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Custom lifelines made to transition from fiber to wire and back again…
One of the more popular subjects that was discussed at our Seattle Boat Show booth in January was replacing old wire lifelines with new ones made from hi-tech rope. I had made up a display showing our new capabilities with swaging wire rope to stainless fittings. Next to it on the display, I spliced some AmSteel®-Blue to a Sea Dog pelican hook specifically designed for fiber. It has a nice, smooth bail built into it for a soft eye. Since the wire display had threaded studs to tension them properly, I wanted the fiber version to be nice and tight, even though there was no adjuster built in. That’s when the skill has to kick in, which makes it a bit of a challenge for the average DIYer. The trick is to place the splice properly to generate just the right amount of slack so that when you bury the tail, the rope contracts from the bury, which in turn takes up the slack. The end result is a nice, snug fit that tensions properly when the pelican hook is latched. Each specific rope diameter has a constant “shrink” ratio if you keep all the buried tail lengths constant. We will discuss buried tail length here in a bit.
The two display examples on the left are wire standing rigging and a lifeline gate. Third from the left is AmSteel®-Blue spliced onto a pelican hook for fiber lifelines. The rest are the various splices we offer depending on the rope’s construction.
As direct fallout from the splicing demos and display we built for the boat show booth, we received our first order for custom made fiber lifelines. I was really excited about this opportunity to build these for a good, repeat customer. With our philosophy of transparency and proactive expectation management, I told the customer that we would have to bring in product for his order from a new vendor, so it would be a few days before I could start building it. He was fine with that and approved the quote to move forward with his order.
When the new fittings landed, I was impressed with their fit and finish. The 3/16″ 12 strand single braid snugged up nicely into the built-in solid anodize aluminum thimbles. Even though the manufacturer sells 1/4″ Dyneema to go with their fittings, the customer chose to go with 3/16″ for a few reasons, cost, it looked better on the thimble, and it was replacing 3/16″ wire.
In the image above, you can see an overview of the splices needed to specifically build lifelines. With the understanding that you’re going to have to splice to a fitting on both ends, only one end can physically be locked by the splice. Because you’re splicing to a fixed length of 12 strand, single braid, you can cut your rope a little long and do a modified Brummel lock on the first fitting. To paraphrase the Bard, herein lies the rub… You can’t do a locked splice on the second end because you’re splicing onto hardware and the fitting on the first end won’t pass through the weave of the 12 strand. Sigh… So you’re left with the often misunderstood direct bury splice.
The direct bury on the second end should be 72 times the rope diameter to achieve 100% of the breaking strength of the rope. For lifelines, you’ll hopefully never get anywhere close to that otherwise stanchions will be ripped off the boat and pulpits will be deformed. On the other hand, you want to set yourself up for success. For 3/16″ single braid, 72 rope diameters is 13-1/2″. That’s not an unreasonable distance to bury. The conflict comes into play if you wanted to do that bury from both ends of a short span. For example, what if you wanted to splice your 24″ wide gate opening? You can’t fit two splices with a 13-1/2″ bury, so one or both tails with have to be shortened. When faced with this dilemma, I always go full length on the direct bury end and shorten the locked splice end accordingly.
Let’s talk for a moment about why the direct bury splice is so misunderstood. There seems to be an impression out there that a direct bury is not as strong as a locked splice. The direct bury relies on the strength of the Chinese finger trap construction so that the harder you pull, the harder it bites down. The word on the docks is that in order to get the full strength of a single braid, you must lock it. When you look at the statistics and understand what’s happening on a microscopic level, rope always fails where stresses concentrate. One of the places stresses concentrate are anywhere the rope fibers make a bend. With that in mind, there are much less bends in a direct bury vs. a locked splice. This compensates mightily for the strength inherent in the lock. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll lock every chance I get, I just wanted you to be able to make an informed decision.
First end gets locked splice
So to sum up, in order to make a short section of fiber lifeline, the first end gets locked (sometimes with a shorter bury), and the second end gets the full 72x direct bury treatment. In the photos above, I’ve whipped only the direct bury spliced ends for illustrative purposes, leaving the locked splices un-whipped.
Second end gets direct bury
When customers want new lifelines, the best method to ensure success is for them to mark the threads on the studs when the lifelines are taut while they’re still installed, usually with tape. Then loosen the lifelines enough to take them off the boat and bring them into the rig shop. There, the rigger will put the fittings back to their original marks to get the ideal length. The new fittings and lengths of wire and or rope will be determined based on these lengths with the new fittings threaded to a 2/3rds open position. This 2/3rds open position is to give plenty of expansion room for ease of installation and also enough thread left to take up any stretch that might occur over the years. This gives you the maximum life expectancy for your investment.
The next ideal situation is to have a rigger come out and measure your lifelines. This is actually not as easy as it sounds. It requires familiarity with the fittings and the understanding of bearing points. For example, the bearing point on a single gate eye is where it butts up against the gate stanchion. The bearing point on a double gate eye is the inside of the bail on the second link. The bearing point of a pelican hook is the inside of the hook. The toggles are pretty obvious. Whenever I measure a boat for lifelines, I draw a diagram of the existing hardware with bearing point measurements so that when I get back to the workbench, there’s no confusion about what I’m trying to reproduce. In all honesty, I’ve had very little success with using measurements provided by the customer and most of that success was due to having additional thread on the studs to make up any differences. That’s not to say that a well-informed DIYer couldn’t succeed, it’s just usually more of an acquired skill (usually acquired by having to do several sets of lifelines for your job as a rigger, not just the single set for your average boat owner).
So now that I had all the old lifelines laid out on the bench, I could get my own bearing point to bearing point measurements (usually to within 1/8″). That gets translated to whatever new hardware is being used, meaning, different hardware will have different body lengths, stud lengths, etc. especially when they’re opened to 2/3rds. Once you can put your hardware the proper distance apart, it’s easy to determine how much rope you’ll need, including the buried tails. Once you cut your rope a bit oversized, just go ahead and throw the first locked splice on. This means you can defer all the fussiness to the second splice, which is where the method to my madness kicks in. Once the first splice is done, affix it to the workbench, and slide the hardware for the second splice along the rope until the bearing point hits the proper measurement. Now you have to factor in the “shrinkage”, which is usually in the neighborhood of 3 to 4 rope diameters. So make your mark for the location of the second splice a bit long and it will shrink back to the proper length after the splice is done.
If you want to get clinical about it, make a mark on the standing part a fixed distance from the cut end, do a proper direct bury splice, adjust for the buried tail length and eye size and the difference will be your shrinkage. As a hypothetical example on 3/16″ single braid, I’ll make a mark 60 inches from the cut end, make a 6 inch eye and bury 13.5 inches of tail. Then I’ll do the math:
Calculated Length: 60″ – 13.5″ – 12″ (2×6″ for the eye) = 34.5″
Measured Length: 33.75″
Shrinkage = 0.75″
This relatively constant shrinkage factor can then be used for the rest of the direct bury splices in the project. Keep in mind that locked splices will take up a slightly different amount due to the extra gyrations the rope has to make inside the splice. The important thing is that you can now eliminate a variable that could potentially throw your whole lifeline project off. Three quarters of an inch doesn’t sound like much, but it could cause your threaded stud to fall short of it’s destination.
Once you’ve mastered the shrinkage factor, you’ve got it made in the shade. By the time you do both uppers and lowers, with a gate, you’re looking at probably 24 splices (12 locked, 12 direct bury). Once you know the bearing point to bearing point distances from the boat (grab a buddy to hold the “dumb” end of the measuring tape), you can make your lifelines at home on the coffee table with your favorite adult beverage by your side. The days of dragging the swaging machine out on the docks is over! The best part about the single braid splice is that you don’t need a work bench with an anchor point to pull the splices together. All you need is a plastic cutting board and a ceramic knife and you’re off to the races.
Consider that the rope vs. the wire by the foot is close enough to be a wash and the fittings for wire vs. rope are also similarly priced. If you do your own splices vs. paying someone to either do the splices for you or swage the wire version, you’ve saved approximately $400 for splicing labor or just under $200 for swaging labor. Another piece of good news is that all offshore racing organizations and insurance companies now recognize Dyneema lifelines as legal.
I recently had a customer who bought a fid and a spool of 3/16″ AmSteel®-Blue to build his own. Yes, he was in a couple of times to ask some questions, but they were good questions because he was knee deep into the realities of the project. Yes, he was going to have most of that spool left over after his project, but I think the bragging rights for making your own color matched lifelines was worth it. AmSteel®-Blue comes in a rainbow of colors, but their blue is an almost exact match for Sunbrella’s Pacific Blue. Nice! Anyway, the underlying message I’m trying to get across is that this is a very doable project which can save you big bucks. The wind is free, but nothing else is…
I got a call from our very understanding customer and we discovered that there were a few small things overlooked. Luckily, the big picture stuff was in order. Here are a few of the silly little details that bit me in the butt:
1. The threads on the gate eye studs are long from the manufacturer on purpose. This allows you to cut off the stud to accommodate the diameter of your stanchion plus the amount that needs to thread into the eye. I ended up cutting 1-1/8″ off each stud to eliminate the unsightly extra thread. NOTE: Make sure there’s enough thread on the other end to accomodate the amount cut off. For example, I cut off 1-1/8″, so each stud on the closed body turnbuckle had to be opened an extra 9/16″. Also, make sure you thread the nut onto the stud first, spin it down to the mark and use it as a shoulder for the hack saw. Thread the nut farther down, file off the cut end and chamfer the edges, then spin the nut off to recut the threads.
2. If your stanchions are removable (as our customer’s were), there’s probably a set screw that locks it into its base, make sure to orient the stanchion properly when running the new lifelines. I biffed one and ended up having to undo the two direct buried ends, fish out the AmSteel, rotate the stanchion, and put the ends back on. Not a big deal, but unnecessary if you catch it the first time.
3. Other than that, just a few tweaks here and there that thankfully involved shortening sections, meaning I didn’t have to build a whole new piece. If a section needed to be shortened, I just undid the direct bury splice, move the splice down the necessary distance, then rebuilt the splice. The extra length being taken up by a longer buried tail. I didn’t even have to remake the taper. There’s enough threaded length in the system to make the tolerances pretty forgiving.
4. On most boats, the lifelines on port vs. starboard are not the same length. Some time in the boat’s life, one of the stanchions has probably been tweaked, which will result in surprisingly different lengths. Do not make the mistake of making the new lifelines exactly the same length by splitting the difference. There’s no guarantee that there’s enough thread left on one side to connect, and the other side might bottom out before tensioning properly.
Captain Chris out…
The race was on! I had about 10 days before my scheduled vacation to splash her, so I jotted down every single step that still needed to be done and divided it by the number of nights for the epoxy to cure. It was a pretty daunting list. Every day had its own challenges and a critical path. Now that the boat had four coats of epoxy inside and out, I could install the gudgeons on the aft transom. The tricky part was that the bottom gudgeon had to be installed before the aft thwart was put into place and it pierced the flotation tank, so I had to make sure it was extra secure. I did the standard drill & fill, then I used the gudgeon itself as the drilling template. This looked fine on the outside, but unfortunately it was a little wonky on the other side. I also made sure to remember a backing board to eliminate tear-out. For the bolts into the flotation tank, I used nyloc nuts so they’d never back out and I dipped each bolt into unthickened epoxy to hopefully ensure it was a waterproof seal. For the top gudgeon, which shows on the inside while you’re sitting there sailing, I bought one of those drill guides to make sure the holes were square to the transom. This was one of the overnight steps…
Nylocs on the inside of the aft flotation tank securing the bottom gudgeon. Note the additional epoxy runs…
Pan head phillips on the outside for a clean look. Make sure gudgeon is perfectly level and on the centerline…
Next up was finishing all of the sailboat specific parts. Even with the boat complete, there’s still a week’s worth of work on all of the part that make it move. Once they were all laminated, cut out, sanded, edges eased, etc. I had to coat them with 3 nights’ worth of epoxy. In order to be able to access all sides, I strung them up in the shop in some twine. This caused a slight epoxy stalactite on the bottom of each one, but at least I didn’t have to do one side each day and flip, which would double the nights needed for curing.
Knowing that I’d need to transport the pram from the truck in the parking lot to the boat launch ramp, I devised a quick and dirty prototype of a dinghy dolly. It fits between the skids, locking it in place so it can’t rotate, it’s long enough to support the boat, but short enough to fit between the center and aft thwarts for trailering. The large, pneumatic tires float, so it won’t get lost at the ramp while wrangling the boat. The tough part was making the platform far enough away from the axle so that the tires wouldn’t rub on the hull. Once that was accomplished, it works rather well. I live a block from a neighborhood lake, so I wanted to be able to negotiate a busy crosswalk safely with the boat in tow. Now that the prototype is close, I’ll make a prettier one in the Spring…
The tiller/rudder assembly was fun to put together too. Lots of drill & fill opportunities here. The rudder has to fit snugly between the cheek plates, but still be able to rotate while you’re sitting in the boat. One of my most shameful confessions is that I basically just hacked the tiller out of a solid piece of oak. I was originally going to steam-bend the tiller to give it a graceful arc, but after seeing where it reaches as you swing the tiller from side to side, I prefer it to clear the gunwales. BTW, the placement of the pivot bolt for the tiller on the rudder cheek is crucial to the pivoting angle. I lucked out and landed it on the second attempt, so there’s a previous hole that was filled with 5 minute epoxy…
The pintles come specifically with an upper and lower, so you can get it started, then drop it into place while you’re in the water without the danger of dropping the whole thing overboard. It’s a pretty ingenious system that makes more sense once you see it working in person. Even though I was unbelievably careful about mounting the gudgeons parallel on the centerline, there was a bit of binding when I dropped the rudder assembly into place the first time. With a little persuasion and a little wiggling back and forth, it loosened up so as to be functional…
Click here for the link to the gudgeons and pintles. To save you from making the same mistake I did, make sure the pintle brackets fit the outside of your rudder cheek assembly, not the thickness of your rudder. That bit me on the butt and I didn’t realize it until it was almost too late, necessitating running around the last minute trying to find the right size…
As you can see in the image above, I installed the optional outboard stiffener pad. I plan on putting a trolling motor on this thing once in a while. The trade off is that it pushes the top gudgeon out of line with the bottom one 1/4″, which they don’t address in the instructional manual and may be a source of the binding issue. I tried to offset the bottom pintle bracket to make up for it. In addition to the structural aspect of the pad, I also think it adds a little visual interest to the aft transom. The pad was glued using Titebond II because it was then encapsulated by the layers of epoxy. It was also sanded perfectly flush with the top edge of the aft transom as per the diagram.
Somebody needs to wax their truck…
In the spirit of full disclosure, I finished some of these last bits the morning I was supposed to leave for my vacation. The good news is that I got it all done in just the nick of time. I was able to load the boat into the truck myself with the dolly. It fits snugly between the wheel wells and holds all the rest of my camping gear!
Captain Chris out…
Making the sail was probably the most challenging part of the entire build as it was a totally new skillset for me. I bought the Mark II kit from Sailrite. The Mark II kit is the higher aspect ratio (pointier peak) and in my humble opinion, considerably more attractive than the original almost square sail. With the sail, grommets and the grommet installation tools, it was about $250. The wind is free, but nothing else is…
It takes a few minutes to lay out all the parts to understand where everything goes…
I also have to make a confession that at this point in the build, I was under a time crunch to get it done so I could hit my target date of my previously scheduled vacation (the state park was going to close for the season). Add to that the difficulty of wrangling the large panels of Dacron and there are considerably fewer photos taken of this step. Sorry.
Let’s talk about the link above. When I was buying, I didn’t know that link existed, or it’s pretty new. Either way, there are a whole lot more options as I’m writing this than when I busted out my credit card six months ago. I got the regular Dacron with one reef point (doubt I’ll be dinghy sailing if it gets much over 16 knots). I did not know about the batten options, but full length battens for $100 on an 8′ pram seem kinda silly to me. I did have a tanbark upgrade option for $100, which I opted out of, but I have another confession: before I sewed a single stitch, I traced each panel in the kit onto painter’s poly tarp so I can make another exact copy of the sail out of any material cheap and easy. My kit came with the Dacron tape reinforced luff and I didn’t know about the boltrope option. A boltrope luff is a nice feature on a classic boat. I opted for a loose-footed sail because I feel that gives me more control of the sail shape. Adding a clear plastic window was not discussed with me at the time of purchase, but the lug is above my head and there’s no jib, so it was also a non-issue. A sailbag for less than $30 would definitely be worth it, so I’ll contact them to see if I can maybe opt in on that one after the fact. My kit was “cross cut”. I did not know that vertical cut was an option, but I don’t really know if that would’ve made much difference. I think horizontal seams look more traditional. Having them build the kit costs an extra $250, so it was worth it for me monetarily, learning a new skill and for the bragging rights to do it myself. Please don’t misconstrue any of the comments in the above paragraph in any way to mean that Jeff and the whole gang at Sailrite aren’t the best. They are always great to work with and very patient with sharing their esoteric knowledge with newbies like me. I did also buy the grommet cutter and anvil tools (which aren’t cheap) because I don’t plan on this being the only sail I ever make.
Reef point reinforcement patch = 7 layers!
The good news is that I used my domestic sewing machine, not an industrial one. My Brother CS6000i cost considerably less than $200. I also got the UV resistant thread from Sailrite, so I had to get the appropriate needles for the machine. I think they were “denim” needles. Anyway, before sewing anything together, I read the instruction manual twice. It was very confusing. They talk about strategically sewing together sub-assemblies to make sewing the larger panels together easier. Then they contradict themselves on the timeline of certain steps. My sewing machine had considerable trouble punching through the 7 layers of Dacron in places. More than half way through the process, I discovered that I could “help” the sewing machine by pressing on the foot with a flat-bladed screwdriver. Before that, there was much cussing and fussing. At one point, I didn’t think I was going to be able to actually make the sail with the machine. I almost took my machine in for a tune-up, which cost almost as much as the machine. In the end, I had to tweak the thread tension adjustments numerous times to get a decent stitch. Good thing they include a bunch of scrap with the kit!
So back to the critical path, basically if you can sew a reef point reinforcement patch or a batten pocket onto a single panel, do it first! In some cases, those features span two panels that need to be sewn together prior to installing the feature, but it’s still better. Toward the end of the assembly, you’re dealing with 40 square feet of super slick, stiff and heavy cloth that’s over an arm span long in any direction. I was using my giant bench at work and it still kept falling off and getting dirty. Sigh…
Batten pocket with elastic sprung batten semi-permanently installed…
Ironically for an almost 2D sail, you have to be good at imagining what this damn thing is going to look like in 3D as a finished product. All the seams on the flat panels are slight arcs which when sewn together make a curved surface. That was kind of a mind blower. Anyway, there were a few places where I had to bust out the seam ripper and start over. But like with most boat building blogs, there’s always the “next boat”.
With regards to the “next boat” syndrome, it looks like I might be tackling the Passagemaker, the larger version of this pram. It will most probably be outfitted with either Egyptian cream or tanbark sails!
Captain Chris out…
As I’m fond of mentioning, there’s always time to be building other parts while you’re waiting on something else to cure. Another example of that is the spars. I had to make the mast earlier because it was integral to the installation of the mast step. While I was waiting for the 4 coats of epoxy to cure on the bottom, I could start working on the boom and yard. The boom has an old school gooseneck that wraps partially around the mast. In order to create the large diameter hole, I used a hole saw while the part was still attached to the sheet of scrap material. This is also a laminated part. Once the hole was cut, I could then cut out the profile.
Hole cut first…
There was a fair bit of rasping done to get the gooseneck to its finished profile.
Gooseneck roughed out and laminated…
The boom and yard were made out of the same hemlock as the mast. They were cut to length and all of the edges were eased with the 1/4″ round-over bit. It’s also important to ease the correct edges of the gooseneck before attaching it to the boom.
Gooseneck installed on boom…
The round hole pivots nicely on the squarish mast. I will consider wrapping the mast with some self-bonding tape once I figure out where the gooseneck is going to ride.
Boom test fit onto mast…
Lashing holes epoxied…
One of the most sublime benefits of finishing the undercarriage of the boat (i.e. skeg & skids) is that now the damn thing will sit flat on its designed waterline. This means that now it’ll hold still so I can finish up the interior bits.
Now I can install the mast step underneath the forward thwart. First, I epoxied solid oak uprights to the laminated plywood (1/2″ thick) top. This supports the bottom of the mast, must withstand a tremendous amount of side-loading (shear) and be located precisely in the boat to create the 3° mast rake to give it that classic lug sail look and generate the proper amount of weather helm (important for proper sailing characteristics).
The “glue-up” of the mast step…
Mast step with all edges eased with 1/4″ round-over bit…
The mast step must be very carefully located beneath the mast partner in the forward thwart. Not only athwartships, but fore and aft. This is definitely a step (pun intended) that you need to get right the first time. There’s also no way to clamp it in place for a test fit. I ended up physically holding the mast in place while eyeballing the step to judge the angle. I also used a combination square to make sure the step was properly located. With a bit of trepidation, I did the whole mark, drill, fill, peanut butter, screw process. It was with an immense amount of satisfaction that I dropped the mast into the newly installed assembly and stepped back to observe the rake. Perfect!
Now in the interests of full disclosure, the forward thwart bulkhead that creates the flotation tank was about 2″ to far forward from the plans. This meant I had to tweak the dimensions of the mast step a bit so that it snugged up to the bulkhead. This is important as it’s another surface to help bear the load on the step, which gets loaded up in several directions during the course of a daysail. Once in place, a 1″ fillet was applied to all intersecting surfaces to strengthen the bond.
Properly locating mast step…
Mast step screws filled…
At this point, the boat is still sitting on it’s curved bottom. Now I know why they call it “rocker”! Now it’s time to add the skeg and skids. The skeg helps it track in the water, and the skids protect the bottom. But before I start adding things that are going to get in the way, I want to ease the edge of the daggerboard slot. The slot perfectly follows the inside of the case, but it has a sharp edge. I need to ease that edge and figure out a way to seal it securely with several coats of epoxy. The answer was a 1/4″ round-over bit with a bearing to follow the inside of the slot. Once again, taking a router to the boat was a source of anxiety, but it worked really well. This allows a large, smooth transition between the perpendicular surfaces that will be easy to coat with several layers of epoxy. If I’d installed the skeg, the router would not have had room to go all the way around the slot.
Cutting the side panels flush with the transoms exposed a void in the silica-thickened fillet, so I took the opportunity to fill it.
Next, the skeg got “screwed and glued” from the inside. Pre-drill large holes, fill with epoxy, let cure, drill proper size holes for the silicon bronze screws, mix up more peanut butter, install the parts from underneath, then make sure the skeg is perpendicular.
Tape acts as a backer “dam” for filling oversized holes with epoxy…
The skids were another thing. I’d attempted to pre-curve them, but they were too thick and stubborn to take a bend, so I had to have a friend help me hold the boat upright on the stern transom, using the peanut butter method, screw one end, then progressively torque the skids to match the curve, adding more screws at we went along, until it finally was in place. The amount of torque to get those skids in place was a little scary, but the bottom panel with its two layers of fiberglass was evidently up to the challenge. Once everything was successfully in place, fillets were created on all of the inside corners.
Skeg and skids installed…
Now it was time to seal the deal! Using large batches of unthickened epoxy, I painted one panel at at time with a small foam roller, then immediately “tipped” it with a wide foam brush to knock down the bubbles. One coat per night for 4 nights… Once again, this left plenty of time to work on the other sailboat-specific parts while the bottom was curing.
To add even more protection to the bottom, I fiberglassed the skeg, then added an 18″ rub strake. The screw holes were also sealed with epoxy.
Previous Total: 60 hours
Installing skeg & skids = 6 hours
Coating bottom = 4 hours
New Total: 70 hours
So, this last couple of weeks have been all about major milestones. These were the steps I’ve been dreading for months. These are the steps that make or break the boat’s fit and finish – the difference between a professionally built boat and one slapped together by a wood butcher. Okay, so enough melodrama, let’s get to it…
First, the daggerboard slot in the center thwart. This had two very specific criteria, it had to be perfectly straight and it had to land perfectly on the slot in the daggerboard case, which wasn’t perfectly rectangular due to the plywood warping.
This is another advantage to building templates – I was able to mock up a slot and see how it looked and fit. I set the template in place and traced the underside profile of the centerboard case. I know that the sides are 1/4″ and I know how thick the ends are so I was able to find where the slot should land. My first attempt on the template was done by plunging a circular saw into the masonite. This cuts acceptably straight lines when doing rough carpentry, but not what is basically fine furniture for the boat thwart. I was at least able to determine any offset issues on the finished seat. Remember, the seat is laminated, so if I botched it, I’d have to cut out two more, glue them together, etc. so it would set me back a couple of days.
That’s just about the time the I remembered I had a spiral upcut bit for my router. This is the exact application for this bit – cutting a plunged slot. I marked the exact location of the slot on the real seat, setup a straight edge for the offset of the router base to bit, checked the bit location on the slot at least three times and did a shallow “test cut”.
|“Test cut” on seat…|
A few more passes and I cut all the way through, but the daggerboard didn’t slide in. No worries, I planned for that to tweak the width so that the slot falls right on the centerboard case. I put the real seat in place on the boat and determined that 1/8″ wider on the starboard side should do the trick. I moved the straight edge 1/8″ and made another pass. Now for the test fit – it fit perfectly. Whew! It looks CNC machined! A little 220 sandpaper and the slot is finished, and at least as importantly as the aesthetics, the daggerboard fits perfectly. Remember, I don’t want the slot so wide that the daggerboard has a lot of slop, but I also plan on adding several coats of epoxy and possibly graphite and/or fiberglass. Now to make the daggerboard go through the hull. Yikes!
|Slot cut perfectly…
|Daggerboard fits perfectly with little slop…|
Epoxying the centerboard case to the hull is the next big step. I buttered up the mating surfaces, including the 1/4″ edges and set the case in place. I’d already drilled the screw holes and counter-sunk them for the silicon bronze screw heads. Once in place, the leading edge of the case wasn’t touching the curvature of the hull, so I added some weight. Perfect!
|Centerboard case curing in place…|
The next day, I mixed up another batch of peanut butter and did the fancy fillet. Remember, the centerboard case is the most structurally important part of the hull. Imagine running aground at a few knots and hitting a rock – all of that force is instantly shock load transferred to the case, so the fillet increases the bonded surface area, making the case pretty much bulletproof in case of a catastrophic grounding. Hopefully, I’ll never have to test it…
|Centerboard case fillet…|
|Forward fillet fancied up…|
|Aft end fillet…|
Now for the moment we’ve all been waiting for… Cutting the hole in the hull for the daggerboard. This is by far the most important make or break moment in the boat build. I could’ve made another seat if I’d botched the slot, but I can’t make another boat at this point.
Ironically, this is the only time where I actually had to go buy tools to accomplish a build step. I bought a 12″ drill bit extension to drill down through the installed centerboard case. One on each end and a couple down the middle to destabilize the hull so it doesn’t fight the router bit. The 1/2″ flush-cutting trim bit is absolutely necessary to insert through the pilot hole and follow the inside edge of the daggerboard slot, cutting a perfectly matching slot. The reason why the slot in the hole has to be perfect is because I don’t want a lip for the daggerboard to hit as I’m dropping in the slot, possibly delaminating the hull from the case. Also, the machining process can’t mar the waterproofing on the interior of the slot, so the following router bearing is the perfect solution. If I’d just blindly cut the slot with a jigsaw, It might not have followed the inside of the slot perfectly, either creating a lip or cutting into the walls of the slot and it probably would’ve damaged the waterproofing layer. Keep in mind the finished hull/case assembly has to be totally waterproof since it’s below the waterline and will be very difficult to repair if it sustains any water damage. I did cut a slot between all of the pilot holes to further undermine the strength of the part of the hull being removed.
|Flush cut trim bit. Router rests on the bottom of the upside down hull.
Bearing follows inside contour of imperfect centerboard case shape.
|Pilot holes and connecting jigsaw slots. Ready to route…|
After a deep breath, I dove right in because procrastination would only increase my anxiety. Inserting the router bit into an enlarged pilot hole (Confession: I rocked the drill bit side to side stupidly while enlarging the pilot hole to fit the router bit, thereby nicking the interior of the case. Sigh… I’ll fix that later.), I very gingerly routed out the slot. Remember, the wood is fiberglass reinforced on both sides. I didn’t know if it would cut smoothly or just gouge giant chunks out of my boat. The good news is that the newly sharp bit cut through the hull like butter… Perfectly matched slot with the interior of the case, so no lips and no further interior damage to the waterproofing.
|Right on the centerline…|
|Houston, we have a sailboat…|
|Like a proud papa, I can’t get enough of this shot…|
So now it was time to affix the center thwart. Peanut butter on the edges of the daggerboard case and beam support, then drop the seat in place with weights to hold it in place. Little did I know that the port side got caught on the edge of one of the side panels so it didn’t drop totally in place. Of course, I discovered this the next day after the epoxy had cured. It’s one of those “only I can see it” things that’s prevalent in my larger woodworking projects.
|Weights holding center thwart in place…
|Center thwart affixed and daggerboard installed…|
|Everything on the centerline as expected…|
So now came the step that I hadn’t been looking forward to, but not necessarily dreading – epoxying all of the undersides to make the flotation tanks watertight. I set the boat on the floor since I couldn’t reach bending over with the boat on the sawhorses. I then spent a few hours on my hands and knees buttering up the undersides. Note: I didn’t try the pastry bag trick because I would be squeezing the peanut butter upwards, but the trade-off was that I needed a bunch more peanut butter to apply the initial bead, then reclaimed most of it when I scraped it with the filleting tool. The end result was a lot of wasted peanut butter at the end. I’ll need to figure something out for the aft thwart. I also didn’t bother smoothing the underneath fillets.
|Fillet under the forward thwart to make flotation tank watertight…|
|Finished fillet around edge of forward thwart…|
|Added rough fillet to center bulkead/thwart assembly…|
Okay, now to seriously think about adding the skeg and skids… I cut my skids a lot thicker than the plans for two reasons, first more protection while dragging on the beach, second I the skids couldn’t be any thinner than my tablesaw push stick for safety reasons. This meant that they were going to be very difficult to bend to the bottom contour of the hull without stressing the attachment points while the epoxy was curing. To put as much prebend as possible in the skids, I bent them over a “form” and continuously wetted them out with water. After a day of wetting and drying overnight on the “form”, they sprang back to almost straight – just about an inch of bend. Sigh… Oh well, at least I tried. I was able to pretty easily flex the skid over the hull without putting severe stress on the bottom. I guess I’ll give it a go tomorrow…
Captain Chris out…
So, a lot of stuff happened again this week, but the finish line seems to keep retreating just over the horizon. I over-drilled (1/2″ hole for a 5/16″ bolt) the holes in the rudder as per the directions. I also over-drilled the holes in the rudder head cheek plates, which I’m not sure I was supposed to do as per the directions. The directions weren’t very clear at this point. I think it’s a case of the writer knowing what he meant, just not explaining it quite clearly enough for someone else to follow (which is something I do all the time). My reasoning is that they will both be through-bolted and exposed to water, which needs to be isolated from potential damage. The good news is that it’s easy to put a piece of tape on the bottom of the hole in the rudder and fill it with epoxy. It’s not quite so easy to fill the holes in the cheeks. I put tape on one side and filled it through the hole on the other cheek. Tomorrow, I’ll drill out the proper sized hole (5/16″) in the epoxy and put tape over the other hole and fill it from the other side. Although these parts don’t take a lot of wood, they do take several steps to build, so I’d like to keep this one for a while.
Also, I test fit the rudder into the head and cracked it open a bit, which I’ll have to fix. The directions say to grind away some of the top of the rudder (see lighter part below around hole), but I need to remove more wood further down the rudder where it pried the cheeks apart.
I’d been wondering about where to source some Sitka spruce or clear Douglas fir for the spars. That was proving to be logistically difficult and expensive. While wandering Home Depot the other day getting stuff for the shop, I discovered some very clear hemlock boards. I had originally thought of poplar because it was cheap and clear, but they only call poplar a “hardwood” because the tree has leaves instead of needles. Actually, pine is much harder than poplar. Really, the only thing I make out of poplar are drawer cases and drawer dividers. Anyway, a quick check on my phone in the aisle said that hemlock is not substantially softer than any of the other wood people have used to laminate their spars with on the boatbuilding blogs, so off I went with three sticks.
The mast is supposed to be 1-7/8″ square, and my three sticks were just over 2″ thick when stacked, perfect for laminating. The boards were 2-1/2″ wide, so plenty of room to trim off from both sides to clean up the glued edges. When I got back to the shop, I noticed that my plethora of 2″ clamps didn’t quite span the three boards, which was a pretty serious problem. I’d planned on clamping the mast lamination as securely as I had the outwales. In the end, I just spread out the glue (have I mentioned my Rockler glue roller?), stacked the boards, clamped it to the bench with the few large clamps I had and put really heavy things on it. BTW, I’m still repeating the same mistake of using Titebond II. If this project is going to fail, I want it to be epic. Can you say Viking funeral?
The next day, I removed the weights and clamps and the glue up looked pretty good. I set the table saw to just over 2″ so I’d have room to shave the other side on a second pass and with the help of a friend and work, wrangled the 10′ stick through the cut. This is when you can really see if the lamination worked, and mine looked pretty good. I rand the stick through a couple more times on the other faces to get a square cross section. I’m always quick on the draw to do a test fit, especially if it’s fun, so I ran over to the boat with the mast and tried to stick it in the hole in the forward thwart. The square edges kept if from sliding in, but it looked close. I would have to route the edges to make sure. I took everything outside and did all my routing and sanding and it fit with just a little slop. I figure I’ll wrap the mast where it goes through the thwart with some chafe protection and it’ll be nice and snug. There are various holes to drill and I still have to cut it to length, but that’s an important part of a sailboat almost ready to go!
Speaking of Home Depot, I’ve got to give a shout out to their “Bucket Head” vacuum that fits on one of their 5 gal buckets. It’s a great little wet/dry shop vac and costs about $35.
There have been other processes that needed to happen that I’d been dreading. Remember if you biff something at this stage, you’re out the wood and all those days of cutting and gluing. Now it was time to cut out the handle on the daggerboard. If done properly, it looks professionally made. If not, it looks like some kid cut it out to sail on a pond on summer vacation. Luckily, I’ve had lots of experience with templates, so I rough cut out the hole in the handle and set about fine-tuning the 1/4″ masonite template. It faired pretty quickly so it was time to slap it on the daggerboard and bust out the pattern following router bit. Things went pretty well, except for the fact that it might be nice if CLC didn’t make any curved edges tighter than the router bit. This was true for the daggerboard and the transom handles. It would’ve been much easier if I/they had stuck to any radius larger than 3/4″. Otherwise, I had to do a lot of fine-tuning with a hand file. Note to self for next boat…
|I think it turned out pretty well. Note the tight radius…|
Speaking of “next boat”, the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival is only a month away!
Now let me get something off my chest. I’ve mentioned it before, but CLC says to wait until the boat is structurally built before adding the transom doublers. They specifically mention this time and again in the directions, even correcting when the doublers are shown installed “too early” in the photos. Since I made the mistake of following the directions on this step because they made such a big deal about it, here are the extra steps I had to go through:
|Aft starboard transom handle. Looks pretty good…|
So the other night, I mixed up the ubiquitous batch of “mustard” epoxy with silica and glued the rudder head together. It squeezed out, making me feel like I had a good bond. I was careful to clean up the squeeze out inside, between the cheek plates with an acid brush so it didn’t interfere with the rudder. While outside, I used my belt sander to grind down all of the epoxy and fair the rudder head assembly. This was a part composed of two separate parts, which each had their own templates, which turned out slightly different for some reason. Once glued up though, you can sand them to the exact same shape.
|Rudder head glued up…|
|Air tank waterproofed…|
|Possible t-shirt designs for Port Townsend…
Might even make one for John Harris…
|Which version do you like better?|
Where we were last episode:
Where we are now:
Captain Chris out…
So, not a lot of noticeable progress yesterday. I hauled all of the parts and the boat out into the parking lot because I was going to create a lot of sawdust. This last week, I had cut out the rest of the parts for the boat. My method is to get as close to the outside of the Sharpie marker line as possible with either the Japanese pull saw, the circular saw or the jigsaw as possible, then laminate the parts as needed (remember, most of my parts are two-plies of 1/4″ glued together), then sweeten them up with the 5″ oscillating palm sander or the 22″ belt sander.
So, one of the most fun parts of building a boat using plywood to build boat parts is that you can use the plywood laminations as a gauge on how to grind your contour lines. The directions call for shaping the daggerboard and rudder into a hydrofoil shape. The leading edge is shaped for 3/4″ and the trailing edge is feathered down across 2″. This is pretty tricky and you have to be careful not to grind the edges too thin. If I was making a set of racing blades for the Laser racers, the trailing edge would be as thin as a butter knife. Since this is just a pram to mess about with, there’s no need to make anything that fragile. I also checked to make sure the daggerboard fits in its case…
|Sweet outwale lamination!|
One reason why I dragged the boat outside was to sand down the outwales. They’re solid oak covered with thickened epoxy, so it took a while. Using 40 grit, it ground the laminations flush with each other and took it down to raw wood. I also had to remove the table saw marks from the sides. This is from the crappy portable table saw at work. The outwales are now ready for the roundover bit in the router. A seriously scary step since I’m used to routing flat surfaces. The outwales have a compound curve due to the shear line.
|Overall view of progress to date…|
The other reason to take the boat outside was to sand the transoms flush. This is a scary step because the oak veneer is so this. I actually started to burn through the veneer in a couple of small places where it required more sanding due to epoxy pooling. I used 220 grit and now the transoms are smooth as a spanked baby’s butt. I think I’ll still be able to finish the transoms bright.
One of the other things I did was ease the edges of the transom doublers. Since mine are 1/4″, I can’t use the router on them, so I hand sanded the concave arcs to make them smooth as they will soon be laminated to the interior of the transoms. I also custom trimmed the doublers to fit within the filleted sides of the boat. I’m still confused about the reality of the situation vs. the directions. Every time there’s a disclaimer in the directions about what not to do, I find that it makes sense to do it that way and several other bloggers have done it that way with no mention of ill effects…
So let’s take another look at where we are on this project. The same caveats still apply…
Where we were last episode:
Captain Chris out…