Winter is basement time, and this winter the first job is the rudder. The Navigator is built to go in shallow waters, so parts that stick down (like the centerboard and the rudder) are built to pivot up when they run into something .
The top part of the rudder assembly attaches to the boat, and the bottom part swings up and down as needed.
First I drew out the plans full-sized, and transferred that shape to the wood.
I cut out the rudder cheeks.
This is what the top will look like eventually look like.
To figure out the shape of the rudder I started with a mock-up in cardboard. Here it’s in the down position, and in the up position.
The actual rudder blade is thick so it starts as a bunch of pieces glued together. The mixed-up grains of all the pieces helps to keep the rudder from warping.
After much shaping.
And here’s where I am right now. The rudder cheeks are bolted and the blade is shaped. Still needs more fussing with the pivot bolt, and I plan to fiberglass the front and bottom edges for when, you know, I run into stuff.
Two other exciting additions to the project. I picked up this cool old spokeshave. Probably more than a century old, it’s a great help in delicate shaping and turning square shapes into round, like masts.
And even better – my sails arrived! That’s one big step closer to sailing. Here’s the small one (the mizzen) in the box and on the kitchen floor.
Last year I made the mistake of stopping too soon, so this year I wanted to try to press on all the way to mid-November if I could.
So the goal was still to finish lots of interior work before winter. The next step was the seat-back supports. This was a cool step because it continued to define the interior and make it easier to see how the finished boat will look.
Showed off my mad chiseling skills by making a slot in the transom for the rear end of the seat support. There’s no way that I could bend thick wooden pieces to make the pretty curve of the deck, so I attached one thin piece, then glued the other half to it.
It was a regular clamp party.
There are no pictures of the next several weeks. Every intersection in the entire interior got the following treatment: Heat gun and chisel to remove epoxy globs left over from planking, sand, create fillets (smooth new epoxy joints), sand the fillets, sand the inside of the planks. By the time I was ready to quit the temperatures finally dropped too low for epoxy to cure. I feel like I’m almost done with this step, but when spring hits I may get more finicky and press for more perfect joints. I don’t want to spend the rest of my sailing career looking at a crappy interior job, wishing that I had just spent a few more hours getting it right.
October 31 was closing day at my most excellent part-time job at Community Boating. There are no action photos because I’m far too afraid that I’ll fall into the Charles River with my phone in my pocket, but I got some glamor shots nonetheless.
The end of the building season also means that the boat needs to move out of the larger garage bay (to make room for Linda’s car, of course). The boat’s too heavy now for Pearl, Abe and I to lift, and besides, and this point she is rigid enough to get off of her frame.
I added hooks in the ceiling beams. I removed the screws that connected the bottom panel to the frame. Only 18 months since I put them in (sarcasm intended).
She gently rose off her frame. Then I pulled the frame out from underneath her, and she floats for the first time. On air, not water. I quickly wheeled the trailer under her and lowered her again. Here she sees daylight for the first time since June. Time for more glamor shots!
Seats out and seats in.
And below, my new favorite photo:
Come on, Spring!!
I couldn’t resist stepping the mast just once.
For now the shop has moved to the basement. This winter I’ll finish the masts and spars and build the rudder. My rudder hardware arrived from New Zealand today!
Oh yeah. In cleaning out the basement I found the first boat that I ever built.
After the excitement of finishing the planking, things slowed considerably. August brought two weeks in York Beach and then the beginning of the new school year. The goals for fall were to finish important interior details and have the boat ready to flip next spring.
First step was to finish off the seats. I made the seats oversized – I wanted to see them in place before making the final decisions. This part is the main seating area where I will spend all my time, so I wanted it to be just right.
As an aside, I was at the point where I was starting to work on parts that will be visible forever, and it has become a little nervewracking.
Anyway, it turns out that the rim of the olive dish made the perfect corner on the seats. Who knew? This was followed by very careful cutting!
Look at me, sitting in my cockpit. The first of many hours, hopefully. The forward seating area also took shape.
I started working on the king plank, which is important as it sounds. It’s on the top of the deck and it provides the main support for the mast. It starts at the top of bulkhead 2, goes around the mast, connects to the top of bulkhead 1, and goes forward all the way to the top of the stem, thus connecting 3 important structural fixtures.
My version of the Navigator has a different sail than the standard plans, and my mast is not supported by wires on the side (shrouds) or the front (forestay). Because of this, the king plank is 40% wider to provide extra support.But as I started to assemble the parts for the king plank I found that, once again, bulkhead 1 was a problem.
In case you’re forgotten, one of my bigger past screw-ups was to install B1 in the wrong place. Now it appeared that either B1 or B2 were the wrong size! When the king plank touched the right place at the ends, it was much too high in the middle.
When the king plank hit the right spot on B1 and B2, it was far too low at the stem.
I’ll never know which bulkhead was too low, and at this point I really didn’t care. My solution was to add to the top of B1.
Unfortunately, this is the only photo of the process, because I was really pleased how it turned out. In this photo I have started to fit a new piece to the top of B1 to raise it about 3/4 of an inch. Then I had to curve the top to make a consistent base for the eventual deck, and then build it up with several thicknesses of plywood to handle the load that it will one day shoulder. I may not be able to do things right the first time, but I think I’m getting better at fixing my mistakes.
Next on the checklist was the mast box. Very important. This box has to be super strong to hold the mast, super accurate so that the mast is straight, and super airtight because it goes through a section of the boat that has to remain airtight (in the unlikely event of a water landing) to make sure that the boat still floats. Phew!
This is the eventual home of the mast box, just on the front side of B2. I had built to the original plans, so some of my prior work had to come out. Damn! Those parts fit!
This is a shot of a trial fix (we boatbuilders call it a “dry fit” because there’s no glue yet). The king plank forms the top of the box.
The bottom of the mast sits in the mast step, a block of wood several inches thick made of several layers glued together. Yes, getting all of the holes the same size is one of those things that I can do now that I couldn’t do before.
In my head I imagined that as soon as Spring hit I would be outside working on the boat, but the reality is that I always forget that between yard, garden plot, work and finishing school, Spring is really busy. But July finally came and I only had one thing on my mind.
Last fall I was excited to get the frame together but now I’m just seeing all the places where the parts didn’t exactly fit. The seats were the next step, but first everything under the seats had to be flat. Lots of tiny additions and subtractions.
I also found several places where the wood stringers had snapped, either during the assembly last fall or sometime over the winter. These all needed to be repaired and cleaned up.
On one seat section I made a pattern of cardboard, then transferred the shape onto the plywood. This was a long tedious method that eventually yielded the right shape.
This was fun. The front of the boat (stem) needs a curved piece, but you can’t bend a one-inch piece of oak. So I cut it into many thin pieces (which do bend) and laminated them together. Gooey but successful!
At last, planking. I started on the rear left. The process has many steps. I cut an oversized piece of ply, clamp it in place and mark the edges. Off the boat to make cuts, back on to see if it fits, then off and on until it’s right. Then glue and clamp and screw in place. The first piece was small and straightforward, but piece number two was not. Because of the length of the plank, the curve of the boat and frame obstructions on the bottom, this was the hardest plank for me. It seems like I took it off and put it back on the boat twenty times just to get it close!
The final bottom plank is the one that other Navigator builders dread, but it went on pretty easily. The challenge is that it starts almost horizontal at the rear, but bends dramatically to vertical in the front. As I slowly tightened the clamps to force it into shape I kept expecting to hear the crack of snapping wood, but it went on without a hitch.
Then the starboard side goes on.
Day by day, plank by plank. 24 in all.
And finally to the top! Now I have a boat.
The last plank is called “The Whiskey Plank” no doubt to celebrate the completion of this important task. And I would never disrespect hundreds of years of naval tradition . . .
The end of fall signaled the end of the outdoor boat-building season. Epoxy needs to be at least 50 degrees to harden, and you all know what a wimp I am about the cold.
So I moved the tools back in to the basement to work on the masts and spars until the return of warmer weather.
An unusually warm day in December gave me the chance to cut the parts that would become the mast. At first I couldn’t adjust my very old table saw to make the 45º cut, but after I took off the top, cleaned out the sawdust and oiled the parts, she made it.
Special thanks to Pearl for helping me feed 16-foot-long staves into the saw!
Here’s how the mast comes together. Eight staves with a 90º groove cut out of one end come together to make a perfect 8-sided whole. You can see why it got its name – The Bird Mouth method. On this practice piece I’ve already started rounding off the edges to make a circle.
These are 3 of the 8 sides.I had to piece together a lot of smaller ones to get 15-foot long staves with no knots.
One of the great advantages of this method is that when you clamp the pieces together tightly they hold each other in the right position.
Hours of work with a hand plane turned it into a pile of shavings and a mast!
The smaller spars were much easier. Start with a square, plane into an octagon, then round.
The boomkin sticks our of the back of the boat to control the rear sail, the mizzen. I copied other builders on the net to make it hollow so that the mizzen sheet, the line that controls the mizzen location, will actually go through the center of the boomkin all the way to the end. I screwed a scrap of wood to my router to act as a guide, then routed a groove down the middle of both halves.
I carefully glued the two sides together, making sure that I didn’t clog the tunnel with glue. These guides helped to hold it in place during the initial shaping, and the cap on top gave a flat surface for a clamp to hold it in place.
Doesn’t seem like much progress for a whole winter! In other news, in April I started working part-time at Community Boating in downtown Boston. Great fun, lots of time on boats, neat people and extra dough for boat building.
On the middle school trip to DC I got to teach some of the kids this important life skill.
I got to make a great trip to the region’s sewage treatment plant. Two of my students came in first and third in the poster contest (out of thousands!). Abe voted for the first time on a special vote for school construction. Thanks, Abe! We need the space.
I expected this to be the last period of boat-building weather, so I was really anxious to get the bulkheads and stringers installed. The added bonus was that this stage of the build always provides my favorite pictures. There something about seeing the skeleton of the boat come together and finally being able to picture the size and the curves of what it will become.
It started to get cold and rainy in the boatyard. The transom got varnished in the basement.
First the stem went on, with great care to make sure it was vertical and exactly centered.
Bulkhead one attached. I installed temporary supports on the sides to help keep it aligned. Again, the level was clamped on to make sure it stayed upright.
Trouble with the centerboard trunk. I didn’t think to drill the holes before assembly. I really wanted it right, so I went to a friend’s house to use his drill press. Unfortunately, the big bulky case didn’t sit flat on the press, so the hole ended up in the wrong place. To be corrected later. I probably should have fixed it before installing the trunk.
This stuff makes me crazy. Here on the inside of the transom you can clearly see my markings that show where the seat top is supposed to go. You can also see that I glued the support well below that. Again, what was I thinking three months ago?
Detail of the bulkhead one attachment. So snug and secure.
But wait – when I tested the fit of the stringers, something was terribly wrong. The long thin piece is supposed to fit snugly into the slot on the bulkhead. Instead it is several inches away.
Remeasuring shows that the bulkhead is in the wrong place. The bulkhead should be forward at the end of the ruler.
Awesome opportunity to buy a new tool. Heat turns hardened epoxy to goo, so “Say hello to my little friend.” A little heat, a little drill and she’s free.
The stringers needed to be pulled together and twisted at the same time. It took a village (of tools) to get them into place and hold them there until the glue set.
With bulkhead one in the proper position, the stringer fit right into place.
It’s all coming together.
But the stringers put up a fight. Many snapped when asked to bend to the complex shapes of the boat.
But finally, in the last days of October, it all came together.
It seems so wrong – but I have to cut a huge hole in the bottom of the boat. The centerboard goes here.
As more parts are complete, I can’t resist the urge to clamp them together to see how they fit.
As the parts go together, I am shocked to see some of the mistakes that I made months ago in the basement.
These pieces were glued crooked! What was I thinking? These were cut off and new pieces were cut and glued in their place.
Odd interlude. I turned around and it looked like a cricket was on my saw blade.
Turns out it was empty. This is an old cricket shell that fell out of the dusty eaves of the garage and landed, lifelike, on the saw blade.
More mistakes. I tried and tried to get the centerboard trunk to fit exactly flush against the keel batten, but I couldn’t get it right. These are big gaps. They will eventually get filled and covered with fiberglass, so there’s no harm done. Just frustrating.
I had to cut out part of the frame to allow for the bottom of the centerboard case.
After attaching the case some bulkhead could be attached. On the right is a worrisome mismatch. The seats rest on these two pieces that aren’t level. When I started making parts in the basement in April, my biggest concern was that when it came time to put them together, they wouldn’t fit.
Eventually I made slight adjustments on both sides to get the seat supports flush, but this was nerve-wracking.
Someday I’ll look back on this and laugh. But not yet. In the shot below I’ve put the parts together and temporarily attached a thin batten to see the shape of the boat. But the way that I clamped the battens onto the front stem completely disguises the fact that bulkhead #1 is in the wrong place. Foreshadowing!
The two sides of bulkhead 6 (or maybe 8) are attached. I thought I was done with bulkheads months ago.
September ends and I’m feeling the pressure of the ticking clock. In just a few weeks it will be too cold to glue, but I want to get these parts together before I wrap up for the winter.
Work continued on the centerboard. There was a lot of wood to remove to get the right shape. On this section I cut the grooves to the right depth, then popped off the left-over with a chisel.
Now the centerboard needed a home. In this shot I’m celebrating the fact that I just cut out two pieces of plywood and they match perfectly.
Another signature move. These pieces support the bottom of the centerboard case, and after cutting I realized that I had gotten confused with the measurements. I was able to fish out the cut-offs from the scrap box and make these extensions, which I glued into place. Fortunately this piece was soon covered by another!
The inside of the case was the spot for my first fiberglassing experience. I was glad to be learning on area that will never be seen again.
Eventually the sides came together to make the case.
The keel batten is the internal spine of the boat. Two shorter pieces were scarphed together and then glued and screwed in place.
Another correction was required. The 1×4 keel batten was slightly thinner than the 100mm width that the plan calls for. But the centerboard case is actually 100mm wide, so I widened the keel batten to make a snug fit.
Can’t have too many clamps.
August ended with a second and final trip to pick up plywood. Same trip, minus all of the snow and most of the panic.