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by Bill Bland - Madison, Wisconsin - USA

When does a boat building project start? I suppose for serial builders this becomes an easy answer, but for we one-and-done (really, I'm sure) it is a tougher call. I'm thinking my 60th birthday, when construction of the strongback got underway. But how about the new garage door, and heat, more light, and electrical plugs? They were all part of the runup to this. But they depended on an earlier commitment to the project. Study plans? Subscription to Small Craft Advisor? Feeling the surge of excitement over Scamp, and the fantasy of Scamp Camp? Purchase of Cheek's "The Year of the Boat"? It's a slippery slope I am here to tell you.

Well, let's go with the strongback, about 2 ½ years ago. By then I was committed to a Welsford Pathfinder. Big enough to sleep two very comfortably, open for spacious seating, and light enough to trailer with a small vehicle. And a mizzen and gaff main - they looked like great fun. Meranti plywood came from two states away, but even with shipping not absurd in cost. I gathered some rough white pine from the pile in my Dad's old barn, and cleaned out his basement shop when Mom sold the house. So my boat includes, at least: Meranti ply, white pine, cherry, mahogany, walnut (I know, it'll be fine), white oak, red oak (I know), Douglas Fir, and a bit of lumberyard "SPF." The main mast is birdsmouth Douglas Fir, thanks to a cousin who is a skilled woodworker, and a local wood supplier who will humor we retail customers as long as we don't try to get too specific about price.

Build blogs were a constant companion - some made it look all so effortless and the results so lovely that they often left me feeling like a real duffer. There were others, though, that reflected the reality show nature of we close-to-in-over-our-heads types. One confusing aspect of other builds was how these craftspersons avoid covering every clamp and tool with epoxy. Are the photos fake, like in food advertisements? Here Devlin came to the rescue with a photo of an epoxy-clad power drill in his book "Devlin's Boat Building." My cordless drill finally suffocated from this syndrome. When each new tool was indoctrinated into the epoxy-encrusted brotherhood we paused for a moment of recognition.

But we did take epoxy seriously. My son is a nurse in an intensive care unit, and when he told one of the pulmonologists about our project he gave us a stern warning: he'd dealt with some serious cases of lung damage from epoxy exposure. So to the bloggers who are so cavalier with breathing protection: follow Devlin on this.

The images along the way are wonderful reminders of how far you come in a project like this - and how naive I was about how much remained to do!
The best I could do for a clamp shot in my under-resourced shop.
The second of three team lifts: turning over to finish bottom; here, turning rightside up again; and the third was onto the trailer. Friends, relatives and neighbors pitching in.
Her first anchoring, in Big Bay of Madeline Island, near Bayfield, Wisconsin.
ohboyohboy has has her first sleepover with the big girls, Apostle Island Marina, Bayfield. There was a forest of masts astern.

I made more than my share of mistakes along the way, and was consistently surprised at how well I took it. As the build progressed I became less agitated about the errors and omissions in the plans, counseled by the voices on the Welsford builders Yahoo group that there is a lot of room for (let's call it) innovation. And I came to appreciate that any ambiguities in the plans were small potatoes compared to my ability to introduce mayhem. Lawrence Cheek provides some cover here when, after he is alerted to the fact that he'd forgotten a brace under the boat's deck, he decides "The deck will just have to brace itself." I hope my homebrew mast tabernacle makes the cut - it survived some 22 knot winds in the Apostle Islands on a recent outing, so I am gaining confidence.

The finish on a boat is a fine way to drive yourself crazy. As I faired and painted and sanded (an incredible exercise in discipline), I kept in mind what I understand to be John Welsford's opinions on this phase of a build: just coat it with paint and go sailing. His favorite varnish: white house paint. But at times I did fancy myself creating a stunning bit of beauty, as the velvet rich paint spread so pleasingly over the primer coat. Not 20 minutes later, though, I'd imagine myself in a bosun's chair hanging over the side of British man-o-war, dry-heaving into a bucket of black paint-like stuff, trying to reconstruct in my mind an evening not long ago on the streets of Shanghai. Just get the stuff on the boat, and maybe you can have a drink of water!

Welsford is a great fan of used boat trailers, so I followed his lead here. While this saved a good bit of money, it is a source of anxiety. I suspect my trailer is one size too small, and my boat - thanks to my errors - a sheet of ply and a gallon or so of epoxy overweight, so I am on the edge here. We survived a gusts-to-25-knots beam reach on the highway recently, so maybe we are safe.

Her name? ohboyohboy. We'd compiled quite a long list of candidates, but when this one occurred to me I did not look back. My wife had a hip replacement toward the end of the build, and she would mutter this in her sleep as she tried to turn over. Now this expression can be reflect positive excitement and anticipation, or negativity, but I take it to be an acknowledgement that we'd gotten ourselves into this and it is now our duty to see it through as best we can.

We have only a few days of experience on the water with ohboyohboy, but she has performed wonderfully. There is a list of jobs to do, of course, and I look forward to every one of them, just as I do sorting out the small boat camp cruising possibilities of the Midwest.

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