October 29, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  283

I took a break from fairing to add the small fore-and aft stringers in anticipation of putting in the big, beefy engine stringers which take the stress of the engine and run half-way through the boat.  As I scarfed short pieces into boat-long pieces and glued them in, the boat seemed immensely stronger.  Then I put I clamped in the engine stringers to check the fit, and the structure became virtually immovable as the “egg crate” effect began to make itself apparent.

Intellectually I could always grasp how lots of pieces of small, tough materials locked into one another with epoxy and glass would be very strong.  But seeing it and feeling it was quite another thing.  My 22,000 pound motorsailer Memsahib was tough purely because of the weight of its materials — a one-inch thick teak skin, 2-inch square frames holding the skin, 3-inch floors tying the frames to the keel.  Memsahib could stand a lot of compression stress (getting whanged against a dock in a storm) and what I think is called tensile stress (bouncing up and down waves without breaking in two).  But torsional, twisting stresses (confused waves or rigging stress from high winds) would cause her to “work”  as all the pieces tried to twist away from one another at their edges.  That would lead to leaking, not uncommon in conventionally built boats.

As I look at the stringers going in, and I can see how the egg crate works.  No matter which way you try to bend the structure or push the structure or twist the structure, there seem to be about the same number of pieces taking the stress.  And they are all held rigidly against one another — very rigidly by epoxy and glass.  I’m going to add yet another layer of strength by using a lot of “biaxial” fiberglass tape with the stress lines running diagonally to all the other structural members.

When Tardis occasionally launches herself off a wave and comes down, I know it will sound like a base drum and scare me half to death.  But I doubt that any water will get in, and that’s a good thing in a boat.

Fore and after stringers tying the whole structure together.

Fore and after stringers tie the whole structure together.

I'd say this is a Hermes-quality scarf (ignore the one in back of it).

I’d say this is a Hermes-quality scarf (ignore the one in back of it).

"Egg crate" starting to form.  Resists stress from all directions.

“Egg crate” starting to form. Resists stress from all directions.

Aft end of engine stringer.  Very high on both ends, and I don't know why.  Fine everywhere else.

Aft end of engine stringer. Very high on both sides and I don’t know why. Perfect on the bottom side and close everywhere else.


Stringers are starting to define the shape of the boat.

Stringers are starting to define the shape of the boat.

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Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff

Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff

October 26, 2014

Since frame fairing — turning frames with square edges into frames with angled edges — does not make for a really compelling blog, I thought I would post some pictures of the project I completed just before starting the Tardis.  Just before taking my Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff out of the water for the year, my friend Eric Bohman did a photo shoot with me driving.  Eric is an exceptional photographer and the pictures came out great.  Here are the shots and a writeup I did for WoodenBoat magazine.

Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 5 Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 4 Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 3

Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff 2

When I first saw the announcement in WoodenBoat for “Design Challenge I” I was immediately drawn to the photo at its center. It showed Tom Hill’s Long Point Skiff, a boat I had always admired, running fast and handsome. But I was really intrigued by the green boat speeding along beside her. “Now that is one shapely craft. Looks like a miniature lobster boat,” I thought.

As time passed I followed the development by Aaron Porter and Tom Hill of the Jericho Bay Lobster Skiff and discovered that the “green boat” was the original from which the lines were taken for the strip-planked version. And I was secretly pleased that I had a pretty decent eye for a boat: designed by Joel White and built by Jimmy Steele isn’t a bad pedigree.

When I saw Aaron’s classified in WoodenBoat for that same skiff, I was off to Maine in no time with a check and a trailer, and I was proud to be the new caretaker of such a significant craft.

Structurally she was in good shape, but the bottom planking was pretty rough, and 40 years of hard use meant that the rails, seats and transom could use some work. Also, with Aaron’s agreement, I thought the boat would best be modified for life on a trailer with a layer of cold-molded cedar and fiberglass laid diagonally over the planking. I had trouble finding cedar locally, but wandering through a home center one day, I spotted a pile of 1X4 cedar decking that was almost perfectly clear and with a lot of work on the table saw turned it into 2-inch wide strips. They were set in epoxy and covered with Xynole polyester fabric that has proven to be extremely tough and a great surface for the glossy “Chesapeake Green” finish.

Material for the center console was easy to find: My son’s old made-in-Maine “Cedarworks” swingset was getting very tired, so I sawed it up into planks. (Don’t fret about that, he’s 20 years old and doesn’t do much swinging any more). The console was built from plans I had for the Long Point Skiff, which sort of rounds out the whole story.

Due to moving, building a new shop and taking a year off to go on the Great Loop in our Eldredge-McInnis motorsailer (, the whole rebuild took about four years. But this July I finally got the rails, breasthook and quarter knees rebedded and into the water she went at Guilford, CT.

As Aaron has remarked, this is a fantastic sea boat. She climbs the square Long Island Sound waves with aplomb and very little spray. She is wicked fast with a 25 hp outboard that came my way, and did 21 knots in flat water the only time I had the courage to open her up.

And sitting on a dock with 50 white fiberglass center consoles, she can still stop people in their tracks: “What IS that, what a shape, looks like a little lobsterboat. Is it wood?”



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Keel and Plank Fairing

October 22,2014  Hours spent building to date:  250

Fairing is very boring, since you work and work, but not much on the boat seems to change.  But it has to be done, like doing the dishes or cleaning the litter box.

The first job was to turn the keel from flat into a ‘V”, since that’s the only way the planking will lie flat on a V-bottom boat.  Two days of planing, moving the ladder and countless up and downs and it looks pretty good.  A great big house builders power plane is just too heavy for this kind of work, so several years ago I bought the lightest plane I could find, a DeWalt 26676.  It doesn’t work really fast, but it doesn’t totally wear me out either.

Then with the flat part of the boat all ready, I could start on fairing the frames for planking.  Thought about adding the fore-and-aft stringers first, but if there’s a big error, they would have to be faired out, too.  All the aft planking looked pretty good to begin with, but there was once place where the “practice” plank rocked up and down, so the frame had to be knocked down some to match those on either side.  One required a 5/16 shim to bring it even with its sisters.  And there’s one spot where I can’t figure out what the hell is going on:  the plank lies fair on two frames, then shoots off into the air a half inch before heading down again toward the bow just fine on the next frame. I can force it to fit, but it doesn’t seem right.  I am going to practice-plank BOTH sides of the boat tomorrow in the same place, then run back and forth a half-dozen times to see if this happens and on both sides — and is probably right — or an aberration that will take a half-day of fiddling to fix.

I spend way too much time and energy worrying about silly stuff like this.  I should just leave the shop and figure it out the next day.  But after a lifetime of the normal school-work-wife-money-kid-health worries, I am luckily at a point where I am extremely low on normal concerns.   So I guess twisted planks have to fill up the worry-well.


The small DeWalt at work

The small DeWalt at work

This keel is now shaped like a V.  Really.

This keel is now shaped like a V. Really.

See.  Told you so.

See. Told you so.

This is how the planks are supposed to fit against the keel -- no gaps.

This is how the planks are supposed to fit against the keel — no gaps.

Before -- big gap, needs fixing.

Before — big gap, needs fixing.

After -- tight.

After — tight.

Looks like it's been snowing in the shop.

Looks like it’s been snowing in the shop.

Tardis from the rear.

Tardis from the rear.

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October 19, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  232

The next step was to connect the straight part of the keel, the curved part and the stem all together to create Tardis’ “backbone.”  The first joint went great — planed down the angle on the curved part for the scarf joint, put it on the boat, joint was piece-of-paper tight.

Then I pushed my look on the keel-to-stem transition, thinking my 64th birthday would pull me through a heavy, curved, tapered cut on the bandsaw.  No luck.  I butchered it — the joint looked like a roller coaster.  Two hours later, and probably 10 times on and off the boat for fitting, it was finally acceptable.

Then a lot of planeing and sanding to smooth out the transitions, and the backbone was done, awaiting many hours of fairing.

My wife thinks it looks a little wimpy compared to the 6-inch thick chunk of teak that formed Memsahib’s keel.  But this one will be surrounded by stringers running the full length of the boat and some great big ones forward and aft.  Then the whole thing will be encased in fiberglass.  So in essence the whole bottom of the boat is the backbone.

The good joint (before trimming and smoothing)

The good joint (before trimming and smoothing)

Wood butchery 101

Wood butchery 101

Roller-coater joint two hours later.

Roller-coaster joint two hours later.

The Backbone

The Backbone

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Keel Is On

October 16, 2014   Hours spent building to date:  225

Cut the straight part of the keel to correct dimensions.  After a 20-foot cut in 1 1/2-inch old growth Douglas fir, even the Festool saw was running a little hot.  The keel  looked good and sat flat, so I glued it to the frames after getting everything as plumb vertically as I could.  That’s the idea behind putting on the keel now — the frames are pretty flippy just sitting there on their uprights and the keel should steady everything up.

Cut the strips for the curved part of the keel and glued them up.  The assembly was rocking up and down on the frames, and didn’t look like a great fit, but then I cut about 3/8-inch off the high spot and it fell right into place.

Then I had an inspiration that cost me a day.  I have done fiberglass sheathing a couple times, but have never done any tabbing — making a very strong joint between two perpendicular pieces of wood by filling the angle between the two with a “cove” of epoxy and covering the whole thing with fiberglass tape.  The engine stringers that are going in next are very heavy, so I want the frame to be rock solid, so I thought I would tab the keel to the frames using some 15-oz biaxial E-glass tape that I bought for another project, but never used.  Very strong, very high tech stuff.

I fooled around with various homemade coving tools for a long time, trying to get a compromise between a nice, smooth cove and one that was deep enough to add strength.  Finally cut a piece of West System plastic spreader to a roundish shape and the coves were okay, but messy.  Then I tabbed in the E-glass and found that when you “wet it out”  with even more epoxy, it really smooths out the coves.  I couldn’t believe how much epoxy 15-oz cloth soaks up.  The price of oil rose $1 today, and I’m pretty sure that was me.

Working overhead for hours on an unfamiliar task with epoxy dripping down on everything was exhausting, but that keel ain’t going anywhere.  And I won’t have to comb my hair in the morning — it’s all glassed into place.

Straight portion of the keel

Straight portion of the keel

Curved portion of the keel.

Curved portion of the keel.

Stepped laminations make it easer to cut the scarf when the glue dries. (Yes, I cleaned up the squeezeout.)

Stepped laminations make it easer to cut the scarf when the glue dries. (Yes, I cleaned up the squeezeout.)

Whole keel glued up

Whole keel glued up

Tabbing -- ugly but strong,  There are miles of tabbing to go, so I will get better.

Tabbing — ugly but strong, There are miles of tabbing to go, so I will get better.

The little white threads that hold the E-glass together doesn't seem to wet out like regular glass.

The little white threads that hold the E-glass together doesn’t seem to wet out like regular glass.




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Goodbye, Old Tate

Good Old

Polyurethane adhesives are the bane of the boatowner’s existence.  They are unpleasant and difficult to work with, but absolutely essential and highly effective.  Kind of like colonoscopy prep or Miss Palermo in fourth grade.

They dispense from a tube, which is often poorly made.  They will not come out of that tube reliably in less-than-tropical temperatures.  They laugh at your standard $7.99 hardware store caulking gun.  A tube or gun failure is a nightmare — throw out your clothes, throw out your tools, soak your boat in mineral spirits, and there will still be spots left years hence.

So when Tate from my favorite boatbuilding blog, Sundowner Sails Again, posted that he had obtained a heavy duty, reasonably-priced, great-working caulking gun, I rushed to the Web to get one.  It was everything he said it was: smooth, powerful, reliable, excellent in cool weather.

My wife gives everything a name:  cars, plants, the occasional chipmunk running across the yard.  I normally don’t, but I started to call my caulking gun “Tate”.  “Chilly today, but Tate will handle that seam compound.”  “Lots of laminating to do, but Tate should keep my hands from cramping up.”

But with furlongs, kilometers and miles of fileting and gluing facing me on Tardis, even Tate has had to face the perils of new technology.  I just purchased a Milwaukee Tool power caulking gun that pushes out the epoxy in a beautiful, even bead at the push of a button.  It has speeds from 1 to 6, and I have yet to get past 2.

But don’t worry about Tate — he is merely being reassigned for new duty at the Connecticut River Museum Boatbuilding Workshop, where a new generation of boatbuilders will experience his heavy-duty power.

So what will I call this new, high-energy, super-efficient little number?  How about…..Dani.

new gun

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October 13, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  206

Using a plane to fair plywood makes a sound a lot like scraping your fingernails over an old-fashioned blackboard.  No sweet-smelling shavings, just a sandy, gluey dust.  A sander takes off the excess wood, but tends to round over the edges, which need to be as sharp as possible where they meet the planking.  And when the sander makes the glue hot, the shop smells like horse urine (sorry).

As a result, on this boat I have been trying to reduce fairing (taking out all the high spots and low spots on the frame) as much as possible.  So I have been measuring, fitting and fussing trying to get everything square and even and flat.   I moved three frames back and forth anywhere from a quarter inch to three-eighths, and two more up and down maybe a quarter.  I chopped an inch off the stem to bet it to its marks and fiddled with the transom to get it square.  Eight hours gone.

It sounds silly, but given all the angles and connections in a boat, sometimes when you make a small adjustment, a whole lot of pieces fall into place.  The stem looked way off, but when I cut it to exactly the right height, all the lines fell right to the proper marks.  The portside planking looked like a teeter-totter, but two moves and it’s almost flat enough to glue down.  The fairing blocks worked great — kind of like having little sleds underneath the frame.

We did have one “what in the hell was I thinking?” moment.  I went over to the lumberyard and got 40 feet of clear,vertical grain fir for the inner keel ($92!)  Glued in all up, looked great, and I thought, “Well, in the morning I’ll just square up the edges to size  on the tablesaw — and onto the boat.”  Then I took a picture for you sports fans, and looking through the lens, I realized that there was no way to get a twenty-foot chunk of wood that weighs about 40 pounds onto and through a table saw that now has about 6 feet of clearance each side.  A long, tiring session with the big Festool saw awaits, which could have been avoided by trimming up the boards first.  I am really going to have to adjust to the scale of Tardis versus the little canoes and rowboats I’ve been building.

Moved up 1/4".  Totally crucial.

Moved up 1/4″.  How dramatic.

Moved over 3/8"!  Thrilling!

Moved over 3/8″! Thrilling!

Keel lamination

Keel lamination stretches to the New Haven suburbs.

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Presto Chango

Final Setup

October 9, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  196

One of the magic moments of boatbuilding is setting up the frames, bulkheads or molds.  After a lot of work, the piles of wooden pieces come together and resemble something that is a lot like a boat.

And on the Tardis, it happened fast.  My friend Ray and I  started at 9, and by noon we stopped because we had run out of wood for the front of the strongback.

Finished up today and went out with Ray and Pat to for a very nice celebratory lunch and some delicious Thimble Islands American Ale.

Setting uprights.

Setting uprights.

Ray at end of Day 1

Ray at end of Day 1.  Ray was once CEO of a bunch of advertising agencies, major magazines and associations.  Now he is a very good Apprentice Boatbuilder.

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Strongback Is Ready

October 7, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  184

Strongback Today

Someday, waiting for good weather to cross the Straits of Mackinac and avoid 5 foot waves and 1100-foot freighters, Tardis will seem very tiny, about the size of her phone-booth namesake.

But today, with her building frame (called a “strongback” in boatbuilding parlance) almost totally filling the shop, she seems huge and I seem late-middle-age small.  (My shop neighbor Wally never uses the “S” word, and my AARP-employed wife is forbidden from using it, so late-middle-age it will be.)

I am very pleased with Mark’s strongback design.  Usually the frames are set up on cross-beams called “spalls” that have to perfectly line up on perfectly flat frames.  To find really straight lumber for a boat the size of Tardis and plane it down would have been very hard.  But his system of uprights relieves all that.  If the waterline ends up exactly 69 inches off a flat floor (mine is) and everything is plumb and centered, all should come out all right.

Shimming Blocks

I have added one embellishment to Mark’s plan for those working in a single-man shop.  As an example, frame 13 weighs something like 60 pounds and is very awkward to move around.  If it was 1/8th inch down on one side and 1/8th inch up on the other, trying to horse it around, get it level and redrive the screws holding it to the frame would be impossible.  So I cut all the uprights at 68 inches instead of 69,  They will rest on 1-inch blocks lightly nailed to the spacers at the bottom of the cross beams.  If something is off, I merely knock out the spacer, put a smaller or larger block at the bottom of the upright, and drive it home with my trusty sledge hammer.

Shimming block loosely fastened beneath uprights

Shimming block loosely fastened beneath uprights

Block is removable for taller or shorter block of necessary

Block is removable for taller or shorter block if necessary

Strongback Day 1

Strongback Day 1

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Stem to Stern

stem to stern 1

October 3, 2014  Hours spent building to date:  169

After two months of relatively diligent work, all the frames and bulkheads are ready for the strongback.  I have a pretty good metal ruler that will have to be retired at this point — some of the numbers are literally wearing off from measuring and checking the measurements so many times.

The problem with Tardis now is that she’s only about 4 feet long, but between now and Thanksgiving, we’ll be taking her up to her full 28 feet.

The shop is pretty much ready to go.  A lot of the stuff on the right will move during setup.

The shop is pretty much ready to go. A lot of the stuff on the right will move during setup.

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