Category Archives: Boat design


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.


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.


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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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!

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.


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.

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….

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.

The first few planks!

Look, a plank! On our actual boat! It was a very exciting end to the week when we fixed the first plank in place a couple of Fridays ago. We spent a while debating where to put it, which might sound ridiculous but it turns out that in the world of planking, there are many ways to skin a errrrm boat. Sorry…

You could start from the top, or the bottom, or just freestyle it kind of in the middle in the best place where it fits the hull in a nice curve. Essentially you’re going to have to cover every inch of it with planks sooner or later, but it’s important not to make your life unnecessarily complicated. In general, I feel, as well as within a planking context.

So we decided that given the shape of our hull, we would be best to start planking from the sheer (i.e. from nearest the workshop floor) upwards with some wider planks, and then to work from the keel down with narrower lengths and finally meet in the middle with shorter sections.

We’re fixing our planks in a number of ways. Each plank arrived at the workshop machined in a manner similar to tongue-and-groove flooring; one side has a convex moulding and the other a concave moulding. Except that instead of being a square section moulding as with the flooring, it is rounded. This way each plank being joined can accommodate the curve of the hull. It’s called ‘cove and bead’, and it works like this:

We’re glueing each plank to the adjoining one with a polyurethane glue, which foams slightly to provide as tight a joint as possible. We’re then fixing each plank to the frames using plastic nails. Plastic nails? I hear you cry. NAILS, made of PLASTIC??!! Am I hearing you right? Garlic bread? GARLIC? BREAD? But let me tell you now, Peter Kay was right. Plastic nails are the future, we’ve tasted them. Well I haven’t, but there’s no accounting for Simon.

But yes, plastic nails are indeed a revolutionary step and a fairly recent innovation. The ones we are using are made by Raptor Nails and are fired using a pneumatic purpose-designed nail gun (very kindly loaned to us by Steve at Fibrefusion). The advantage of using these is not only the speed and ease with which you can fasten planks to frames, but also the properties of the nails themselves when compared to conventional metal fastenings. They are not only lighter and not going to rust, they can also be easily sanded or cut without needing to be removed when it comes to fairing the hull. We will eventually epoxy fillet bond the planks to the frames as well, and this combination of fastening should give us a very strong and light construction. But most of all, the rapid-firing plastic nail gun has got to be about the best toy ever and it’s a wonder we’ve got any planking done at all really with the amount of other interesting things there are to fire plastic nails at in the workshop, just for fun.

But eventually we got the first plank on, and managed to get three subsequent ones on in the same Friday afternoon, to our delight. The next day we came back to find the planks were all still in place and the joints that had needed glueing had all dried neatly, so we pressed on and managed to end the day with eight planks on each side! The cedar is bending well so far and we’re getting more confident about fixing planks in place as we get used to the materials and find the best way to do it.

Most conversations we’ve had with people in the past few weeks have started – quite understandably – with ‘How’s the boat? Have you started planking yet?!’ To which, having found a multitude of jobs to be done before the first plank could be fitted, the answer has been ‘No’, quite possibly accompanied by a large sigh. To anyone who has been on the receiving end of this, I apologise. But after a productive few days last week, the answer now is a resounding, beaming ‘Yes’. So if you’d all like to ask us again….

Fitting the sheer clamps

While the first coat of epoxy was curing, we made a start on fitting the sheer clamps. These are strips of timber that run along the length of the boat, forming a structural junction between the top of the frames and the deck. Obviously at the moment the top of the frames is the part of the boat nearest the ground. Given that our boat is open, Si designed our sheer clamps to be made up of two layers of Douglas Fir to produce a substantial laminate to stiffen and strengthen the hull.

So far, most of the jobs on the build have been straightforward. Some have required more thought, skill or experience than others, but most have been relatively simple to accomplish with a bit of patience and concentration. Fitting the sheer clamps was the first task we have taken on where we felt we were stepping into the world of more skilled boatbuilding, and we are so grateful that Bob (lovely and excellent carpenter and boatbuilder) was around to give us invaluable help and guidance with the job. We are lucky to have him so close by.

Given that each sheer clamp needed to be about 20ft to cover the length of the boat, we made each one up out of three pieces of Douglas Fir joined together with a scarf. By scarf I obviously mean a nice woolly cashmere one rather than the woodworking type where you join two bits of wood together by glueing one tapering flat surface to another to form a continuous unbroken length.

We fitted the inner sheer clamps on each side first and fastened them at the bow with an oak knee (triangular piece of timber which fits between two bits of wood being joined, a bit like a shelf bracket), which we bolted through at the stem with a stainless steel stud. We also epoxied it to the clamps themselves and secured it on each side with what is essentially a really long screw, but which Simon assures me is called a ‘lag’. Always nice to learn new words for these things.

Once the glue and epoxy had gone off on the first set of clamps, we glued the outer sheer clamps to these and clamped everything in place while the glue dried. There were a lot of clamps. Despite having collected as many G-clamps as we could before starting the job, we still ran out. As more than one wise person told us when they first heard we were building a boat, ‘You can never have enough clamps.’ They were right. We didn’t. But we did have a bit of rope and a stick which combined to form a sort of tourniquet technically known as a ‘Spanish windlass’ which held the sheer clamps in place in the middle, and a bit of rope, two blocks and a jamming cleat which pulled them together at the stern. And combined, they held the whole thing more securely than twenty G-clamps!

We’re really happy with the finished sheer clamps and even more happy that we can now begin planking. There are a couple of small changes that we felt could be made to the design of them from a fitting point of view, so Si’s going to have a look at modifying these and a few other details on the design for any future boats. But overall we are really pleased that the design is working out as Si planned and so far we are confident it could be built by anyone with a reasonable amount of common sense, determination and some really nice friends.

Epoxy coating the frames

Well we finally got to the stage where we felt happy to go ahead with epoxy coating the frames. This makes us sound very assiduous, but in reality we got to the point where we couldn’t face picking up sandpaper, planes and levels any more and decided to just go for it rather than whittling away for the next year and getting nothing done.

The first step was to coat all the joints with epoxy and then fillet bond them with a thickened epoxy mix to glue them firmly in place. The epoxying bit was fine – for some reason epoxy had been looming large in my head since the start of the build as something worthy of trepidation. Certainly it doesn’t come without provisos. But in fact, thanks to Wessex Resin’s excellent calculations and their handy generic fast food chain tomato sauce pump action type epoxy dispensing vats, it has proved to be much cleaner and easier to apply than I thought. In fact it’s a lot more pleasant to use than a lot of household and marine coatings and is gratifyingly shiny.

Fillet bonding – basically similar in principle to sealing around a bath or grouting (sort of) – was a bit of a different story, at least for me. Si made it look really easy, I looked at the boat, cheerfully underestimated the number of joints we had to bond and then doom settled as I tried to neatly apply smooth peanut butter into corners with a glorified ice cream stick. After a small tantrum, much coffee and a bit of practice I also got the hang of it, and now I’m a filleting demon. Who knew?!

Once that was done and the epoxy had cured, we set to work cutting off the wedges that had been hitherto holding the framework in place along with the glue and doing a final once over with sandpaper on the frames.

The next few days were spent applying two coats of epoxy to the frames, to ensure that everything was well covered before we started planking.

After a couple of years of doing painty jobs on Planet with a tiny, potentially rainy place to work in, without the prospect of a hot shower at the end of the day and having to cram everything back into a locker when you finished for the day if you wanted somewhere to sleep that night it was bliss to be able to lock up the workshop and leave everything ready to go the following day.

Thanks to Debs stepping in at the last minute to help us get the second coat of epoxy on before we had to go away for a few days, we managed to get everything done and ready to start planking on our return.

And look how dazzlingly shiny our boat is!

Assembling frames

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.

Starting to build our boat….

In the last week, the workshop has gone from looking like this….

To like this…..

And underneath the excitingly boat shaped tarpaulin is this….

This is the jig; the platform that will support the hull of our boat as we build it. Si designed it to be profile cut along with the frames, so that the frames themselves fit exactly onto the jig and can be fit into place quickly and accurately.

Once Simon finished designing the boat, he converted his design into kit form, nesting the component pieces for the jig and frames onto a collection of sheets the same size as a standard sheet of plywood. This way the boat could be profile cut by the three axis router at Fibrefusion with a minimum of wastage and a maximum of precision, speeding up the build considerably.

Si picked up the pieces of jig from Fibrefusion on Monday, and I left him at the workshop for a bit while I went to catch up on emails and the blog. By the time I got back the jig was together; it took Si about two hours to assemble the whole thing.

In the second picture of the jig above you will see there is a model sitting on top of it. This is a fifth scale model of our boat (about 1m in length), which Si had cut two weeks ago as a final stage in the process of checking and finalising his design. It is a model of the jig and frames of the boat; if you look at the photos below you can see how the jig of our actual boat is constructed in exactly the same way.

On Wednesday we got a message from Steve at Fibrefusion to say that the plywood for the frames had arrived from Robbins Timber, and later that day we heard from him that the router was in the process of cutting the third sheet of ply.

As far as possible we are using sustainable local sources for our materials, and in every case we are investigating the best way of achieving this. Even if it is not possible or practical to implement these choices this time, we hope that in the future it will be. So our plywood comes from Robbins Timber in Bristol and is FSC certified, which means it comes from a responsibly managed and verified source.

Fibrefusion finished cutting the plywood for the frames of our boat on Thursday and Si went to pick them up in the car. In fact, Si went to have a look at the frames being cut and arrived at Fibrefusion to find they were nearly finished, so stayed and picked them up. It’s a good thing I didn’t go with him in the end; there wouldn’t have been much space!

Thanks to Fibrefusion cutting our frames so quickly and efficiently, since then we’ve been sorting through them, sanding and checking them to ensure that they are all ready to put together and we are now ready to start putting them together. We’re away next week for a few days visiting friends and family but once we get back it shouldn’t be long before we have photos of the frame of our boat assembled in the workshop. Once that is done we can begin strip planking the cedar skin of the boat to the frames.

So after months of thinking and planning in front of a computer and over the phone, everything has finally started to happen. Very, very quickly! Seeing the footprint of our boat in the workshop has made the (slightly scary) enormity of the task ahead sink in, but it’s also made us all the more excited about our project, and we cannot wait to begin!

How to make a paper boat

Si’s now produced a flat packed kit of our boat; the frames, transom, keel, everything apart from the strip planking which will form the outside skin of the boat. As soon as we’re ready to start building, we’ll send the kit to be cut from plywood at full size. In the meantime, we’re using it to make test scale models out of card before we commit to buying and cutting large sheets of material. And, of course, to provide you with endless hours of entertainment. I know, we are too kind.


So, below you will find a PDF document containing two A4 sheets with the necessary shapes to make our boat. If you click on the link, your computer will download the document so that you can save it, open it and print it as many times as you like. Sheet 1 forms the skeleton of the boat; 3 stations, 1 keel, 1 transom and 4 diagonals. The second sheet contains 2 shapes that make up a skin for the model and provide the same shape that we will eventually achieve in practice with planking. This is just for the purpose of the model, but means it stands more chance of floating and looks prettier too. One quick note about the PDF: make sure when you print that the page scaling option in the print dialogue box is set to ‘None’. This ensures the kit prints out at actual size rather than being shrunk to fit the printer’s margins.

PDF kit

You will need the following:

–         card

–         scissors

–         glue

–         sellotape

I sat down yesterday afternoon and made a model from the PDF while Si was at his course in Newlyn. Being a survivor of left handed (i.e. blunt) primary school scissors, and innately clumsy, I can assure you that this works. If I can do it, you definitely can.

1. Take the first sheet of card.

2. Cut out the shapes. Cut along dashed lines, score and fold along dotted lines.

3. Cut out the Teach a Man to Fish business card. Pin it to your noticeboard. Pass it onto friends or influential acquaintances. Revel in our shameless advertising.

4. Cut slits between the lines on each shape.

5. Score along the centre line of the keel and fold it in half to make it double thickness.

6. Stand up the numbered stations on the keel and slot them into place. ‘1” goes nearest the bow. Leave the piece labelled ‘T’ for later.

7. I lost the will to live a little at this point the first time I tried this and went off and ate some leftover Christmas cake. Since then Si’s modified the kit design to make it better, but I can still recommend doing that.

8. Turn the boat upside down. If it feels a bit wobbly use some sellotape to keep everything in place. There’s no shame in doing this, especially if the only Pritt Stick you own is a bit fluffy and dried up.

9. Fit the diagonals to the stations. The two pieces labelled D2 go nearest the keel. The ends with rounded tabs go nearest the stern, and the bits labelled ‘glue’ go towards the bow.

10. Slot the diagonals together like this, and don’t worry if it looks a bit wonky to start with. You can straighten it out later. If it’s really dreadful you might need to get some thicker card or make the slots on the stations a bit bigger.

11. Fit the transom by slotting the tabs together, folding them back on themselves and sticking them in place.

12. Glue together the tabbed and labelled triangles at bow by laying one over the other. Slot into frame at stem.

13. That’s the frame finished! Take a few minutes to check everything’s in the right place, straighten out any wonky bits and put sellotape strategically in places so it can’t fall apart. If you’re not sure, pick it up and drop it. If it falls apart put more tape on it.

14. Take the second sheet and cut out the two pieces. Score along the lines and fold, then sellotape the cut edges together to form two curved shapes. If you score and tape on the labelled side of the pieces, you can then turn it over and pop it into shape so that the blank side will be the one showing when you fix it to your frame. You can colour in or decorate the blank side if you like, and make an even prettier boat.

15. Use the tabs on the skin pieces to fit to the frames as labelled, matching up the tabs on the skin with the shaded tabs on the keel.

It might be helpful to glue the tabs a few at a time, using clothes pegs to hold them in place.

16. You’ll find some other small rounded tabs on the uprights stations fixed to the keel. Use these to glue or tape the skin to the frame, and keel. Repeat for the other side. And that’s it!

Have a go and send us your photos of your finished boats; especially decorated, colourful and floating ones! We’ll post them up here as they come in.

Making a half model

Some of you might have seen my excited tweet about our half model last week when Si emailed me a picture over from Fibrefusion, the profile cutting company run by Steve Neal in Falmouth. Earlier that day Simon took over a memory stick containing his design for our boat, and Steve very kindly agreed to let him record the process of turning several large pieces of glued together MDF into an exact scale replica of Si’s design. Si also took a couple of videos, so I’ll try to get those up here in due course. In the meantime, here’s how to make a half model using a massively cool robotic three dimensional power chisel. You may want to try this at home.

Sadly, although the process of making a half model this way is somewhat akin to magic, it is not just a matter of inputting a file into the cutting machine and pressing go. The machine – a three axis router –  works from its own cutting software.

So before starting the cut, Steve had quite a bit of work to import Si’s design into the software and get it to the stage of being ready to cut. To over simplify what is in reality a complex process, it’s a case of giving the router a series of intricate directions that make up its cutting path, which in turn produces a physical replica of the original CAD drawing.

It’s also a question of working out how best to cut the shape out given the material and the cutting tools available. We used MDF, as it’s cheap, stable and readily available, but you could use an old toilet roll or some pipe cleaners if you like.

Once that was done, Steve set up the router to cut by selecting the appropriate tools and calibrating it. The sheets of MDF were then glued together to the required thickness for the eventual model, and placed on the bed of the router. The machine has a powerful vacuum which holds the materials being used in place during cutting to ensure accuracy.

The router then performs a series of cuts, each one more accurate than the last.

The first cut is a very coarse one, which produced a rough shape of the hull for us and discarded much of the redundant material.

As you can see, even by the end of the first cut the shape of our boat was beginning to emerge.

The machine then performs a second cut using a different tool. This produced a close likeness of the computer model and left the hull ready to be faired.

Finally the machine uses a third tool to sharpen any edges that the rounded second tool can’t make square, and to hone the final shape.

And that’s it, a finished model! Si gave it a quick light sand, but apart from that it came off the machine completely smooth and perfect. So here’s one we made earlier…

Including the time taken to set up the machine, change tools and make small adjustments during the cut, the whole process took less than three hours. It’s pretty incredible.

We’re both absolutely delighted with the half model, and incredibly grateful to Steve at Fibrefusion for all his patience, time and effort.  We now have a tangible representation of what is to come and a solid and sturdy scale version of our boat. Which is exactly how we like our models.

Classic Boat Design Competition 2010

In November 2009 Classic Boat magazine launched a competition to design an inshore fishing boat under 10m using only sail or oars, with a deadline of 28th February 2010. The brief encouraged the incorporation of targeting sustainable fishing methods into the design, and it caught our attention. You can read it here: Classic Boat Design Competition Brief

Unfortunately (or not!), in November 2009 Simon and I were in the middle of France, making our way through the canal system to the Med on our boat Planet. It wasn’t until about two weeks before the deadline, when Simon’s parents came to see us bearing gifts of sailing magazines that we found out about the competition at all. Si debated whether to enter or not, but decided that even with minimal time and resources for research (dial-up speed internet at 5 euros an hour being all that was available where we were by then) it was worth a try.

It might seem a bit of an obvious progression now, but at the time we weren’t thinking of any connection between this and what we’d do when we got home. Si managed by the skin of his teeth to get a design sent off by the deadline, resolved to go back  and make several changes he had not had time to incorporate at a later date and we thought little more about it, knowing that it would be another few months before results were published. We were more concerned with getting from Marseille to Greece in that time, so any design work got shelved for the time being as we spent most of our time sailing. It wasn’t until we got a phone call from a friend while we were anchored in a lovely bay in the Northern Sporades sometime in the June or July of 2010 that we found out that Simon had been given joint third place. You can read the results in Classic Boat‘s July 2010 edition.

The feedback Si got from the competition judges was mixed, but ultimately encouraging, and has been very useful when revising the design more recently. When Simon sat down to design our fishing boat a couple of months ago, his sketches and the brief from Classic Boat were obvious places to start. The judges’ principal criticisms of Si’s design and any subsequent changes or comments he has made are as follows:

1. The amidships sections are too round. Fair comment. Si has since adjusted these to provide better initial stability and flatter mid sections.

2. The sheer is too straight. Traditional Cornish boats have always tended to be relatively flat sheered for reasons of economy and because of building constraints. Lines plans of old designs confirm this. Si has kept this in his latest design for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

3. The bilge keels are too deep. Simon’s design is no longer bilge keeled; despite being a practical keel profile for a beach boat, it is less appropriate for fishing as from what we have gathered bilge keels have a tendency to snag fish when handlining. Furthermore, they are a more costly option to build.

4. A self-draining working deck is unrealistic given the design submitted. Also fair comment. Latest design does not specify a self-draining working area in any case as the overall length has been reduced and this is no longer practical or necessary.

5. The main mast is too far forward. The main mast would be too far forward if it was going to be built out of a solid spar. However, Si is planning to use hollow spars and has filled out the forward waterlines so the weight distribution will work well with this arrangement.

Simon is confident that the majority of issues raised are either no longer relevant or have since been resolved, and in any case the design is taking on more of its own direction the more we find out about the parameters within which we’ll be working.

The eventual winner of the competition, James Wharram, is actually based near us at Devoran and has been a successful yacht designer for over fifty years. We were delighted to find the other day that he has now launched the first example of his winning design, Amatasi 27. She is a 27ft sprit rigged catamaran yawl based on the traditional canoe boats found in the Pacific.  Amatasi is designed to be built either in ply and epoxy, or in timber planking. From the sounds of things there is quite a bit of interest in the design already, and we hope this continues to go well.

The Classic Boat Eco Fishing Boat Design Competition also led to various MPs proposing an early day motion praising the magazine for launching the competition. An early day motion (for those who like me had no idea what this was when they first read about it) is a formal motion that is submitted for debate in the House of Commons. Very few are ever actually debated, but  individual MPs can sign these motions to pledge their support and raise awareness of an issue. Basically, as far as I can tell, they are the ‘like’ button on Facebook or the car windscreen sticker equivalent of the world of Parliament. More about this and fishing under sail and oar in the next post…

Designing our boat: how it works

Si’s now almost at a stage in his boat design where he can start to make a scale model of our boat and use this to assess the shape and fairness of the computer model of the boat that he has been working with up until now. Once this is done, we can start building! So I thought it might be interesting to talk about what Si’s done so far and why, and what is still to come before we start on the build.

I sat down to write about the design and realised that for all the time I’ve spent sitting next to Si while he’s been drawing and designing, I actually had very little idea of the specifics steps of designing a boat. So I made Si sit down and take me through the process of design from the first little lightbulb moment to the swanky roll of paper at the end with borders and numbers and names and ‘build me’ written all over it. This is a condensed version of our conversation:

1. You get the brief, or the idea. You sit down and scribble down anything that comes to mind. Your take on the concept and your initial idea of how the boat will look, how long it will be, what it will be made of, what kind of rig it will have.

2. You do a parametric study of other boats within a broadly similar category. This allows you to specify the design criteria and constraints, and is a massively good excuse for wandering around boatyards and perusing boat magazines.

3. With this information, you go back to your original sketches and start to revise them. You outline the features you want your boat to have, its general dimensions, and you make initial decisions on things like hull materials, rig, sail area and weight.

4. Once you’ve done this, you produce a model. In the past, boat builders would always produce a half model of the boat, by carving a lump of wood into a scale version of half the hull. Some boat builders still do this, but in general nowadays the process happens on a computer screen using three dimensional modelling software.

5. With a first draft of your design on the computer, you run through a series of checks and calculations to tweak your design and ensure that it fulfills the aims stipulated on the brief. Inevitably, changing one element of the design has a knock-on effect on all the other elements, so you go round in series of cycles, adjusting and honing everything until you arrive at your final design. This process includes everything from calculating the boat’s stability, working out how to make your design comply with regulations and coding, to adjusting the length to fit the location the boat will be used in, and deciding on what colour you’re going to paint the seats. Si is nearing the end of this process right now. All in all, the process looks something like this (except hopefully less wonky):

6. Once everything has been accounted for and checked, and you are happy with your final design, you produce a solid half model of the boat, cut from either foam or timber. This gives you the chance to show a customer a tangible representation of their boat, and allows you to appraise the shape and fairness before committing to building your boat. In the past, at this stage, the boat builder would have finished shaping and carving the original half model based on the decisions made in the previous step. The easiest way to get a half model cut these days is by sending digital files of the design to a cutting company, who will be able to use a three axis router to automatically cut the shape directly from your design.

7. What you do next depends on the hull material and method of building. Si’s decided to build our boat out of strip planking which will then be epoxy sheathed. So with this method, having cut your half model, and made any necessary adjustments, you start on the process of making the design into a plywood kit to build with. By doing this, you produce a design that can be built quite quickly and cheaply as a one-off boat, but with a design that can be digitally cut and replicated any number of times.

8. The plywood kit will form the skeleton of the boat, over which we will fasten the planking. Si will convert his digital design into a series of pieces that can be individually cut and put together. The file he produces will look something like a flat packed pop-out kit for making a toy model with. Think Airfix. Before sending the file to be cut at full scale, Si will make a tenth scale model out of card or thin plywood to check that all the pieces of this skeleton fit together as they should. This also gives you a good idea of how the build itself will work, and is a last minute chance to make any changes. Once this is done, you send the file off, get the pieces cut at full scale, and start building!

Why build and design a whole new boat?

There are hundreds of boats out there. Sailing boats, rowing boats, power boats. Boats made of wood, fibreglass and steel. There are catamarans and monohulls, open boats, floating palaces, inflatable dinghies and canoes. There are plenty of fishing boats, and plenty of sailing boats suitable for single handed use. So when we first thought of this idea, we looked around to find the right boat for us. Tempting as it was for Si to design a boat for purpose, we didn’t want to spend time and money reinventing the wheel.

She would have to be under ten metres and unpowered. The rig would have to be simple and easy to manage; easy to power and depower. The boat would have to be stable and seaworthy enough to be able to be used in a variety of conditions; at sea and in an estuary. It would have to be a design of boat that allowed a maximum of space to work from; a predominantly open boat without unnecessary fittings and features. On calm days or in tricky conditions the boat would need to be able to be rowed, in order to continue fishing. Tides and drying harbours meant that she would have to be able to safely take the ground; she would either need to be long keeled with legs, or else bilge keeled or shallow draughted with a lifting keel. The particular constraints of Portscatho’s harbour meant that she would realistically need to be  a maximum of six metres (20ft) to fit a berth in the porth itself. Most importantly, she would need to be a suitable fishing boat; robust, not fussily finished, with a large working platform able to support the necessary equipment and the eventual catch.

We looked around at existing designs and models of boats, paying particular attention to boats with fishing in their heritage. We decided that the best rigs would be lug, sprit or junk rig, for their simplicity, ease of use and low tech but powerful qualities. We ruled out bermudan and gaff rig; despite being more efficient, they both require headsails to work effectively and are therefore less attractive for a single hander. Bermudan rig is less easily depowered and is not quietly and easily scandalised. While it is easy to do this with gaff rig, as demonstrated by the Falmouth working boats,  it’s an unbalanced rig that needs to be stayed for support, leaving the centre of effort of the sail plan further aft. We decided that a yawl rig would be preferable to a cutter as it allows you a relatively large sail plan which is easily balanced by a small mizzen. It’s versatile and easy to rig and derig, plus a modern lug rig can be self-tacking.

Our search narrowed down to a few possible contenders. The suitable end of the market was broadly divided into leisure boats, decommissioned sailing fishing boats and historical replicas. The best examples of leisure boats that we were found were Francois Vivier’s Ebihen 18 and Swallow Boat’s Bay Raider; both of which are suitable for sailing, rowing and beaching. The Ebihen 18 is sloop or cutter rigged, however, and the Bay Raider is a lighter, sportier and more expensive boat than we were looking for. Former fishing boats have the undeniable advantage of being tried and tested, but are generally heavy wooden boats needing high maintenance and repair, as well as often requiring a crew of more than one. Although Simon is not always planning to go fishing alone, it may very well be the case most of the time.

The final category of historical replicas had several very interesting contenders, most notably the Heard Tosher. The mould for this design was taken directly from a Mevagissey Tosher; built and used to fish singlehandedly under sail. This was probably the most tempting boat of all the ones we looked at. The Toshers are readily available locally for a reasonable price and are proven in their abilities as both fishing and sailing boats. What’s more, our beloved Planet was built in the same yard so we know the quality and strength of the boats produced by the Heard family. The only downsides of the Toshers are their weight and their rig. Most Toshers for sale have now been converted to gaff rig for racing, and the lug rigged versions that are available are sloops rather than yawls. We seriously considered buying and modifying one of these, but eventually decided that a displacement of over a tonne would prove difficult for one person to manoeuvre under oar and at sea.

So we came back to the idea of an in-house design; this way we could use Si’s expertise and have a purpose built boat that we knew inside out as our result. In the next few posts we’ll talk more about the design concept and process for our boat.