Autumn Resolutions

October 23, 2009

Autumn came suddenly; it was warm one day, cold the next. Leaves changed color overnight. I was caught by surprise and it left me feeling cheated. I had hoped to get so much more done this summer—in all aspects of my life, but especially with the boat. At the very least, I had hoped to finish the cabin, install the seating, and possibly even fiberglass the hull. From there I hoped to work in a smaller but warmer woodshop on fiddly bits like the rudder and mast.

Raising the roof: The cabin roof beams are arched to follow the curve of the cabin bulkhead and attach to the underside of pine panels. After taking this photo, I decided to add strenght to the rafters by doubling their thickness.

Raising the roof: The cabin roof beams are arched to follow the curve of the cabin bulkhead and attach to the underside of pine panels. After taking this photo, I decided to add strenght to the rafters by doubling their thickness.

Completed cabin.

Completed cabin.

Cozy or cramped? Only time will tell.

Cozy or cramped? Only time will tell.

Instead, I stood shivering in a large and unheated garage looking at a very forlorn looking hull wondering if I would ever get the boat in the water.

From spring to midsummer I was pleased with my progress and even nurtured the secret hope that I could be finished by fall. I held on to that fantasy into August, even when my initial enthusiasm faded and I was distracted by other household projects. Only with the arrival of morning frost did I admit the truth: Like so many other amateur boat builders, I’ll need a year (or more?) to get the job done.

My first reaction was to admit defeat and close the garage door and announce that the boat building season was over. I don’t like working in cold weather; it’s not fun running a sander when my nose is running and my hands are numb. Lack of comfort leads to sloppy work and shortcuts. Also, plastic resin glue, my glue of choice, requires temperatures above 70 degrees to dry properly.

But after feeling sorry for myself for a week or two, I changed tactics. I know from experience that I can lose interest in projects when they are neglected for too long. I didn’t want to open the garage doors in April and confront a dusty hull that I no longer wanted to finish. So I decided to view off-season boat building as a challenge and try to get as much done as possible. I was going to march on, even if I my progress was minimal.

My first strategy was to switch adhesives. While plastic resin glue needs warm weather, epoxy tolerates much lower temperatures. It takes longer to harden as the thermometer drops, but that’s more of a benefit than a disadvantage; I can work at a more leisurely pace knowing that the mixed adhesive won’t “kick” (to use some jargon) for an hour or more. And as for the problem of comfort: Well, nobody says I need to work in subzero temperatures. I admitted to myself that with warm clothes, it’s possible to work comfortably and carefully on the many winter days that rise to the 40’s and 50’s.

To prove my resolve, I took advantage of a recent warm day to attach the cabin roof, which I had cut several weeks ago but left lying on the garage floor. It now arches elegantly over the curved cabin roof beams, which I had completed in the even more distant past—early September, I think. It was my last major accomplishment and required some precision and experimentation. The first set of rafters were not sufficiently arched and needed to be redrawn and recut.

The result is a boat that finally has something close to its final shape—a finished hull and a nearly complete cabin that allows me to crawl inside and, for the first time, experience my long-held fantasy curling up in the cocoon-like space of my waterborne retreat. The cockpit still looks bare without the seats, but once they are assembled, the “plywood” phase of my project will at last be finished. Maybe I’m not such a slacker, after all.

Interestingly, the boat seems to be getting smaller, not larger, as I continue work. I assumed that it would appear more spacious as it gained volume, but the opposite appears to be happening. Instead, the completed cabin makes me realize just how small the interior space really is. I can sit up (just barely) and there is plenty of room to lie down. But it’s more like a low-slung tent than true living space. I can’t yet decide how I feel about this revelation, but I understand why some people opt for open hulled sailboats, or, alternately, look for boats that are unconventionally designed but offer much larger cabin space (such as Phil Bolger’s birdwatcher design). The simple truth is that it’s hard to provide true living space in a true pocket cruiser so I, like all boat builders and boat owners, must compromise space if we want the convenience and affordability of a small boat.

But in moments of doubt and self recrimination (I should have built a different boat), I remind myself of my guiding mantra (this is an experiment) and my ultimate goal (one successful journey down the Chesapeake). After that, new opportunities will appear, as they always do. But first things first: Keep working and get it done!