. It’s a nice contrast.

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The bed is luxury epitomised. Each single bunk is easily wide enough to sleep on but if you want a massive, spacious and very comfy double bed simply drop in the two seat backs between the bunks. Now you have a 1.6 m wide bed six feet long.

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There is a table which attaches to the forward mounting bolts and is very strong and stable. It can be removed in seconds by undoing a couple of wing nuts. The galley area is on the left hand side. It’s nice cooking by the double stable door and looking out. There’s a sink and two burner hob all in one fitted and it’s more than enough.

If you want you could fit another work top on the other side but I decided to leave it open and fit a small shelf instead. As it turns out it was a good move. It gives more options. If you wanted a shower you could hang a curtain and use that area. Or you could put a cold box or a chemical toilet there. There is no shortage of storage in a Slidavan with massive space under each bunk. It’s fair to say that you’d probably exceed the gross weight long before you filled up all the cupboards.

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Along the way everyone is fascinated by the Slidavan and perhaps a little jealous too. After all they have to crawl along towing their one ton (or more) caravan. They need a bigger car, wider mirrors, their caravan needs special insurance and a log book plus caravans are one of the most disliked forms of transport on the road. They simply cannot go fast, they can’t go up hills, they can’t drive down narrow lanes, they can’t go off road and they are a nightmare to manoeuvre. None of these failings apply to a Slidavan that’s because on the road it is a small trailer yet in the campsite it is a spacious, comfy and fully insulated caravan. Truly the best of both worlds.

So if you want a Slidavan you’ll have to make one. It would make a great winter project in time for adventuring the following summer wherever you want to go. With its high ground clearance, narrow stance, light weight and low centre of gravity you could take a Slidavan to places no one would dream of taking a normal caravan!

It takes about 200 hours to build a Slidavan and if you buy all new parts it might cost about £3000 to make. That’s a fair chunk of change but see if you can find anything even half as good to buy for double that. This is cheap caravanning! One of the things that has quite shocked me is the sheer cost of a caravan and the equipment you need. I thought yachting was expensive but caravanning is not so far behind. So the Slidavan and a small tow car is one way of reducing the costs enormously and if you buy secondhand parts you could reduce the costs dramatically.

To learn more or buy plans please visit woodenwidget.com and if you do buy plans we will plant five trees on your behalf.

Happy camping

Gradulux venetian car blinds

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The sun is brutal in the Med and any car left outside will suffer from sun damage especially the interior. The rear screen on the Fiat 850 sport is very angled so the sun beats in mercilessly. A simple though ugly way to protect the seats is to cover them but it’s far better to stop the sun coming in in the first place.

Many sports cars use a slatted black plastic cover that fits over the back window and it can look very cool. The Lamborghini Miura has and it looks great. This might look great on a 60s supercar but somehow it didn’t seem to be quite right for the Fiat.

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It occurred to me that I could make my own set of louvres but while researching this I came across a few pictures of an old French product from the 60s. Further searching revealed that Gradulux blinds were still made by a little company in Perpignon in southern France.

Their website is simple and there isn’t too much useful info to look at and no way to buy online but there is an invitation to contact the company. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I emailed to see if they made one for an 850 Sport. To my surprise I received a prompt reply. The price with tax and delivery was about 150€ which is not cheap but there is no way I could make something as nice for so little so I ordered one.

Being an old school company without credit card facilities meant I had to send a cheque in the post! Something I had not done for a very long time. About ten days later a small package arrived containing all the bits needed to fit your blind in your car.

Depending on the size of your back window there are two or four vertical supports to fit to the rear window. It’s dead simple as you just pop the end of the support under the window rubber at the bottom and then slide the top tab in. This simple system is surprisingly effective. Then the bent metal slats are popped in to the rests on the supports. Simple. It took all of five minutes to fit the blinds.

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They look really nice and can be adjusted so that they do not restrict your rearward vision at all. The blinds cannot be closed completely as you can with a similar blind in a house but they can be orientated in the opposite direction enough to be able to cut out headlights behind you.

It’s too early to say whether they will rattle with a window open at speed but the slats are well fitted and the vertical uprights are stiff to move without any play. There is no reason why they should make noise.

As far as period mods go, the addition of a Gradulux blind in the back window is a good one. It looks pretty rad and best of all keeps the sun off the seats and heat out of the car but if you want one they sometimes come up on Ebay for the Citroen DS or you’ll have to do it the old school way and send a cheque but somehow even this seems appropriate when you consider the product.

Leica M9 after seven years

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Hard to believe it was over seven years since I bought my M9. When I bought it I felt pretty sure that I would be happy with this camera for the rest of my life. It was all I ever wanted from a camera, it was basically a digital M3 which was my previous camera. How do I feel now after seven years of ownership?

The M9 is still, even today a fantastic camera. It will always be a fantastic camera. Some moaned that you could only take a few frames at a time and the ISO was pretty poor. All this is true but I learned photography back in the film days when you had to wind the camera on by hand and multiple shots where impossible without a motor drive. As for the ISO well in the old days you had to choose your ISO and stick with it. Even the M9, basic as it is still offers many advantages over a film version.

For about five minutes I thought about buying the 240 but it’s heavier and wider and the M9 is already bigger and heavier than an M3 and as far as I am concerned, at the limit of what I am prepared to lug about. The video option was interesting but in the end it made much more sense to buy another camera that I could use for video, so I bought a Sony Nex7 for that and kept the M9. No regrets.

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Over the years I have had a few issues. My first body was a very early production model and it would not work with the 21mm 3.4 lens I had despite their claims to the contrary. Leica couldn’t fix the problem, something to do with the tolerances of the lens rather than anything wrong with the camera but they did me a very good deal. They replaced the body and offered me a new 21mm 1.4 in exchange for my old 21 if I paid them just 1000€. Which I did of course and that 1.4 was an astonishing lens and I took some fabulous pics with it.

Since I have had the second body I have had no issues at all and full marks to Leica for standing by their product and seeing me right regardless of the cost involved to them. I am not an influential pro, just a lover of quality and I like the fact that I was treated with respect despite this.

A year or so ago I noticed that the new and much smaller 21 mm lens I had bought new was rattling. There was play in the lens body. Not good. It did not seem to affect the end result but I was worried that the whole lens would fall apart if I didn’t send it back.

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So thanks to my friendly Leica dealer the lens was sent back to Leica for repair. I did not expect to have to pay anything as I’d bought the lens new and there was clearly a manufacturing fault with it. I thought I might as well send the body back for a clean at the same time.

Today I got the news that Leica have not only repaired the lens for free but have also changed the sensor and cleaned and adjusted the whole body free of charge. All I have to pay is the cost of the shipping. Now this is what I call service.

Many people complain that Leicas are expensive and it’s true, they are, but there is a very good reason for it. Leica take care of their customers and I have always found them to be very generous and helpful. You are paying for a quality product on the one hand and on the other you are paying for a quality after sales service. It is very refreshing to me that Leica stand by their products even if they are over seven years old.

Nothing has broken in all that time and the small issues I have had have been dealt with efficiently and I have never been charged. This is really quite something in this day and age. The whole camera is still in excellent condition and there are a few places where the black paint is wearing through to the brass underneath but I like that. A little patina is no bad thing.

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So after seven years I can report that I am still delighted with the quality of the pictures from the M9. I still love using the camera and Leica continue to take care of me as a valued customer. Why would I use any other camera? The longer I keep it, the better value it becomes whereas if I was changing cameras every few years I’d be losing money each time and would other manufacturers be so generous repairing and maintaining one of their products once the guarantee had run out?

I’ve said it before and I’ve said it again. The Leica M9 is a bargain. Not to mention the fact that a quality product with a long life is way better for the planet than a poor quality disposable one.

Thank you Leica for making the camera of my dreams and thank you for looking after me and my camera now and in to the future. Long may it continue!

 

Update Jan 20 2017

 

So Leica have launched the M10 to add to their now very confusing collection of rangefinders you can buy. The good news is that finally the size of the M10 is now pretty much the same as the old M3 and the weight is about the same. This is great news.

It’s also slightly cheaper and has a simpler layout and live view and it’s also possible to fit a digital viewfinder on the flash hotshoe which does open up many options. There’s no doubt that the M10 is a more versatile camera than the M9 but there is still nothing about it that will let me take better pictures. For me, any added complexity simply takes away from the ability to take a quick picture. While you’re messing with options or buttons you may have missed the shot.

The bright lines are now created by a bulb which is all well and good I suppose but there’s something wonderful about the M9’s natural light system and using a mobile phone you can now control the camera from afar using its built in wifi! I ask you.

There are some nice touches of course, I do like the ISO knob which goes where the old film rewind was on the M3 and I like the more magnified viewfinder too and it’s great looking and has been weather sealed although obviously the lenses are not but that said, many is the time I have used my M9 in the rain and have never had an issue.

Had this camera been available when the M9 came out I might well have bought one and I cannot deny there is a temptation to have an M10 and I have no doubt that it would be a fantastic camera with its bigger sensor and smaller size but it still doesn’t tempt me away from my M9. Perhaps if I was a pro I would be very interested in the higher ISO and ability to shoot more frames but for me it just doesn’t make sense.

There are a couple of things that would put me off and one is the fact that the longest exposure the M10 can do is 8 seconds. What is that all about? And for some reason the camera takes well over a second to boot up. Is this progress?

But I’m nit picking. Of course I’d have one! But despite this camera’s awesomeness I am still more than happy with my M9. For me, for how I use it, it’s all I need but I am pleased that Leica have not lost the plot and are somehow walking that thin line between being contemporary and holding on to the tradition and values that spawned the M series all those years ago very well. Well done Leica.

Ghisallo wooden bicycle rims

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20” wooden rims as fitted to the Hoopy wooden bicycle I made the wooden valve covers and they turned out to be one of the most popular features on the whole bike. If you want a pair, you’ll have to make them yourself. Strangely Ghisallo don’t sell ‘em!

When I was looking for the right wheel for the Hoopy wooden bicycle I wanted something special. I had seen that there was a company in Italy who made rims but it seemed mostly for racing bikes with 26” wheels. They also made wooden rims for a Brompton which has a 16” so it stood to reason that if they can make a rim as small as 16” then surely they could make on in the 20” I needed.

There didn’t seem to be a 20” option on their site so I contacted them by email. Despite being in Italy I was able to communicate well with them as my contact Ugo has excellent English. He informed me that it was possible to make a 20” rim so we began discussing the details.

The rim is available in two widths, a narrow one at 27mm and a wider one at 31mm. There is also the option to have a carbon fibre insert in the rims. This is an essential option which allows you to put some serious pressure in the tyres. Without the carbon there is a chance that the rims could split.

There are six different colours for the finish. I chose a natural finish for my rims and I am glad I did. I was worried that the pale natural tone wouldn’t be dark enough but after just a little exposure to daylight and they soon darkened down to match the bike frame.

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Ghisallo can also build you a set of wheels and we discussed the options here too. In the end I chose a 74 mm wide Brompton front hub and a Sram 2 speed auto hub for the rear wheel and stainless spokes. Other options are a wider better quality front hub and a rear coaster brake single speed rear hub.

It took a few weeks from deciding on all the options until the wheels arrived. They are really fabulous and as a wood worker I can fully appreciate the skill and thought that has gone into these rims. Not only that they seem very light to me. I weighed the front wheel without tyre and it only weighed 700 grams which I think is pretty light regardless of what material the wheel is made of.

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On the wheels I put 2” wide 20” tyres and the end result not only looked right but was exceedingly comfortable and smooth. How much of this is down to the fat tyre, the wooden frame or the wooden rims I cannot say but the overall effect is very nice. Firm and stiff and yet not harsh. Everyone who rides the bike is always surprised by just how comfy the Hoopy is to ride.

These are lovely wheels. A really lovely product that taken care of can last for years and years and certainly as long as any other kind of wheel. A hand made product can never be cheap, one must pay for quality. A pair of wheels fully built to my spec came in at about 600€, a lot of money yes but worth every penny and they certainly elevate the Hoopy from being a cool wooden bicycle to being a super cool one.

It is amazing how many people are surprised that it is possible to buy wooden wheels for a bicycle they are then further surprised when they discover they are not only beautiful but strong and light in to the bargain. If they have a downside it is that the finish needs to be maintained. It’s not such a big deal to remove the tyre and mask up the 28 spokes in order to put another coat of varnish on them.

All in all I am very happy with my wooden rims, they are light, strong and very very cool and they look amazing. Highly recommended.

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Wooden handlebar grips by Ghisallo. I removed the original leather so I could fit my own. They are hard but surprisingly comfy to hold. They need to be glued or screwed on.

There’s a lot more to Ghisallo than just wooden rims too, they also make rims in bamboo and a host of wooden accessories from hand grips to handlebars. Check out their site here

And if you want a set of 20” wheels like the ones on the Hoopy all you have to do is click here!

Check out this series of videos which demonstrate the process of making a wooden bicycle rim. Great stuff. Here’s part one. There are three videos to watch.

A very customised Fliptail 7

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Woodenwidget has been selling plans to build folding boats for over ten years and in that time many builders have been kind enough to share their attempts. It is always a delight to see how builders finish their boats. Some copy the plans exactly, even down to the same type of wood and fabric. Most personalise their craft in some way but do not deviate from the plans structurally but every now and then an ambitious builder lets their imagination run wild.

Alex is one of these builders. He owns a rather lovely small classic yacht and he wanted to try and match a dinghy to it. His emails were intriguing and right up to the end I had no idea what he was up to because he said he didn’t want to send any pics until the boat was finished.

So when I finally saw the pictures I was so impressed. He was worried that as the designer of the Fliptail I might be somehow offended by his modifications but nothing could be further from the truth. The pleasure I get from seeing what people do with the design is very heartening.

What you see below is basically the email I got from Alex with his comments and pictures which explain it all much better than I could.

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Hello Benjy,

As promised, some construction photos and final results of my Fliptail 7, "Foal", tender to my 19′ Ralph Stanley sloop, "Bucephalus".

First off, I want to say explicitly that none of the diversions I made from your plans were because I felt the design was in any way flawed. All the significant changes were because I’m fussy about wanting something aesthetically just so, or to fit her into her very specific role as a tender. Your plans were excellent, far better thought out than my modifications, and any difficulties I encountered in the construction were entirely my own doing, as would be any failures of the vessel as I built her.

The first big change I made, of course, was making her a peapod, double-ended. This was pretty straightforward: figure out the midpoints of all the longitudinal elements, backbone and hoops, and then mirror the bow section. For instance, two stems:

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You can’t have too many clamps:

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With the hoops, I went a little further off piste. I knew I wanted a concave sheerline, and the best way to accomplish that in this situation was to have hoops with a fair curve, and then angle them down slightly. So the hoops are a slightly different shape than the typical Fliptail’s; significantly, there is no absolutely straight section, they are curved throughout. They still start from the same principles and basic dimensions, though –and they still take a lot of clamps:

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Turns out you can’t get 10mm plywood over here. Even high end wood suppliers stock in 1mm increments up to 9mm, then jump to 12mm. For the sake of lightness, as well as because 12mm wouldn’t fit when folded up, I used 9mm okume. It turns out it’s pretty flexible stuff, when you’re sitting on it, but I think it’ll be fine. Again, I slightly tweaked her plan view, even beyond making her double-ended, to fit the differently-curved hoops:

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Given that she will be used in a salt water environment, all hardware is either brass or bronze. This includes 1/4"-20 bronze carriage bolts for the floorboard supports, since I didn’t have a full 10mm of ply to countersink for machine screws. (As an aside, reconciling your metric instructions to my SAE working habits and materials suppliers was a challenge in its own right):

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A minor change of detail, on the keel cheeks, to remove a sharp point:

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I couldn’t bear to let the offcuts off the ends of the hoops go to waste, and since I wanted something a little curvier at the ends of the hoops than the cedar wedges specced in the plans, to show the sheer better, I used the offcuts thus:

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Foal’s construction sequence has been considerably different from that you outline for the typical Fliptail. I have done a lot of pre-fitting of parts, since I’m detailing them differently, which means I need to assemble, disassemble, adjust, check the fit, and only then start varnishing and painting, once they’re shaped as I want them. The complexities of changing her to have a concave sheer made things even more difficult, as everything had to be assembled, scrutinized, and adjusted many times to be sure the curves were coming out right. It has definitely slowed the process, but I think the results are worth it.

To match her parent vessel, Foal is painted blue-grey inside, with bright trim.

Lower hoops in place:

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Stem detail. The oak bearing pads, laminated to the stem and sternpost, have their outside faces canted out about 6°, to angle the upper hoops downward and create the concave sheerline. Angling the hoops down reduces her freeboard by a couple inches, but the geometry also works to give her sides a bit more flare:

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Since I had the ash offcuts on hand, and it makes nice detailing when finished bright, the floorboard supports and upper hoop supports are of ash instead of cedar. Since the assembly process was slow anyhow, I took the time to laminate the brace-blocks onto the floorboard supports, instead of screwing them on, and shaped some curves to get rid of some weight and lighten them visually. I also glued a pad across the end grain where the lower hoops bear, to protect the end grain from splitting. In this photo, the bolts all have yet to get their nylock nuts, and be trimmed to length:

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Sternpost detail. I left the pads long to create a fairlead, either for a towline, for towing Bucephalus, or for rowing out a kedge, or taking a warp ashore for mooring or warping in. The hoops also sit an inch lower on the sternpost than on the stem, to enhance her sheer:

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Upper hoops in place, with temporary vertical supports to fine tune the sheerline. Angling the upper hoops down to create the sheer had the effect of flaring the sides, which angled the bottoms of the upper hoop supports inward, and in turn meant the floorboard supports needed to be shortened:

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You can see the 12° of "deck camber" a bit better here:

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Final vertical supports in place, but not yet varnished. There’s only so much you can do to add sheer to a 7′ boat, but from a little distance, she does have the tiny bit I had hoped for:

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I have an unreasonable hatred of barrel-bolts. To avoid using them, I instead shaped the heads of #6 screws on my lathe to remove the flare of the heads, and screwed them into the endgrain of the vertical supports. I then drilled into the floorboard supports and lined the sockets with open-ended Chicago screws left over from the floorboard hinges. The Chicago screws have a slight crown to the end, which provides both a strike plate for the screws/pins and a little more clearance to allow water to drain off. It takes stretching the fabric a bit to get the verticals into place, but they hold their position quite well:

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I also re-invented the detail of how to locate the floorboard supports on the lower hoops. Instead of notching the lower hoops, I drove a 1/4" oak dowel through the keel, to serve as a stop for the floorboard supports when they are swung into place: (designer’s comment: Normally a small flat is cut on the upper side of the hoop and the floor support locates in the slot. This is so that when rowing you can put your feet on the supports and force against them. I worry that Alex’s solution is not ‘idiot proof’ but so long as he is aware of the issue, his solution is fine)

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Covering the modified hoops went just fine. To match Bucephalus –and my other dinghies– I used dark green fabric for the bottom panels and white for her topsides. For sealant I used up a couple partial tubes I had on hand of both 3M 4200UV and 3M 5200, aka "demon snot". In keeping with her bronze and brass hardware, for salt water resistance I used 1/4" monel staples, for longevity:

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Foal together with Bucephalus’s "home waters tender", Toggle:

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For a rubrail I did as I had done on Toggle, and used a length of 3-strand spun dacron (1/2"), long-spliced into a loop. I first routed a 1/4" radius cove 3/16" deep into the upper hoop, positioning the cove at the top edge of the hoop so that the rope would stand proud of the wood both on top as well as to the outside. This is because I’ve found that when coming along side a larger boat in any sort of a chop, a dinghy will tend to sort of scoop its rail up and into the larger boat, not just bang against it sideways, so padding along the top edge is warranted as well. (Also, bronze nylock nuts are now in place.):

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With the cove shaped, I stapled the top edge of the topsides fabric into the cove, so that the fabric turned over the bottom edge of the cove. Ideally this will ease some of the point-loading against the staples. The rope rubrail then covered the edge of the fabric and is secured in place by 3/4" #6 bronze round-head screws: you insert the screw in between two strands of the rope, and then drive it *through* the third strand and into the rail, so that when it is driven home, the head disappears beneath the first two strands. Be sure to use round-head screws for this, if you try it: flat-head screws tend to frazzle the rope as you’re driving them. There are slight bulges where the screws are, but those tend to get less obvious over time:

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At stem and stern I left bights of rope long enough both to let the hinges work and to use as lifting handles:

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The aft bight is longer, to work as a sling for rowing out an anchor:

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To take the strain of lifting, the rubrail is also seized to the upper hoops close to the stem and sternpost:

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The sternline is just girth hitched to the stern lifting becket, since it’s unlikely to take much strain, or even to get much use, but for a little bit of "bling" the painter is girth hitched to a bronze captive ring:

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As for where to put the oarlocks, it turns out your written instructions were, for me, exactly right: they work well immediately abaft the aft upper hoop supports. With two people in the boat, each sitting at the extreme ends, that position even works (sorta; adequately) to row stern-first and keep the boat a little better balanced on her waterline. Contrary to what you indicate in the instructions (yet again!), I installed the oarlocks to the inside of the rail rather than to the outside: I lose a couple inches breadth of effective rowing position, but it removes any chance of dinging the boat I’m coming along side of:

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And Foal has now had a preliminary bout of sea trials. I don’t have any photos of her under way, as I was the photographer and could not both row and operate a camera, but here’s proof that she does float:

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She also makes a very tidy package, with a pair of 6′ oars. I’m still working out the best way of lashing her for stowage, so please excuse the painter and sternline macrame:

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I am happy to confirm that she is surprisingly stable, and rows far, far better than I had expected (even with the rowlocks just clamped in place). I admit, I expected her to handle like an overturned umbrella in a duck pond, but that expectation was completely unjust, and her handling is stellar. I think she will be an even better tender than I had hoped for:

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Many thanks for all your support throughout the build. Let me know, now or in the future, if I can provide any details of Foal’s build, or the suppliers of her materials, for Wooden Widgets’ library of information.

All the very best,

Alex

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Hoopy wooden bicycle

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The Hoopy lightweight wooden bicycle that you can build yourself.

Ever fancied building yourself a wooden bicycle? Well now you can. Woodenwidget offer the Hoopy, a funky, one size fits all, lightweight, easy to build wooden bicycle. Right from the start, the Hoopy has been designed to be as easy to build as possible requiring no specialist tools or materials.

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Unique internal crank keeps clothes clean and looks great.

The plywood frame weighs from just three kilos and although it might look complicated to build, it really isn’t. The frame can be marked, cut out and glued ready for varnish is just a couple of days with little more than a drill and a jigsaw.

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Gorgeous wooden rims from Ghisallowoodenrims.com Made of Slovenian beech. Wooden headlight and leather clad forks too.

The hollow frame has many advantages. It can be used for storage or even batteries and a motor for an electric conversion. No mudguards are needed. You can even cut your own designs in to it but the most unusual advantage is the central drive chain. No more greasy clothes or ripped trousers! It looks better too! The low shape makes it suitable for everyone as it’s so easy to mount.

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This Hoopy even has wooden dust caps for the valves!

About £100’s worth of new parts must be bought but the rest can be from salvaged bikes or bought second hand. With care, it should be possible to build a basic single speed Hoopy for about £250 but as you can see from the photos it’s possible to spend a lot more!

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Brass dropouts, gold chain, wooden pedals.

The seat height is fixed yet works for the majority of adults, a taller rider simply sits a bit further back on the long seat. But if the builder preferred a more tailored fit it is possible to adjust the seat height during the build. That same seat is very comfy and long enough to easily carry a passenger. Or even a small third one on the wide crossbar.

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You can even cut your own shapes if you don’t like the ‘hoops’

As bikes go it might surprise you. It’s very smooth, swift and comfortable especially with the 2 speed auto hub and wooden rims. It’s nicely balanced and going ‘no hands’ is no problem at all.

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This one has no cables and a two speed auto hub.

Plans are available from Woodenwidget and if you buy Foldavan plans, you can get £10 off any of the other plans. Woodenwidget will also plant five trees on your behalf. At just £30 the plans are extremely good value with 30,000 words, over 200 pictures and 130 pages. Plus a huge amount of extra info about woodworking, tools and varnishing etc.

To find out more visit Woodenwidget.com

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Even the back light is made of wood.

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Hoopies on the beach.

SRAM Automatix 2 speed hub review

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SRAM Automatix 2 speed auto hub with coaster brake.

Bikes without cables are rare. It seems that most bikes today have a lot of cables to operate various things but they make a bike look fussy and they need maintenance and frequent replacement.

Some bike builders put a lot of effort in to hiding their cables by feeding them through the frame or guiding them using any number of clips. This looks nice but makes replacement a little more complicated.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could have a bike with no cables? One way to do that is to use a back pedal (coaster) brake rear hub. Straight away that gets rid of not only a cable, but a lever and a whole brake assembly. I don’t think there’s any great difference in weight but a back pedal brake is very simple and effective and will work in the rain, unlike many typical brake systems.

There are many manufacturers who make geared hubs for bicycles but most of them require cables to operate but there are a few that don’t. Many years ago I rode an old German shopper bike which had a back pedal brake and a two speed hub which was operated by back pedalling slightly so I knew that a cableless gear system was possible.

So I started researching and discovered this SRAM Automatix 2 speed hub. What makes this different to other hubs I have seen is that the gear change is completely automatic. You don’t even have to think about it.

It’s actually quite brilliant and the gear change is practically seamless. You start pedalling and the hub is in first gear and as soon as you get up to about 8 mph it changes. There are two bob weights inside the hub which swing out at speed and change the gear. It’s very simple.

As I am using 20” wheels it seems to change at just the right time. As you are thinking, ‘another gear would be nice’ it changes. However I have read reviews where the rider felt that it changed too soon. They took the hub apart and bent the springs on the bob weights slightly and fixed that. Here’s the link that shows how It’s a good article that talks in depth about many of the features so there’s no need for me to do the same.

It’s quite heavy at 1.3 kilos but when you consider it has two gears and the brake included and you won’t need cables, levers or brake,s so all in all it’s not too bad.

In use it works just fine but it does clatter a bit. It’s not the quietest hub when freewheeling but I forgive it all this because it’s awesome. I don’t find it changes too early but as I said I’m running 20” wheels and I guess this must make a difference.

This hub is available with freewheel sprocket, coaster, roller or disc brake. It’s certainly available with a 28 and 36 hole configuration.

Conclusion: If you want easy gear change and brakes with no cables then this hub is brilliant. If you didn’t like the way it changes gear you can change that so what’s not to like? Adds a touch of class to any bike. Also the price seems very reasonable to me at about 80€.

Dana 24 for sale. One of the last, most desirable, highly modified & VAT paid. Hull number 342 (2005)

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Doolittle sailing at Cannes. Pic by James Taylor This was before the roller furlers were fitted.

Doolittle has been sold

Over half my life has been spent living aboard boats. I make my living from working on them. But it’s time for a change. Time to do something different. So Doolittle is up for sale. She is Dana 342 and one of the very last Dana’s ever made. I bought her new and because of that I had quite a say in many of her details. Being a boat builder myself I was keen to use that experience and knowledge when I had her built.

The Hull. Topsides.

The most obvious difference to most Danas is the fact that her hull is black and she has no contrasting Sheer band. Most of the other Danas have cream hulls and either a green or blue coloured top section. Pacific Seacraft (PSC) do this to make the hull look lower and sleeker but I don’t think that the hull is particularly high in the first place and to my eyes that coloured band serves to make the cabin look higher and boxier than it actually is. Boats are full of design compromises but this was one that I just didn’t like at all so when I ordered Doolittle I asked that the hull be just one colour and not to bother with the contrasting band.

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Doolittle’s amazing hull finish. This was back in October 04 when she had just the day before been removed from the mould. This is an astonishingly good finish and shows not only the high quality of the Dana mould but also the skill of PSC.

Back in 2004 I visited the factory in California and saw her bare hull fresh out of the mould and was amazed at the finish that PSC had managed to achieve. I remember when Don Kohlman (the then CEO of PSC) asked me what colour I wanted the hull and I told him black, he said, ‘Oh no, not black!’ As a boat builder I understood his concern as black will show off every imperfection in a finish. He told me that they spent an extra couple of days polishing the mould in order to get the finish as good as possible. To have a black hull costs more. I paid an extra $2000 for the privilege! But to this day I have not regretted a black hull.

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Doolittle in the boat yard October 2015. Original black gel coat still in fantastic condition. Thanks to great care and the quality of the work done by Pacific Seacraft. There is a reason why these boats are so expensive!

Many people think that a black hull means that the boat is very hot inside but this isn’t actually the case. During the day when the sun is at its hottest, it is also at its highest so its the deck that takes the force of the sun and not the hull. I always wanted a black hull and I do think that Doolittle looks very smart in black and she really stands out against all the other white boats in the world. It gives her a classic and quality look which everyone admires.

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This picture taken October 2015 and shows the superb shine on the original black gel coat.

It’s not so hard to keep it looking good as the hull is polished and waxed every year and has been since the boat was made. She also has full padded hull covers which protect the hull from the elements and incompetent neighbours in the marina. In the ten years that I have owned Doolittle she has never bashed into the quay or been bashed into. One of the advantages of living aboard means that I can keep an eye on her at all times. Considering her age, the hull looks absolutely fantastic.

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This is the plug that I cut out of the transom when I fitted the electrical socket for the shore supply. It is 30mm thick!!! The gelcoat is about 2mm thick. The Dana is one super tough boat!

When I collected the boat I was given some plugs that were cut out of the hull (I still have them) and they demonstrate many things such as the thickness and strength of the PSC hull but they also show the thickness of the gelcoat, the only part of the layup process which was sprayed. One thing you can say about PSC, and one reason why PSCs are such expensive boats is that they do not skimp on materials, not on their quantity nor quality. The gel coat on these plugs is about 2mm thick! No modern boat I have ever seen has such a thick coating.

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To give some idea of just how solid a Dana is, this plug was cut out of the engine instrument panel when I fitted the twist shower in the cockpit. I have seen boat hulls thinner than this and this is from a panel that just holds an instrument panel!

What this excessive build quality means is that there is plenty of gelcoat to polish over the years and even though Doolittle’s hull is ten years old it looks better than many boats not even a year old! If it looks this good after ten years, then I see no reason why it still won’t look excellent after twenty. So long as the hull is polished and waxed each year.

When I bought Doolittle, I was determined to make sure that no matter how long I owned her I wanted to make sure I took the best care of her. It definitely seems to be paying off. With a black hull, there is no hiding a lack of maintenance! If there is a problem you can see it right away. A cream coloured hull is much more forgiving in this respect. It hides damage and neglect much better. A black hull might be a bit more work to keep looking nice but it’s well worth it.

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In ten years I have gone through two tins of this excellent 3M wax paste on Doolittle’s topsides and deck gelcoat.

One thing that may not be immediately obvious to the untrained eye is the fact that there are no skin fittings in the hull sides. What this does is allow a very clean profile look. It’s a small detail but demonstrates nicely PSC’s attention to detail and skill in building a proper boat. All the skinfittings (all solid bronze) exit at the transom where you will find exhaust, bilge and shower outlets. Also on the port side at the top, the Electrical socket for the shore supply. The cable for which is custom made and rope and leather covered. Every detail of Doolittle has been considered. There is also a range of marina plug and socket adapters and a 20 metre extension cable.

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One of Doolittle’s nicest features is her transom mounted name plate. Made from solid teak and hand carved by the renown Spanish artist, Natalia Avarez Garcia. The name plate might look rectangular but in fact the shape is slightly curved and tapered in order for it to look correct in place. It is a small yet much admired touch and so much more pleasing to the eye than a cheap plastic sticker! The above pic was taken when it was new.

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A lovely patina. The name plate as it is now

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Padded hull covers protect the hull from careless neighbours and damaging UV light. Pic taken in June 2015

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Recent pic of the transom and hull covers. Pic taken in June 2015

The Hull. Below the waterline

As with much of Doolittle, even under the water she is unusual. PSC take great care in making sure that Osmosis is never a problem for owners well into the future. For starters PSC us Vinyl Ester resin for the final layer of resin. It is more expensive than polyester resin but also more water resistant. Then on top of this they add no less than four layers of International Interprotect Epoxy Primer to further protect against water ingress. No wonder Osmosis is unheard of on PSC boats and also why PSC offered a ten year hull warranty, something no other boat manufacturer to my knowledge ever did.

As if this wasn’t enough a further six coats of Coppercoat epoxy antifouling was applied. This is a special product that does away with the need to put noxious paint on the hull each year. There is no build up of paint so the hull stays much smoother and the boat sails better and consumes less fuel in the process. It is guaranteed ten years but many boats report 15 years or more and in Doolittles case I have never used a jet wash on the surface and every year I carefully remove and growth or slime by hand to ensure that I did not erode the Coppercoat more than absolutely necessary. I have no doubt at all that there is a good five to ten years left to go with it. Even if it did finally wear off it makes great economical sense to simply replace it with the same as the savings over the years soon mount up.

Coppercoat is much better for your pocket and for the environment! Last year I noticed that the Coppercoat performance was dropping off so I decided to carefully sand the surface down a little to expose fresh copper. This is the first time I had done this as I did not want to sand off any of the product! But it was well worth doing and since then the Coppercoat has been working very well indeed and the bottom has stayed very clean ever since.

There’s not much to say about the hull under the waterline. It’s clean, there is no Osmosis and the hull has never taken ANY impacts. I can count the amount of times the hull has been aground and it is very few and most of those times were in the French canals where the bottom was simply mud. Not that it matters if you do run aground in a Dana but I want to stress the care that has been taken with Doolittle throughout her entire life. Because she was new when I bought her I KNOW everything that has happened to her.

Deck

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This photo was taken in June 2015. As you can the gelcoat is in fabulous condition and the bronze winches and port holes have a lovely patina.

Doolittle’s deck is the standard Oyster gel coat colour offered by PSC as standard. It is a good choice because white is just too much to look at when it is sunny and the slightly cream colour of the oyster is a superb contrast with the black hull and grey teak. All the teak on the boat is bare and untreated. It’s perfectly OK to do this with teak as it contains it’s own oils which protect the wood. With time it simply goes grey and needs very little care. Some owners varnish their Dana’s teak but it’s a lot of work to maintain and if you’re a sailor who would rather be sailing then bare teak is a fine way to go. Personally, I like the look of greyed teak. It gives Doolittle a rugged and purposeful look.

For a new owner who wants varnish, Doolittle comes with a complete set of new capping teak that could be fitted and varnished if required. What is more important on a yacht, is the gelcoat. Wood can be easily changed and green bronze can be polished but if the gelcoat has been left to fade in the sun, no amount of work will ever bring it back to its former glory. Doolittle has been polished and waxed very regularly and even after ten years her gelcoat is in better condition that many boats less than a year old! This is partly because of the high quality gelcoat PSC used but also the fanatical care that I have taken with the gelcoat over the years.

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This photo was taken in June 2015 and is of the cockpit coamings. Not many ten year old boats with gelcoat this good!

There are a few very small scratches and a couple of cracks in the gelcoat, many of them were there right from the start! But it is hard to believe that Doolittle is ten years old as you can see from the pictures.

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The Solara flexible solar panel fitted in 2008  It fits as if made for the sea hood. There is a regulator behind the electric panel. It is covered from the sun when not in use.

In front of the sprayhood and fitting as if made for the seahood is a solar panel made by Solara. It is a special flexible unit putting out 55 watts of power. It cost 800€ and has a regulator which is fitted behind the switch panel in the cabin. It might seem strange but it too has a custom cover for it. But why cover a solar panel I hear you ask?

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Doolittle’s solar panel cover. Just pops on. Pic taken in June 2015.

The solar panel is supposed to have a life of 25 years or more but the simple fact is that the boat is not always at sea, in fact on average Doolittle has spent more than half of most years in a marina. And in a marina there is shore power so the battery charger is filling the batteries so there is simply no need to leave the panel in the sun. My thinking was if one can keep it covered when not using it, it’s entirely possible that it will last 75 years! It was fitted about five years ago and has been no trouble at all and in reality puts in enough power in the summer to power the fridge which isn’t bad at all.

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Venting forehatch allows air to enter even if it’s pouring down. Smoked lexan is very clear and undamaged. This pic taken in June 2015

Apart from the Bomar venting forehatch which allows 8 cubic feet of air to circulate even when it’s pouring with rain, Doolittle’s foredeck and cabin top is exactly like any other. The only real difference is the way the bowsprit platform and anchor assembly is attached.

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This pic taken in June 2015 and clearly shows the much nicer bowsprit arrangement with better access for maintenance and varnishing. The Harken roller furlers were new in 2011.

Some Danas have had bowsprit issues. As the bowsprit is made of a soft wood it is prone to rot if not properly maintained. The standard bowsprit platform is simply placed on top of the bowsprit and bolted through. There are a few issues with this way of doing things. Firstly, it covers the bowsprit making access for maintenance and varnishing almost impossible. Secondly I do not think that any of the holes that were drilled into the bowsprit to mount the platform were sealed in any way at the factory and lastly it just looks awful.

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This pic also taken in June 2015. A close up of the bowsprit.

So I set to changing this. My solution was to cut a section out of the centre of the platform and then bolt it onto the sides of the bowsprit. This makes it sound much easier than it was to do. Like most things on a boat it was far from easy and involved remaking much of the stainless metalwork so that the anchor rollers and anchor would work and stow properly.

Despite the effort it was a job well worth doing. While the platform was off I plugged the original holes from above and below and even varnished inside all the other holes and the new ones as well. This was essential for the longevity of the bowsprit and platform and I am pleased to say that in the years that have followed I have never had any doubt about the structural integrity of Doolittle’s bowsprit or platform. More than many other Dana owners can say with any confidence.

The whole assembly is much better looking too. Instead of covering the capping, now it is clearly visible and the boat looks better for it. The Dana already has a perky sheer and lowering the platform (and consequently the pulpit too) has improved the look of the boat as well. The life lines are lower and their line is much better than before. Not only that but it is also lighter as well. So better access for varnishing, better looks from above, less weight and a cleaner sheer line to boot. Well worth doing.

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This pic taken in June 2015 shows the bowsprit cover. Doolittle has a lot of covers and these have helped to keep her in as new condition. The cover can be used when sailing or anchoring if required.

Doolittle has a 10 kilo Delta anchor. Not a cheap  copy but a genuine Lewmar version. This is completely oversized for the boat but works brilliantly. This is linked to 5 metres of 10mm stainless chain and around 30 metres of 3/4” nylon 3 strand anchor rode. There is also a Fortress anchor in the stb cockpit locker which is sized for use as Doolittle’s main anchor but is normally used as a kedge.

Cockpit

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This photo was taken in June 2015 and shows part of the cockpit.

The Dana cockpit is a great place to be. It is long enough to lie down in and when sailing, the distance between the seats is perfect for your feet to wedge against when the boat is heeled over.

Doolittle’s cockpit is pretty much standard but where she differs to other Danas is that she does not have a massive hole cut into the bulkhead on the starboard side with a big compass fitted. I never understood why PSC did this because it is a wonderful place to sit with your back against the rear of the cabin. With a big compass in the way, it completely ruins a great spot. The same is true of the port side where the instruments are normally placed.

I have a few issues with this compass and instrument placement apart from the fact that they ruin a great place to sit. I think it is criminal to cut holes in boats that cannot easily be repaired or filled in. So when I ordered Doolittle, I insisted that NO HOLES were cut for either a compass nor instruments. In any case having a compass on only one side means that on one tack it is very hard to read anyway and these days who steers to a compass anyway?

Doolittle has a steering compass of course but it is placed centrally and is readable on either tack. But more than this I didn’t want a compass or instruments in the bulkhead because I wanted to be able to fit opening doors in place of the washboards normally fitted and they would not be able to fold back with stuff in the way. Also, times change and instruments evolve. A hole cut today may not work for a new instrument in the future. Far better not to cut any holes at all!

The cockpit has two lockers and a gas locker. The port side locker is massive while the stb locker is big but reduced in size as it contains the 40 litre holding tank, two 105 amp/hr lifeline AGM batteries, bilge and holding tank pumps and diverter valve. Both of these lockers have bronze lockable clasps and bronze hinges. The gas locker is vented and there is a 12volt solenoid which cuts off the gas when not in use operated from inside the boat.

There is a removable Spinlock engine control lever. This is different to most Danas as normally they have a double lever, one for the gears and one for the throttle. The single lever is much simpler to use and does not void the engine warranty as the double lever does. The lever is removable which is helpful. I use the lever for undoing the fuel and water filler caps.

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The engine instrument panel cover. Just one of the many covers on Doolittle which serve to protect her from the elements. Note the strong cast stainless pad eye on the right (one of two in the cockpit) and the bilge pump cover. Cockpit cushions are made from closed cell foam and covered with Beige Chiné Sunbrella fabric with black cherry piping. Pic taken in June 2015.

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The engine instrument panel with cover off showing the new (2014) Ev 100 autopilot. Bottom left is the Whale Twist shower head and 12v and autopilot arm sockets. Pic taken in June 2015.

The engine instrument panel contains the Yanmar panel with rev counter and warning lights, the Raymarine EV100 display head, the twist hot/cold shower head, one 12 volt power supply socket and one socket for the EV100 tiller arm. It is covered by a pop on cover which keeps the sun off when not in use. The EV100 display has a cover as well.

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Many many coats of Epifanes varnish protect and prettify the laminated tiller. Note also the cockpit cushions. There are six in all. This makes it easy to access the cockpit lockers. Pic taken in June 2015.

The original two tone laminated tiller is deeply varnished and always protected by a superb zip on cover.

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The bottom of the tiller cover. Note the wonderful detail of the sewing. This is typical of Doolittle. This pic taken  in June 2015.

Doolittle has a sunbrella cockpit cover which lays over the boom and can be left up even in quite windy conditions. It is perfect for keeping the rain out of the companionway when conditions are nasty. She also has a full summer cover made of lightweight white cotton which covers most of the deck and keeps the temperature right down in the summer. It needs to be taken down if the wind is much over 20 knots. Both covers are supplied with their own custom made bags.

Autopilots

Doolittle has three autopilots. She has Dave, her original Autopilot which is now over ten years old. He has had a hard life but has steered Doolittle through most of her adventures including right the way across the Atlantic, even bare poled for 24 hours during a gale. He suffers a little when the wind picks up and one must reef early to avoid stressing him. But all things considered Dave has worked well and I think the fact that he is still working after ten years says more about how easy a Dana is to steer than how good the Simrad TP30 is! Dave also has a hand made cover to protect him from the heat of the sun and from water. One thing these autopilots don’t like is water!

Then there is Dave 2. He is also a Simrad TP30 which we bought when we bought Doolittle in 2005. He is Doolittle’s back up pilot and has hardly been used. But Doolittle’s main pilot is now the Raymarine EV100 pilot (new 2014). It has the latest 9 axis sensor technology and can steer Doolittle in more extreme conditions so that sail can be left up. The colour display unit is linked to the GPS and can display any amount of info. Between the Tack Tick display, the GPS and the EV100 there is a huge amount of info available. Dave 3 also has a remote control unit for the ultimate in lazy sailing.

Doors

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This picture taken June 2015 and shows the doors in situ. The glass is unbreakable lightly smoked henna lexan. The doors are lockable of course and open all the way to the bulk head thanks to there being no instruments or compass in them as is normal on all other Danas! There is a fixing system to keep them open when at sea.

Originally Doolittle (like all other Danas) had washboards, four of them which is fine I suppose if you don’t use the boat much but a complete pain in the butt if you live aboard! So I set about trying to create something that worked better and came up with the doors you see today. They have been a great success.

In keeping with my horror of making holes I decided that the doors must not spoil the originality of the boat and that if anyone preferred wash boards then they could easily convert back to the original system. (Not that anyone would want to). So I made a frame which drops into the original slot where the washboards went so replacing the original washboards is as easy as undoing two small screws and simply lifting out the entire door assembly.

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An old picture of the doors and frame during construction. Made of solid teak (like the rest of the boat) this frame simply drops into the original slot where the washboards used to go thus retaining the boat’s originality

The added bonus of this system is that it meant it gave a place to put a centrally placed compass that was much easier to actually use along with some instruments. Not only that but it also allowed a seat which in practice is brilliant when you are at sea as you can keep a good lookout from under the sprayhood (dodger) while keeping out of the elements.

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This picture taken June 2015 and shows the Suunto steering compass (has cover and is always on to protect the compass) the tack tick display that is linked by NMEA to the other instruments and GPS and can display any NMEA info. On the right a Garmin GPS unit. No holes in the boat yet a comprehensive set of useful info.

Yet another added bonus, apart from the obvious of being able to get in and out of the boat much quicker was the extra light that comes down below thanks to the two lexan unbreakable windows in the doors. Because there is no compass in the bulkhead nor instruments it means that both doors fold back against the bulkhead without sticking out which means one can lean back against the cabin bulkhead in the cockpit with the doors open or closed! All in all a complete success.

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Even with the boat closed up, the doors let in a huge amount of light so that even on the grimmest days you never feel closed in. The hand made pure wool carpet protects the varnished floor and feels lovely underfoot.

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This picture shows how part of the door frame was hollowed out to allow for an invisible latch system built into the door. Once these two pieces were glued together they had a groove for the latch mechanism built in.

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A close up detail of the top striker in the doors. The locking mechanism is hidden inside the actual door frame.

Since the doors were done many on the Yahoo Dana group have expressed their wish to have something similar on their Dana. Obviously it takes a certain level of skill to create something like this but that is my job so for me at least it wasn’t too hard but it certainly has massively improved the functionality of the boat in the harbour and at sea. One of the best things I did to Doolittle in fact.

Spray Hood (Dodger)

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Doolittle’s companionway sprayhood. The sides can be folded up or removed and the whole can be folded down flat if needed. New in 2012. This pic taken in June 2015.

Another one of the additions to Doolittle that has been brilliant. Normally a Dana has a full width spray hood which runs from one side of the cabin top to the other and while this set up offers a little more protection it does create a lot more windage and drag when sailing up wind. It also makes going forward from the cockpit harder and using the cabin top (staysail) winches very hard indeed. It also requires a hell of a lot of holes to be drilled in the cabin for all the various mounting points.

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Here’s a picture of the spray hood folded down onto the sea hood. The hatch opens as per normal.

By now you will know that I have a horror of making holes in boats, well holes let water in don’t they? so you won’t be surprised to learn that the entire spray hood is fitted to the boat without making one hole in the fibreglass! It is only screwed to the wooden parts which can easily be repaired or replaced if the need should arise.

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This picture shows how the front of the spray hood is attached. Originally this piece of wood did not have the groove in it. I removed it, and made this piece with a groove by gluing two pieces of shaped wood together. What you end up with is a very strong, clean and watertight way of attaching the front of the spray hood using keder tape and without making any holes in the fibreglass!

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Pic taken in June 2015. Unusually clear spray hood glass allows a good look out to be kept whilst sheltering from the elements.

The spray hood has window glass called strataglass which is extremely clear and obviously more expensive too but by now I guess you are starting to see that only the best goes on my boat. It is a little bit stiffer than cheaper plastic window material but the sides of the spray hood unpop and unzip in moments and then the whole thing can be folded down to rest on the back edge of the seahood and doesn’t interfere with the action of the hatch at all.

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This is the spray hood with the sides folded up to let air through. The Phifertex privacy curtain just pops onto the spray hood. Note how all the spray hood fastenings and hinges are only screwed into the wood and not the fibreglass. Pic taken in June 2015.

The stainless hinge was custom made as were the hoops. The material used is Sunbrella black cherry to match the sail cover and other various pieces on the boat. It is very strong and in fact I use it to swing into the boat on a daily basis. It keeps out the worst weather and waves and has been absolutely brilliant. It was replaced a few years ago and like everything else on Doolittle is in excellent working condition.

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Phifertex privacy curtain just pops onto the spray hood. Pic taken in June 2015.

It has a drip flap so that rain cannot drip into the cabin. Onto this flap there is a privacy curtain which simply pops on. It is made of Phifertex and allows air and light through.

Engine

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Pic taken June 2015 shows Doolittle’s 3YM20 engine. Replaced under warranty in 2010 and has only done 700 hours. Vetus flexible coupling, Polyflex engine mounts, a PSS dripless stern gland (new 2015) and a special large bore bronze riser are just some of the mods. Note also the Isotherm 15 litre water heater.

Most Danas were fitted with the Yanmar 2GM engine which had two cylinders and 18 hp. The later Danas including Doolittle were fitted with the latest super efficient Yanmar 3YM series engine. It weighs about the same as the old 2 GM but has one more cylinder so is considerably smoother. It is slightly longer but weighs about the same. When I first bought Doolittle I thought it was a bit over the top, such a big engine in so small a boat but over the years I have come to relate to the decision.

The Dana is a heavy boat and there have been times when I have been welcome of all that power and there is an added advantage that the engine never has to work too hard to push the boat along. The original engine had a load of issues and was eventually replaced under warranty by Yanmar in 2010 so the current engine has actually only done about 700 hours and is barely run in.

Ever since the first oil and filter change I have had the oil analysed by a lab to ensure that the engine is always in the best of health. It costs a little but it is money well spent as it helps to nip any problems in the bud. I can supply these to anyone who is interested. Oil analysis can help identify problems before they arise. It’s an excellent idea to build up a continuous history.

Modifications to the engine and bay are as following. There is a Vetus Bullflex flexible shaft coupling. This is a massive beast and allows the engine to be misaligned upto a few degrees. Not that it ever is. The engine has always been very carefully aligned. Proof of this is the fact that Doolittle still has her original cutlass bearing fitted and there is still no play in it at all.

The original and poor Yanmar engine mounts have been recently changed for Polyflex ones. These cannot come un glued unlike the Yanmar ones and are a much better and safer solution. They are made of polymers and plastics so don’t rust either unlike the Yanmar ones. These were very expensive. The coupling and mounts alone came to well over 1000€!

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Just one of the Polyflex engine mounts. As you can see the engine and bay is immaculate. The engine is filled with waterless coolant. Note the Halyard soundproofing on the right.

Some of the engine improvements are invisible yet important all the same. Perhaps the most important is the exhaust riser. The original cast iron and frankly rubbish Yanmar one has been replaced with an Expensive cast bronze version from Norway. It should give no further trouble. This is an important and necessary modification for the Yanmar engine.

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Special bronze large bore riser replaces the rubbish cast iron Yanmar one.

To help the engine charge better a Balmar 80 amp alternator has been fitted along with a stand alone and programmable regulator. There are spares for the alternator and even another spare regulator. These parts cost well over 1000€. The original 55 amp/hr Yanmar is on board as a spare and has never been used.

The engine has been filled with waterless coolant which stops the engine innards from corroding. It does not expand so doesn’t stress the hoses. It never needs to be replaced for the life of the engine. It was yet another expensive thing but a good investment which should help the engine to last a very long time.

A pump for sucking out the oil has also been fitted which makes changing the engine oil a lot easier than trying to suck it out of the dip stick which is the way you would have to do it if the pump was not fitted. As there is no drain plug on the 3YM even this simple task was very complicated and costly to do.

The engine is also connected to the hot water tank and it will heat it up to extremely hot in about 15 minutes.

The engine has the usual water strainer and filters which are all replaced regularly. The later Danas have fibreglass fuel tanks which do not corrode unlike the alloy ones in most other Danas. In ten years there has never been the slightest issue with water in the fuel or any other kind of fuel contamination. The fuel tank has a gauge on the top of the tank (accessible by lifting the floor panel) and it also has an electrical gauge by the electric panel.

The entire engine bay has been soundproofed by the addition of fireproof 1 1/4”” thick sound proofing by Halyard marine. Again, the best quality product I could find.

The original stern gland and packing was replaced by the efficient and clever PSS shaft system. It is now ten years old and due for replacement at the end of this summer. The new unit has been purchased and will be fitted the next time the boat comes out of the water.

Behind the engine a plywood shelf has been glassed in and an Isotherm 15 litre water tank has been fitted. It is heated by an electrical element or by the engine. The Isotherm is maybe the best quality water heater on the market anywhere. It has a fully stainless tank within a stainless cover. It was fitted a few years ago and should last for many years to come. The 15 litres is more than enough to have two very hot and long showers. It is a very efficient system indeed.

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The very expensive 4 blade solid bronze feathering adjustable pitch prop. Extremely low drag under sail. Extraordinary efficiency and power when motoring. Strong astern power. Very smooth thanks to the four electronically balanced blades. It even has a shock absorber built in to reduce the stress on the prop when going from fwd to astern. Worth every penny.

The propeller on Doolittle is a superb feathering bronze prop made by Variprop in Germany. It is a quality product and works as you would imagine. It cost 3000€ so that should give you some idea of the level of quality. It can be adjusted for pitch in forward and reverse. It just works and it’s one of the reasons why Doolittle sails better than all other Dana’s as there is practically no drag from the prop. It was an expensive addition but the performance gain is large and the piece of mind that comes from having a quality prop cannot be measured.

Sails and rig

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A pic from a few years ago showing Doolittle’s cutter rig. The sails have since been replaced and furlers added but she looks exactly the same today.

Doolittle is cutter rigged and has tan coloured sails made by Ullman sails in the USA. They were new in 2011 and have been very little used since fitting. When not in use they have been removed from the boat, carefully folded and stowed. They are as good as new and have decades of life left in them.

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A pic from a few years back showing Doolittle stonking along down wind, a reef in the mainsail and the staysail poled out. She sails like a train downwind with very little effort.

The white painted aluminium mast is made by Lefiell and has all welded fittings. It is an extremely strong mast with massive fittings. The paint is in excellent condition. The boom is also made by Lefiel and is also painted white.

There is a mast head light, a VHF antenna and an 8db Omni directional wifi antenna with massive low loss cable which enters the boat through a deck gland. There is a 2 watt adapter which is massively powerful and allows Doolittle to capture wifi from as far away as three miles! Also on the top of the mast is a spinnaker bail and a Tacktick wind transducer fitted in 2013. There is a steaming light and a deck light and flag halyards on both spreaders.

At the front of the mast there is a large ring fitted for attaching the 16’ long telescopic whisker pole and there are two Harken winches and a pair of jammers and various cleats. There are two spectra running backstays which are used if needed.

The mainsail has a black cherry cover and the jib and staysail have Tedlar UV protection strips attached. This is a transparent material which is very light and does not add much weight to the leech of the sails.

In addition to the three main sails Doolittle also has an Asymmetric spinnaker which is flown without a pole. It is a fabulous sail made by Momentum in 2008. It hasn’t had a huge amount of use and is in excellent condition.

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Momentum MPS asymmetric spinnaker. Beautifully made. As new condition.

On the cabin top there are the original Schaefer tracks and chariots for the staysail which lead to a pair of solid bronze Meisner 18 STB-15 winches engraved with the name of the boat. These winches are pure quality and extremely well made and very low maintenance. They have no bearings as such, just a special plastic sleeve. What this means is that they rarely need to be taken apart and greased. I do it from time to time but the grease is always good so I just put them back together!

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Just one of the four engraved ‘Doolittle’ bronze self tailing Meisner winches. Come with two bronze engraved handles with lignum vitae handles. Pure class. After ten years they have a superb patina.

In 2011 I fitted a pair of new and very expensive Harken furlers for both foresails. The original sails were hank on and I couldn’t see the point of having them modified as they had done quite a lot of work. It seemed a good idea to replace the furlers and buy new sails to fit to them which is what I did.

In 2012 I got fed up with the original Genoa tracks and cars. They never slid well and had to be adjusted manually. A right pain in the butt. So I replaced them with a low friction Harken ball bearing system. What a massive improvement. Now a simple tug on a rope allows the adjustment of the jib sheet lead. This was an expensive system to fit but it was worth every penny.

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New Harken tracks and genoa chariots. Note the jamb cleat welded to the stanchion which allows for easy car adjustment from the cockpit. A massive improvement over the original system. An expensive addition but so worth it. Pic taken June 2015.

At the same time, I removed the stanchions and had them all modified to allow the furler lines to run through them. It was the neatest way to do this. Normally one needs to fit rollers and guides which never look very nice. This is a much more elegant solution and I am pretty sure you won’t see many boats with this ridiculous level of detail.

In addition to the guides for the furling lines there is also a small cleat welded on which is used to tie the furling line to and there is also a small jamb cleat on the outside of the rear stanchion which allows quick and easy adjustment of the jib chariot. It was all a lot of work fitting the furlers and associated ropes and guides but it has been well worth it. The end result is very tidy and extremely functional.

Another addition is a back stay adjuster made by Wichard. Yet another ridiculously expensive part but the back stay is super important and one wouldn’t want to lose any part of it so I decided to buy a slightly larger one than absolutely necessary but it was a good choice as it suits the scale of the boat and adjusts easier as it is not stressed.

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Wichard back stay adjuster. Meant for a bigger boat. This expensive bit of kit won’t ever give any trouble! Pic taken June 15.

There are another pair of Meissner 18 STB-15 self tailing bronze winches in the cockpit, they are also engraved with the name of the boat, as are the two solid bronze winch handles with the boat name also engraved in them as well. These are expensive winches but they have never given a moment’s trouble and have gone a lovely green colour with age.

Attached to the backstay chainplate is a special stainless fitting which allows the fitting of a mizzen mast. This was an experiment which worked well and all parts needed will be supplied with the boat. there is a two part carbon mast and an old sail which drops onto the fitting on the transom. Here’s an article I wrote about it.

Doolittle is very well set up for sailing in all conditions unlike many boats whose rigs are not as sorted as hers. Many a time we have out sailed much bigger boats simply because her rig is so optimised and sorted for all points of sail and wind strengths.

The mainsail has three reefs although I have never needed the third one! The battens were placed in the leech parallel to the boom at my request. This makes it easier to flake the mainsail on the boom. This is typical of the attention to detail that has been lavished on Doolittle.

How the boat looks is as important as how functional it is. Doolittle is first and foremost a sailing boat but she is also very nicely finished in most areas.

Interior

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A very cosy and welcoming interior. Doolittle has teak cabin sides unlike many of the later Danas which have white cabin sides. Prebit LED lights spread a lovely glow or can illuminate fully the interior with a total of 8 gold plated lights!

Doolittle has many special features and modifications that are visible from the outside but perhaps some of her best features are down below. Doolittle is brighter down below than most Danas thanks to her doors with large windows in them. Before when the boat was closed up it felt a bit oppressive down below. Now it’s possible to close up the boat even on the grimmest days and not feel penned in.

Perhaps the most noticeable change compared to most Danas apart from the doors is the companionway box which takes the place of the original steps. The steps were fine for getting in and out of the boat but they took up a lot of space in the galley and served no other purpose. On a small boat I believe it is important that everything does more than one job to maximise efficiency. The companionway box is a classic example of this.

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Doolittle’s unique and practical companionway box. Divided into two sections, one for rubbish, one for recycling. Removable step and a nice space under for shoes. Whole box simply lifts out for access to the floor.

On most boats there is no where to put your rubbish and this always annoyed me so the box is primarily a place to put trash but it is divided into two sections, one for rubbish and one for recycling. Of course you don’t have to use it for that if you don’t want, you could simply have a double sized bin! The tops of the step have the original non slip surface flush fitted and they also have hidden hinges. The entire box just lifts out for easy cleaning or for access to the fuel tank under the floor.

The companionway box also has a removable step should the need ever arise and there is now a large space for shoes. The box takes up less space than the original steps so there is more room to work in the galley. It’s a small thing but it really makes a difference. The old steps also used to rattle when the engine was running. The new more solid box does not and that is a great relief!

The only real visual difference between Doolittle and other Danas is the cupboard behind the fridge. Normally PSC made a special shelf dedicated to plates but this seemed to me a terrible waste of space and a very hard area to clean so I asked that they make this cupboard with a door instead. This is a much more practical arrangement altogether.

Other than this, Doolittle has an interior much like any other late model Dana with the excellent unzippable headliner and oiled teak wood work. Things one cannot see are the latex cushions throughout, an extra that I chose at the time which has proven to be excellent. Even after ten years of living aboard the seats and bunks are still springy and extremely comfortable. Doolittle uses a faux leather for the coverings in a nice red colour called Salsa. The seats always have throws on them so they do not show much wear considering the use they have had.

Doolittle has a teak and holly floor which has never seen the light of day. It has always been covered. What that means is that the floor looks like new despite its age. There are not many ten year old boats were near perfect wooden floors in them. Doolittle has a very expensive Moroccan pure wool carpet custom fitted which adds even more comfort and luxury. In the winter there is an special heating element which fits under the carpet. Getting up in the winter is a delight. Bare feet on pure wool is a luxurious experience!

There is also a small 400 watt heater that hooks on under the hanging locker. This and the RugBuddy under the carpet provide more than enough heat during the winter. Much of the cabin has extra neoprene insulation which keeps down condensation in the winter and keeps out the heat in the summer. Under the front bunk there is also a special layer which allows air to circulate under the mattresses.

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One of Doolittle’s 4 prebit dimming gold plated down lights. Fitted to custom made solid teak surrounds. Note the excellent headlining which unzips for access.

In 2014 all the cabin reading and down lights (x8) were replaced at great expense (over 1000€!) with gold plated Prebit led lights. They all dim and are touch button. The hand painted glass shades throw a delightful colour on the oiled teak. You can read more about them here. They are extremely bright (if you want) yet consume very little power. Best of all, being gold, they are easy to clean and not likely to corrode or fail unlike the original lights!

Doolittle has an Isotherm fridge fitted and it is simply brilliant. It uses very little power and yet can even make ice cubes. It uses a special seacock to cool the gas and what this means is that any heat produced by the fridge does not find itself in the cabin like most systems. Nor does it make much noise. The compressor is fitted to a custom made shelf under the sink in the galley. It was extremely expensive but has been absolutely brilliant proving that you really do get what you pay for. Here’s an article I wrote about it.

Doolittle came with a Force 10 two burner stove, oven and grill. It’s a superb bit of kit and apart from having to replace the knobs and the sparker unit it has been as good as gold. Here’s a recent article I wrote about it. Even after ten years of constant use, thanks to the great care we take over it, it is still in fabulous condition and in perfect working order. There is a wooden top which lives behind the stove that can be placed on top as an extra work surface.

The table which seats four slides out from under the bed and locks into the compression post. There are large lockers and cupboards all around. The hanging locker has been divided by the addition of shelves but these just drop in so if you wanted the full depth of the locker back it’s easily done. Under the bed there is a huge locker and another one above the foot of the bed. Storage space is not lacking on a Dana!

The electric panel by the companionway has been completely remade in solid teak. The original one had a voltmeter but that has been replaced by more switches and a stand alone BEP meter which shows the levels of the Diesel and water tank (with option for adding another for the holding tank) but also volts and amps in and out so you can monitor the electrical system.

Behind the fridge there is the original 12V control panel with breaker switches and also the Mains power panel, made by Blue Sea Systems which has breaker switches and also a dimmable meter which shows volts and amps.

Toilet and head

Doolittle’s head compartment is now fitted with a solid bronze Reinstrom German toilet. Unlike the original Grocco (as fitted to most Danas) this toilet is the Rolls Royce of heads. It costs nearly $2000 and comes with spares. The shower compartment has been modified so that one can actually shower in there without water falling straight out of the room into the cabin. The sink has a pull out shower head which replaces the original hand pump tap.

The original cheap white toilet hose has been recently replaced by Trident hose which is the best and most expensive that money can buy. Thanks to its construction it does not leach nasty smells which is why I bought it. It also remains flexible so it can be removed easily for cleaning if required.

Conclusion

That’s about all I can tell you about Doolittle and her condition. She is VAT paid so what that means is if you are not an EU citizen you can use and leave Doolittle anywhere in Europe without worrying about a time scale. She can stay in Europe for as long as you want. VAT cost about $15,000 at current exchange rates.

Doolittle also comes with a rather spectacular and unique sailing dinghy which is very hard to put a value on but if I had to make one for a client it would surely be $10,000 as there is a months work involved! It was designed and made to fit perfectly on Doolittle’s foredeck and has a cover to protect it from the elements. It rows and sails too and comes with all the necessary parts. It can be assembled on land or in the water. It rows and sails beautifully and will get massive attention everywhere you go.

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The Stasha Tweed. Made from teak and covered with epoxy coated Flax. It is made from two halves and nests on the foredeck. Here’s an article all about it.

Doolittle would be the perfect yacht for an American couple who want to explore Europe and the Mediterranean, with the VAT paid there are no time restrictions on how long the boat can stay in Europe.

In addition to the seas of Europe Doolittle can also do canal trips and this is a massive bonus and a true delight. Read a little about one of the trips Doolittle has done in the French canals.

Doolittle is for sale for $120,000 which may seem like a lot but when you consider that a new Dana, if you could buy one, would cost upwards of $150,000 for the basic boat, and if you consider Doolittle’s fantastic condition and very high spec and the fact that she is VAT paid AND comes with a nesting hand made sailing dinghy then she compares very reasonably with other recent Danas that have come up for sale.

Doolittle has crossed the Atlantic once and has covered about 15,000 logged miles. She has visited three continents and many countries. She’s a brilliant boat and has been a good comfortable home for all that time. After spending more than half his life living aboard, the author and his partner want to try something new. Here is a unique chance to buy one of the best cared for and most beautiful Danas to be found anywhere in the world.

Should a prospective owner require I would consider delivering Doolittle to the East coast of America although that experience should really be for the new owner! Although I am asking $120,000 I am willing to discuss this with anyone who is seriously interested in becoming Doolittle’s second owner.

If you want to know more about the Dana 24 then please read this very long article that I wrote. if after reading that and this post and you still have questions! Then please contact me. Doolittle is currently UK registered and moored nr St Tropez France. Viewing by appointment.

info (at) woodenwidget.com

Cheers

Benjy