One-Sheet Baby Canoe Part 4  
By Gaetan Jette - Sherbrooke, Canada

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4

Finish and Launching

This is the last part of this series, where we will finish the boat and launch it at last!

When it came time to paint the boat, I ran into some problems. The epoxy primer I used had an awful smell. I had no choice but to apply the primer in the garage, and then move the boat back in the workshop for sanding, once that primer was fully cured and the smell had faded enough.

Unfortunately, it is hard to move a boat around through doors without banging occasionally on door frames. Because I used softwood for gunwales, these were damaged a few times. Had I known better, I would have used hardwood. Softwood is called that way for a reason, after all. I may be too perfectionist, but when it's the second time around you have to repair dents in the gunwales, and the boat has yet to be launched, that's less than ideal.

I had two choices, either learn to live with it, or make tougher gunwales. The thought of removing all that work and redo it all again was not appealing to me, however. Time for a compromise. I decided to try to cover the outwales with fiberglass cloth and epoxy, and leave the inwales as is. The keel was made from softwood, covered with fiberglass and epoxy, and it had not suffered any visible damage while moving the boat. Covering the outwales would protect the most exposed softwood when moving or using the boat.

Getting the fiberglass tape to fit snugly around a gunwale before coating with epoxy is no picnic, though. If I build another boat someday, I'll use hardwood for the gunwales right form the start: it saves a lot of time and trouble.

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The gunwales got a few unwelcome dents while moving the boat from the garage to the workshop (and vice-versa).

 
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The fiberglass is taped as snugly as possible around the gunwales with masking tape, lots of it. Coating with epoxy will have to be done in more than one pass because of that. One edge of the fiberglass is set tight on the underside of the outwale.

 
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The other edge of the fiberglass is stretched over the inwale.

 
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Once the epoxy has cured, a sharp utility knife is used to trim the fiberglass just at the inside edge of the hull. This would be easier to do with the epoxy still somewhat green. But since the blade is piercing right trough the fiberglas, it wasn't too difficult.

 
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A few spots on the top side didn't get soaked enough with epoxy on the first coat. More coating, with some clamping, will be required for these.

 
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The underside was more work: the fiberglass cloth couldn't be stretched as hard as on the topside. As a result, there were quite a few air bubbles to deal with.

 
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With a series of holes drilled in those bubbles, clear epoxy, thinned with a little bit of acetone, is injected with a dropper. These holes have left marks that are still visible on the finished boat. But they are out of sight in normal use, unless you are very curious. ;-)

 
click to enlarge Two coats of epoxy primer were applied both inside and outside. It turned out I had the wrong thinner for the job: that thinner was for spray painting and evaporated too quickly for paintbrush use. It was nearly impossible to achieve an even coat. This meant more sanding and this stuff seemed even harder to sand than cured epoxy.
 
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Masking tape applied to the seat frame allows to mark where the nylon webbing will be attached.

 
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The nylon straps are attached with stainless steel wood screws and fender washers. Every hole is pre-drilled, making it easier to attach the nylon under tension. The screw thread is covered with beeswax to avoid wood rot.

Doing the seat that way is an idea I picked up on a free plan (the Redwood Canoe) available on the Svenson website. This site offers lots of free old boat plans that I found interesting to look at.

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The end of the nylon straps is cut and then heated with a heat gun to prevent unthreading. The screw holes are made with the tip of a soldering gun.

 
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With a curved frame like this one, it is best to attach the nylon straps in that direction last.

 
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Second coat of paint. Now you know the real reason why a boat is referred to as a "she". It's because it sometimes wears a skirt... ;-)

 
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A jig is used to cut the slots in the paddle shafts where the blades will fit. I made a mistake, however: the vertical plank on the left of the jig should have been screwed on top of the other plank. As built, the screws got in the way of the saw blade. OOPS! Shorter screws saved the day this time. The paddle shafts are hardwood dowels. A bit heavy, but the easiest solution for the purpose.

 
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I decided to give the tip of the paddle shafts a rounded, pointy shape. But first, a pattern was needed for that. That pattern is then placed on the inside of the shaft slot to trace a curved line for a first rough cut. The final shaping of the shaft tip was done by eye with a sanding block. An attempt at using a router proved a bad idea because of the end grain. Also, I had not built a serious jig to ensure good control of the router.

 
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Two holes are drilled in the paddle shaft and blade, and fitted with short lengths of dowel rod, to keep everything properly aligned while the epoxy cures. Short planks placed on top and bottom, screwed together, ensure there is no gap between the shaft and blade. You can see the finished result on right, ready to paint.

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One drawback to this approach is that wood grain of the dowel is at right angle with the grain of the shaft. Result: six months later, the two are separating. If I had to do it again, I would probably drill away the dowels once the epoxy is cured, and fill the holes with thickened epoxy.

 
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A temporary rack allows to apply varnish to the paddle shafts in a single pass.

 
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Because the double paddle will separate in two, I can also fit a single paddle handle to one of the two halves. It is made with the same hardwood dowel material as the paddle shafts. The light color wood came from the paddle shaft cutting jig. It is poplar. I don't know what kind of hardwood the dowels came from.

 
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Yet another use for the leftover plywood: painting the seat brackets.

 
click to enlarge The seat frame is attached to the seat brackets with 5/16-inch stainless steel carriage bolts. The seat bracket holes for the carriage bolts had been squared with a file prior to painting. You can see the flush connector bolts on the gunwales. A piece of rubber is placed between the seat bracket and seat frame to protect the surface from damage when tightening together. It also helps to smooth out any small angle misalignment between the seat brackets and seat frame.
 
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Time for a first spin. The boat weighs in at 34 pounds. Still heavy compared to a skin-on-frame boat, but quite manageable. Too many epoxy coats, I guess.

 
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I wasn't sure how long the double paddle should be. That's what this first try is for. I temporarily taped the two halves together with a length of pipe and duck tape in order to do this first test. You can see the folding, padded seat in place. This provides some back support: I wanted the most comfortable seating possible.

 
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Yep, this is a tippy boat. Granted, my boarding skills at this point are nil, but I would not try to stand up in this boat.

 
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It floats! Not a surprise really: I had done a boat trim test in my brother's swimming pool long before that, before there was any paint on the boat.

 
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You can see that the boat is heeling because I am not sitting perfectly on center. This is true of any canoe, but it is even more so with this one.

 
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A wet but happy camper. Although the double paddle is longer than the boat, this test showed that I shouldn't shorten it.

 
click to enlarge Printing the boat name. Those are full sheet, adhesive plastic film labels found at good office supply stores. You have to use a laser printer for this: the ink from inkjet printers is water-soluble. The blank on the right will allow to paint the background the same color as the inside of the boat (Bristol Beige), for a better contrast. The printing was done at an angle in order to maximize the letters' size.

It took a while before I chose a name for that boat. One day, while on sanding duty, I was listening to a Suzanne Vega CD and there was this song CALYPSO that I liked, but had never really paid close attention to the lyrics. I googled the name. In the Greek story The Odyssey by Homer, Calypso is a queen who kept Odysseus captive for seven years before Zeus orders her to let him go. She even helps him to build a ship.

This boat project has kept me very busy for two years. So there was a fitting parallel there. Plus I liked the sound of the name. I read somewhere that when building a boat, eventually a name will come up at some point that will just fit. It did so for me.

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The first coat of paint where the boat name will be applied.

 

I was hoping to cover the boat name with a protective clear coat. Trouble is, most clear coat sprays tend to dissolve the ink of that boat name. I learned that the hard way. After doing a torture test with a screw blade on a sample, it seemed that this laser ink was probably as tough as paint. So I left it bare. To apply the label, you first wet the area with water using a sponge. The water allows to adjust the label once applied, before you commit to its permanent position by driving the water out with a squeegee.

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The ferrules used for assembling the paddles are 1-1/4 inch in diameter on the outside while the dowels used for the paddle shafts are also 1-1/4 inch. Some trimming is in order. A jig allowed me to achieve a pretty good result. Three rollers hold the shaft captive while spinning. The 2x4 on top has a hinge on one side and a spring on the other, allowing to maintain pressure via the top rollers or to remove the shaft when you're done. For spinning, a rope is wrapped a few turns around the shaft and held under tension with a bow of sorts. The photos show the final result. While sanding, a few turns of electric tape prevents any damage beyond the desired area.

 
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A plank and a few wood blocks help align the handle and blade before securing the ferrules with screws.

 
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I added a few blocks to lower the seat a bit, in order to improve stability.

 
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The boat is done! You can see how small it is compared to a regular canoe.

When came the time for the official launch, I looked at the price of champagne for christening the boat. It made the price of epoxy sound reasonable...almost. I settled for sparkling wine.

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Getting aboard is always the most delicate operation.

 
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Out for a spin...

 
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At low speed, at least, the boat doesn't seem to produce much wake.

 
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Only one brave soul volunteered for a test drive...

People who have seen the boat so far have all complimented me on her looks. So at least that part of the design is a success. After the official boat launch, we had only one nice Sunday before the winter cold knocked at our door. This was mid-October (2006). You can't really expect more for this part of Canada.

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Here's where the boat will rest for all winter...

Epilogue

I thought this instalment would conclude this series. Unfortunately, as I'm not quite a wise paddler, one outing in Spring 2007 turned into a real torture test for the boat. This caused some serious damage that will require some repairs and a few modifications. As I am writing this, this work has yet to be started.

TO BE CONTINUED...


REFERENCES

  • http://www.svensons.com/boat/ Svenson's free boat plans
    - Lots of free, old boat plans, mostly built from wood.
  • Suzanne Vega: Calypso, from the album Solitude Standing, AM Records, 1987.
    - This is the song that inspired my boat name choice
  • Homer: The Odyssey, circa 800 to 600 BC
    - I must admit I have only seen TV adaptations of this story, as my knowledge of ancient Greek is nil.

SAILS

EPOXY

GEAR