Alexander Stewart Mitchell and wife Elsie operated a hire boat business on Salt Pan Creek where they lived. Alex built the hire boats at Salt Pan Creek a tributary of the Georges River in Sydney. Alex is a carpenter and builder by trade, also a prawn fisherman. Alex and Elsie had three children John, Laurel and Clive.
Photos & Story by Clive Mitchell
Around August 1969 after brother John, Dad (Alex) and I had discovered that travelling to little known places could inspire a sense of adventure, John approached me with an idea! He said “Dad and I are building a cruising boat, do you want to be in it?” I said “if Dad will be in it, it will be good”. This was the first step in Johns’ idea, he then approached Dad (the big fish). ”Clive and I are building a cruising boat will you join us?” Dad thought a bit and said. “If that is what you boys want I will join in.” Dad suggested a big “Spray” as his lifelong fisherman friend, Harry Lewis had always wanted to build one. Dad had a half mould model hanging on the wall of his boatshed from around 1945 (he built and hired small boats for a living) So we took a copy of the lines plan from the very pages of Joshua Slocum’s book “Sailing Alone Around The World”
It so happened that an “experienced “ boat builder(Rob Hart) frequently serviced his father-in-laws boat, on a mooring at Dads boat shed and had recently worked on a 60’ hardwood trawler. The “Naomi B” with Ted Brown of Balmain Sydney. Dad asked this boat builder, Rob Hart. Which type of construction was the best for a boat of this size to handle 18 persons for up to 6 months at sea and to be able to handle Ice conditions. Rob Hart said Cold Moulded is the way to go, so he took us to see “Salacia 2” Arthur Byrnes (B&D Roller doors) Admirals cup contender which Rob had worked on under Cec Quilkey (Tarren Point, Sydney) The then Admirals Cup specialist. The most beautifully constructed craft we had seen; we were hooked. Not knowing it was the then most difficult, labour intensive and expensive way to do the job. It now had to not only be very strong but beautiful in every aspect of construction. The notion of pulling up a floor panel, looking under the engine, behind a tank or in a cupboard and finding beautiful polished timber waiting to be seen. We had sought the help of a friend with Naval Architecture skills and came up with 6 variations on a “62 foot spray” we all agreed that one looked good. Cec & Rob said what looks good to the eye of an experienced builder will go well. So we filled and graded a level spot and erected a huge tent and lofted the boat full size on 40x 8’x4’ masonite painted white.
CONSTRUCTION PHOTOS AND COMMENTS
We purchased 33,000 lineal feet of 4” x 3/8” edge sawn Oregon pine Dressed all round. First load of timber late 1969
20,000 lineal feet (6,069m) of Queensland Maple 3”x3/8”(75x10mm) and 24,000 (7315m) lineal feet of Queensland Maple 9”x3/8” (225x10mm). Oregon Pine was chosen for the hull skin material because it glues well and it’s strength to weight ratio is hard to beat. Queensland Maple was selected for the backbone and timbers as it is an open grain hardwood which is relatively soft, pliable and glues well. The 9”wide Queensland Maple was scarfed to 74’(22.4m) lengths and glued into a 32 lamination backbone (325mm) deep – 9”(225mm) wide. The continuous backbone went from top of deck at transom to 600mm above deck at the stem.
Backbone jig framing with holes for the 500 16”(400mm) cramps.
Frames and transom. (Dad-Alex Mitchell & Rob Hart)
Gluing the backbone. Mum mixed glue and friends Dulcie and Johno Brown helped spread the glue. We forgot to tell mum to stop mixing and we ended up wasting 2 litres of glue oops!!!
Gluing the backbone was done over 3 days Day 1 – 11 laminations 1221 sq ft glue Day 2 – 13 laminations 1443 sq ft glue Day 3 – 8 laminations 444 sq ft of glue All structural laminations are thoroughly glued on both contacting surfaces with a deeply toothed spreader, so any voids are permanently water proof thus eliminating the possibility of rot pockets in the long term.
Tightening 500 x 400mm cramps each day. 3 days with very sore hands. 214 of the cramps were owned by us the rest were borrowed from 5 other boat builders.
Rob trimming transom and backbone to length in one cut. Rob Hart is a tenacious little Englishman (“only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”) keeps working with broken legs, arms, ribs even leg and hip together both pinned and screwed. Injuries that would kill most peoples spirit only momentarily slows Rob, even now he still loves fabricating timber but as he is climbing in his 70’s he tends to fabricate stories (another survival skill learned in boarding school in desperately poor post war England)
Dad gluing deadwood blocking from rainforest hardwood, it is epoxy glued and forms a 9” core to the heel of the boat, the 5 layers of multi -directional planking take the backbone to about 1.5m deep. The deadwood houses the bronze stern tube for the propeller shaft.
Ivan & mother Ruth Mitchell, Ivan beginning familiarization process
Fitting some of the 4,000 linear ft 2”x 1” Oregon battens joined to full length of ship to help fair the shape. Permanent stringers were fabricated to 70 x 100mm where temporary stringers were 50 x 50 or 50 x 75 where required
First timber laminated to exact shape of ship internally pre stressed, but retaining its design shape. The timbers could be used as a bow and arrow and still retain their shape. N.B. boat in the background in Graham Shields “Thunderbolt”. Damaged in the Hobart race & repaired in return for the sail plan and mast and spar design. (All spar services)
Ivan, ever ready to help learning that some boats grow up as “cramp trees”
Sore hands and buckets of epoxy glue
Forging a dream, Wow! A beautiful shape is emerging from all that sweat and perseverance
September 1971 laminating the inwale. Notching in 5 laminations of full length scarfed planking to 50mm. To strengthen to edge of planking finish size 70 x 100 mm x 20 metres.
Beginning the first planking skin
At this stage of construction all the planking for the 3 fore and aft skins are scarf jointed to full length, cut to shape, numbered and stacked under the boat waiting their turn to be fastened into position The method is to set out one side of ships planking and dry fit, then use the first set as patterns to cut 5 duplicates. (1st 3rd and 5th skins)
These pictures are included to show the special continuous blocking along the sides of the backbone to provide a smooth unbroken glue bed from timbers (ribs) to backbone incasement. Also a flat easy to keep clean limber way along sides of keel.
Beginning first layer of planking longest planks first
Almost finished first skin both sides
Second skin going on diagonal raking from keel aft
The only picture we have of the third skin fore and aft planked is this small portion (bottom left of picture) of the heel of the ship where off cuts from shaping the fore and aft planks were included on deadwood sides to save wastage
Fourth skin diagonal raked from keel fwd.
Fifth skin fore and aft planking
Dad at 62 years old gluing up for plank in 130kph southerly gale
In the gale the side curtains burst into a torrent of blue fibres, a roof frame split at the bolts . Dad and I finished fastening the plank off with the wet tarp on our backs. As the glue does not wait to go off.
ROLL OVER DAY. Two cranes with experienced operators, pairs of long planks with industrial skates between. Cec Quilkey supervising and some of his men. Foreman Rigdon, Peter, Don, Rob, Dad, John and I.
Danger point, past its balance and descent is controlled by chain blocks
Right way up, a faultless operation, highest regards to Cec Quilkey
Ivan keeping his dad company.
Rob Hart “the boat builder” adjusting a “c” string and wire to centre the boring bar for the propeller shaft using a feeler gauge.
Aft floors and stern tube blocking. Dia.120mm hole 2400 long accurate to 0.5mm
Forward floors every second pair of timbers. Stringers in pairs terminating in generous breast hooks. A double set of breast hooks was recommended by Joshua Slocum for stemming ice. To maintain the overkill strength wise 4 breast hooks. The 4th is integral with the multi laminated shelf timber which carries the deck beams inside the inwale. A 5th marries the bulwarks across the stem head.
Deck beam to inwale connection. The deck beams are alternate coachwood and Oregon in 18mm layers.
All structural timbers in laminations scarf jointed at 6 to 1 i.e. taper 6 times longer than thickness
Quarter knees very difficult to fit. E.g. to the face and edge of shelf, the underside of deck beam (a curve), the face of the timber (a compound curve). No second chances it fits all 4 surfaces simultaneously or is re-cut. Each knee has 4 polished 7/16” 316s/s bolts with fabricated 30mm domed heads. There are several days work in fabricating, dressing and fixing each knee. Many blunt dies on manufacturing 480 custom stainless bolts as each has an individually fitted head to fit flat against the knee and each bolt is a different length, 120 floors and knees.
Under deck at transom
Dad scribing down the pair of engine beds. A long careful process. They fit exactly between bulkheads over and around each floor timber and timber. We glued up both sides, bit the bullet, and drove them home with a sledge hammer; a perfect fit. Wow what an ego booster, probably 2 unrepeatable scribe jobs.
Sampson post below deck is now part of winch base blocking. A hand squared log cut 1970 of Cooba an Acacia once used to build cart wheels.
Sampson post (now a winch) and deck timbers
Beginning deck planking over the two 13mm 7 ply full Coachwood Plywood layers. (14 ply in alternating directions plus dynal sheathing). Coachwood being one of the toughest timbers available, a shaving can be tied in knots. It was used as the material of choice to construct mosquito bomber aircraft. Deck planks are 28 x 50mm with a 5mm bevel for jointing rubber. Screwed and plugged through to deck beams. Fully bedded and edge glued in epoxy (epiglue) rubber jointing epicraft flexiseal polysulfide sealant with a 300% stretch factor.
Under deck arches married to Mountain Ash Hardwood posts to transfer the main mast thrust to the keel.
250 x 80 mm sole plates for the bulwarks Grey Gum with Blue Gum stanchions. Sole plates fastened to Colonial Beach deck planks only fully bedded in epoxy so in case of collision a smashed bulwark cannot cause a leak.
Coach house framing. Design by dad and Cec Quilkey. All Mountain Ash 200 x 55mm carlings. 50 x 127mm stanchions sheeted with 25mm solid Coachwood ply. Plus 25mm polyurethane foam between stanchions covered with 6mm 5 ply coachwood ply (thermal barrier)
Sheeting bulwark at transom. Later this day a cramp slipped and threw dad 2.5 metres off scaffold and caused him 8 months of rib and pelvis pain.
Bulwark capping support timbers 25 x 100mm blue gum full length of ship
Dorade boxes, water and air separators for the 42x dia.100mm vents. Sides were made from plywood, which was a bad choice after 25 years and about 22,000 hours of tropical rain in Innisfail, the plywood needs help.
Bumpkin frame, attachment for twin backstays and support for aft grating. Dynal sheathed multi laminate construction, Oregon Pine.
Main cabin doors 32mm thick dynal sheathed 15 criss cross laminations of Ash. Hard to slide, so in heavy weather they do not slide by them selves.
Bosuns shelter.Forward foul weather entry. the sides are made from same material as sliding doors, the roof is Oregon Pine planking 30mm thick. Shelter is dynal sheathed outside.
Dad bedding the bow sprit. Note the large laminated bulwark breast hook, Grey and Spotted Gum laminations
Stern bulwark quarter knees, Grey and Spotted Gum laminations
Transom fashion piece blocking, mountain ash. Sacrificial, is bedded on putty over dynal sheathing to reduce any possible damage to end grain of planking around transom.
John and Dad Nov. 1978 painting old fashioned red lead (triplumbic tetroxide) Over Oregon bulwark sheeting, soaked in raw linseed oil.
Main mast tabernacle 12.7mm 316 stainless steel
Rudder shaft, bronze tube, bearing and gland.
Rudder frame 316 stainless steel
Completed rudder, made from laminations of 2mm Queensland Maple and alternate Silver Ash. Some laminations can be identified through dynal sheathing. The rudder shaft is fitted with an 8 tonne key and the pressure relief on the steering system set around 5 ton. Note stainless steel shoe at the rudder heel.
Colonial beech decking in the style of our fathers, rich bronze fairleads, generous blocking and framing in choice materials, rubber jointing that does not die (deck laid 1974, 30 years ago) The epicraft flexiseal polysulfide jointing completed 1979, 24 years ago.
Safety rails, traditional style
The ships wheel 1200mm. Strip laminated band of Oregon pine, for the rim and Queensland Maple blocking for the hub. Huon Pine centre spoke (docrydium franklinii), a pair of Honduras Mahogany spokes (scnietenia macrophylla), a pair of Burmese Teak (tectona grandis), then mahogany and Teak. A symphony of sailors choicest timbers! Dad used to make timber truck wheels and the type of joints used get tight with use, not loose.
Fit out in the third pair of forward cabins Piranha Pine with bamboo panels (araucaria braziliana) valuable rainforest timber from Southern Brazil and neighbours. We traded in a neat swap for Radiata Pine to Cec Quilkey. To frame the jig for “Love and War” when dry pine was unobtainable (salvaged from our own jig). The Piranha Pine was figured (some knots) it may change shape if used for a jig, great for us for beauty rules in fit out jobs. the Piranha Pine is a thing of beauty and “Love and War” turned out straight and true. A mutually beneficial trade. In the early 70’s Cec gave Alex, Rob and I the opportunity to hone our skills by employing us to help with the construction of “Love and War” and “Mercedes III”. (“Love and War” still remains a successful contender and has won the Sydney to Hobart yacht race twice and in 2004 won the 30 year veterans section, a tribute to its cold moulded construction technique)
Dividers and safety belt for trying to sleep in foul weather.
Saloon furniture designed and built by dad.
Navigation Room designed for long open sea voyages, autopilot .fluxgate compass charts, radios
Wet weather gear hanging spaces, self draining adjacent to saloon entries.
Bosuns locker, storage of spare gear
Galley design by Dad and Rob. Many draws, hidden removable boxes and under floor storage, large overhead lockers and racks, gas stove, fridge and freezer, double sink, salt, fresh and hot water taps.
Sliding water tight door through wardrobe door in starboard aft cabin into steerage. The boat is entirely accessible below deck (an advantage in foul weather)
Strong steering assembly.
Second fill coat of 90 resin on hull sheathing (Rob)
Epicraft paint for exterior surfaces
High build epoxy over dynal epoxy sheathing (Rob)
Rudder post blocking and bracing knees and 100mm bronze gland
Aft cabins desk style, main fit out is in Silky Oak, some Camphor Laurel used, also to face bunk sides.
Cedar cabin opposite galley, desk, draws and mirror
Steps into forward passage
Pair of bosuns shelter ladders, Tasmanian Blackwood
Piranha Pine furniture in 2nd pair of fwd cabins
Ribbon Maple veneer
Stern stowage lockers accessible also from flush hatches on deck.
Steering station gratings fitted around steerage hatch (Colonial Beach)
4mm thick fuel tanks being fabricated, 4 off approx 1,500 litres each Blasted and flame coated, then bedded and braced each side of the engine room Ken Linum, Boilermaker and Plumber. Now Australia’s only racing coracle builder. More difficult to paddle than to build.?
Lifting in the main engine 6LW Gardener
Dad bedding in water tanks 4 in saloon, 2 in galley approx 3,800 litres
Melting lead in keel mould. Dad ,John and Rob
Lead keel 7.62m long 300mm deep 335mm wide, 9 tonne. Bolted through keel and floor timbers every 450mm. 17x 20mm 316s/s bolts
Dad tidying up flexiseal bedding rubber, takes 3 days to surface dry and 3 weeks to set so plenty of time available to fill and tidy up around lead keel.
Main engine (Gardener) and auxiliary (Mercedes) exhaust water Jacketed.
Battery boxes for 12 and 24 volt systems
Propeller drive shaft, jack shaft section with intermediate bearing.
Pong boxes (water muffled exhaust) mounted in steerage.
Bilge and deck wash pump. Hand pump for sullage
Ivan demonstrating shower.
Forward sullage tank.
About 1,850metres of colour coded tinned wire. 12,24,240 and 415 volt power.
Engine room tool box seat.
Main mast fabrication.
Made from no.1 clear Oregon Pine 2 off 400 x 125mm and 2 off 125 x 125mm x 18.3 metre. Hollowed to form a 75mm hole then glued and rounded to 12” or 305mm parallel to 15 metres then tapered to the cap.
Stainless steel cap and rigging lugs top of main mast.
Splitting logs for the slipway.
Building the slipway (Rob Hart) watching Rob is Walrus, Machinist, who machined all the bronze sheaves for the rigging blocks that we cast
Laurence Taylor master machine operator, but hopelessly naughty!!! My best friend.
Lifting the boat onto the cradle
My children Kathryn (below) and Ivan lived half their life in the boat and workshop.
Rob christening the boat, he made sure the bottle broke first hit.
Halfway down the slip on a king tide launch night
On the end of the slip next morning, getting ready to be dragged of the cradle on the next tide.
Moored down river after pushing through shallow mud flats and under bridges, which were the restrictions to draught and superstructure height above waterline. The bowsprit actually touched the bridge but all on board moved forward thus making the front of the boat go down and we cleared under the bridge by an inch!!! This was carefully calculated.
Foundry work Rob and Rod. Production welder and foundry man, helped build a furnace and taught Rob foundry skills
Cast bronze fittings
Cast bronze sheaves for blocks. We found that we could not get good quality bronze castings in a reasonable time frame from the Sydney foundries because the size of our orders was to small , so we cast them ourselves.
Single, double and triple blocks.
Fresh Beach decking the light colour keeps your feet cooler in the sun
Alex and Elsie Mitchell
First slipping to change lead ballast
Comments on the various timbers used in construction
Oregon Pine– primarily planking, edge sawn for minimum shrinkage cut. Glues extremely well has a good strength to weight ratio.
Queensland Maple– backbone and timbering laminations, keel and deadwood blocking, some furniture. One of the best gluing hardwoods. Open pored, large trachytes allow glue penetration, non oily (extra grip) great colour, attractive grain, aromatic choice.
Colonial or Queensland Beach– decks and gratings, as durable as Teak light in colour (not so hot in the sun). Cheaper than Teak so a practical decision for decking.
Mountain Ash- interior carlings posts and framing coachwork (evirgata siberdana). Plantation forests market as Tasmanian Oak. One of the few Eucalypts that glue o.k. (open grain) very strong
Coachwood or scented Satinwood or Leather wood- plywood for bulkheads, deck beams and saloon fit out. A rainforest species related to Mirticea, flowers similar to Sydney Christmas bush. Tough and leathery, bends exceptionally well, up to 12% shrinkage in seasoning. The best plywood timber. looks great smells wonderful, works well and glues well. Used as alternate laminations with Oregon in deck beams and with Queensland Maple as quarter knees and breast hooks
Silky Oak– furniture Grevillea Grandis. The tree used was planted about 1940 by Dad on the boatyard site, in 1971 it was harvested, milled on site, strip stacked and air dried then used to fit out the two aft cabins. (The Oregon and Coachwood for deck beams was also strip stacked and air dried on site, 2 years for softwoods 3 to 5 years for hardwoods). Silky Oak was used with caution by earlier furniture makers as Grevilleas wax would permeate the shellac coatings and then give a finish that felt like sand. With the advent of more modern coatings this did not happen. A lovely honey colour and dramatic medullary rays show in edge sawn pieces a defining oak feature.
Blue gum– bulwark framing and capping. (eucalyptus globulus) the tree has a blue bark and hairy butt, a red timber. Moderately durable, must be well coated with sealed joints, cracks must be sealed to stand in the tropics. Gluing and working in company with the best of the Eucalypts.
Grey Gum & Spotted Gum– sole plate blocking bulwarks (eucalyptus maculate and eucalyptus geniocalyx) the timber cut from the mid north coast of NSW, difficult to differentiate in sawn state. Spotted gum usually a little lighter in colour and tighter curls in grain. Blue ribbon planking especially below waterline and timbering hardwood, very strong , very springy, hard, but heavy (gluing not recommended)
Birch– (botula) structural plywood used for divisions and secondary bulkheads throughout the boat, rough sanded with a 7” disk it looked good after applying epoxy timber preserver. So a further sand with an orbital machine and some deep scratches remained, but after 4 coats of satin estapol with a 400 grit sand between coats and a teak oil finish it looks good. If we had have known at this time that birch was a noble, tough and decorative species, more effort would have gone into its preparation and finish but after 2 years sanding and estapoling inside the boat the thought of an extra few months work in the dust and fumes was too much so the birch divisions are the only area on the boat considered a little rough (nobody else has noticed).
Pacific Maple / Meranti– these names are a loose term referring to any timber with maple like appearance within the pacific rim. Prefix mar refers to a family of generally low grade soft hardwood which is rot prone interior timber, open grain pressure treats well.
The centre forward cabins have Ribbon Maple veneer, epoxy treated. with Piranha Pine (araucaria braziliana) and a little Silver Ash (flindersia pobescens) trim. A spectacular silver white timber which is tough and springy, resists splitting great small boat framing and timbers.
Australian Red Cedar, a toon tree, (cedrelatoona australis). Furniture in the cabin adjacent to galley was made from recycled Red Cedar from old furniture 90 years old plus. Except the rail on the cabinet which was cut and milled in Tumut, NSW 1975 for house furniture, it is much paler, less mature. To enjoy the beauty of mature dark Cedar a strong light is required.
Tasmanian Blackwood or Tas. Ironwood (notelea ligustrina) used on engine room and bosuns shelter ladders.
Australian Mahogany a Eucalypt that looks a little like Mahogany was use in some laminations on quarter knees aft cabin and can be seen as face veneers. It is hard to work, bend and glue but looks ok and is strong.
BRIEF ON CONSTRUCTION STORY BY ROB HART.
Why build a cold moulded boat?
Many long years before the Mitchell family ever thought they might build what turned out to be the largest cold moulded yacht in the world, two brothers who were mad fishermen, one Joe, a sawyer, the other a stevedore, owned a 16’ timber “putty” boat that they moored at Alex Mitchell’s boat shed on Salt Pan Creek. From here they used to ply down to Botany Bay etc and much to everyone’s amusement, being partially deaf, used to shout at each other while secretly setting and robbing each others nets.
Well the timber cutter’s daughter (Joe) met a boatbuilder and it wasn’t long before he was trying to impress Joe. He’d build him a nice new “flatty” and in turn meet up with Alex and the Mitchell family and be considered good for his daughter.
In the late 60’s the Mitchells along with a good friend decided they would build a vessel to sail the oceans of the world including a journey into the Arctic Circle.
As one can imagine this became of great interest to Rob “the boatbuilder” and a lot of discussion ensued. However, the main topic always ended in relation to what material and method of construction.
Rob had fortunately been involved in all the different materials and methods– Timber conventionally planked, sharpie style, strip plank, ply, double diagonal, moulded and cold moulded, fibreglass or as it became better known G.R.P., steel, aluminium, composite and ferro cement.
The design was of great concern—the vessel had to carry 18 people over long journeys and in close company etc etc.
Rob at the time was a boatbuilding contractor to two long time friends Ted Brown of bailmain (Sydney) who built commercial vessels and Cec Quilkey whom as far as Rob was concerned built the finest yachts and power boats around—possibly the world. The Admirals cup boats that rolled out of Cec’s shed were living proof of that. Furthermore, there were a lot of other characters in the industry that Rob knew who were heavily involved in boatbuilding. Graham Shields at Alspar, the mast and spar people. Graham Newland, Australia’s No1 sailing master and a man with immense knowledge and ability.
As can be seen a great wealth of expertise was available
So it came to pass, that a design was chosen and as with all things it was decided that something that was tried and proven was a better move than sitting down and designing something from scratch. Joshua Slocum’s “Spray” was the final choice albeit lengthened to 60’ and beam 18’, 3-1 always considered a good all round ratio.
Rob’s good friend “ bighearted Glenn the workers friend” another boatbuilder (of course!) had a nice place for drawing so he drew out the plan and along with Rob they set out the table of offsets.
Rob now dragged Alex, his sons Clive and John plus Doc Brown (the other member in the venture) off to where Cec currently had “Salacia II” under construction, Arthur Byrnes new Admirals cup contender.
Well, it became pretty obvious that there wasn’t any better method of construction available. “Salacia” was the sister ship to the original “Ragamuffin” which was already making a profound mark in ocean racing under the direction of Graham and quite possibly could now be considered the hardest raced and most consistent winning yacht in the world.
The next chain of events saw Rob take Alex and Clive off to assist Cec with building cold moulded yachts and, as if that wasn’t enough, drag them down to Balmain to help Ted as well. Needless to say, Alex and his family became great friends of Cec , Ted, Graham (the spar maker) and Graham Newland and built a boat in what is Generally considered the best possible manner, construction, design, material and components.
Long live the “ALEXANDER STEWART”