A cold winter morning

Boat Projects – Past and Future

This morning at five thirty when my alarm clock went off, I found it very difficult to get myself out from under the blankets. Admittedly I did stay up too late last night binge watching some Netflix, but that is not the reason why. Sheree was also working night shift, so there was no hope of an early morning cuddle keeping me in bed either.

It was bone chilling cold in the boat.

Winter is getting closer now and in all my post Narcos binge stupor, I forgot to switch on the heater before bed. Outside it was a mere 10˚C (50˚F) and I am certain inside was about the same. Our Minnesotan readers will probably snicker at this, but hey, over here in Western Australia, that’s getting rather nippy. Why am I writing about this? Well, I am not a fan of winter and it’s that time of the year when I start thinking of boat projects to make the interior more cosy while dreaming of our future travels hopping amongst tropical islands surrounded by coral atolls.

Venilia is still mostly owned by the banks at present and we are working very hard to change that since this is the only reason we can not just cut the dock lines now and sail away. This does, of course, frustratingly limit how quickly we can work through the boat projects to get her “cruise ready”. Having said this, I feel that since we moved aboard exactly one year ago, a lot has been achieved towards our goal despite a rather meagre budget. Much of this was possible thanks to some thrift shopping.

Ticked Off


Venilia came with traditional marine toilets plumbed to holding tanks. I have been following enough blogs and have read many articles (often hilarious and always cringe-worthy) about mis-adventures with these toilets which I believe are a sad attempt at replicating shore based plumbing in a place that has no sewers. There was the story of the flexible holding tank under the forward berth splitting a seam and flooding the bilges all the way to the stern. Then there was that other story of the blocked through hull that unblocked explosively when the first mate shoved a broom stick into it whilst she was floating in the water just below it. I decided even before we chose our boat that these contraptions were not welcome aboard.

It took a bit of convincing with Sheree, but eventually, we ripped out the old units and installed some Air Head composting toilets in their place. Whilst unsure at first, there is absolutely no looking back from here, and Sheree agrees. Occasional guests we have aboard do seem to have a giggle when they understand just how our toilets work (think kitty litter box), or in some cases, we have a quiet giggle when we see some uncomfortable guests deciding they would rather hang on until they get to shore.

All I have to say is that these things are a fantastically simple and efficient solution and any cruising family that is relying on the old fashioned marine toilets should make the switch.

Genset removed

Venilia also come with a honking big diesel AC genset. It was old, smelly, noisy, inefficient and was definitely not going to be part of our cruising future. The unit was located down in the engine room and required a herculean task to decommission and remove. The move had to be performed in multiple steps all involving welding up some custom gantry and a whole lot of heaving and pushing.

We now have a slight port list due to the shift in weight, but that will be resolved eventually when we install an Aquagen which is a swiss knife of a device. It charges batteries efficiently while doubling as a water maker. It can also run a fridge compressor if required and even hydraulics.


All our WW2 era electronics have been removed and replaced with some fantastic new kit. All the new gear, other than the auto-pilot, was picked up at some very good prices thanks to some thrift shopping.

The great things about modern networked marine electronics is that they are completely modular. We have displays on one side to show us the information available on the network, and on the other side, we have sensors that feed that data into the network. Want to monitor something new? Just plug in a new sensor. Want to be able to monitor something from the master cabin? Just plug in a new display. The engine monitoring I discussed here is a great example of this. This modularity means we can build our perfect system gradually.


Again, more bargain shopping has allowed us to upgrade our dinghy to something that is more appropriate for us. Venilia came with a very old aluminium dinghy that was heavy on the davits, and very unstable. It simply was not possible to get the kids in and out of the dinghy safely. We managed to pick up a great little inflatable rib that works well for us. It definitely won’t be suitable for our travels with growing kids, but until then, it is perfect for getting around.


dsc04327We have installed netting on the safety rails all the way around the deck to prevent kids and mobile phones from going overboard. So far, it’s working well for the kids; for mobile phones, not so much. That reminds me, I need to create a “Davey Jones’ Locker” section on the blog. It may be amusing to look back on all of the things that have gone overboard in a couple of years time.


upholsteryThe saloon couch cushions have been stripped of the aweful art-deco curtain fabric they came with and recovered with some lovely piped box cushion covers. This was an interesting project that worked out well considering it was my first time ever touching a sewing machine and that the sewing machine in question was a fifty dollar beginner model most definitely not suited to the rigours of sewing thick upholstery fabric.

Again, some thrift shopping was the solution to get hold of the typically very expensive Sunbrella fabric for a fraction of the retail cost.

I must admit that at this stage, a more sturdy grade of sewing machine is very high on my wish list. Something like a . Not only for upholstery work, but I am also convinced it will be a useful tool for sail repair underway.

To Tick Off – Hopefully This Winter

Hull lining

This is up the top of my list mainly because I feel it is an opportunity for a quick win. There are a few spots in the boat where the fibreglass of the hull is bare, notably up against the bunks. It is nothing dramatic, it’s really just like a slightly rough painted wall. The problem with having bedding right up against the hull is the risk of moisture and in turn mildew during the colder months. The solution is simple and relatively inexpensive. All I need to do is create a sort of false wall out of wooden slats with a space in between each. This allows air flow preventing any mildew and at the same time keeps anything from touching the inside of the hull directly. Another bonus is that it looks great.

I hope to get to this very soon and will most definitely be writing a blog article about the process.

More upholstery

The upgrade of the saloon cushions turned out great, but there is still more “art-deco” upholstery left to deal with. In the master cabin we have a settee that is is dire need of some love.

Shower sump pumps

If you are a landlubber, your assumption of how plumbing works is probably quite clear. Used water goes to a drain where gravity ensures it flows out to the sewer in the street. On a boat, it flows out into the water through a hole in the hull called a through-hull. The difference on a boat however is that the drain the water flows out of is typically below the water level and therefore gravity can not do the job for you. On Venilia, the water drains into a grey water tank in the bilge and then we use a manual pump to move it back up from there and over the side. The pumps that do this are good old manual power and it is quite a tedious chore.

I’m afraid that if I don’t get these replaced soon with some nice little push button electric pumps, I will have a crew mutiny on my hands. Hopefully also achieved this winter.

Stripping varnish

Ah the glow and warmth of teak. All must agree that few things can be more beautiful than teak toe rails varnished to a piano gloss finish. During the time spent in Sydney, every day walking past, I would admire a magnificent seventy foot yacht with varnished woodwork like this. I don’t think I ever walked by that boat without seeing at least one labourer on the deck touching up the varnish or at least otherwise caring for the woodwork. This is simply unrealistic for the rest of us. Varnish has it’s place inside the cabin, but outside, it is sadistic.

Venilia’s retired previous owner obviously had a lot more time on his hands then I do and somehow managed to upkeep the varnish quite acceptably. I simply can not and the varnish is already looking quite shabby after just one year. This winter we are going to strip all varnish off the wood outside, clean up all the lovely teak underneath and move to a maintenance plan of a monthly oil. Oiled teak can also look fantastic and it is far more realistic for a cruising boat.

In Conclusion

We have a daunting list of tasks to work through in addition to general upkeep to get our boat cruise-ready. Some of the big ticket items such as the new genset will obviously not happen until much later in our preparation. But through clever thrift shopping, I feel proud of just how many items have been ticked off the list already.

And the skills learned in the process? No doubt they will come in very handy when we finally get off the dock.

Mechanic, electrician, carpenter, plumber, upholsterer, rigger, author, painter, sailmaker, navigator, meteorologist and captain of the S.V. Venilia.

One thought on “Boat Projects – Past and Future

  1. Karen Hinchliffe Reply

    Paul & Sheree,
    Each day you are a step closer to your dream. It took us 3 years and a reasonably healthy budget before we untied the dock lines at Port Bouvard and took off on our cruising adventure.

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