With the understanding that I do not keep a journal/diary about my daily life and fun things that happen from day to day, I will do my best to give you an idea what the process of building a cruising sailboat is all about. Thanks to several people, not including myself, Bonnie and I happen to have hundreds and hundreds of pictures documenting the entire thing. Without a doubt, 95% of the pictures you see here were taken by our good friend Jim LaGasse, and I thank him heartily. That said, let’s see if I can answer the question Bonnie and I have both been asked dozens of times over the years; Why did you decide to build a boat and not just buy one? The only real solid answer I could give was simply, “Because we wanted to.” So we did, nothing profound. I have always loved building, anything at all, and I seem to have a knack for it, so that is what I do.
There is so much I want to say right here, but it would be far too much for the purposes of this web log. That said, I am writing everything that comes to mind about the whole process and adventure of the building Willow saga. Consider this the abridged version. You will just have to wait for the book to get the whole story. I will skip the background info and jump right into the boat shop. Here it is, ainâ€™t she a beauty. The floor is 2 by 6â€™s, Â¾” OSB for the surface, all supported by a goodly number of 4 by 4â€™s set in concrete. The walls and roof are simply A-frame supports covered in plastic. The end walls were ridgid, sheathed in plywood.
Here is a look from the inside before it was filled up with the boat. Take note of the lights hanging from the roof supports, VITAL. Lights are cheap, if you decide to do this, get lot of them, for you will be working after sunset. In the far left corner is the wood stove that kept the whole place warm for the first two winters. That was an awesome design and it really did heat the whole thing up with the help of the fan on the wall there to move the heat around. Oh, we built the boat in Bellingham, WA, north of Seattle. It rains a lot there and is rather cool most of the year, if not exactly cold.
We had decided on a design from Jay Benford, he calls it simply a 34â€™ Dory. However the design has gained a bit of popularity from the books written by Annie Hill. While cruising we are often asked if our boat is a Badger, the name of the Hillâ€™s boat. Anyway, we sent a check to Mr. Benford and he sent us a full set of plans, all we need to build the boat. Well, sort of anyway. There were one or two other items needed, like tools, shop, money, that sort of thing, but you get the idea. We had the design plans and most importantly the magic set of numbers called the Table of Offsets.
The offsets is the most vital set of numbers in the whole set. These are the measurements that allow us to draw out, full scale, the shapes of all the bulkheads, frames, basically the numbers that define the skeleton if you will. Below you can just make out a mess of lines on the shop floor, that would be the offsets come to life. Jake and Willow are there ready to be of assistance. Although, they usually just tracked muddy foot prints all over our nice white floor. No matter, they were good company and always welcome in the shop.
Here is a closer look at the lines. I cannot give a full description of how we did all this and what exactly it all looks like, but it was a lot of fun to see the shape become real and begin to understand how the thing is put together. Once you have the lines on the floor a method of transferring them onto wood to cut to shape is needed, thus the roofing nails embedded in the floor. They are set on edge, along the lines of what ever shape I want to pick up, a bulkhead for example. When I set a nice big sheet of plywood on them and walk around very carefully, they leave an imprint on the wood, a set of dots basically. All that is left is to connect the dots and cut. There you have your first bulk head, or frame, or knee, whatever. (OK, it is really easy to write about it in two paragraphs, but seemed a lot more difficult at the time.) One lesson we learned very quickly is that every little mistake you made with each move got worse and worse. The lofting process is vital, shoot for perfection, but be reasonable and move on was my basic code. Eventually the learning curve kicked in and I started learning where I could fudge a line and were it would be folly to do so. That is the art of boat building, and that is what I like the most about it.
Well, there I am, long haired and full of energy, wait till you see me by the end of it. The pieces I am hanging on are the shapes picked up from the lofting lines, using the roofing nail technology. They are patterns now. I used cheap particle board for this as I did not really know how it would work out. A piece of Â¾” marine plywood is way more expensive and I would have cried had I screwed up due to inexperience. Not only was I protecting expensive materials, I was learning how to handle the tools of the trade, practicing on something that was not going to be part of the final product. Looking back I realize how useful this was and would do it again even with the experience I now have, sort of like getting back in shape after a long time away from any exercise.
So, I use the above pieces as the pattern for the major frames and bulkheads. A few of the first ones I put together are shown here. See the plywood shapes in the lower left and right corners of the frames, they are part of what will be the seteeâ€™s. In this type of construction you can build in all of the shapes that run abeam the boat, before they are even set in place and begin looking like a boat. In the long run it is a huge savings of time and effort, as everything is done on the work table, not crouched over in some torturous position later on.
Messing around with the lights was a far to common thing for me to be doing, and that is because early on I was to cheap to by new lights, I went for the used versions, and I paid for it in the long run. Oh well, here you can see most of the frames and bulkheads leaning here and there. The gray surfaces are epoxy. Everything, and I mean everything, was coated in epoxy before assembling them. The gray is simply a pigment I added to have some visual gauge of how thick the coating was or if I sanded through the layers by accident.
Now things are beginning to take shape. We had to take meticulous care to get the frames set up in their proper place in space. Once again the lofting lines were used to set everything in the proper spot fore and aft and abeam. This process as I recall took several days to get right, and even then I found some mistakes. The mistakes are remedied easily enough by sucking it up and taking the time to move them around, yet again. Perseverance and patience are the two virtues that I had to work at every day. Luckily I am an overly energetic, obsessive compulsive type, so I was in my element. The patience part I did have to work on though.
Here is Jordan, the very cool cat, checking on our progress. It was fun having all the creatures coming and going throughout the day. They were usually a welcome break from some task or another.
The hull was built upside down. This is a shot looking at the bow. The big hunk of wood all the way forward is called the stem. It is a very stout laminate of mahogony and plywood, this is the working end of the boat, the structure that will one day plow the oceans of the world. The other prominent structures are the chine logs. The top of the picture, on both sides. Initally I thought the shop was huge, 20â€™ by 40â€™, but as the boat took shape I was wishing for another 10â€™ on each side. But we made due and all turned out just fine.
Now, we stuck faithfully to Jay Benford’s design throughout the whole process, except for one spot, the stern, or transome. The plans showed a true double ended vessel, pointy at both ends. This has great value both functionally and asthetically, but I do not like them, and that is from experience. So, I added a bit of a transome, without changing the waterline in any appreciable way. It has given us a great deal more room aft for messing with the wind vane or what every we do back there. Eased installation of the wind vane and stern pulpit, more room in the lazarette, that sort of thing. Not to mention a bit more volume to deal with following seas. I wish to start no discussions about the virtues of one shape over the other. I will only say the change has suited us as I had planned. I have apologized to Mr. Benford for doing this without consulting him first. In my inexperience of the boat building world it did not cross my mind that he would care. Which seemed true enough after I mentioned it to him.
I am a little weary now, mostly from staring at the computer screen actually. There are bright flashes of lightning all around Willow as we sit at anchor in western Panama. Not much rain so far, but I think we are in for some tonight. That said, I am going to sleep a while. Hope this has been of interest so far. I realize I could go into excrutiating details about every little step of the way, but have to consider it may be very tedious to folks reading here. Let me know if you are interested in more or less, and I will do my best. It is fun for me to look at the pictures and try to put them into wordsâ€¦â€¦