Noel Davis, who has accompanied me with great verve on two
Everglades Challenges, had a dual urge. One, he wanted to build
a boat. Second, he wanted a boat he could singlehand in a future
Such a boat would have to be light enough that he could beach
launch it, easy to row and preferably with a cockpit long enough
that he could tent it over and sleep in it. It must be big enough
to handle the waters involved, but not so large it could get
out of control in blustery conditions.
Since we had done our challenges in a Jim Michalak-designed
Frolic2, Michalak designs seemed like a
good place to start. Noel liked the V-bow shape on Oaracle,
which helps cut through waves. Jim has recently adapted that
bow as well as a small mizzen onto his already successful Woobo
design and that seemed to fit the bill. The new design, called
is 15.5 feet long, four feet wide (inside the rubrails), and
draws mere inches with the rudder and leeboard up. It takes
six sheets of quarter-inch plywood (we used marine meranti)
to build. We used a one-by cedar board for some bulkhead framing.
Everything else – rubrails, tiller, leeboard guards, mast
step and partners, etc. – came from one 16-foot yellow
pine two-by board. I’ve forgotten if it was 10 or 12 inches
wide. There’s an odd piece or two of tulip poplar that
I had lying around included here and there.
Dimensionally, the boat was build exactly to specifications.
There are some small variations in construction details, mostly
in recognition of the demands an Everglades Challenge places
on such a craft. Also in recognition of the ambitious plans
for his boat, Noel has named it Voyager.
Here’s a picture album, with a couple videos, of the
Fresh plywood, with the plans at the end,
ready to begin laying out the hull panels. We used a 16-foot
long piece of molding as a batten for drawing the lines.
On past boats, I’ve used fiberglass butt straps to
fasten the panels together before drawing the lines, but
this time, we decided to just butt the sheets together,
draw and cut the panels, and then use the glass butt straps
to assemble the panels. It worked fine.
We used nails and weights to hold the batten
in place, always eyeballing it for fairness before drawing
the final line. The plans show how to lay out the panels
and give all the relevant measurements.
The batten passing by a nail, marking the
edge of a hull panel.
Noel uses a circular saw, the blade set just
deep enough to go through the quarter-inch ply, to cut out
the panels. For me, the circular saw is the easiest way
to accurately cut the sweeping curves.
After about half a day’s work, we have
the hull panels cut out, but not assembled into their final
lengths. It doesn’t show here, but where the panels
meet, I drew several pencil lines across the joint. Lining
up the pencil marks ensures an accurate fit when joining
We begin to assemble the panels. At the left
is the bottom panel, in the middle are the two bilge panels,
and on the right are the topside panels.
The panels are assembled. First a piece of
wax paper is laid down, then a piece of fiberglass is saturated.
The two panels are joined, centered over the strip of glass.
Then another piece is placed on top of the joint and saturated.
Fiberglass tape is typically used for this, but I have a
couple large rolls of heavy mat tape, we used that instead.
I suspect the random orientation of the short fibers is
actually better for a use like this and it’s supposedly
more resistant to cracks, but it takes a more epoxy to saturate
the mat than it would cloth tape.
Another layer of wax paper is placed over
the top piece of fiberglass and a roller squeegee used to
work out wrinkles and smooth the surface. This can save
a lot of sanding later. For the bilge and topside panels,
the second set was joined right on top of the first (with
plenty of wax paper between the epoxy joints!), which ensures
the panels are mirror images, or at least close enough for
Scrap ply is placed over the assembled joints
and weights added to apply pressure. Everything is left
there overnight while the epoxy cures. The polytarp under
the panels was big enough to fold over them to protect the
panels from dew at night or (heaven forbid) if it had rained.
The next day, the wax paper is peeled off
the finished joints. Some care is necessary in handling
the finished sides as the glass can kink at the joint. It’s
easier to prevent this with the panels then if full-size
sheets are joined and then maneuvered around to lay out
and cut the panels. The location for the bulkheads and midship
form are marked on the panels.
While the epoxy is setting on the panels,
it’s a good time to cut out the bulkheads and attach
their framing. At the top is the temporary form that’s
at the widest part of the boat. In the middle of the picture
are the transom and the permanent bulkheads that will go
at the forward and aft ends of the cockpit. At the bottom
is a what the plans call to be a temporary form in help
shape the bow of the boat. Noel decided to make this a permanent
bulkhead. It divides up the large storage area under the
deck forward of the cockpit and also creates a separate
watertight area for floatation.
In our spare time from working on hull parts,
we laminated the leeboard and rudder blade. Note that Michalak
does not call for any lead in the leeboard, relying on friction
or one of Duckworks’ releasing cleats to hold it down.
Noel wanted to try some lead, so the board will stay down
on its own without having to be reset after it has kicked
up from hitting the bottom. Whether the drag from the board
bumping along the bottom in shallow water will be a problem
remains to be seen. That’s another slight deviation
from Michalak’s plans.
Going 3D! Always a big event in building any
boat. I think we had about two full days time in the boat
making the hull panels and cutting and framing the bulkheads
at this point.
Certainly three at the most. With the two
of us, it took 20 minutes to dry fit the topside panels
to the bulkheads and forms and plop the bottom on for a
rough fit. Remember, the location of the bulkheads were
already marked on the panels. All I had to do was hold the
bulkhead in the proper place while Noel drove the screws.
An edited look at assembling the bulkheads, forms, and topside
panels. As noted before, the actual elapsed time for the dry
fitting was 20 minutes.
Once we had the dry fit, we took the permanent
bulkheads, the inner stem, and the transom off, one by one,
applied thickened epoxy and refastened them. This took an
hour or so.
Once the sides were done, we repeated the
procedure for the bottom. Note the clamps holding the temporary
midships form – it’s not glued since it’s
coming out! Also, we needed some clamps to hold the bottom
on to the bulkhead. There’s no framing along the bulkheads
and the bottom, rather that joint is stitch and glued in
place, just like the hull panels will be.
The key point here is to make sure the centerline
of the bottom matches up with the centerline on the bulkheads
and forms. That forces the boat into the right shape and
keeps it from being asymmetrical. You probably won’t
achieve true millimeter precision because of variances in
the way wood bends, but if your centerlines match up, the
slight imperfections will be meaningless.
The bilge panels, which fill the gap between
the bottom and topsides panels, are deliberately cut oversize
so they can be fit to the actual shape of the boat. No two
boats are likely to go together enough alike to be able
to precut the bilge panels with precision.
Here the bilge panels are temporarily fitted
to the hull with screws to framing and trailer tie down
straps serving as Spanish windlasses. The shape is marked
on the inside with pencil, and the panels trimmed and attached
again for any final adjustments.
Noel does a little fine fitting of a bilge
panel with an electric planner.
The bilge panels are about fitted here. The
next step is to wire the panel joints together. In some
spots, you have to use wire ties fairly close together to
hold the joints, in others where things seem to lay together
naturally, they can be fairly widely spaced.
It was at this point I asked Noel how he
wanted to handle finishing the stem. There will be a thick
fillet of epoxy covered with multiple layers on the inside,
and I usually round over the outside with a belt sander
and add several layers of fiberglass.
Noel suggested covering the stem with an epoxy soaked piece
of line, a trick we learned from Graham Byrnes of B&B Yachts
to protect the leading edges of leeboards and rudders, and which
I have written about elsewhere. I opened my mouth to reply,
and nothing came out. The more I thought about it, the better
idea it seemed. I told Noel the only difficulty would be getting
a perfectly flat face on the stem, while preserving the fairness
of the stem’s curve. He picked up his power planner and
did a perfect job – in about 30 seconds.
There are a couple ways to proceed here. Some
folks take the wired-together hull, flip it over, and begin
filleting and taping the hull joints together from the inside,
removing the wires when the epoxy cures.
I prefer to "tack" the hull together
between the wire ties (if you look closely, you can see
some of the ties still in the hull) with thickened epoxy,
then remove the ties and flip the hull over. Here’s
the hull "tacked" together.
We used some scrap 7/16-inch double braid
polyester rope to cover the stem. An advantage to using
the rope on the stem is it automatically puts a nice, round
edge of the forward face with little work.
The gap between the rope and the flat stem
face is filled with thickened epoxy. Although the rope has
excellent abrasion resistance on its own, it will be covered
with fiberglass when the hull is glassed. It would work
just as well, if it’s your preference, to glass the
hull and then glue the rope on over that. I think our way
makes the finishing and fairing a bit easier.
While waiting for epoxy to set, or with extra
time at the end of a building session, we worked on various
bits and pieces. Here, the rudder is laminated. We dry fitted
the layers and used screws to hold everything in alignment
to prevent slipping when the slippery epoxy was applied.
The rudder is coated with epoxy, and the mast
step and partner are cut out and epoxy sealed.
Lead is poured in the rudder blade and leeboard,
so they will sink. You can see the steam rising, especially
from the leeboard.
The rudder blade and leeboard with the last
layers glued on and the boards shaped, ready for fiberglassing.
We also lined the leading edges with epoxy soaked polyester
rope for abrasion resistance.
I had replaced the wooden mast on my Frolic2
design with a carbon fiber spar, and the old mast was just
hanging around. So we cut it down and varnished it for Noel’s
Back to the hull. Here the "tacked"
together hull is flipped over. The board across the hull
is where the temporary form has been removed. It’s
ready for filleting and taping on the inside chines. Note
the very forward bulkhead, which we elected to leave in
place and make permanent, although the plans call for removing
it at this stage. The forward storage compartment is still
huge even with the extra bulkhead, which provides floatation
in a hard chance should the forward compartment get flooded.
The inside chines are filleted and covered
with the mat tape. No the taping isn’t very even,
but the roll was cut with uneven width. None of this is
more than cosmetic, the ultimate strength is not affected.
Again, more epoxy is required when using mat than if we
had used cloth tape, but I think we get a stronger joint
with the mat.
We found it easiest to apply the epoxy to the mat using small
foam rollers rather than brushes. Also, Michalak does not call
for framing on the bulkheads for the bilge panels or bottom,
so those joints must be filleted and taped also. Actually, I’m
not sure anything more than fillets are needed for the bulkheads,
but Noel intends some hard use for this boat, so we taped them
for extra strength. I prefer laying on the fiberglass while
the fillet is still wet – it smooths out the rough spots
and saves some awkward sanding on the cured fillets.
This shows the boat with the inside chines taped.
Because of that expected hard use, we also
fiberglassed the inside bottom and bilge panels. That will
add strength and, for the cockpit, abrasion resistance when
sand and crushed shells are tracked into the boat. These
pictures show the fiberglass being added to the cockpit
and the stern storage compartment.
We also fiberglassed the forward storage compartment.
About this time you realize something – it’s
a boat! If you threw it in the water now, it would float.
It would feel pretty flimsy, but it would keep the water