High School Project with a Difference
The story of building 2 Shuttle 31 catamarans
Excerpted from Ocean Spirit Magazine

By John Shuttleworth

In July 2000 I received an order for a set of plans for a Shuttle 31 to be built in Western Red Cedar strip planking with Epoxy and glass reinforcing. I had been in correspondence with the teacher of a group of young people at a Waldorf (Steiner) school in Switzerland.

This teacher, Thomas Wolf, intended to head up a team of 12 students with the aim of building two 31 ft cats in less than two years.

At the start of the project the students wrote to me “We are twelve students at the age of 16-17 years. We attend a Waldorf school in Muttenz, Baselland. Two afternoons per week we work at the boats. While our schoolmates attend special courses like working on a farm, we will solely concentrate on building the boats. Also during the holidays we will sacrifice some weeks for the project.”

When they finished building they planned to sail the boats down the Rhine into the North Sea, and on to the Mediterranean, where the boats were to be based. They would also be involved in raising sponsorship, and producing a web site, and would all get their Swiss equivalent of the yacht masters certificate, so that they could skipper the boats when taking out other students on environmental educational cruises in Elba.

I thought it was an amazing project for a group of students, and I knew that there was a lot to learn and do in less than two years. I sent off the plans and the project began.

I was never in any doubt that the boats could be built. The Shuttle 31 is ideally suited to strip planking in either Core-Cel foam or Cedar, and the plans are very detailed. I provide backup as part of the package, and my experience with homebuilders indicated that my plans are so detailed that there are often only a few points to clarify along the way.

The web site www.fossailing.com duly appeared which meant that we could follow progress on the site. As the months went by the boats took shape and looked very good. Questions would arrive by Email, and the students who spoke English best undertook the task to communicate with me. Thomas Wolf’s son Florian, took a key role in the project even though he had left the School to undertake further qualifications elsewhere.

I am sure that the design would have provided considerable
interest to the students from a technical point of view.
Although it is relatively straightforward to build one of these boats, there is a wealth of technical thinking and detail in the drawings which would have provided a lot of additional learning opportunities for the students in understanding the loads in the boat and how the structure is made to take them. So they would not only be learning craft skills, but they would also be developing an understanding of how to think about structures.

Dale Schnieder told me that one of the highlights of building my designs is that the technical aspect is so interesting, and that his building team particularly enjoy this aspect of building the boats. Once the ideas behind where I place the fibres, becomes clear the whole design concept makes sense in quite a straightforward way. This makes the boats very interesting to build.

The actual building process

The first task was to build the mould frames from the full size computer lofted patterns I provide, and set them up on a strongback at the correct station spacing. For the Cedar boat I suggest building the hull on the outside of the hull lines. This has the effect of adding 15 mm to the hull and increases the buoyancy to account for the added weight of the wood.

The frames are made from 20 mm MDF or cheap plywood. Once they are set up the hull planking begins. 50 mm wide strips of Western Red Cedar were edged glued and screwed to the frames. Eventually the screws are removed and the holes are filled with epoxy during the glassing stage. Details of this method can be found in “The Gougeon Brothers on Boatbuilding” Pendell Printing Inc. ISBN 0-87812-166-8.

The planks are fitted carefully before gluing, and the hull shape develops very quickly.

When the hull is fully planked the surface is sanded to a smooth fair finish with a coarse sandpaper. One layer of biaxial glass is applied all over the outside of the hull, and
extra reinforcing is added as shown on the plans.

The fibre direction is important, for the ”integrated structure” and arrows on the plan show how to lay up the layers. Once the glassing is complete, the hull is sanded. Finally the hull is lifted from the mould and set into a cradle. The Fossailing team decided to split the hull and deck at the sheer line, and so the decks ware built separately.

The photo below shows the students laminating the biaxial glass into the inside of the deck. By taking care at this stage, the team achieved a surface that was good enough to leave as the final interior finish.

This has meant that the inside of the boat has a lovely wooden feel.

The photo below shows the deck glassed on the inside and outside, ready to fit to the hull. Figure 8 shows the inside as the deck is fitted. The edges are glued together, and layers of biaxial glass are laid along the join, inside and out.

Bulkheads can be made ahead of time, In this design they can be plywood or foam sandwich. The Fossailing team decided on foam sandwich and the next photo shows the first bulkhead cut out and ready to be glassed and then fitted in place.

Bulkheads are attached to the hull with an epoxy fillet, and layers of 45 degree glass fibre.

The drawings show how each panel is connected into the hull, with the exact width and weight of glass required. These connections can be laminated on a plastic sheet outside the hull, and then the whole connection is laid into the corner 2 ft lengths.

This method reduces the mess that can occur when glassing in the interior components, and allows for better resin to glass ratios. Keeping the hull clean inside means less time spent at the final finishing stage.

The finished hulls can be seen in the next photo. Note the added foam bows for protection against collision. On impact the foam bow is designed to collapse back to a strong wooden bulkhead about 300 mm back. This absorbs the load and should prevent flooding. If the wooden bulkhead is breached, there is another watertight bulkhead 6 feet further back.

The photo below shows the bridgedeck sole being fitted. The sole is made in foam sandwich because it is light and stiff for the large unsupported panel area. Airex foam is very good in impact for the odd occasion when a wave might slam up under the bridgedeck.

With the hull complete, the interior is fitted. Combinations of foam sandwich and wood veneers, produce a comfortable and beautiful look. The interior is fairly simple, with lots of locker space, and large comfortable berths. The inside of the hull is left with the wood showing. The lines
of the wood enhance the curved shape.

Note the aluminium backing plates behind the fittings. At highly loaded fittings layers of unidirectional glass fan out into the hull or bulkheads taking the loads away from highly stressed areas into the body of the boat.

Sailing trials.

The day finally came just under two years since I posted the plans to Switzerland, when I was asked to go to Calais in France to help them sail the boats to Cowes on the Isle of Wight, England. This sail was to be part of extended sailing trials to fully assess the boats, and to help teach the crew about Multihull sailing.

After sailing from Calais to Cowes, I spent three days sailing the two boats in the Solent in a variety of conditions. The boats are well built and look fantastic. Both boats sport the racing rig with Gougeon wing masts. "We chose Gougeon because they were the only masts we could build ourselves" said Thomas Wolf.

The Fossailing team have clearly demonstrated that the Shuttle 31 is a good boat for amateurs to build. They chose to use my design for strip planked Western Red Cedar with glass fibre on both sides and although I predicted that they would add about 230 Kgs to the weight of the boat over a foam sandwich version, they are sure that they have added less weight by being very careful in the laminating process.

The boats float on their marks and perform very well and we achieved 8 knots to windward tacking through 85 degrees, easily outsailing any monohulls that we came across in the Solent as usual. I have enjoyed the experience of sailing with this enthusiastic group of young people and I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate them all on a fine achievement. The boats look good, and I am sure they will have many years of enjoyable and fun sailing on them."