Thursday, February 12, 2009


A 44 gallon drum has been cut longitudinally and mounted on a steel frame. At one end is a pipe that projects from the end of the drum with a tap on it. Underneath and furiously heating the drum is a big fire. In the drum are ingots of lead. In the first photograph you can see that most of the lead has melted and is forming a shiny silver lake in the drum. The year is 1978 and I am casting the 2 ton lead keel for the good ship 'Mariner'.

The second photograph describes visually the logic of the operation. The lead is melted. The tap is opened and the molten lead flows down the little chute and into the mould which is held in the ground and is set in concrete. It is a straight forward process that can be dangerous but generally goes well if you are well prepared and have thought the process through before hand.

Nothing could go wrong could it?

When the big jumble of grey lead ingots became a lake of silver I turned the tap on the pipe that projected from the end of the drum - nothing happened. I turned the tap on and off and then in true Kiwi style I hit it with a hammer - nothing happened. I knew what the problem was. There was solid lead in the pipe from a previous casting, blocking the pipe.

I ran to the phone and called the boatyard who had loaned me the casting drum.

" %$#(*&^)#$%$#(*&!!!!!??? " I yelled down the phone.

" Use a blowlamp to heat the pipe and the tap, that will melt the lead and unblock the pipe " they replied.

"And by the way" they said.

"yes?" I said.

"@##%^&*!@#$%%#!!!!!! " they yelled.

I didn't have a blowlamp but there were a few blokey blokes in the neighbourhood who might have. So off I went running and banging on doors asking to borrow a blowlamp. One can only imagine what must have been running through the minds of those poor people confronted by a young man with a wild staring look and grubby face gasping the word "blowlamp?" in their face. No one rang the police, but no one had a blowlamp that I could use.

Dejected I began returning to the flaming site. A hundred or so metres from home I heard a roaring sound. Turning the corner I saw a beautiful river of silver cascading down the little chute and into the mould in the ground.

I doubt whether the great Peter Snell would have beaten me over the last hundred metres.

What had happened was this. While I was away a large pile of burning wood had fallen forwards under the tap and pipe and the heat had quickly melted the lead. Because I had left the tap open the lead just flowed out of the drum.

By the time I arrived back the keel mould was about three quarters full. The whole casting had happened without me there at all.

I had thought and planned this operation. I had thought about all the possible problems. I thought I was really well prepared. When nothing came out of the tap I had thought that I had a huge problem. I tried desperately to intervene and fix it. I raced around like a blue arsed fly trying to get a blowlamp. Finally I thought that I had a problem that I couldn't solve. I thought I had bitten off more than I could chew - I thought I was out of my depth - why hadn't I just paid the boatyard to do all this? What the hell was I ever thinking? - Then Providence intervened.

Luck? Fortuitousness? Randomness? Serendipity? Providence? - it all depends on your 'World View' I guess - but I do know this. What I started I finished. The keel was lifted out of the mould. I drilled bolt holes in the lead for the big bronze bolts and the finished keel was bolted firmly home onto the good ship 'Mariner' where it belonged.


Delwyn said...

And no doubt you have learned something more to add to that encyclopedic font of knowledge you have.

When I opened your blog I thought you had posted a pic from the Vic fires. I read of a 90 year old man who was forced out of his house by the fire so he took sanctuary in the horse trough covered in a wet blanket. He was found crawling down his driveway heading for the town.
He survived.
It is so heartbreaking.
I can't read anymore
But I keep going back
It is so random and so apocalyptic.
I count my blessings.

Alden said...

Yes it is a real tragedy right enough. My heart goes out to those affected, especially those who have lost every member of their close families. What can you say? no mere words will suffice -it is a gut wrenching tragedy and as you so rightly say - "I count my blessings."

Mr. Kinder said...

So you really built Mariner with your own two hands?

Alden said...

Yes Dan I did - I started in 1975 and launched her in 1979. It was literally a case of blood, sweat and tears. As is the case with most creative endeavours I learnt a whole lot more than just how to built a boat.
Little did I know at the time that I was also creating a whole lot of good stories to post on a blogsite sometime far in the future.

Alden said...

And I must add that at that time here in Northland NZ (and throughout the whole of NZ in fact) it wasn't really an extraordinary thing to be doing - these couple of decades - the 1970s and 80s were a golden age of amateur yacht building - an age that has unfortunately either gone or (hopefully) is in hibernation.

Delwyn said...

That's the thing about nzers especially isn't it - they get to and make things - they are very pragmatic and industrious. They might make a jet boat, climb a mountain, split the atom, build a yacht...and take it all in their stride. I love NZers!!!!

Alden said...

Yes Delwyn, our pioneering ancestors had to make do and so learnt to make and fix things themselves - hence the term "a number eight wire mentality" - meaning that generations of Kiwis learnt to fix all sorts of things with number eight gauge fencing wire.

So - 'Needs must' is a situation out of which a large amount of innovation and invention is born.