Sunday, September 25, 2016


Last time I posted about the awesome belaying pins my buddy made for me. To return the favor, I made this door mat from a pattern found in The Arts of the Sailor by Hervey Garrett Smith.

It took 50 feet of 3/8-inch manila, and another 20 feet of 1/2-inch around the outside. My first attempt was in 1/4-inch rope, and there 50 feet made a hotpad trivet for the table not much bigger than a doily. This one looks a little lumpy, but I think it will flatten out as it gets stepped on.

Just a small distraction from painting the boat. The weather being colder, I couldn't paint. But this week promises temps in the 70s, so I hope to finish painting the bottom. I'm going with Rustoleum.

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Home-made Boat

Back when I was sailing the fiberglass production model Lido 14, I thought a home-made boat might look amateurish and clumsy. The Lido looked like a professional job. But the more I sailed that boat, the more I decided it had no character, and no soul.

So I'm feeling very close to finishing the new boat, the boat I built myself. I've been told I could have it finished in a week, if only I didn't have to work my day job. And it doesn't look too clunky, if I do say so myself. I've made almost everything on the boat myself. I milled the scantling timbers myself out of 2x8 lumber. I laid the epoxy and fiberglass myself. I designed new elements beyond the plans, like the foreward hatch, and the centerboard. My wife and I sewed the sail together, and I set the grommets.

But this evening I got by with a little help from my friend Cody. He's an incredible wood worker. I was worrying about how to make the belaying pins for the rigging. I want this boat to feel salty, and belaying pins do that. Round things require a lathe that I don't have. Cody, however, also makes his own gear, and he made a lathe that is powered by a foot treadle. And he made my belaying pin in an hour. It would have taken me several hours (and several failures), or else I would have had to pay $12 each plus shipping to order them online. So I don't feel too bad about having something I didn't make myself.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Fall weather closing in

The mornings are down in the 40s these days, with a cool, fresh bite in the air. Daytime temps are still in the 80s. Once temps dip down below 70F in the daytime it really puts a crimp in the cure time of epoxy. It seems the boat (is she called Romany? Furthur? Calypso? other suggestions?) is sooo close to being done, but there are still a hundred items on the completion list. Installing the inwale, the mooring bitt, the mast step, the skeg, the seats. The whole rudder is still just a dream, though I have the hardware in hand. And then there's all the paint and varnish. Not to mention rigging: installing the various cleats and blocks and lines and sail.

But small slow progress continues. Today I installed the mast partner. That's the part about a foot above the floor that holds the mast. It looks and feels solid, if I do say so. I still need to install the mast step: the part that seats the foot of the mast against the floor. I got another gallon of epoxy in the mail last week, and today I started laying fiberglass on the floor and deck. There's still a couple of hours of daylight, so I might get a little more done as well.

That's not my actual mast, by the way. It's a section of lodgepole pine that I thought about using as a mast, but in the end I glued up a couple of 2x4s (pronounced "tubafer"), and rubbed off the corners until it looked sort of round. But it still gives you the general idea, doesn't it?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Sampson Post

Work proceeds apace as the last days of summer wane and autumn weather lies boding on the horizon. Will this boat float this year?

All sorts of distractions keep me from working on it. Last week my school teaching gig picked up again, ending the long summer days when I could gaze wistfully at the boat shaped thing and ponder my next move. Now I have no more than two hours at a time in the evening to get something done.

Over the weekend I managed to get several pieces cut which will become the supports for the center thwart bench, and also for the "sternsheets" seat. I have no idea why they call it that. Stern as in rear of the boat, and sheets means a control line on a sail, but "sternsheets" somehow means the seat in the back of the boat. It also functions as an airtight chamber for reserve buoyancy.

But the big news today is that I cut and fitted the foredeck (is it too presumptuous to call it a "foc'sl"?) and sampson post. The front deck also functions as an airtight chamber for flotation. Because it is fitted with inspection ports, you could use it as cargo space, but anything you put in there detracts a bit from the reserve flotation. That's why I made the foredeck 4 inches lower than the sheer (top edge), so that I could lash cargo up on the deck.

Foc'sl, inspection hatches, and sampson post
In addition to the foredeck you may notice the sampson post in the middle of the foredeck. "Won't that get in the way?" you ask. Well, maybe so. "Isn't it a little presumptuous, on such a small boat?" you ask. Well, maybe so. But it looks cool and that's all that matters. "What's it for?" you ask. I'm glad you asked. The sampson post is tied in to the framing of the boat below the deck so that you could really tug on it. After I finish all the assembly, I will install a bronze rod, or "bitt" cross-wise through the post. Then I will be able to use it as a towing point, or as an anchor tie-off. The area in front of the sampson post will be dedicated to storing an anchor I think.

With all of this flurry of activity I'm waiting for a good weekend day when I can glue a bunch of pieces into place. I have a gallon of epoxy coming in the mail. With all the pieces cut and ready, that will complete the major construction. All that's left will be rigging, paint and varnish. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Uncle Richard

A sailboat needs a sail. This little boat I'm building called for a "balanced lug sail" which means the sail hangs from a spar ("yard") which crosses the mast. This yard hangs in a balanced fashion. Lug sails are four-sided trapezoids. This sort of sail is rather old fashioned, but the style is making a resurgence among sail-&-oar types. It is simple and easy to handle, particularly single-handed (as in one fellow on his own-- not with one hand tied behind the back).

Balanced lug sail in Wyoming. Courtesy chip-skiff,
Because the lug sail is sort of old-fashioned, I had no luck finding a used sail. Most modern production boats use triangular sails, like the old Lido you heard me cursing in earlier posts. So I couldn't really find a used sail. And when I asked sail makers to sew a new one, I got quotes in the $500 range. That seemed exorbitant to me since I bought a used sail outfit for the Lido for only $200. What's a fellow to do?

I called Sailrite! This outfit cuts sail panels for standard patterns and sells the cut sailcloth ready to sew up. And at half the price of buying the sail ready made! They send a kit complete with thread, seam tape, grommets, and instruction. For an extra $40 they will sell you the tool to set the grommets.

My good wife agreed to sew the panels for me. It made for eight hours of relationship-building quality time as I supervised and shuffled pieces into the machine. So much of sailing, and boat building is not really about sails or boats at all, but rather about managing the interpersonal dynamics that allow these activities to happen.

Richard Cheney (circa 1972) with the glider he launched at age 9.
Uncles are good people to have around. I have three brothers, all of them good uncles to my six daughters. They get it from having experienced the benefits of having uncles in their lives when they were children. My father also had uncles as he was growing up, and they facilitated his adventures. In our last installment we met Uncle Doug, who helped me with fiberglass on the boat. Today we meet Uncle Richard, a brother to Doug and my father.

Richard had a mother the like of which all little boys might wish for: my Grandmother. When Richard was 9 year old (1958), she helped him sew and fabricate a hang glider. He launched the glider from a bluff in Kaysville, Utah, and simultaneously launched a lifetime of flight. As an adult he joined the Air Force reserves, and built a business in supplying sails and wings for boats, parasail gliders and ultralight craft.

My new sail! 72 square feet of adventure.
Naturally, once my sail was sewn I took it to Uncle Richard to set the grommets. After all, I'm a bargain shopper, and there's no need to buy the grommet tool if Uncle Richard can help me out. He looked at the sail and said, "Are you sure you want a second row of reef points?" I said, "yup." He advised that I consider the second row of reefing like a four-wheel drive. When you get stuck in 2WD, you use the 4WD to get unstuck, and then you go home. You don't use it to go deeper and get stucker. So when I find myself tucking in that second row of reefs, that's the time to head for shore and wait it out until the wind dies down.

Naturally, as soon as I got home with the sail, I had to start making a spar to hang it from. Watch for more details about yards, booms, masts etc.!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Uncle Doug

This morning Uncle Doug is helping me fiberglass the boat. Or rather, Uncle Doug is fiberglassing the boat, and I'm helping. Or watching. My most valuable contribution is keeping the work on track and moving forward. Doug has a lot of stories to tell.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hole Through My Hull

Back in the days of Columbus, boats would mostly sail in the same direction that the wind was blowing. So if the wind was blowing to the west, Columbus's Santa Maria could also sail west. But today boats can sail AGAINST the wind. Isn't that amazing?? The wind could be blowing out of the south, but a good sailboat can sail as close to the wind as southwest. And then by changing course to southeast from time to time, a boat can sail to make progress generally to the south-- against the wind. How is this possible, you ask...

Modern sailboats have either keels or centerboards that protrude considerably down into the water. These wide wing-shaped boards keep the boat from sliding across the top of the water as the wind would want to push them. When used with a rudder, the two boards together act as levers against the pressure of the wind.

In large boats the keel is rigid and part of the structure of the boat. In smaller boats the centerboard pivots so that it can flip up in shallow water. But in order to accomplish this, a hole must be cut in the bottom of the boat.

This is a nervous moment-- cutting a hole in the bottom of an otherwise sound boat. But we are adventurous sailors, and we do not shrink in the face of tasks which may cause moderate anxiety in persons of lesser fortitude. No. We soldier on and bear up to the moment. And then when all is done we ask, "What the hell have I done???"

And then we carry on and construct the centerboard, and centerboard case. With thickened epoxy and C-clamps borrowed from neighbors we install the centerboard, adding more thickened epoxy as we go, and when all is done we look at it with skepticism, wondering if there might be some small area that is not completely sealed; some small area that will spring a leak that is at first hardly noticeable; but that small leak will enlarge itself imperceptibly over time until that time when we are twenty miles out into the middle of the Great Salt Lake, far beyond the range of emergency radio communication. We watch the boat slowly filling with water. We dab at it, first with a sponge, then with a five gallon bucket, but the ingress of water has become a flood, faster than a five gallon bucket can tackle the task. And now we begin to imagine search planes circling overhead, but not spotting this little speck of a boat.

And so we add more thickened epoxy to every seam of the centerboard case until our self-doubts ease away. Wasn't that fun?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sawdust Commences

Jean Louise, AKA Scout
In April 2016 I took advantage of a week-long Spring Break and began cutting wood in earnest towards building the Gypsy. But in February 2016 I got a puppy. It all seemed harmless enough. And winter felt so slow and lifeless. A puppy was just the thing, I was sure of it.

By April, when I was ready to start cutting wood for the boat, the puppy was demanding about two hours of time EVERY DAY. When school is in session this makes it very difficult to get any work done on the boat. But for a week during Spring Break I could multi-task enough to get something done.

The first step was to scarph two pieces of plywood into one long 16-foot panel. People on the internet post photographs of their scarph joints as if they were pornography, and with this testosterone-fueled concept in mind I commenced to scarph away. I beveled seven inches from each end of two plywood panels. Then matching the bevels I glued them together with two-part marine epoxy. In the end I managed to get the requisite 16-foot panel which would form the floor of the boat, but the process felt strangely anti-climactic.

By May I had managed to assemble the five panels which make up the hull, but the transom (back end piece) was proving elusive. I had made a couple of alterations to the drawn plans: two inches wider on the bottom panel, two inches higher on the side panel, eight inches longer overall. These changes transmuted the necessary shape and position for the transom end panel. and I procrastinated solving that problem.

In the photo to the right you see the hull has been tacked together with zip-ties, and a few spots of epoxy on the seams. About this time I decided it was time to flip the hull over so I could deal with the transom. With my wife on the stem and me positioned aft, we started to lift the hull when suddenly pop! pop! pop! the zip ties and glue spots began to break under the weight of the hull. I can laugh about it as I look back now, but it wasn't funny then.

The solution to the popping zip-ties was to lay fiberglass tape along the hull seams, and epoxy it in place. This accomplished, I was able to flip the hull right side up, and begin laying in thick fillets of epoxy on the insides of those seams. And afterwards, the transom problem was resolved. With these pieces in place, the hull was structurally complete and would float without leaking. Not that it has seen any sort of body of water yet. It should float in theory at this point. In theory.

Before the Beginning

I knew I wanted to build a boat; an Ideal Boat that would sail AND row, and not cost too much. But I needed a place to build it. I had heard of people building boats in their basement (but how do you get it out???). I read of one fellow who built a boat in his living room AND HIS MARRIAGE SURVIVED!!! Some people build boats under the blue sky. Others build under a temporary carport structure from WalMart.

I moved into a dilapidated old house about twelve years ago. I was recently divorced, and short on cash to fix the place up. For years it was all I could do to keep the wolf from the door. Here's a picture of the door of the dilapidated garage: Doors off the hinges, broken glass, daylight streaming through the roof, holes big enough for stray cats to crawl through. No electricity, no lock on the door.

But last summer I changed all that! New roof (and new plywood sheeting under the shingles!), paint on the bare wood, glass in the windows, locks on the door, and a new electric panel wired up from the house. Why, for only a thousand dollars I was ready to build a cheap boat.

I started transferring tools that had been stored in my basement out to the shop. I built a new work bench, and bought storage totes for tools, and as fall turned to winter I installed a cozy little wood-burning stove.

But just when I started building all this momentum, the Job kicked in and robbed me of free time. I teach public school, and those kids take every last drop of energy. When I come home after a day at school, I'm just beat. And then there's dinner to make and chores to do and papers to grade, and I didn't get much done all winter long, even though there's a cozy little wood-stove in the shop.

At least the shop was in shape. When spring came I would be ready to start making sawdust.

Dreaming of Gypsy

In our last installment (a year ago? has it been that long?) I ran through an abbreviated list of things I didn't like about the Lido 14 that was my first sailboat. After that I discovered a few more. But all in all it served its purpose.

A single-handed selfie. Who's got the tiller???
The Lido 14 is designed for a crew of two or three. It turned out that many times only a crew of one was available: me. So in August last year I started taking her out single-handed. For a fellow who didn't grow up with a main sheet in his hand, there seemed to be a confounding number of things to do all at once: lower the centerboard, lower the rudder, release the dock lines, back the sail, etc. We had a low water year last year, so often the marina water was so low that I couldn't get the centerboard down until I was out on the lake. So I got a canoe paddle, and worked it out that way. but with a six-foot beam, the boat was too wide to paddle effectively, AND steer the rudder at the same time.

Even so, I managed to get out alone a few times last summer and fall, and once or twice this spring. A couple of times I even went out with winds blowing 20 mph, and whitecaps on the water. The Lido was up to the task, and I came home each time without having capsized the boat. After twenty outings and no disasters I started to feel like I might call myself sailor.

But after each successful outing I also grew more and more dissatisfied with the Lido. There had to be a boat design that better served my purposes. For more than a year I had been looking at various boat plans to find the Ideal Boat. I wanted something that would not be too terribly difficult to build out of plywood with limited tools. A boat that could row, with oars in oarlocks, would simplify the process of leaving the marina. I wanted a sail rig that offered simplicity, and easy reefing when the wind piped up. And of course I wanted it to be cheap.

After more than a year of dreaming and worrying about the Ideal Boat (an oxymoron to be sure) I settled on the Gypsy, a design from the prolific naval architect Phillip Bolger. It seemed to tick all the boxes, and the plans were dirt cheap. Don't get me started on plans. Some boat designers charge $200-$300 for plans to build a boat that will fit in the average garage. But the Gypsy plans were only $40! Too good to be true? Only time would tell...