July 2016

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 . . .

Winter 2016

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.


November 2015

Thanksgiving Day was sunny and warm, so I conscripted the kids to help me move the boat into the smaller side of the garage to make room for the Admiral’s car during the snowy months.

Perfect opportunity for glamor shots!




My heroes!


And the turkey was perfect.


October 2015

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.



September 2015

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.

August 2015

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.


Shaping with a Japanese pull-saw


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.


July 2015

Made great progress (and even bigger mistakes) in July.

Made space in the garage.

“The clamps were all hung by the workbench with care, in hopes that a skilled woodworker soon would be there.” Nope, just me.


Laid out the frame in the flattest place I had – the front porch.

Two pieces of ply are planed down (scarphed, to be precise) to make a stronger bond when joined end-to-end. Not bad, you know, for me.

Then I blew it all. Somehow, when I glued the two pieces together I managed to cram this scrap in-between!! You are truly seeing a master craftsman at work.

Do-over. Cut out the offensive joint, re-scarph, re-glue. Drew the shape of the bottom panel, cut it out and attached it to the frame.


Pieces glued up to form the centerboard.


With saw, router and grinder, this big chunk of wood gets whittled down to a more hydrodynamic shape.


Epoxy hardens very quickly in hot weather. Here I was experiment with freezing a layer of ice in-between the two cups.


Lots of progress in July, but it’s not a boat yet, still just a pile of parts.

Spring 2015-The Building Begins

Actually, the story begins in July 2014. My arm was still in a sling when the plans arrived, but that summer I haunted estate sales looking for clamps and other tools for the build. I finally took the plunge on February 14 and made a pilgrimage to Boulter Plywood in Somerville to buy the special marine plywood that I needed. After strapping almost $500 worth of plywood to the roof of a borrowed SUV (thanks Ruth) I was still worried that it might slide off, so I drove with my left hand out of the window holding on to the plywood. Of course, it was 6 degrees at the time, and by the time I carefully drove through the back streets of Somerville, Arlington and Lexington, my hand was a frozen claw. Good times!!


Soon the precious ply was safely stored in the basement. Weird to think that this pile of wood will be a boat. I told the wood, but it seemed skeptical.

February wasn’t a time for doing fun stuff in the basement, it was a time for shoveling. It was March before I made my first cautious cuts into the precious ply. I started with the bulkheads. This proved much more difficult and time consuming than I thought and this lasted until the end of the school year.

Warm weather brought field trips, the last days of school, gardening, home repair and other delays, and it was early July before construction moved outside.




Almost a year ago I started on an ambitious/crazy plan to build a sailboat seaworthy enough to handle everything from local lakes to coastal cruising. Since it’s too cold for epoxy to harden it’s a great time to finally sit down and show what I’ve done so far.

I learned to sail almost 20 years ago at the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle. The arrival of children, the move back to Boston and the fact that it’s a rich man’s sport had all conspired to keep me off the water. But in 2010 I stumbled into the hidden world of backyard boat builders. The fact that I was an absolute novice at woodworking didn’t stop me from dreaming – and spending countless hours surfing the net watching other guys build boats.


Before my first boat, this was the height of my woodworking accomplishments. I bet it floats!

Summer Breeze

In the summer of 2010 I found free plans for a simple sail boat, the Summer Breeze by David Beede. I was pretty sure that I wouldn’t succeed, and I was also pretty sure that my lovely wife would agree, so I started it on a weekend when The Admiral was out of town. My plan worked! By the time she returned on Sunday afternoon I had something that was vaguely boat-shaped, so I braved her skeptical eye rolls and continued. Much to our surprise I finished, it floated, and it (more or less) went in the direction I wanted.

In the summers of 2012 and 2013 our floating family grew with the birth of two kayaks in festive colors. So now that I had proved that I could make something that floats, it was time to make a serious sailboat.

The Navigator

My search led to the Navigator, designed by John Welsford of New Zealand. Because I’m still a very beginning sailor, I needed a design like this that has been proven to be very safe and seaworthy. I was also attracted to the fact that the design was a good step up for me in difficulty, but not as hard as some other building methods. John has sold over 500 sets of these plans, so there are Navigators sailing all over the world.


Ain’s she purty?

So, with a little luck, I’ll be out sailing in fall of 2016 or the following summer