After a lovely two weeks away, we’ve spent the last fortnight in the workshop. If it wasn’t so infernally cold in there, we may as well have moved in for all the time we’ve spent there, as borne out by the total neglect of our house and the enormous pile of washing that I noticed when I last spent more than five minutes there. So we’re looking forward to a day off this weekend; ideally a sunny one, with lager in it.
But, whingeing about days off aside, we have made good progress and we are delighted to be seeing our boat take shape. Having squared and levelled the jig, we were about to start putting the frames together when a big delivery of cedar and epoxy arrived from Robbins Timber, just at the right time. We spent a while grading and sorting the cedar into the two different thicknesses we’d ordered, and making up bundles to store in the workshop until we need them.
The epoxy system comes from Wessex Resins, and is made by West System. It was originally designed by the Gougeon Brothers specifically for sheathing strip planked hulls like ours. Hamish at Wessex Resins has been fantastic, and has helped us work out exactly what we need for our boat. His advice has saved us so much time and we are very grateful to him.
By the time we’d put all the cedar and epoxy away, with the plywood frames stacked up and the jig in the centre of the workshop, there was hardly any space to move around in, so we spent the next few hours trying to reclaim a path to the kettle and stereo and sorting the frames ready to put up. It’s a good thing we spent two years living in a space the size of a large hotel bathroom.
Putting the frames up and bolting them to the jig carriers was easy and quick, as we’d hoped it would be. Apart from the bow section which took a little longer to bolt together and needed a couple of slots widening to accommodate a change in angle, it all assembled in about the same time as the fifth scale model, which was fantastic and quite a relief!
The keel was the next big job; this is in several sections, and needed fitting and glueing together, as well as fitting and glueing to the hull. This took longer than we’d thought.
Given its overall length and the necessary tightness of the joints on the keel itself and to the frames, we decided it would be best to glue one section at a time, leaving it in place in the frame overnight for the glue to go off, before finally glueing all the sections together and dry fitting them into the rest of the hull.
We spent a few days doing this, starting each day by saying ‘So we’ll fit the keel, then…’ and finishing each day realising that this wasn’t going to happen.
A bit frustrating, but better to do a good job than rush to tick something off a list and find out you have to go back and fix it later. Or, as Si’s mate Windy used to say, ‘Do it nice or do it twice.’ And the keel is fairly important…
While we were waiting for the various sections of the keel to dry, we cut and scarfed the timber for the sheer clamps to make them the correct length for the hull.
These are pieces of Douglas Fir which form the sheer or gunwale of our boat (the bit which will run around the top edge of the boat, like a mantelpiece). More cutting, glueing, planing and sanding, which has so far – unsurprisingly – been a major theme.
The glue we’re using is a polyurethane based adhesive and is very sticky. Not just to the stuff it’s meant to be sticking to, but also to other things like gloveless hands and also trousers, shoes and hair. It takes a relatively long time to tack off, which is great if you’ve got a big gluing job, like our keel, but less good when you have it on your hands and it won’t wash off or stop being sticky. This means that by the time it goes hard it has also gone brown from any pieces of wood or brown things you may have picked up in the interim. So by now our hands looked a bit like this:
So with the keel all on and the sheer clamps ready to go, we felt we were ready to epoxy coat the frames, epoxy fillet bond the joints and start planking. Now strip planking is not something you want to rush into, and especially not when you are epoxy coating things first. Epoxy is awesome – like the embalming fluid of the marine world. With epoxy, nothing can rust or rot, plus it’s strong and rigid which makes the boat more durable. But, presumably like embalming fluid (although I would imagine this is less of a concern in those circumstances), once it’s on, it’s on and you’re not going to get it off.
Once you look at something with a view to entombing it in exothermic resin forever you start to find all sorts of little things you’d like to do to it first. Like more sanding, planing and bevelling. So we’re not quite ready to begin planking yet, but once we do start we’ll hopefully be doing so with the best framework we can achieve and a better boat in the long run.