October 25, 2008

This website is a record of a course that I attended at the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis between September 2007 and June 2008. The course has finished and this website is now static.

If you have the time and inclination you can follow the course chronologically starting with Term has Started and finishing with Under Sail at Crinan Classics.  Alternatively, just dip-in and sample my writing (and pictures) by selecting one of the ‘Recent Posts’ listed on the right.

While on the course I learnt, from scratch, how to build boats.

We started with scarf joints in week 1.

Getting to grips with hooked scarfs

During the course I developed the skills to build a traditionally constructed boat.  The boat that I chose to build was a Maine Peapod.  It was exhibited at Beale Park wooden boat show in June 2008 where I received some good feedback.  Press coverage included write ups in The Daily Telegraph, In the Boatshed and Classic Boat (August ’08).

Interior (photo (c) Simon Case)

With a few more weeks work in my garage I completed the foils and rig to develop her into a sailing boat seen here sailed by Rachel, Sophie (helming) and Georgina on Derwent Water in August 2008.

Seapod on Derwent Water

I am now back in Edinburgh and am busy working as a freelance boatbuilder – using wood.

You can follow my commercial adventures as a boatbuilder on my website

Under Sail at Crinan Classics

July 10, 2008

As is normal for a build project there were quite a few late nights before Seapod actually got sailed. The night before we headed off for the Crinan Classic Boat Festival I was making cleats until 1am and had only oiled the sole boards at midnight. We had managed to get B&B with Colin & Jane Tindal for the event so were favoured with wonderful hosts and all the up to date information on the regatta as Colin was also the principal race officer for the regatta.

The Truant gets under way
Truant gets under way

The regatta took place against the background of the three master Adix, anchored in the bay. Adix was too large to race but contributed a number of boats to the event, Koko the sailing tender, Ayrshire Lass, the Fifer owned by Adix’s skipper Paul Goss and Wee Toot, the delightful micro tug used to tow Ayrshire Lass around in restricted waters as she (Ayrshire Lass) lacks an engine.

Wee Toot

We were still assembling the rigging when the gun went for the first race at 11:00am on the Friday. By 11:20 we had something that resembled a working rig (with a very droopy peak), dropped the boat in the water, headed straight for the startline which we crossed at about 11:25 and set off after the rest (well the other five) of the dinghy entrants. These varied from 100 year old clinker workboats (Jules and Druid) to modern glued clinker luggers (Sciurus and Beechnut) to ourselves (tradditional built but brand spanking new carvel planked tangle of rope – all the same beige colour). We limped round the course with the peak falling off to leeward and finished across the line last but one – but enjoyed the Crinan sailing immensely. The dinghy fleet was not favoured by a handicap system (too many arguments) so it was simply first across the line- which makes sure that no-one takes it too seriously.

This rig may (possibly) work I think that the rig may now work...

Crinan is quite a relaxed sort of event. No ‘back to back three races a day’ here. All the racing was wrapped up by 2pm leaving plenty of time for lunch, showers, cleanup and boat visiting before the main event of the day, the Bruichladdich whisky tasting – which went like a storm. By dusk the whole sky had quietened down to leave us with a glorious West coast sunset – a wonder to witness.

Sunset at Crinan Classics 2008

Saturday morning gave us lots of wind. We took in two reefs (the most we can manage) and sailed with the throat about 6″ above the boom. The boat was wonderfully well behaved (apart from the elastic shrouds which are another story) and we cruised carefully round the course in 20+ knots of wind opting to tack at most of the gybe marks and keep our rig on board. We managed 4th in this race and were again back ashore in time for lunch, showers, etc all afternoon – while the rain started in earnest and the ‘Heeland Games’ commenced.

Our Start Line (Very Low Stress)

Start Line for Dinghies

Sunday was the ladies race. Mary and Alex had tossed a coin for the task of helming Seapod and Mary had won. However, as we were rigging the boat Richard Pierce (Sciurus) asked if we had a spare helm and Alex quickly jumped ship. Needless to say, Alex won the Ladies Race comfortably but by the end Seapod, with one reef in for the F5 Easterly, was pointing high and gaining ground fast to take second place.

Crinan Classics 2008.  Ladies Race

Alex’s trophy was (for her) a gloriously inappropriate stags head from one of the local estates. It’s sitting on my kitchen table until we decide how to store it until we return it next year.

Here is a photo of the recently re-fitted Ayrshire Lass in the sea lock awaiting a tow (by Wee Toot) through the Crinan Canal.

Ayrshire Lass de-rigged

After prizegiving we packed up, said goodbye to our hosts whose new boat Ptarmigan had consistently featured in the Class 2 placings, and headed back to Edinburgh. It’s time to start real work again so this is the end of this website – in it’s current form. However, it will be back again, I think, as a working blog. I suspect that the trials and tribulations of a jobbing boatbuilder may, to a few odd individuals, make interesting reading and as long as I manage to keep working with wood there will be a few nice pictures to share along the way. I’ll leave you with the note that I put on the boat during Crinan

“The builder of this boat is available for work”

Sole Boards

So, don’t be shy, get in touch.

The end (well not quite)

June 22, 2008

Time rushes by when you are working so hard and June has just about passed without trace. Quickly, because I am still working on Seapod flat out.

We took Seapod up to Beale Park boatshow where she was well received. There was more than one professional bout builder who had to ask how her planks were fastened and lots of casual viewers who wanted to know if the planks were glued together.

The sun shined for all three days and Seapod sat outside in the sun and (for the UK) baked nicely. A sunny boat show is a pretty good test for a carvel boat – will the seams open up? No chance – it looks like the construction strategy has worked. We dropped her in the water on the Sunday for a quick dip and the only water that came in splashed up the centreboard case housing (no gasket fitted yet). It looks like we have a carvel boat that does not need to take up. I’ll want to wait a couple of years before being sure – but the boat is looking very (structurally) stable.

At Beale Park

The paint, after a lot of discussion and changes of mind (on my part) is good old plain Blakes Epoxy Undercoat (EPU). I had limited time available to get paint on before Beale Park and knew that I could, with some helping heaters, get two coats of EPU on a day. I managed four just quickly rollered on and will, for this season, just flat it back with 600 grit wet and dry for that ‘racing finish’. I left the stem bright for now, but now, having seen her in the water, think that the boat will look much better with a painted stem – lets see if I can manage that before she starts racing.

Simon Case takes some nice photos of the interior at Beale Park. Good light, good angles.

Interior (photo (c) Simon Case)

Interior (photo (c) Simon Case)

I had just, before we came away, applied a load of Deks Olje #1 to the sheer strake and some of it had leached through to the breast hooks. The Deks seemed to be irresistible to a whole family of dragonflies who sat on it all day. Loads of people went away from Beale Park having taken photos of my boat in order to get a photo of a dragonfly at rest. I failed to take any – so if anyone reading this took one – perhaps you can let me have a link.

Once back from Beale Park I spend the week in a desperate rush gathering materials to take home and finish off the boat. Spars, foils, floorboards, rudder etc all need to be built and time has run out. I get the rest of the topsides oiled before the Lyme Regis course launch in the harbour and hooray – we have a sunny warm day. There is a team down from The Daily Telegraph to do a feature so in due course we should see some nice colour supplement pictures of the four boats that were launched.

As I was launching (and sometimes rowing) Neil took most of these photos for me.

All lined up for the start

Four boats launched at Lyme Regis

I think that she looks just about ready to go
Ready for launch

Moving along nicely

Heading out


Off Lyme Regis harbour

After we had had a good row around a few other (more experienced rowers) took a turn and expressed satisfaction with how she felt. My view is that she sits too high for a rowing boat – but this was by design as she is really designed to sail – so……

In a fit of bravado – and to make sure that Seapod gets finished – I put in an entry form for the Crinan Classic Regatta. For this event, the first weekend in July, she not only has to sail, but also race.

So it’s back to the garage in Edinburgh to finish off all the bits that are needed to make this happen. That’s what I have been doing for the last week.


May 31, 2008

Fitout is simple for Seapod. Two thwarts and four knees. It should not take too long and did not really – but all the other small clean up jobs, fairing the sheer line (critical), installing drain plugs, fitting chainplates, shaping the stemhead(s), installing centre board case packers etc. mean that it takes a week.

The thwart risers go in without problems – parallel to the inwhale seemed best when they clamped in place. The thwarts get fitted and thinned (underneath) – an improvement over the thick chunky look I hope.

Thick thwart, thin thwart

Fairing the gunwhale seems to take a huge amount of time and effort. The grain is tough (the last long bit of oak available means that I can’t be fussy) and problems with perspective exercise my brain. The job will have to be finished once I get the boat out of the corner as can’t really see the boat from all angles. The basic issue, and it is a common one, is that the width of the sheer strake appears different as you walk round the boat. From some angles the sheer strake seems to have a hard spot, from most it is clean. Selectively fairing the underside of the gunwhale will remove shadows and probably sort most of it out – but I need to get a clean view of the boat to do this – so eventually give up and leave it until later.

fairing the rubbing strake

The floors alongside the centreboard case need packers. Cutting, fitting and glueing these is fiddly and time consuming.

centre board case packers

The stemhead, by contrast, is a bit of fun with a shoulder plane. I go for a simple domed shape to accentuate the laminations.


By this time it is Friday – and I have to fit the knees. A day’s work as it turns out due to lots of side track issues. Cake for Justin’s (new) daughter, general panic about Epifanes marine primers that may or may not be applicable on top of epoxy, a BBA visitor – John from Maine, who owns a Jimmy Steele Peapod and was delighted to see a Peapod being built in the UK.. you get the idea. Anyway, despite all this, with the copious application of chalk and lots of fiddling- by Friday night I have all four of them….

A day's work - four knees

They will be bolted through the thwarts with machine screws and screwed into the timbers against which they lodge. This approach means that the knees, thwarts and risers can all be easily removed for re-finishing the interior.

So – at the end of all this I am ready for finishing. Departure for Beale Park is next Thursday – so this will be very basic, sand and seal the interior and sand and prime the exterior. I tear down the building frame and timber rack in order to clean out the corner and partition off a ‘clean’ room.

Ready for finishing

Sheer Strake

May 24, 2008

The sheer strake on a boat is the topmost plank. It’s not always the last plank to fit – but in the case of Seapod, it is – and it has been a long time coming.

The boat was originally going to be planked completely in Alaskan Yellow Cedar – and completely carvel planked at that – but we ran into problems re-sawing the last few lengths of cedar needed to make up stock for the sheer strakes and had to countenance a day trip down to Stone’s Boatyard to get some more. This seemed excessive so I asked the question ‘What else is available?’. John, who looks after this end of things at the BBA, admitted that there might be enough Larch for a decent sheer strake (or two) at the bottom of the wood heap so he and Steve set to work and un-earthed a couple of planks with the most wonderful sweep to the grain. That will do nicely – thank you!

That will do nicely, thank you!

But, if the inside of the boat is to be finished bright what is a Larch sheer strake going to look like next to a cedar binder (the name for the the plank next to the sheer strake)? Not good – and why are we going to cover up all that lovely flowing grain on the outside of the sheer strake anyway? This was the point at which Gail suggested the idea of a clinker sheer strake – finished bright on the inside AND the outside of course. This solution solved lots of problems and was consistent with what was done to a lot of carvel peapods anyway. The sheer strake was seen as sacrificial and was attached ‘lapstrake’ (american for clinker) to facilitate changing it. Together with some donated rosehead nails left over from Gail’s Gardie Boat we had a new strategy. I was giving up one of my design principles (to build a small traditionally constructed craft without using copper nails) – but with only a single row of roves (copper rivet heads for the copper nails) the inside of the craft would still end up looking pretty uncluttered.

So, once I had finished the binders, I rough cut the larch planks, spiled the sheer strakes and clamped them on – with about 15mm spare on the top edge.

Laying out the sheer strake

These seem to fit pretty well.

The rough cut sheer strake in place

But all this took place in early April – so why the delay? What have I been doing for the last six weeks that it has taken me this long to get the sheer strakes on? After taking all the planks off, encapsulating three faces of them in flexible epoxy and re-attaching them back on I was, I thought, ready to attach the new sheer strakes. Very sensibly Mike Broome, one of our instructors, suggested that it would be sensible if I faired the boat before the sheer strake went on. I would then be able to plane diagonally across the topmost planks and would also not risk damaging the clinker sheer strake that would protrude from the rest of the hull. But before fairing the hull I wanted to fit all the floors to make sure that the planking did not move around after fairing – so the boat got turned over, the centreboard case and floors were fitted – and the spiled and cut out sheer strakes remained on the wood rack over the boat for quite a few extra weeks through April and May. Oh well, plans are made to be changed I guess.

With the hull faired and Seapod the right way up again I was ready to fit the sheer strakes and started fresh on Monday morning expecting to get them on in a day or so. After all they had already been spiled and I knew that the planks fitted fine. Humm – I had neglected to clamp up the planks on the wood rack and the ends had moved ‘up’ but about 30mm at each end. That’s quite a lot for a plank that has to fit ‘just right’. With some fine fettling, full use of the 15mm spare on the top edge, a couple of milimetres compromise with the land and a fair bit of edge set, I get them clamped on in place. But it’s late on Wednesday by this point and time is running out.

Sheer strake clamped in place

It’s time to quickly nail the plank in place before it moves again! I get out Gail’s rosehead nails (2″ #11), judge that the length is tight – but OK (to get through the plank, land and 20mm of oak timber) and drive the first nail. When fully driven I’m left with the point of the nail just visible through the rove – too short! It’s 8pm by now so I go home in disgust.

In the morning I resist the temptation to use ‘flatties’ (the copper nails that you generally see in wooden boats) and order some longer (2 1/2″, #10) roseheads from Davey & Company (express overnight delivery) to be delivered on Friday! I can’t remember what I did on Thursday but on Friday the nails duly arrive and a get them in together with the hood end screws and I then have, minus the rubbing strakes, the completed hull form in place.

This is what a rosehead nail looks like

Copper nails

And once nailed up – this is Seapod with her sheer strakes finally in place.

Sheer strake in place

The week seems to have been recovered quite well. After lunch, Pete Willis from ClassicBoat comes in for a trip round the BBA and is quite polite about Seapod, I get the stock for my thwart risers, main thwarts and knees, John shows me how to machine up oblique halving joints using a dimension saw, I get the first couple of knees glued up (I’ve become a Balcotan bigot) , manage to bend a single (thinned) oak laminate round the front of the centreboard case and start planning for the seat risers and general internals. Things seem to be moving forward again.

Fairing, caulking and paying

May 17, 2008

With the floors, centreboard, breasthooks and inwhale fitted the boat is stable enough to fair – so it is tipped over again and I set to work with a plane. This bit takes a couple of days and is pretty depressing work. The grain in alaskan yellow cedar is tough to fair and bits tear out all the time – most of the time I end up planing at 90 degrees to the grain – not ideal. The general idea when fairing a boat is to plane or sand diagonally across the planks to take all the high spots off and keep the lines.

After a couple of days of this – with only one side done – I get fed up and rush off to Axminster Power Tools (conveniently 10 minutes up the road) a get a Makita ‘Wood Eater’ orbital sander. Most of the other side gets knocked back in a couple of hours and I am ready by the middle of the next day (it’s now Wednesday) to start work with the fairing boards. These boards are, to my knowledge, to only way to really fair a hull. machines all, in various ways, create problems by digging in when wood densities vary across the boat. A long fairing board, matched to the curvature of the hull, bridges the hollow spots and hits the high spots – irrespective of the wood problems and with patience transforms the edgy hull form to something that looks pretty well rounded.

Using the long fairing boards

When I start with the fairing boards I’m thinking that fairing and caulking – for which I allowed a week – will take at least a fortnight. However, by Friday morning I have a hull generally judged by all and sundry (Mike B gives it a ‘not bad’) to be pretty fair. I know that it is not – quite fair – but I decide to stop anyway as I don’t want to sand through the planks. At this point the centreboard slot gets routed through from the outside (the only use for a router on this boat so far!) – and I fair the cutwater. (The cutwater is the taper given the the stem(s) to make it (them) non rectangular). Seapod, again, looks quite different after this exercise – much more delicate. By late Friday afternoon I’m ready to coat the hull with sticky stuff (WRA 200) and complete the encapsulation of the planking – which has been a major theme of the Seapod project. The frequent need to remove screws – and re-set deeper – while I was fairing – led to some delays as WRA 200 also needed to be dribbled down each screw hole once it was re-drilled. I have obviously been a bit cautious in setting the depth at which screws were set as at least 50% (i.e. about 500 screws) had to be re-set while I was fairing.

Dust sticks to everything

Dust from fairing clings to everything

The screws wait patiently for the ‘Yankee’ to arrive and drive them home.

All those screws to re-drive

The hull starts to look quite curvaceous

The hull is faired

I get two coats of WRA 200 on the boat by 7pm Friday and leave to join the team in the pub – who I have driven out with the smell of the WRA-200. A few beers and a late curry at Lal Quilla mean that I don’t get started until after 9am Saturday on CAULKING.

Caulking is one of the defining activities of carvel boatbuilding. However well you plank a carvel boat changes in moisture levels mean that planks swell and shrink due the atmospheric conditions as well as swelling when the boat is kept in the water. As I started planking in March – when it was cold wet and miserable – and it is now May and (wet, warm and miserable ) – but normally much warmer and drier – the planks have changed in size – and will continue to change in size for the life of the boat. The fact that I have now encapsulated the planks in epoxy resin will not prevent this – it will just ensure that it takes place much slower than it otherwise would.

There is evidence floating around on the Internet (not published by me of course) that Seapod has gaps between her planks through which light can be seen! This fact, although disconcerting to the casual viewer, is normal.

What keeps a carvel boat waterproof is not good joinery to ensure that planks lie up tight next to each other but consistent joinery and good caulking and paying. The outer seam between each pair of planks is bevelled (see photo above) to leave a gap between the planks. This gap, in the shape of a wedge, is first caulked and then payed. Caulking is done with a fabric, normally cotton or (below the waterline on bigger boats) with oakum. Paying is done, traditionally, using various ‘grandmothers concoctions’ that include putty and linseed oil. I’m caulking traditionally using cotton but paying using a flexible polyurathane, Sikaflex 291. Traditionally, caulking, when wet, swelled up and prevented water ingress. The paying compound had to stay flexible for as long a possible but was mainly there to provide support for the external paint surface. The seam inevitably develops cracks quite quickly (water has to get to the caulking so that it swells up).

In the case of ‘modern caulking’, the primary agent ensuring that the boat is watertight is the paying compound and the caulking has the supporting role – as a backup water seal – assuming that it gets wet and swells, but more importantly, as a base for the paying compound that ensures that the back face of the paying compound is not a wedge. If a flexible polyurathane sealant is forced into a wedge shaped crack (which is what a caulking seam consists of) the back face of the sealant is a feather edge and cannot elongate when the planks move apart. The sealant then separates from the plank – and once it starts to separate from the plank it continues to do so – and the sealed joint fails. So, the traditional cotton caulking has a vital supporting role to play in ensuring that the modern sealed joint works. I think that this is a great way in which old and new technologies work well together. I could, if I routed a rectangular section groove between planks (as is done for teak decking), use a 3m fine tape to get the same effect, but then I would not have the cotton caulking as my backup sealant. Dual insurance against leaks sounds good to me. Of course, I could have chosen to build a cold molded or GRP hull and side-stepped all these issues.

Saturday morning and I start caulking – but not traditionally. I need to prime the seams first – to ensure that the polyurathane sealant will stick well to the epoxy plank encapsulation coating. The recommended primer (for porous substrates note – which epoxy resin is counted as one of!) is Sikaflex 215. This is a particularly nasty sounding methyl ether keratone … with some iso-cyanate thrown in for good measure so it;’s on with the organic vapour mask again. The price of this stuff (about £50 a litre) means that I’ve no intention of using much and I therefore dab it on carefully with a 1/2″ (sorry should that be 12mm) brush.

Primer - Sikaflex 215

Once that has dried off – and I have made morning tea for the Saturday crew, I roll out the cotton and get to grips with the caulking wheel. In larger boats several strands of cotton (3, 4, 5 …) would be twisted together and driven into the plank seams using caulking irons and caulking mallets (very strange looking hammers -but quite logical once you understand the issues). Anyway, I don’t need a caulking hammer or irons for Seapod, but just use a wheel (borrowed from Mike B).

The caulking wheel

It’s hard work, the seams are tight and I only just have room for a single strand of cotton from a rough rolled bale (this is really cotton complete with seeds and all). I caulk alternate seams down and across the boat so that as the boat tightens up with the caulking (and it does) I don’t push all the planks up too much.

Cotton laid out for caulking

The shiny coated hull looks a bit nasty – but it will be painted (soon I hope).

I roll the cotton in so that I am left with a rectangular groove in which the Sikaflex will nest. To give you a sense of scale – the filled seam (illustrated below) is about 2mm wide and about 5mm deep.

A cotton caulked seam

It’s a good job that the build primer will fill in those diagonal scratches left from fairing!

Paying the seams with Sikaflex 291 is pretty straightforward. It just uses up loads of masking tape – but this means that I can scoop up the waste and re-use it further down the seam.

Paying a seam with Sikaflex 291

The rest should get finished tomorrow so that on Monday (a week after turnover) I can turnover again and get on with second phase fit-out.

Will I be ready for Beale Park Boat Show?

Centreboard case

May 5, 2008

Along with making and installing floors this last week – I have been building the centreboard case. The floors and centreboard case interlock, contribute the each others strength and generally make things complicated.

I’ve decided to go for a ‘swoop top’ case that follows closely the profile of the centreboard. This means more steaming as the rails for the top edge of the case have to follow the curve.

centreboard case rail after steaming

Once steamed, the oak (I’m sticking with oak!) is bent round a former and left overnight to settle in. The oakhas dried out a lot since I last did some steaming. My first attempt breaks when I bend it and I have to try again. An hour and a half of stream is needed in order to bend a fairly thin (20mm x 20mm) rail through a maximum radius of about 500mm. After a couple of days on the former (remember that all this is interspersed with doing work on the floors) I glue up the sides of the case. The case sides are the only plywood that will be used in Seapod – and I’ll be taking great case to paint the faces and cover the end grain so that it isn’t evident. Marine plywood is great stuff – but is definitely not the right look for Seapod.

Bench space is at a premium – so they sit on the floor while the glue goes off.

centreboard case sides

With the rails (top) and logs (bottom) on I just need to add posts at the front and navigate the brow of the case with a cut oak bend and I have two sides for a centreboard case.

centreboard case detail

With an oak knee for a nose and a small spacer block at the tail the case is glued up – hard against a solid joist to keep the whole thing true and in line.

Case glued up

The case profile was made up from a template taken from the lofting (full size drawing of the boat) but the final fitting of the case still needs to be done on the boat. I use chalk to find the high spots and spend quite a while adjusting the case so that it fits snug and square to the hog along its whole length.

Chalk is used to adjust the fit of the case

Once the case is a good fit it is glued in – held by a few screws into the hog (that will be hidden by floors) and by braces against the sides of the boat and top beam from the construction frame. If the case is out from vertical by a small amount – less than one degree – the difference will be noticeable when the boat is sailing to windward. I spend a long time checking for this – and keep my fingers crossed.

The centreboard case is glued in place

Once the floors are shaped up and put in place you can start to see how the whole structure locks together to form what will be, I trust, a really stiff backbone for Seapod.

Centreboard case and floors

Now I just have to finish gluing the floors in place before I can get on with the inwhales and breasthook(s)….

One last thing – the Mackerel have arrived off Lyme – and everyone is offering me fish. Jack went out yesterday and caught 19 in an hour. I get a few spares for dinner.

The mackerel have arrived in Lyme

Another last thing – for this post. I get an oak laminate and bend it over the top to anticipate what the finished case will look like.. Mmmm..

Centreboard case trim