Category Archives: Boat build

Sailmaking

Collins menagerie

When it came to making sails for Kensa, we didn’t need to look too far to find a good sailmaker. We’re very lucky to live down the road from Collins Sailmakers, which just happens to be run by good friends of ours. The main reason we chose Collins, however, was because Nick made our sails for Planet when we went away on our trip. Having used these sails every day for two years, in 40 degrees of Greek sunshine as well as 40 knots of Greek wind with very few signs of wear at all by the time we got home a few thousand miles later, we know they are sails we can rely on.

We spoke to Nick about the rig and sails for our boat from early on in the project while Si was drawing up the sail plan in the later stages of his design. Very generously, Nick suggested that in the spirit of our project we might like to be involved in the making of the sails as well and we jumped at the chance to do this.

We spent one Saturday down at the loft building the mainsail; learning from Nick how the various stages of the process fit together and having a go at things ourselves. Si spent a summer while he was at university working for a sailmakers in Falmouth, so had an idea already of how machines worked. I was less useful, given my ineptitude with even the most basic of sewing skills, but took plenty of photos to make up for it.

Si then spent several evenings leading up to the launch working on the main and mizzen in the loft and consulting Nick whenever he needed to. In the days just before our launch, with no time to spare and the mainsail not quite finished, Nick very kindly stepped in and completed it for us in his own time. Following the launch, Simon finished the mizzen himself.

To give you an idea of how our sails were made, here is a ridiculously over-simplified step-by-step guide to the process, illustrated by photos and explanations of how we built our mainsail. Our sails are very traditional and simple when compared with their modern counterparts, and I can’t stress enough the level of skill that goes into making a sail. This is just a Blue Peterish glance at the basics:

1.Design sail, choose material and cut the panels. In our case, the sail plan was done by Simon and then passed to Nick, who used his software to cut each component panel out on the plotter. In the past this process would have been done by hand, but now sails are able to be cut precisely to a digital design (much like Kensa’s kit-like framework); saving time, materials and ensuring accuracy. There’s a little time lapse video of the plotter cutting our mainsail panels here. We chose a hard wearing tan cloth for our sails. Not only is it the most traditional option, it’s also the most practical given the amount and type of use they will see. Fish blood and guts on a white sail would not be so becoming! In the past, when sails were made of natural materials like flax or cotton, they were tanned with cutch (a vegetable extract) and oak bark to protect them from rotting or perishing in sunlight or damp conditions.

2. Glue together and seam up panels. The cut edges of the cloth are first sealed with a hot knife, then the panels are glued together with double sided tape before being machine seamed to form one single, large panel.

Seaming up the main

3. Cut and tape up the leech. This is the vertical edge of sail furthest away from the mast.

Cutting the leech

Once the sail was all in one piece, Nick trimmed this to shape and stitched a tape into the length of it for strength.

Taping the leech

4. Make and fit patches. As with any other item made from cloth, sails need reinforcing locally in places where they are going to be under most strain or subject to chafe. This is typically going to be near the peak, tack, throat and clew (the corners of a gaff or lug sail).

Si worked to make up patches and tape them in place, which Nick then seamed up on the machine.

5. Add cringles, reef points and eyelets. Seeing the sail as it was below at the end of our day in the loft made it feel as though it was almost finished, but in reality there was still quite a bit to add. We purposefully chose a very simple rig for Kensa, so accessories (there’s probably a technical term for that…) were minimal.

Buddy helping

And here it is a few months later, along with the mizzen, on their first trip out back in October!

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Spars and rig

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Kensa has five spars; the main mast, main yard, mizzen mast, mizzen yard and the outrigger or bumpkin. We had always intended to build these from scratch from Douglas Fir or similar timber. However, as time went on during the build, we realised that this was going to be not only time consuming but costly. So we went about sourcing our spars in a slightly unorthodox fashion…

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We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Bob Edwards for two of our spars. Bob owns a beautiful Carrick 18ft restricted class gaff cutter and has over the years replaced and made spars for her himself. We were extremely lucky that not only did an old bowsprit prove too bendy for Magpie but perfect for our outrigger, but also that Bob was kind enough to break his main mast early last season, leaving us with a very useable length of timber for our main mast. Clearly the latter was no laughing matter for Bob, although within weeks he had already built a beautiful new main mast for Magpie in his workshop.

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Our main mast is a bit of a mongrel. Being unstayed, it needed to be both very strong; something that could be achieved by a solid wooden spar but not without ending up with an extremely heavy mast. Carbon is both exceptionally strong and exceptionally light, so suited our purpose perfectly, but is an expensive and bespoke material. So we were delighted when we were offered a large section of carbon tubing, made by our friend Steve Neal at Fibrefusion as a test piece for the carbon mast during the build of his own boat Daisy May. It was the right diameter for Kensa’s rig plan, and so became the middle section of our mast, scarfed between two sections of Magpie’s wooden mast.

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Once Simon had joined the mast together using thickened epoxy, he painted and varnished it, adding a simple set of iroko ‘ears’ to fix the halyard to. After testing the mast in fresh winds, we decided to sheath the lower and mid sections in fibreglass for added strength. The nature of lug rig means that unlike modern Bermudan rig, the main stress on the mast falls on the lower end where it passes through the deck, and without stays to support the mast, this end must be above suspicion.

Making up the mizzen mast

The mizzen mast was more straightforward; thanks to Ian Webb at Percuil Boatyard, we managed to get hold of a hollow wooden mast which had originally been the main mast for a Falmouth bass boat. After cutting it to size and closing up the groove along the length of it where the roller reefing had been, we varnished it and fitted it down at Percuil.

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With the outrigger in hand, the only remaining spar for the mizzen was the yard. We had decided early on to use an old windsurf mast for this. Windsurfs spars are made or reinforced with carbon and are also designed to be light and strong. They are also perfectly Kensa sized, and Rick Iddison was kind enough to give us an old one he had that was no longer being used.

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In the end, the main yard was the only spar made from scratch.

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Si glued lengths of Douglas Fir together to make this. Douglas Fir is widely used for yacht masts and spars as it has a straight grain, glues well, and is available in long lengths.

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Once the timber was glued to length, Si shaped the pieces of the yard using a circular saw and plane, before clamping and gluing up the whole assembly.

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He then sanded and varnished it and it was ready to go!

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We’re very proud of Kensa’s low-tech eco-friendly rig. Our priorities for the rig is that it is strong, light and easy to use. Together with the sails, we have a simple, traditional set up which allows us to handle her easily in a variety of different conditions for a variety of purposes. Plus, it looks pretty!

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Last jobs before launching

Fitting the hatches

The last few days before the launch passed in a bit of a blur. Fibreglassing the decks was the last bit of structural work we had to do and by the time we finished this we had ten days left before our launch! Plenty of time…

Decks undercoated and coamings fitted

Most of the remaining work involved painting or fixing. We got an undercoat on the deck and fitted the coamings (the wooden border around the cockpit in the picture above). Coamings are designed to prevent water on deck from getting into the cockpit and ours are made of epoxy coated ply.

Glueing up rubbing strake

We also bolted and sikaflexed the rubbing strakes to the hull; longitudinal lengths of iroko which prevents damage from occurring to the hull. In traditional wooden boatbuilding, a thicker plank (or strake) was built in at this height to allow for inevitable wear, but nowadays rubbing strakes are added as separate fittings, which makes them replaceable if necessary. Miraculously we managed to fit both strakes without getting black Sikaflex all over our newly painted cream hull!

First fitting the stem band

We also fitted the stem band, which we were unable to add until the boat was the right way up. This was bonded with Sikaflex and screwed to the stem and welded at the bottom to the rest of the keel band by Robin.

Welding stem band

Adding the final coats of paint was satisfying; it was lovely to see Kensa come together as the boat we’d had in our minds’ eye for the last few months.

Painting blue stripe

Admittedly it would have been nice to have had more time, but we were incredibly lucky to have an army of friends and family who all pitched in to help in the last few weeks.

Painting the detail strip

We wouldn’t have completed Kensa without them and we especially want to thank Debs, who gave up every minute of her free time in the last few weeks to helping finish Kensa. She has been an important part of our project from the very start, helping with everything from clearing the path to the workshop to painting the sole boards with particularly noxious floor paint without complaint and we are so grateful to have her support.

Last coats of paint

The only real issue with painting – apart from too many solvents on a warm summer’s day – was the difficulty in moving round the boat and the workshop with wet things to avoid!

Interior painted

We painted the floorboards, the planks inside, the blue detail strip around the sheer. We painted the deck, the coamings, the rudder, our faces, hands and feet. There was a lot of paint.

Paintwork finished!

What else? We varnished the transom, painted the rudder and got that and the tiller ready to fit. Our best mate Fergus, who also happens to be a talented sculptor and furniture maker, made us eight beautiful cleats out of oak. Si’s parents shifted lead ballast, went shopping for last minute paint, parts and screws and cooked for us for the last few days. Without this we would have probably lived on crisps and Haribo for three days.

Newly varnished transom

Name boards, very kindly and beautifully made for us by Richard Smith, were attached and that was it. Done! Suddenly we could stand back and see Kensa as a ‘proper’ boat.

Name boards on!

Or at least, we could have done, had we had been able to stay awake….

Me finished!

After the launch…a few more photos

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Fitting the deck

Another slightly late set of photos….

Filleting up inside

Once we’d turned Kensa over things seemed to progress very quickly. This was partly because the deadline was looming and we were by now running on technically illegal levels of caffeine and solvents and partly because the nature of the work left to do meant we had a series of short finite tasks to complete.

Finishing filleting

But mainly, and most satisfyingly, we actually were a lot quicker at getting certain jobs done. Because for the first time we were repeating processes which had been completely new to us a few months back and finding – very pleasingly – that we were considerably more confident and competent. So things like epoxy filleting the last joints which had been inaccessible while the boat was upside down were straightforward jobs that we got done quickly. That said, there were still a few tiny spaces to get into to achieve this….

Quite a small space

Once we’d finished making her watertight, we got on with fitting Kensa’s deck structure. In order to do this we needed to plane back her sheer (the top edge now that she was the right way up) to get it level and fair.

Planing back the sheer

Most of Kensa’s deck structure was already in place given the construction of her frames, but for extra strength and fixture points we still needed to add the carlins, longitudinal wooden battens.

Fitting the carlins

We bonded these with thickened epoxy and clamped them in place before epoxy coating them.

Deck structure all fitted

Next we cut the deck panels to fit. These are 9mm plywood, in order to be flexible enough to take the deck’s curve.

Deck cut and ready to fit

Once the panels were cut to size, we coated them with epoxy and got on with fitting the outer transom. As I was writing this post, I looked back through our Twitter feed to remind myself of the order in which we did some of these jobs. I happened to idly glance at the date of our posts and was filled with slight horror when I noticed that the photo below was posted on 1st August, a mere 18 days before our launch date! We still had quite a lot to do then… This may explain why I have little memory of last August!

Decks epoxied!

The outer transom is essentially a large bit of plywood the same size as the transom which covers and protects the plank ends and acts as an aesthetically pleasing fascia or fake bum for the boat.

Fitting outer transom

This was cut and shaped and bonded to the hull using thickened epoxy. We clamped it in place where we could, but used a prop to hold in the bottom end of the transom where there were no suitable clamping points. The only alarming thing about this was that the other end of the prop was wedged up against the end of the shed. Although we love the shed to bits, it is old and frail in places and we worried slightly that this much pressure might be too much for the end wall; in a fight between boat and shed we rather assumed Kensa would win! Fortunately the epoxy cured without any mishap and the shed is still as intact as it ever was…

Side decks fitted

With the deck panels coated and dry, we set about fitting them, using thickened epoxy and a combination of screws, penny washers and ratchet straps to clamp them in place while the epoxy cured.

Sitting on deck!

Actually, we ran out of penny washers. So in absence of a handy Screwfix, we decided the most expedient option was to drill holes in 2p pieces. I believe this is some form of high treason and probably punishable by death, but we risked it anyway and got the job done in half the time.

Side decks epoxied

Once each section of deck was fitted, we epoxy coated them ready to be fibreglassed.

Foredeck fitted

The foredeck went on last, partly because it was the most complicated shape and partly because there was still work to be done fitting the mast step before the area became covered and hard to get to.

Decks epoxied

While we were waiting for the epoxy to cure we worked on the sole (floor) boards; the last pre-cut pieces of the boat ‘kit’ to fit.

Cutting out sole boards

Having test fitted them, we cut out the individual locker lids and coated them in two layers of epoxy.

Epoxying sole boards

This was all simple enough, but rendered complicated by the size of the boards themselves. Thanks to British weather, we had to keep moving them in and out of the workshop in order to find enough space to work on them while avoiding rain and epoxy mixing, which they don’t do well!

Deck fibreglassed

Finally, we fibreglassed the deck with one layer of thicker 600gsm cloth and epoxy. Having learned to fibreglass on Kensa’s hull, it was bliss to come back to it with some experience and a flattish surfaced to lay it on and find that it really wasn’t that difficult to do!

Painting the hull

Well, here you are! Just what everyone needs on a sunny Friday evening when the pubs are opening…some pictures of paint drying!! I bet you’re all riveted. We’ve finally got a computer with a decent sized screen, so I thought I’d sit down and sort out any loose ends from the blog. Things got pretty hectic in the weeks leading up to our launch last August, so I neglected to write about the last few jobs of the build and I’ve been meaning to for ages. Some of these are worth explaining, but some – like this one – are not.

So here are some photos of us painting the hull last summer, just before we turned her over. Six coats of undercoat, wet sanded between coats and three coats of topside cream, together with two coats of underwater primer and antifoul below the waterline. Quite some solvents!

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Rudder and tiller

Some jobs during the boat build felt as though they took proportionately far longer than they should do given their eventual importance on the boat. At least in my head. For example, I did not for a minute begrudge the time and effort that went into making Kensa’s keel; this is an important part of any boat. Everyone knows that. Some parts of the boat however, like the sheer clamp and the carlins, were quite the opposite. To be fair, their ultimate quality has a huge effect on the structural integrity of the hull, but nobody knows what they are, you can’t see them in the end and they took ages to make and fit.

Making the rudder

So imagine my joy when we set about making a rudder and tiller for Kensa. Here were readily recognised nautical items, imperative in the manoeuvring of the boat and yet surprisingly quick and easy to make! This is one job I could have strung out for ages, making us look like heroes….but having written half an honest post (half a post honestly that is, rather than a half honest post) I am too lazy to go back and start again.

Glueing up the rudder

Essentially, what happened was…Si designed the shape for the rudder, which was CNC cut along with other components out of ply in three pieces ready to be stuck together like a sandwich. We glued these together, sanded them, then coated them twice in clear epoxy. Then we painted it. That was the rudder.

Making the tiller

For the tiller, we found a suitable piece of oak and worked out where to cut it to by measuring it up against the boat. Then we shaped it so it was pretty and easy to hold, epoxied it and varnished it. And then we joined the rudder and tiller together with a bit of stainless bar that we had lying around and bolted the rudder onto the hull. To be fair to Si, the stainless pintles and gudgeons (essentially a boatbuilding word for a gate hinge) that we used were made up of profiles designed by Simon and cut by Steve at Fibrefusion. They fitted perfectly and proved to be a very neat and efficient way of bespoke fitting a rudder to our hull. But that was it! Job done!

Finishing the tiller

There is one other thing. The piece of oak that we used to make Kensa’s tiller was in fact given to us, along with several other pieces of old unwanted timber, by Graham Thomas, the landlord of our excellent local pub The Plume of Feathers. The oak came from the Plume and had been in the cellar there unused for as long as Graham can remember. So if we end up in the pub at the end of a day’s fishing, we’ll know to blame our tiller!

YouTube videos

I’ve just added another little time lapse video which shows the whole boat build from start to finish in 11 seconds…well at least an idea of what happened! You can watch that here and other videos of the boat build on our YouTube channel, where we’ll keep adding more videos all the time.

Keel band and bilge runners

Given that we’ll be largely working Kensa out of Portscatho it was important that we built her not only strong enough to take the ground in the drying harbour, but also with keels resilient enough to not mind a bit of wear and tear in case of adverse weather. So once we’d added the bilge keels themselves and finished painting the hull, the last job to do before turning over was to fit a strip of stainless steel to the length of the keel as well as to the two bilge keels.

Si drew up a simple design for them and Steve at Fibrefusion profile cut them at his workshop. This was the quickest and easiest way to get them to fit Kensa as closely as possible, using as little material as possible and therefore saving on both waste and cost. Obviously getting  a single strip of steel the length of Kensa from Falmouth to Portscatho would have been a bit impractical for us, so Si had it cut into smaller segments, which Robin Edwards then welded together for us to form a single length.

Once we’d checked them against the hull, we drilled holes to match the pre-drilled holes in the steel and filled them with thickened epoxy to avoid any water ingress. We then re-drilled them and bonded the strips to the keel and the bilge runners using a combination of screws and Sikaflex, in order to allow for some flexibility of movement. The first rule of Sikaflex seems to be that no matter how careful you are or how many pairs of gloves you wear you will always end up with just as much on you as on the thing you were applying it to; judging by how much black adhesive we were covered in by the end of the job I’d say those keel bands aren’t going anywhere!

Turning over

“When are you going to turn her over?” was probably one of the most asked questions in the first few months of building Kensa, closely followed by “How are you going to get her out of that shed?” (more of that to come) and “Do you fancy a quick early door?” The last one generally coming from either me or Simon as six o’clock came round and we caught a waft of cold lager drifting out of the Plume of Feathers door…..

Standing in our boat for the very first time

Once we’d fitted the stainless keel band and bilge runners we were ready to turn her the right way up. Although Kensa fitted perfectly in the workshop, it didn’t leave too much room to manoeuvre…getting to the kettle was bad enough, but turning the entire hull was another matter. We armed ourselves with tyres, rolls of old carpet and four brilliant and massively over-qualified volunteers; Bob, Robin, Oliver and Aaron; all of whom have worked professionally moving boats, building them, mending them or sailing them. Carlsberg don’t do turning over teams, but if they did…..

Half way over!

Between the six of us we managed to successfully turn Kensa over in the workshop without having to do more than take one of the strip light bulbs out to give us a bit more height to work with. We turned her on her side first and steadied her there, shifting carpets and tyres to support her. Then we slid her across to the other side of the workshop and turned her the rest of the way. It was momentous, but happily for all the right reasons!

Our newly turned over boat

Seeing our boat the right way up for the first time was a brilliant moment, filled with a bizarre mixture of pride and relief. For weeks we’d been craning our heads round trying to see how she’d look by bending down and looking at her upside down behind us, which did little other than induce dizziness and some explaining to do if anybody happened to walk around the corner and up the path at that moment. So today was very special indeed!

Our lovely team of helpers!

If you can imagine the feeling of having spent a long time making a cake and getting to the point of turning it out of the tin willing it to stay in one piece and look as you’d hoped (I can, just about, although I can’t say it’s a regular occurrence) and then times that by a lot you will have an idea of how it felt today. And even better to get in and stand in your cake for the very first time! Lush.

Inside structure

Full sail!

So we built a boat and then we cut some holes in it….. Slightly nerve wracking  but after Si finished the main mast a couple of weeks ago cutting a big round hole in the deck was the last job to do before stepping the mast and going for a sail.

We were really lucky that good weather and spring tides combined to give us plenty of time on the beach without being rained on to cut the hole for mast in the foredeck and bring the remainder of the rigging down from the workshop.

Robin Edwards kindly transported the mast down to Kensa and along with Debs gave us a hand to step it using the crane on Percuil Boatyard’s moorings raft.

Everything went amazingly smoothly; the mast fitted the hole and foot perfectly and in seemingly no time at all we were rigged (albeit in slightly temporary fashion) and ready to go for a sail!

Kensa has an unstayed lug rig; this is basically the simplest form of rig you can get, involving as few bits of wire and rope as possible.

This not only makes it easier for us to fish from Kensa with a minimum of rigging to get in our way, it also makes it considerably quicker and cheaper to get her sailing.

Although we knew from Si’s drawings and plans how the rig and sails was going to look, it was still quite a surprise to see Kensa fully rigged and ready to sail.

As we set off, Robin followed us around in the punt taking photos before joining Si, Debs and me for the rest of the sail back to the mooring, which happily means we have pictorial evidence of our maiden voyage to show you all!

I’ve sailed around Percuil plenty of times in similar sized boats. We had been out on Kensa before and felt her float and sail downwind under mizzen. And yet there was something so special about sailing our boat that we’d built and Si had designed in bright sunshine in what is one of my favourite places in the world.

It was an amazing feeling; I don’t even think we were sailing – it was more like flying, having just invented it for the first time. She went really well; she’s got a lot of canvas and with a decent breeze we’ll probably reef quite early. But she’s still not properly ballasted, so she’ll settle a bit once that’s sorted, which we can work on now that the weight of the rig’s all in the right place.

The mast was looking a bit too flexible towards the bottom for our liking, where the length of carbon tube joins the wood, so we decided to wrap that in fibreglass and epoxy to strengthen it and see how that goes.

But despite a stronger counter spring tide and a head wind, we successfully tacked up to Kensa’s mooring and put her to bed looking proper, with both her masts in the right place. Unfortunately we were so overexcited by all this we were forced to go and sit down in the Plume of Feathers for a while to calm down…..

Bilge keels

Because we’re going to be predominantly working our boat out of Portscatho, Si designed her with bilge keels so that she could comfortably take the ground in the drying harbour. Once we’d finished fibreglassing and fairing, the next job before painting and turning over was to make and fit these to the hull.  We decided to make them out of opepe (a tough, durable hardwood rather than some kind of product to treat bladder weakness) and fit them after fibreglassing. This made more sense as it avoided the need to glass over a protuberance on the hull (thereby potential creating a weak spot) and allows for repair work to be easily carried out on a part of the boat that is likely to get heavy use and sustain damage.

Having marked the designed position of them on the hull, we spent some time checking this by eye with the opepe cut roughly to size.

Once we were happy we transferred the curve of the hull to the wood using a spiling block (a tool used to offset a curve; essentially a pencil on the end of a bit of wood) and cut the timber to fit. We then used this as a template to cut the starboard bilge keel and checked this against the other side of the hull.

Finally, Si cut and planed the outer profile of each keel, using Bob’s table saw to remove as much wood as possible without compromising strength in order to streamline the keels.

We then mixed up a thick epoxy fillet blend and used this to bond the keels to the hull, also locating them temporarily with screws (eventually replaced with bolts once we’d turned over).

It’s amazing how much the addition of bilge keels changed the appearance of the boat; like looking at a face without ears and trying to work out what’s wrong with it, then adding ears and being all like ‘Oh yeah’. The following day, having given the epoxy bond time to cure, we coated the keels in a layer of clear epoxy.

We gave the keels two coats of epoxy in total, ready to be painted and then fitted with stainless steel runners to protect the hull from damage when the boat takes the ground. Lovely shiny boat ears.

Fibreglassing

So…..where were we?? Before the launch, the last thing I wrote about was laminating Kensa’s stem. Clearly a lot more happened with the boat build between then and the 19th August, not least turning her over, putting some paint on and drinking epic amounts of coffee. In my head, I was going to update the whole blog a long, long time ago, so that everyone could read about the rest of our time building Kensa while her launch and the last few coats of paints were still fresh and tacky in our minds.  However, blatantly that didn’t happen. BUT, be excited my friends, be very excited, because it is happening now and this is just the first in a flurry of new posts giving you exclusive detail on the remaining items what we stuck on our boat and painted. And right here, right now, is what happened when we started fibreglassing……..

Here is what I knew about fibreglass before we started building our boat: somehow it is something that ends up looking like shiny hard plastic and yet starts off looking like fabric. A process happens between these two stages; I believe it is called ‘lamination’ but it sounds quite boring and complicated and I would prefer (as with many other scientific phenomena like electricity and internal combustion) to think of it as ‘magic’. My husband talks about it a lot and uses words like ‘chop strand mat’ and ‘polymers’, which I regard as watchwords for nodding and mumbling appreciatively while continuing to watch Hollyoaks. To be fair, Si does the same when I start talking about etymology or syntax and I can scarcely blame him.

We were so pleased to have finally finished planking and to be starting work with new materials, but despite having done quite a bit of work with fibreglass in the past, Si had never worked with the same combination of cloth and resin we were going to be using, so he decided to talk it over with Alex Whatley, a friend and ex-colleague of Si’s from Falmouth Marine School. Alex works with the college to manage the Marine Innovation Service, a Cornwall College initiative supported by the European Regional Development Fund which offers specialist support and consultancy to small to medium sized marine businesses in Cornwall. Alex and Simon decided that it would be interesting and possibly beneficial to our build project to try vacuum bagging the fibreglass on a section of our boat, in order to ascertain whether this approach would be more effective than the alternative; traditional wet laying of cloth panels and resin.

This is essentially how fibreglassing works. First you need cloth made up of glass fibres. This comes in many different guises, and you make a choice depending on the strength of material you need, the type of resin you are using and the shape of boat you are working with. Oh and budget. Because like most bespoke tailoring, it doesn’t come cheap. The next step is to coat the fibreglass with resin. It is possible to use either epoxy or polyester resins in combination with glass fibre cloth to make fibreglass. We chose to use epoxy. Epoxy is a tougher, more adhesive, virtually odourless alternative to polyester which matches and exceeds all polyester’s properties of strength and impermeability. It’s a system of resin and hardener which when combined with each other react and form a solid plastic. This reaction is called ‘exotherming’. Previously I just thought this was a lolz way of referring to that feeling you get on your face when you’ve fallen asleep under a midday Mediterranean sun for too long, but there you go. We were using a biaxial glass cloth, which is stitched rather than woven and, as its name suggests, has fibres running in diagonally opposite directions to each other. We chose this cloth because it drapes well to fit the curves of our boat, plus it provides diagonal stiffness to the hull to stop it from twisting under strain. In addition, the fibreglass obviously seals and waterproofs the planks to give a strong but light, seaworthy hull. To build up the strength we needed, we used two layers of 450g/sqm biaxial cloth and epoxy resin.

We decided to vacuum bag the transom. As we were going to add a wooden outer transom towards the end of the build, it was worth experimenting with this section of the boat; if the finish was not as fair as we’d hoped, nobody was going to see! Vacuum bagging requires a few more materials and tools than hand laying, as well as space and expertise, so we were delighted that the Marine Innovation Service was able to offer us not only the loan of their vacuum pump and bagging materials, but also Alex’s help and hands-on knowledge for a few days. Vacuum bagging basically applies fibreglass by using atmospheric pressure to squash the laminate down and hold it one place until cured. Essentially it acts like a giant clamp, which allows you to apply several layers of glass at one time while removing some of the work of consolidation (squeegeeing out of resin). In addition to applying glass cloth and resin, we built up our sandwich of materials further with a layer of peel ply (a woven cloth that wicks up excess resin), a layer of perforated plastic film called bread wrap (because it looks like that, duh) which allows resin to travel upwards and be absorbed by the final layer of breather fabric (fleecy duvet). On top of all this we made one massive plastic bag out of plastic sheet fabric and sealant tape. The vacuum pump hose then attaches to a small hole in this and sucks all the air out. Genius!

The process worked well but we quickly discovered that the shape and construction of the boat meant it was hard to seal up all possible leaks in the outer bag and achieve a good vacuum. This, combined with a certain lack of space in the workshop and our own limited experience of working with the vacuuming equipment meant we felt we would be best off going for a more traditional approach of wet laying one layer of fibreglass at a time by hand and using peel ply between each layer to achieve a good surface to bond the second and final layer to. We are very grateful to Alex and the Marine Innovation Service for their support with equipment and time. Being able to discuss our options with Alex and benefit from his expertise to try out a different option was fantastic and we learned a lot from it.

And so we started fibreglassing the rest of the boat by hand. This is the (slightly implausible and very sticky) scenario. It’s a lot like sticking a large poster to a wall with wallpaper paste and a brush.Work out which area of the boat you’re going to put the first panel of cloth onto. Pour an enormous amount of epoxy resin into a roller tray. You need enough to cover the same area as the bit that’s going to be covered by the panel of cloth; this in turn is defined by the width of the roll of cloth and the shape of the area of hull you’re working on. Then you add the hardener to the resin. We’d been working with epoxy quite a bit up to this point, but never with such large quantities. And the thing about epoxy is that when you put lots of it in one space together all the molecules get all overexcited and jump around and have a party. It’s a molecular moshpit, a rave in a roller tray and you’ve got to get this sticky, expensive ticking time bomb of a liquid onto the boat you’ve spent months lovingly building before it goes everlastingly solid. Not only do you have to roll the resin out onto the boat, however, you also have to lay the cloth on it in the right place, roll more resin out over the cloth and squeegee the surface so that there are no dry patches, no excess resin or drips and no bubbles or wrinkles anywhere. All of this before the exothermic reaction kicks in and the materials bond together til the end of time. In normal ambient room temperature with the materials we were using you’re looking at around forty minutes. It’s like a profanity packed episode of the Crystal Maze without the whistles and portcullises.

Obviously the first time you do this you have to run the gamut of beginners’ mistakes; too much resin, not enough resin, laying the cloth in the wrong place so that you have to peel it off and redo it, by which time the countdown clock to epoxy zero-workability hour has run down a little further. But eventually you get there, and the feeling of stopping, taking gloves off and looking at a finished panel of fibreglass with the satisfaction of knowing it’s never going to need doing again is immeasurable. Inevitably the process leaves you a bit sweaty and entirely covered in epoxy. It also renders you incapable of taking any photos, which is why there are no pictures of us laying cloth or squeegeeing resin. 

The playlist is crucial, we discovered. Reggae is too relaxed, too slow; the otherwise perennial Paolo Nutini too devil may care; Muse too mutinous and angry. So we chose what goes best with an adrenalin and caffeine fuelled exercise: 90s electronica – and we Leftielded and Prodigied our way through the first layer of fibreglass.

Over the next few days things improved dramatically as with each panel we got more skilled at what we were doing. Coming into the workshop the day after putting the first panels on to find that the resin had cured and that the fibreglass looked suitably smooth and fair and fibreglass-like was reassuring and gave us confidence that we weren’t in fact ruining a perfectly sound wooden hull by covering it with shoddy lamination.

Another gladdening influence was sugar. As in many other areas of life, where fibreglassing’s concerned Haribo helps. Half way through our second bag of the day and about two panels into the second and final layer of glass some visitors arrived at our workshop. Begloved, dishevelled and munching on sour cherries, I waved at them as they came into the workshop and mumbled “Sorry, I’ve got a mouthful of Tangfastics.” Two of them looked vaguely familiar, but being unable to remember the name of these blokes I had presumably met in the pub at some point, I just smiled and chatted as we showed them round the workshop. It wasn’t until they left that we realised who they were. It turns out that I inadvertently introduced our fresh, local artisanal fishing business to two of the judges from The Great British Menu while chewing on global branded gelatinous confectionery. Oops.

So, at the end of this what did I learn? Fibreglassing; amazing concept, genius results, deliciously finite. We’re really pleased with the finish we achieved and delighted to have learned so much, but in all honesty? I wouldn’t choose to do it again.

YouTube videos

We’ve now got the whole of Kensa’s build documented in a series of YouTube time lapse videos.  You can find links to all of them here. The first, Jigging to Planking, takes you from building the jig to attaching the first planks to the frames. The second, Keep on Planking, follows the process of planking and fairing the hull and the third and final video, Turbo Boatbuilding, takes you right up to the launch. Enjoy!

Our launch!

What a day! So many people, so much sunshine! So much champagne…… We had an amazing time last Sunday and couldn’t have asked for a better launch day. Thank you so so much to everyone who came and helped. We’re just both slowly getting back to reality after an amazing few days of celebrating and sleeping and as soon as possible I will update the blog with the last few jobs we completed on Kensa and more about our launch day. In the meantime, you can have a look at some photos of the day here – thank you Mary for these! And thank you to Bee for this, and to Paul for the photo below!

Oh and we’re in the paper! This week’s West Briton has an article about our project and Kensa’s launch; you can read it here.

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Laminating the stem

Having -thankfully- finished fairing the planks, we needed to make a stem for our boat before starting fibreglassing. A stem is essentially like the front bumper on a car, except for on a boat. Although it is a little more structural than a car bumper, if you ran into the back of another boat (which of course we’re not going to do…) that would be what you’d hit first. Up until now the furthest forward bit of our boat has been the bit of wood our planks are fastened to at the bow. This is called an ‘apron’, for reasons unknown, except that like the one in our kitchen it sits there and ends up with things piled on top of it and covered in dust.

So to go over the apron and the plank ends we needed a single, strong, shaped piece of wood to make our stem. The only problem being that trees don’t grow to exactly the same curve as our bow, or at least not any more. Back in the day, when the New Forest was actually a forest and trees were grown in places like that especially for building boats, different parts of a tree would be selected according to their shape and properties for building different parts of a boat. But these days you’re more likely to be buying timber in uniform machined chunks and it makes more sense to make the shape up as a laminate.

A laminate is basically something made up of two or more layers of material joined together. So a sandwich is a laminate. It could be a cheese sandwich or a ham sandwich or ham and cheese sandwich; it doesn’t matter what the materials are, it is still a laminate. To stretch the bread analogy a little (and possibly unnecessarily, but I’m going to do it anyway) further, we made our stem as an all bread and butter sandwich, out of white oak bonded with thickened epoxy. A twenty slice multi storey Scooby Snack of a white oak and epoxy sandwich, bent into a curve and left overnight to cure.  Yum.

Bob very kindly offered to cut the solid piece of oak into strips for us using his table saw, which saved us no end of time and frustration and meant that our piece of oak was in twenty thin slices ready to glue in the space of about half an hour. Lovely Bob.

We made a pattern for the stem out of thin ply….

…which we then laid down on the workbench and drew around, screwing in blocks on each edge to form a jig to fit our glued strips into.

Then we started making our sandwich. Unlike butter, epoxy has a limited working time before it begins to start curing and hardening. So we needed to get the glue on the strips in time to clamp the stack into the jig before the epoxy went off and stuck everything together in the wrong shape. Making a twenty slice sandwich several feet long in the twenty or so minutes available is no mean feat, but with Si doing the rolling and me mixing epoxy like our lives depended on it we managed just in time.

We put one end of the glued stack into the jig and clamped it into place, then bent the other end of the stack round and screwed the last blocks in place behind them. The picture below was in fact taken of a dry test fit we did of this before we started glueing, to check it worked. It did. And despite being slightly more unwieldy when covered in epoxy, it worked again fine when it came to doing it properly, to our relief!

Once all the blocks for the jig were screwed in place we added clamps and cleaned up any excess epoxy, then left the whole thing overnight.

The newly laminated piece of wood came out of the jig fine the next day, and once we’d given it a sand it was satisfyingly hard to tell it wasn’t one solid piece of oak rather than lots of thin bits glued together. Lamination is officially amazing.

After some minor reshaping to make it fit over the apron as tightly as possible, we made some holes in the stem and using a combination of bolts and epoxy fillet blend fixed the stem to the rest of the boat.

Once this had hardened we coated the stem in a layer of clear epoxy to match the rest of the hull, and then stood around for a while admiring the lovely shiny oak. It’s amazing the difference adding the stem has made; the whole boat looks altered and more complete. It’s like someone getting a new haircut so that you can’t remember what they looked like before. In a good way.

All we had to do before the end of the day was to wait for the man from Autoglass to turn up and mend our car windscreen, which in a fight with the oak for our stem on its way back from the timber yard had lost and cracked. After a few weeks now of using tools and operating machinery all by myself, I was really grateful to the Autoglass man for the lesson in how to open my car’s bonnet and especially for the painstaking, loud, slow and clear fashion in which he delivered it. I never would have been able to work out that pesky ‘key in the lock and turn’ action without his help. To be fair to him, he did mend our windscreen most beautifully, all ready for the next time we take a speed bump at a jaunty angle and ram a solid block of oak through the glass….

Our progress so far…..in under four minutes!

In the corner of the workshop there’s a camera taking photographs of the two of us working on the boat or drinking coffee with people who stop and say hello. And every day we take the camera home and put the photos on our computer ready to make into a time lapse video of our boat coming together. And guess what??! We made one and it’s on YouTube! So if you’re feeling a bit weekendish and jaded, flick the kettle on, put your feet up and click here to see our boat being planked in the time it takes to make a cuppa! And once you’ve done that, grab your coffee and before you get distracted by clips of trumpet playing cats and compelling late 80s music videos click here to find links to other videos we’ve put up of the build!

Fairing the planks

Buoyed up from finishing planking, we trundled down the hill to the workshop the next day all excited about sanding the planks and fairing our newly built hull to perfection. A bit of sanding, I thought, after planking? How hard can that be……?

I am so glad our boat is only 18ft long. The best tool to use for sanding and fairing a hull is a longboard. This is a long piece of sandpaper attached to a board with two handles on it placed there in a dispassionate nod to the user’s comfort, which is the most effective tool for sanding a large curved surface. It is essentially a large nail file, and a few days ago I was unfamiliar and incompetent with both items.  Now it’s just the nail files that are a problem, although sanding serves the dual purpose of paring back both the wood and any remaining skin and nails on your fingers. No need to bite them now. Oh no.

So anyway, back to being buoyed up (I am about to embark on a self indulgent rant about the irksome nature of sanding, so don’t be lured into a false sense of wellbeing at this stage). We started with zeal, attacking the roughest looking planks and glue seams, ripping back uneven joints and standing back every couple of minutes to smugly survey our work and the growing pile of sawdust on the floor. The hull looks better already! We’ll be there in no time! Probably before lunch even! No. Oh no.

The enthusiasm in the workshop dwindled. The novelty of longboards wore off, and our arms began to ache. At first in that slightly annoying way like when you’re holding a really quite light picture above your head while someone nails a hook into the wall. It’s unpleasant, quite boring but fine, until suddenly and inexplicably it turns into a concrete block of a photo frame and it’s all oh no quick I’m going to have to let go in the next three seconds before my shoulders break and I drop it. This was quite similar in a more excruciating, inevitable way.

I briefly considered resorting to weeping and running away type behaviour, as befits someone in their late twenties, then realised I was going to have to stick it out (annoyingly Si was being much more stoic about the situation than me). So I gritted my teeth, adopted what I imagine was a Paula Radcliffe type face of grim resignation and got on with it (while continuing to use conventional toilet facilities). Over the next few days we both became rapidly dependent on sugar and caffeine, sweaty and covered in dust. Small children could have played in Simon’s hair. And at the end of it I am very much in awe of anyone who fairs boats, sands things or files nails for a living. I don’t think I could do it and still crack a smile.

But we got there in the end, via a mixture of longboarding along most of the hull and using an orbital sander on the planks nearest the keel which we couldn’t reach with the boards. We filled a couple of low spots in the planking with a very light epoxy filler and then did one final fair over the whole hull before deciding we were happy to starting coating the planks.

We’re going to be coating the hull with two coats of biaxial glass cloth and more epoxy resin, but as the hull is bare timber it needed a first coat of resin before doing this. Fortunately the sun was shining on Wednesday so we took advantage of the warm weather and ended the day by rollering on a coat of clear epoxy.

It was total heaven to be a) in a dust free environment b) doing something as relaxing as applying epoxy with a roller and c) look how UNBELIEVABLY shiny our boat is now!

We’ve finished planking!

Finally!! Very happy indeed to tell you we have finished planking our boat and now have a single joined up wooden hull. It took us a little longer to do than we had originally allowed for (a week or so….optimistic frankly Holmans) but we’re pleased with the job we’ve done. She might not be perfect, but we think she looks alright! We missed the Jubilee deadline by a couple of days, but managed to completely close the boat up on Thursday last week after a few days off for the celebrations.

I won’t lie to you, we are fairly delighted to be done with planking. We learned a lot, and I’m quite sure as transferable skills go plastic nail gunning will come handy in the future on numerous occasions. In all seriousness, I’ve probably learned more about working with wood in the last few weeks than I otherwise would have done in the rest of my life. But once we’d got the hang of it and realised it was going to take us a little bit longer than we’d thought the repetitive nailing, glueing and clamping began to wear a little bit thin, particularly on those days when it was hard to work out how eight hours could have passed without the gap to close on the hull getting appreciably smaller.

So we ground some more coffee, started a running total on the wall with a marker pen of how many planks we’d put in each day and thanked Twitter for its motivational qualities and accountability. And actually, planking’s not that bad. Actually nothing’s that bad after two cafetieres of Holman coffee.

Once the ends of the planks running from the keel met the ends of those running from the sheer (roughly where we’d got to in my last post), we started angling and fitting planks in alternately in a herringbone pattern until the gap in the middle was about as thick as five short planks…

Then, when we got to the last few planks we planed the convex and concave mouldings off each strip to give a square edge so that we could fit each one as a single full plank more easily. From there we continued to work down from the keel, until we ended up with a tiny eye shaped hole into which we fitted the final plank on each side, shaped to fit exactly.

By the last stage we’d forgotten all about it taking too long and begun to enjoy what we were doing regardless of glue covered forearms and looming deadlines, so that by the time the last few planks went in we were just delighted to have got that far and ridiculously proud of the little hull that had taken shape in the workshop. And a bit surprised; as we were standing around wondering what to do next having just nailed the last plank in place, Si turned to me and said (incredulously)  ‘*!@! Cat, we just made a boat out of wood!’

Still planking…

Well it’s going alright! I say this in a slightly surprised, slightly trepidatious (not a word, should be) voice. We’re a little bit behind on our schedule, a couple of jobs have proved more tricky or time consuming than anticipated but generally, yes, it’s going alright. The planks are going on and every day our boat grows and the prospect of her being a buoyant fish-catching entity seems less remote and unimaginable.

A couple of people have said to us, ‘It must be a pretty special feeling, building a boat’. And I’ve been considering this. Part of me says ‘Yes’, cheerfully, while inwardly thinking ‘I am entirely dressed in my husband’s clothes* which are covered in a snot-like sheen of hardened glue even when freshly washed and I have just spent the last half hour in a human rights violatingly small plywood box wiping epoxy into my hair whilst the scratchy radio played Gotye for the fifteenth time today. Yes, yes it is special.’ But it is good to be reminded that it is special and we are building a boat. Clearly the fact that we are building a boat has been apparent to us from the start, but it has not always felt like this. Often it has felt more like we were sanding and epoxying random loveless bits of plywood for no obvious reason and ‘Why am I doing this? I would prefer to be lying on the sofa or on Facebook.’ But now we are getting to the stage where if you can look upside down behind you without falling over at our boat you see an actual boat. I look at it and I can imagine us finishing this boat and it being our boat that we built and that is very exciting and very special indeed.

It also makes the building process more purposeful and enjoyable.  The first few planks went on easily, and we thought we’d be finished with it in a jiffy. Then we got to planking the curvier bits and things slowed down and planks snapped and it felt interminable. And now we’re at the stage where things seem to be settling down. We’ve planked from the top down and the bottom up and now the planks are beginning to meet in the middle on one side and are very close to doing so on the other. On good days we can get about six to eight planks on and on bad days it might just be two. But the light at the end of the tunnel is clearly visible and we’re aiming to have her completely planked by Jubilee. I may regret broadcasting this but there’s nothing like a bit of guilt and failure to motivate you.

We’ve got two different widths of plank. Where we can we use the thicker planks as they cover more area more quickly. However, sometimes the curve of the frames is such that these would be too thick to accommodate this and then we use the thin ones. These bend better, but cover less area, so on a bad day fitting twisty thin planks you can finish thinking that what you’ve done has made no difference at all, whereas on a good day with thick planks you feel like actual Noah.

*They don’t make girls’ clothes you can do work in, just ones you are meant to paint your nails and pout in, whilst holding your stomach in in (in). Boys’ clothes are miles more comfortable and hard wearing than ours and make the accomplishment of routine daily tasks such as bending down to pick things up, walking and breathing a lot simpler and more enjoyable.