The Final Countdown

August 6, 2010

After turning the boat back over about a month ago, I set to work on a long list of small tasks. Every day or two I would check off an item and move on to the next. No single task seemed especially newsworthy. But I now realize that a great deal has changed and that—dare I say it?—the boat might be finished in as little as a month if I can keep up the current pace.

But before I start the final sprint, here is a quick overview of the progress to date, presented in no particular order of importance:

Bilge Boards Completed

One of two bilgeboards

Edge view

There are two bilge boards, which act as off-center centerboards. I had never heard of bilge boards before starting this project, but they are a very nice feature of the boat since they sit on either side of the hull and don’t break up cabin space.

My instructions told me to build the boards from ¾ inch pine or fir, but I chose instead to laminate two 3/8 inch pieces of plywood, which is the method recommended by most other builders. The laminated plywood is considerably stronger than a single pine board and less inclined to crack or break when it hits something.

I’m not an engineer so I don’t fully understand all of the technical aspects of their shape and performance, but I knew it is necessary to round the front edge of the boards and gently feather the back ends. My instructions were hazy on the details, but I found detailed instructions for the proper curvature from Jim Michalak’s book, Boat Building for Beginners and Beyond. His similarly shaped leeboards look somewhat like airplane wings and I followed his measurements. I started with my hand plane and finished up with a belt sander.

I then added a cherry cap to hold it in place on the deck and did a quick and dirty ‘glassing job. In this photo, the board is freshly glassed but not yet sanded. To finish this project, I will varnish the cherry and paint the boards.

Rubrails Fabricated and Installed

Front view. The blue painters tape is protecting the hull while I varnish the rails.

And here's a side view.

The rubrails were the next item on my list. Both are made from humble pine. I suppose cherry or oak would be more durable, but I am in a rush and don’t want to spend the money on hardwood. The instructions told me to use one inch half-round molding, but I ripped the pieces from boards in my shop and rounded the edges with my router. Both were attached with epoxy and screws, which seemed logical at the time, but I later read postings from builders who suggested using bedding compound (such as caulking) so that the rails could be more easily removed and replaced when they wear out. Apparently rubrails are meant to be replaced and are considered “consumable”. But I just followed directions and glued them down tight. Who knows, maybe I’ll be the world’s best sailor and will never hit a dock or piling.

I was going to paint the rails, but decided to varnish them instead. To protect the pine, I coated the rails with epoxy and three layers of marine varnish (I’m using a brand called Last n Last). In this picture, you can see the blue painter’s tape I’m using to keep varnish off the hull.

Portholes Assembled

One of four portholes, ready for installation.

A side view, showing the plexiglass and brass bolt.

Around this time I also assembled the boat’s four portholes. Many people buy ready made portholes, but I decided to fabricate mine from ¼ inch plywood and plexiglass, according to the Stevenson’s instructions. The oval porthole frame is protected with two coats of epoxy and three coats of varnish. I don’t know how well it will hold up over time, but new frames can be easily made later on. The plexiglass was easily cut with a fine-toothed blade on my jigsaw. The whole assembly will be held in place with four small brass bolts and made watertight with silicone caulking.

Cockpit Seats and Floor Fiberglassed

The floor and seat bottoms are fiberglassed.

I have grown wary of epoxy. Rashes and persistent respiratory problems suggest that I am developing a strong allergic reaction to the harsh chemicals (symptoms listed on the West Systems Web site describe my conditions perfectly). Fortunately, I was able to finish glassing the hull and decks before my condition worsened. But I still had to work on the cockpit. Taking a minimalist approach I decided to only ‘glass the cockpit floor and the seat bottoms, which are the most exposed and wettest parts of the cockpit. This means I am not ‘glassing the seatbacks or cabin bulkhead; they will simply be painted.

I also view this as an experiment. I repeatedly hear that exterior grade plywood will check if not fiberglassed. But I also hear about exterior grade plywood boats that have been sailing for years with nothing more than paint for protection. So I want to know how quickly and how badly plywood will check. If the answers are “not soon” and “not much” then I will take an even more casual attitude toward fiberglassing in future projects.

Sliding Hatch and Handrails Installed

I built the hatch cover nearly six months ago as a winter project, but it was time to get it installed. I added some edging around the opening in the cabin roof so that the hatch can slide back and forth like a train on a track. The edging, I assume, will also keep out water and rain.

The handrails double as a guide for the sliding hatch. I shaped them with a router and secured them to th roof with bolts.

A front view of the handrail and hatch, showing the sliding rails.

The handrails were especially fun to finish. I rough cut both from cherry some months ago, but I still needed to round the edges with a router. I also added quarter round molding (also made from my cherry) to hold the sliding hatch in place. Finally, I drilled three ¼inch holes down the top of each rail and inserted four inch stainless steel bolts, which go through the cabin roof and hold the rails in place. In this picture, the rails are temporarily bolted in place, but won’t be securely set until the cabin and sliding hatch are painted.

There are still many unchecked items on my to do list. I need to build the mast (probably within a week or two), make the sails, finish painting and…well, you get the idea. When it’s time to sail, you’ll be the first to know.