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The Build Continues

This is the last chapter on this blog.......the build continues on a seperate blog. Please check it out! The new blog is "Building a NorthSea 29: the build continues".  Lots more pictures and the continuation of the dream.

The conception of our project

In February 2008, while we were walking along the north shore of Flathead Lake, my husband Richard commented that he wanted to build a wooden sailboat and sail away into retirement. How else do travel junkies afford their habit, but take their house with them?

As the winters tend to get rather gloomy here in the Flathead, a long term project sounded great. We toyed with buying and refurbishing an older boat. A 30 year old hull, however, is still a 30 year old hull with it's inherent weaknesses and problems after almost as much financial outlay to repair and update it. Besides the challenge of the building process, and the intimate knowledge of every aspect of our boat was something that appealed to us. The next hurdle was deciding what and where to build.

As Richard owns a custom cabinet shop, and has been working with wood for over 30 years, he really wanted to build a modern wooden sailboat, but with traditional appeal. After a lot of research he decided on the strip plank-cold mold method of construction. He wanted to build a vessel large enough to live on, but small enough to be a realistic goal financially and in terms build time. We also wanted a boat that could be easily handled by a couple, with shallow enough draft for poking around remote areas, but designed for bluewater and passagemaking.

The lengthy process of picking plans began....

Picking the plans

Deciding on the perfect cruising boat is a crazy endeavour. There are so many options, so many styles of cruising, and of course, so many opinions on what is important in a bluewater sailboat.

We started with the reality that a cold-molded boat was probably the best choice for a woodworker to build. We were really drawn to classic looking designs, with a beautiful sheer and a moderate amount of bright work. We wanted a boat that would be large enough to live on for extended lengths of time, but small enough to tuck into remote areas of the world. Being self-contained, and capable of passagemaking with a crew of two was a priority. We plan on poking around every corner of this vast world, going wherever we find something that is different and interesting. A great dream and a shortlist of demands.....

As we started our lengthy on-line search for plans we soon realized that support during the building process would be critical. Despite 30 years experience in woodworking, Richard had never built a sailboat, and we wanted a realistic project that could be finished in a several year window.

We initially were enchanted by the Shearwater 39, a very elegant cutter made famous by Cruising Worlds log of the ITHACA. We ordered study plans and grew more and more excited. A very stunning, well thought out boat, by the South African designer, Dudley Dix. We had initially planned to build a boat barn on a piece of commercial property we own a couple of miles from our house/cabinet shop. As the economy turned, we revisited the decision to build a whole new facility, and scaled down the project in terms of build time and utilizing existing available space at the shop. As we have been told by numerous people....the larger the boat, the longer and more expensive the build, and the harder to handle with a crew of two. Hoisting the main up those extra few feet of mast gets harder as we get older, and who wants to need power winches? We started looking under 35'.

We were enchanted with double-enders, but never found plans for one to be cold-molded with enough capacity that we could live on. A great amount of research and decision making went into treading the fine line between getting enough draft for seaworthiness and a balanced helm, but having the shoal draft capabilities we desired. We came to the conclusion that a swing centerboard keel would work to our advantage. We decided that the main draw backs to a swing centerboard is the expense in building (a problem for production boats) and the logistics of repair and maintaining them. As with all aspects of the plan, simplicity is the key....especially as we were sure that the details of the project would hold many unforeseen obstacles. On a boat nothing is square!

We finally came across plans for the NorthSea 29 drawn by designer Mark Smaalders. It is 29ft length on deck, with a 10'3" beam, and 3'8" draft. The 4800lb lead ballast keel has a swing centerboard that makes the total draft about 6 feet. The displacement is 13500 lbs. It has traditional lines and is drawn as a gaff rig. We are up in the air about whether to opt for the more common Bermudan rig, for ease of sailing, or learn to sail a gaff. It is designed to be built with permanent frames and bulkheads as the form for the strip plank with cold-mold veneer. The swing centerboard is incorporated well into the floor plan. A compact sailboat, but roomy enough for two to live on, having a usable floor plan.

One of the main selling points for us was the philosophy and support of Mark, the designer, in all aspects of our decision making and building processes. He has been very patient and gracious during our learning curve. It appears that we have only the second set of plans for the NorthSea 29 to be purchased, none have been completed to date. It is such a huge undertaking.

We have corresponded with other Smaalder design builders, and enjoy their camaraderie, photos of their projects, and the knowledge of those that have gone before. We have not been disappointed with our choice of designer and sailboat.

Beginning the Build

Prior to starting the project, about 6 months were spent scouring the internet and reading such books as Buehler's Backyard Boat Building, The Laminated Wood Boat Builder, and of course, Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction. There are so many techniques and many opinions on the best methods for building wood epoxy boats. It is hard for the un-intiated to determine what would be the best procedure and materials to use, and all the available plans seem to use slightly different methods.

One of the features we liked about the NorthSea was that the permanent bulkheads were shaped and used as frames for the strip planking. There were also several laminated rib type frames. All of these shapes were plotted from the "off sets" provided in the plans. In order to draw these from the off sets, a little bit of lofting was required.

In December of 2008, we created a lofting table that flipped down from the wall to save valuable space. It was, of course, Jane's job to do the knee busting work of grid drawing.

The grids were then labelled by the distance above and below the designed water line (DWL), and then to the right or left of center. These points were then used to plot the provided off sets at each station (cross section of the hull). This created the shape of the frame to be laminated or the bulkhead to be cut from marine plywood.

Here is where we started to see the shape she would eventually take. This was bulkhead at a station near the bow.
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Setting up the Strongback

Unfortunately we didn't take any photos of the laminating of the frames or the cutting of the bulkheads from marine plywood. This took roughly 100hrs, and the majority of January, 2009. Richard started keeping track of actual hours and what was accomplished on a "Wooden Boat" calender he received for Christmas. This has been very useful since I am writing this after such a long delay.

February was taken up with gluing approximately one to two half frames each day, as a large amount of the lofting table was taken up during the clamping and drying.

In March, it was time to start setting up the strongback. This is the rectangular frame made of 2x12 lumber, attached to the floor. It will support her and hold everything rigid during the building process.

Extensive bracing is required so that there is no movement of any of the parts. The bulkheads have to be in the correct location since they will become fixed to the hull during the stripping. There was lots of head scratching, interpretation, and double checking of the plans.

A plumb-bob and the DWL (water line) marked on each piece were used to help find the appropriate location of each piece.

Many of the bulkheads were only partial pieces (partitions), and will create the beginnings of interior walls and furniture when she is rolled. Bracing had to hold these structural pieces in mid air, so some of the braces needed to be redone as parts were added. And of course, this is all done upside down so port and starboard can get rather confusing.

The doorway seen below will be the entry into the forward storage/ head area, and sits just forward of where the mast will be.

The small triangles of plywood joining the rib frames at the top will become the supports for the floor.
Braces start appearing at every angle, and numerous minute movements of a bulkhead "just a quarter inch this way or that" ensues. Since Richard has no experience with how any little error in position may develop into a major hassle down the line, perfection is mandatory.
Her bow protrudes into the true garage area, and doesn't have the stem attached yet. The stem is the curved piece that will be laminated up to create the shape of her bow, again from the off sets, and by scaling off the plans.
And the black dog starts to doubt if it will ever squeeze out of the side room of the garage...
that's an 8'6" wide door and a 10 foot high beam.

Keel, Sheer, and Fairing

Early April was the time to laminate the stem. It was then aligned and supported in position at the bow.

The rabbet/keel offsets were marked on the frames.

After each floor was marked it needed to be leveled and shaped by sanding (faired) to exact height.
Notice the use of the particulate respirator while sanding....

And the appropriate "ladder".....

Not wife approved.......

But "one out of two" safety precautions is better than none. There was some issue of "ladders just not fitting in among the supports" anymore.

A temporary board shows the shape of the keel for fairing.

Quarters are tight, looking from the spraybooth area of the cabinet shop, past the folded lofting table, through the "boat room", toward the true garage.

The port side is pretty tight. Richard is not looking forward to squeezing back there to do the planking....

The transom is in position. Almost all of the beautiful transom is above water line. The placement of the 60 degree angled transom took quite a bit of head scratching and manipulation. The off sets that were plotted needed to be considered with the angle of the transom. The vertical placement and angle were scaled off the drawings.

It's difficult to envision the shape with a full thickness of keel and after planking. Lots of compound sweeps and curves.

Richard placed an extra laminated frame inside the transom to give a wider area to fair across and assist with supporting planking to the transom.
The next step was notching for the sheer. The sheer is basically the line of the boat deck as seen from the side. It is incredibly important in the overall look and feel of the boat. A nicely sweeping sheer helps with the look of a classic boat. Mostly all that can be done upside down and in tight quarters is to scale and measure from DWL to the sheer and get as much curve to it as a board (the sheer clamp) will bend. The bulkheads and frames were notched to accept the sheer clamp.

The batten running the length of the hull near the strongback shows the sheer.
For the next 100 hours Richard got to get very tired of fairing the hull. Fairing is done to bevel and smooth the shape of the frames and bulkheads to flow with the strips that will be epoxied to them. A batten is laid across the frames in a smooth line from stem to stern. All extra wood (high spots) are shaved away with the use of planes or a rasp. This is a very labor intensive and tedious process, but will effect the ease and solidity of the planking. The batten is moved around the hull in different positions, and a fair hull in which planking could be applied in most directions is produced.

Center Board Placement

As some of you will know, the boat building project stalled for about 7 weeks after we had a motorcycle accident, late in June. Construction resumed in August and is back on track in a fast and furious is too short, go cruising!

The sheer clamp was fitted and epoxied into the notches cut into the bulkheads and frames, as seen running along the lower edge of the hull. This becomes the top of the hull and forms the sweeping curve that is so attractive in traditional boats.

Below is a rather confusing looking picture of the sheer notched into the transom. The transom continues lower than the sheer, this will allow the bulwarks to die into the transom.

The battens that were screwed to the bulkheads and frames became supports for cross scaffolding. The battens are long flexible pieces of wood that are stretched across the hull at different angles to "fair" or shape the hull into smooth flowing lines.

The cross hull scaffolding became necessary to gain access to the "top" of the hull for laminating the keel, since ladders definitely could not fit anymore.

Still rather treacherous for anyone other than a billy goat.

During this time, initial attempts at "filleting" were made. This is the process of applying thickened epoxy into corners and running a rounded tool along it to create a strong and slightly rounded "cove" type corner. This strengthens the joint and makes a rounded corner appropriate for glass application. Fiberglass does not make sharp turns well. Richard's first attempt was beautiful, even though it will eventually be buried deep in the aft lazarette (deck storage compartment).

All of the joints will eventually get treated this way. (A lot of fillets) And then the entire interior will be coated with either 3 layers of epoxy or fiberglass and epoxy. In a wood epoxy boat there can be no areas for moisture to seep in and rot the wood. All of the "slop" areas of epoxy on raw wood will disappear as the area gets it's own covering of epoxy.

The keel, which is the backbone of the boat, was applied in five layers. Three of these were 1/2" VG fir lumber with 1/8" marine plywood sandwiched between them, to add resistence to splitting. It was then shaped.

The remainder of the hull was faired to include the keel and the sheer clamp.

Note the crazy shape the keel takes on (below) when it is faired, due to all the curves and angles. The batten must lay smoothly across the hull, and continue over the sheer and keel, at all angles.

Fairing the bow seemed easier in our inexperience with the insertion of the two removable forms seen below.

The next step was to cut a slot in the keel for the centerboard.

A lot of overhead work was required to get the correct positioning for cutting the hole and positioning the centerboard box.

Richard seems to always be too high or too low for comfort.

Finally the Fein tool and Skil saw come out and the cutting begins.

The swing keel box was constructed in two halves, during down time, over several months.

Research was done for the best type of finish to use on the inside (water side) of the box to prevent flora and fauna from setting up residence. Not a good thing to have a centerboard case full of mussels and growth. Access to the inside is limited since the width is only about 4". We needed something that would retard growth for an extended period (hopefully 10 yrs), and that could also remain potent until the completion of the building process, since many bottom paints need submersion soon after application. We chose "CopperCoat" which is basically an epoxy type medium to which ground copper has been added.
The pretty brown color is the copper in the paint. Both halves were fiberglassed, all edges coated in epoxy and painted in two pieces to assure a good coating, then screwed together. If you look closely at the one half, you can see the fillets at the inside corners.

The long slot was cut into the keel, and through the floor supports that create the bilge and water storage tanks.

Time to call the strong young men to hoist the centerboard box into place.

The hefty centerboard case was squeezed through all the scaffolding and bulkheads, and up into location in the hull.

The keel edge of the box was square so it stuck up from the keel and needed to be shaped after placement.

Lots of epoxy and clamping secures it all in place.

Once the centerboard box was in place, epoxied and shaped the laminated edges of the box can be seen through the keel.

The laminations seen below on the outsides of the keel are the plys of the keel, while the inside ones are the edges of the centerboard box.

At last, a beautiful centerboard box for our swing keel. The slot will continue down through the lead ballast keel when it is cast.