Monday, October 31, 2005


Never a big fan of catsup (or even ketchup), I am nonetheless filled with anticipation of the arrival of my boat kit. Chesapeake Light Craft claims a shipping time of at most 7 days after ordering, yet there is no word that my kit is on its way from Maryland to Alabama. Well, as they say, good things come to those who wait, yada, yada. Meanwhile, I have purchased another batch of necessary tools at HarborFreight. If the boat doesn't arrive soon, I won't have room for it in my garage for all the tools. But purchased on this trip was a flush cut, or Japanese saw ($8.99), set of two draw planes ($15) including a small block plane, and an 18-volt cordless hammer drill ($29.99, marked down from $60). I still am on the search for the large number of clamps that will be required for parts of the boat construction. As the curved planks are wired, then epoxied into place, many C-clamps or spring clamps are needed. A purchase for a future trip...

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

V for...Victory?

Today my new driver's license came, and with it Alabama's permission for me to operate a boat on state waters. Like sailing on a windy day, the process had its ups and downs. Getting a water craft license involves a class and a test before the license is granted. The class and test are conveniently available online- surprisingly efficient and modern for the Heart of Dixie. So with the boating experience I already have, I was able to skim through the course and take the test online ($15) in a couple of hours. What followed totally negated the convenience of the online certification. After a few days, a boating safety certificate arrived in the mail, with instructions to take it to a drivers license facility where the appropriate mark would be placed on my drivers license. Fine.

My first trip, I show up to the local Shelby County DMV building, expecting to wait in the line for license plates and titles. This is the line that moves much faster than the line to take the actual drivers exams, which is not so much a line as a room packed full of surly and sullen 16-year-olds and their parents. Much to my shock, I found that I had to go into that very line to get my boat certificate "verified" before I could return to the faster license line. I took a number and waited for it to be called. After an hour of waiting, I projected my wait time to be on the order of months, so I left with a plan to return when school was back in session.

Many weeks later I returned, making sure to get in line very early. I managed to snag the third place in line, so that when the doors opened, I was in the first batch of people who's numbers was called. At that point I witnessed a study in bureaucratic inefficiency and teen psychology. There was only one examiner, a young woman with the beaten down demeanor of one who has dealt with nervous teens and impatient parents. Of course, the first girl she sat down to fill out the paperwork was missing some form or another of required ID. So they continued with the paperwork and eye exam while the mother rushed home to get it. Next was a monosyllabic boy who didn't know his street address. Apparently the family had just moved, and dad had to be called in to solve the mystery. Then--hallelujah!-- it was my turn.

What I thought was going to be a quick visual check turned out to be the same paperwork that the teens went through, without the eye exam. So the proper form was filled out ($5, cash only) to verify the certificate the same state had sent me only weeks before. Only then was I approved to go across the hall, and have my picture taken for a new license ($18, check o.k.) And that was three weeks ago. Today, the new license arrived, with the newly embossed "V" added to signify that I may now operate "vessels" in Alabama waters. Time spent? 4 hours. Cost? $38. All for the coveted V.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tools! Gadgets!!

The fun begins! Kathy and I stopped off at Harbor Freight in Birmingham to start buying things we'll need in boat building. At the mecca of cheap tools of all kinds, we picked up a pair of metal saw horses ($28), a good tape measure ($7) and a cheap electric hand sander ($9, marked down from $30). I have a feeling we'll be frequent visitors in there in the coming weeks!

The Craft

The nautical world has some colorful, and sometimes quirky, terminology. The boat that I will be building is a dinghy, usually referring to a small rowing boat that is used as a tender or lifeboat to a bigger boat. It can also be called a pram, for its flat bottom. The hull style is called lapstrake, meaning the planks that form it are overlapped. And to add another, it might be called a gunter sloop, which is the type of sail plan I intend to add.

As for details, the overall length will be 11' 7" and a beam of 4' 8". The boat will have a draft of 6" with the centerboard up, and 30" with it down. If I build it correctly, it should weigh about 90 lbs, yet will carry 650 lbs on the water. For propulsion, it can use oars, a spread of 78 square feet of sail, or an outboard motor of up to 4 hp. The boat was designed by John C. Harris in a Norwegian style. I can't wait to get started!

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Plan

How does one actually go about building a boat? The design I've chosen is quite simple, actually. For a small boat, the method results in a good looking boat that is strong, yet simple to build. In this case, pre-cut sections of mahogany marine-grade plywood are curved and "stitched" together using copper wire twist ties through closely-spaced holes drilled in the edge of each piece. The joints are then filled with an epoxy to make them strong and waterproof. Then, the hull is sheathed in a layer of fiberglass to add strength. Finally, the boat is finished with layers of epoxy and then varnish or paint.

As one who has gone before me, Daniel Alverez shows on his web page how this is done. The boat he built is very similar to what I will be doing.

Friday, October 21, 2005

In the Beginning...

So the odyssey begins. After consultation with Kathy, I just clicked on the purchase button, and the kit to build our Passagemaker Dinghy wooden sailboat is on its way from Chesapeake Light Craft. Delivery is promised within a week, which should be enough time for me to pick up the other sundry supplies I'll need, like saw horses and plenty of clamps!

This is a first for me. I've never built anything of wood. Beyond screwing together some inexpensive furniture from Bombay Company, the world of woodworking is entirely new to me. But I rationalize things thus: I am intelligent. I can assemble recombinant HIV viruses and engineer new genes. Surely I can catch on to simple woodworking techniques. And I have many resources behind me. Friends and family with experience. And the internet, through which I can call on myriad resources. So hopefully, I can see the project through to completion.

That's the other big worry, though. With a busy life, will this project be partially completed, only to be abandoned when the novelty wears off, or a serious difficulty is encountered? Stay tuned...