Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hull shell

The fourth and final pair of strakes was stitched to the shell of the hull tonight. It wasn't as big a problem as I had feared to attach the misaligned strake #4. You'll remember this was the first scarf joint I did, and it somehow shifted under the clamps during the epoxy process, leaving about a 1/4" gap. Despite this flaw, there will be sufficient overlap at the rabbet for a good joint for the whole length of the boat, I think. As it says somewhere in the instruction manual, "Aerospace tolerances need not be attained." This is terribly reassuring to a first-time builder like myself. The gap does the boat no favors aesthetically, but I think structurally it will be fine. The size of the boat is now apparent, and I am happy with how roomy is will be. Total hours 25.50.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Third pair

The third pair of strakes went on tonight. To cut all the wire ties, I am using a wire cutter that has been passed down to me from a grandfather. The tool may well be nearly 100 years old. Both of my grandfathers and my father were very handy guys; they all worked with their hands for a living. Although I did not inherit any of their craftsmanship, at least the use of this tool makes the boat building project that much more significant. Total hours 24.25.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A stitch in time

The second set of strakes were stitched to the hull today, and things looked a little more boat like. The hull is taking a little more of its own shape, and depends less on weights and chocks to maintain a curve to the bottom panel. Interestingly, as I twisted wires, I listened to a PBS television show about the sinking of the Republic, a civil war-era freighter carrying a large cargo of gold coins. A commercial venture recovered the coins, while also retrieving some archaeological artifacts. May my little boat never experience anything that interesting! Total hours 23.25.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Hole-y Day

After days of prep work, the hull assembly began today. The method of construction of this boat is called "stitch and glue", meaning the individual parts are wired together before being sealed with epoxy at the seams. First, matching pairs of strakes are stacked up and 1/16" holes are drilled every 4 inches along the rabbet edge. A simple cardboard gage helped space the holes. Once the four pairs of strakes were drilled, stitching began.

About 34 holes were drilled along the length of each strake. For stitching, a large number of copper wire pieces were cut at about 3 inches each. With the end of the strake aligned with the end of the bottom panel, a corresponding hole was drilled in the bottom panel. The soft copper wire was then passed through and twisted to draw the panel together. Planks were stuck under the ends of the bottom panel to give some curve and allow proper alignment of the stitched pieces. Finally, the project is starting to vaguely look like a boat. Total hours 22.00.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Zen and the art of sanding

Today it finally happened: I was able to achieve sort of a zen-like trance while I was sanding. While pressing on with the tedious job, I was able to zone out and think of more pleasant things to pass the time. As a result, work seemed to go a lot faster today. And most importantly, enough parts are now prepared that I am going to start drilling and stitching tomorrow. It will be interesting to see the hull take shape. All this prep work should have its benefits. The instruction book says after the final 220-grit sanding, the parts "should need little or no further finishing" after assembly. And that would be just fine with me! Total hours 19.50.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

An ode to boatbuilding

'Twas the night before Christmas

and all through the house

dust coated each surface,

and even the mouse.

Peter worked on his boat,

built of mahogany wood.

Though his schedule was busy

he did what he could.

An hour here or two there;

it was that sort of thing.

With luck he'd be sailing

by the end of next Spring.

The work, it went slower

than his conservative plan,

yet he pressed on with a will

and continued to sand.

Hearing protection, and goggles,

and mask, don't you know.

With the dust in the air

looking a little like snow.

The sandpaper stock,

he knew he had plenty.

100-grit was used first,

and then the 220.

As he labors away,

Peter wishes you might

Have the most Merry Christmas,

and of course, a good night!

Total hours 18.50.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More Sanding

Today began the process of finish sanding the strakes before they are stitched into the hull. They were sanded with 100-grit, then 220-grit sandpaper. This took a little lighter touch, so instead of the belt sander, an orbital quarter sheet palm sander was the tool for the job. After reading comments from other builders, I wasn't surprised at how quickly I went through the sandpaper. A quarter sheet of 100-grit wouldn't quite do both sides of a whole strake before it lost the power to "cut" well. Even clearing the clogged paper with a wire brush didn't extend the life appreciably. Luckily I had enough sandpaper on hand today to do as much work as I had time for. But I'll have to buy some more on the way home tomorrow. Finally, I really must say I like my little Black and Decker sander. It might not be heavy-duty enough for the pros, but if it holds up for this project, I'll be happy. The gel pad handgrip really cuts down on vibrations transmitted to the hand. And the dust trap seems to do a decent job, without requiring me to connect a vacuum hose. It also comes with a clever press-in jig to punch holes in new sandpaper squares so the dust collection works. Total hours 17.25.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


Back home, and building again. It was a sunny yet cold afternoon as I did some finishing work on the boat transoms and daggerboard trunk. The stern transom needed some filing and sanding to deal with undetected drips of cabo-sil thickened epoxy from when the doubler was attached. This went much easier than I expected. A new Black and Decker random orbital palm sander made quick work of the drips, while I was careful not to sand through an adjacent layer of plywood veneer. Both transoms received another coat of epoxy, as did the internal sides of the daggerboard trunk, and the mast step brace. As things stand now, it looks like things are nearly ready for stitching. A light sanding of the second epoxy coat on the strakes will be easier to do before stitching. So I will do that tomorrow, and then they will be ready for drilling. Total hours 16.00.

Friday, December 16, 2005


To those who might be wondering about the lack of activity the last couple of days, fear not. I haven't lost interest in the project; merely a lack free time this past week. I have been spending evenings doing chores that range from the mundane to the sublime. For example, haircut, Christmas gift shopping, laundry, and even a Free the Hops meeting. And now for the next couple of days, I will be traveling out of town. But I'll be counting the minutes until I am able to return to the boat. Hull assembly is tantalizingly close, and we should soon see some tangible results of all the effort.

So until then, prospective builders might find this article as interesting as I did. As a scientist working with HIV and other deadly viruses and chemicals, I am used to taking safety precautions. And I found this article very helpful in re-emphasizing how much care must be exercised in boatbuilding.

Monday, December 12, 2005


The flipside of the parts epoxied saturday got their second coat today. This now adds another group of parts to the strakes that are now ready for assembly. I have a little touch up work to do on the transoms, and then the hull stitching can begin. This will involve drilling 1/16" holes at 4 inch intervals along the edges of the strakes and the bottom. The edges are then drawn together with short lengths of copper wire. With the curve in the different pieces, bringing the edges together will form the shape of the hull. Add some internal braces and seats, and a few coats of varnish and- voila! a boat! Total hours 15.25.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Sanding and second coat

The bulkheads and seat parts got a good sanding with 120-grit paper, and then a second coat of epoxy. The long list of tasks to complete before I can start assembling, or stitching, the hull is finally starting to dwindle down. Unusually cold temperatures have persisted in central Alabama, so I put a radiator style space heater in the garage in an effort to speed the epoxy curing. The epoxy itself isn't volatile, and the heater is away from any clutter, so I think it will be safe. I'll keep a close eye on it, just to be sure. The experiment here is to see if a 1500-watt heater has enough power to change the temperature in a fairly large two car garage. Total hours 14.75.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Eyes on the prize

I was thrilled to discover today that CLC has posted some new photos of the Passagemaker Dinghy on their web site. I was especially pleased to see more pictures of the boat under sail, which is the mode I plan to use most often. The paint scheme they use- bright white on the lower outer hull and varnish on the rest- looks really good, and is the finish I intend for my boat. The pictures also provide more detail than I have yet seen of the gunter rig. I haven't yet heard specifically what the difference between a gaff rig and a gunter rig is. There is a distinction based on the angle of the top spar. Nearly parallel to the mast means gunter; at some greater (yet undefined) angle means gaff, I gather. I'll put that on my list of things to ask my sailing friends in Maine next time!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Bow transom

Odds and ends tonight: I laminated the bow transom and doubler together. After learning with the stern transom, I maintained an extended watch, and kept wiping as excess epoxy seeped out of the seams. The stern transom ended up with a couple of drips, which will need extra work to deal with before the finish is applied. Things are much easier to deal with before the epoxy sets!

Cool temps persist. We saw a low of 22 degrees last night. I'll give the bulkheads and seats another day to cure before sanding and the second coat. And then after that: stitching begins! Total hours 12.75.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Last night, the flipside of the boat parts got their first coat of epoxy. But the cold arrived a little earlier than expected. This morning, the low reached 21 degrees, which is pretty cold for these parts. The garage held at about 50 degrees, which will slow the curing of the epoxy considerably. The cold snap is forecast to last for the next couple of days. If the epoxy will set enough not to sag, I'll probably bring them in the house and stack them somewhere warm, to speed up the curing. Total hours 12.50.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Roll, roll, roll your epoxy

Conditions came together today for the epoxy coating of more boat parts. This had to be postponed from yesterday, when I felt that weather conditions might lead to "outgassing", a condition where tiny air bubbles seep out of the wood and become stuck in the fresh epoxy, ruining the appearance. Also, yesterday was taken up with Christmas decorations around the house, and an office Christmas party. So today as many seat surfaces and bulkheads as I could fit on my work bench were given the first coat. Hopefully, I can get these and some other parts ready by Tuesday, when we expect some unusual cold. With daytimes highs expected to not get above freezing, it will be weather more suited to sanding than epoxy. Total hours 12.00.

Friday, December 02, 2005

The eyes of the world

In the course of a few weeks, this humble first-time boat builder has attracted the attention of readers from around the world. There have been nearly 500 visitors to the site since construction started, from places as distant from Alabama as Korea and Australia. In truth, the vast majority of visits come from North America, as the map above shows. Some visitors have been kind enough to send notes of encouragement, which are greatly appreciated. I was especially honored to receive a note from a CLC designer: I will try to not let the pressure that he is watching get to me! Thanks to all of you for your attention. If you happen to be in central Alabama next spring, don't hesitate to contact me. We'll go for a little sail!

Thursday, December 01, 2005


One of the things I missed out on in childhood was woodshop class. Even though my father taught some of the high school woodshop classes -- and don't I miss his skills now! -- I was too busy with all those honors science, math and English classes to learn some practical skills. So now, 24 years later, I get to find out what I missed all those years ago. With a roundover bit, I went over the edges of bulkheads and seating surfaces to take the sharp edge off the plywood where needed. I quickly got the hang of things, and it went pretty quickly. With a short break to discuss the life of Mozart (don't ask), I was able to prep all the internal pieces of the boat that are to be coated with epoxy before the much-anticipated stitching step. Total hours 11.50.