The Winter of My Content

April 28th, 2014

I’ve written before about the role that dogs play in the boatbuilding process. Largely, the role consists of three parts: 1) distracting the boatbuilder by general cuteness, 2) stealing the piece of wood that the builder needs to complete the next task on The Boat, and 3) causing infinite joy.

Part three needs no explanation if one is a dog person, and I won’t waste time trying to explain it to those of a less canine persuasion. As for parts one and two? The wood chunks are generally located easily, and a bit of epoxy hides the toothmarks. The time lost to distraction, on the other hand, can generally not be recovered. So it was with me this winter. I’ve nabbed my parents’ gigantic chocolate labradoodle, and, as he’s not dumb, he prefers hanging out in heated rooms with leather couches and delectable food scraps to being curled up on a concrete floor in an unheated barn with a guy who is not really paying attention to him (except when he steals the workpiece).  The eyes with which he communicates this preference are large and brown and irresistible. So I watched a bunch of Netflix and scratched Kobe behind the ears this winter, and the boat sat somewhat neglected. And, as I’ve said, I couldn’t be happier.



Not entirely neglected, however. Since I flipped the boat at Thanksgiving, I’ve installed 4 of the 5 bulkheads, constructed the mizzen mast, and fabricated the centerboard case.

In order, then.

The bulkheads were relatively straightforward, though I went about building them in a non-straightforward way. Tad’s plans include a CD with the full section of each, but rather than print them out,I decided to loft them myself from the small representations on the paper plans. Two reasons. First, I don’t own a big roll printer, and didn’t feel like paying for the use of one. Second, I was (and am) pretty sure that my boat differs a small amount in most dimensions from the Ideal Ratty. This meant that I would have to use the full size plans to cut test pieces out of lauan before cutting the spendy plywood. This seemed pointless, and since I’m a fair hand with a hot glue gun, I used my favorite patterning method of gluing strips of lauan together in a skeleton of each frame. The cutouts I lofted straight onto each bulkhead. A good system.

As the photo show, I’ve not yet placed the fifth (midships) bulkhead. This is because that one is bifurcated by the centerboard truck, which is not yet ready. Seemed silly to guess on that bulkhead, since it’ll be infinitely easier to fit with the case in place. I started with the other in order to stiffen the boat. Like Tad, I was surprised by how flexible the shell was without them. Big fillets. Maybe too big? But they’ll be sturdy.


The mast:

Tad specs out square section spruce masts. But a friend of mine (who wishes to remain unnamed and to whom I’ll therefore refer to as Bob) convinced me to go with birdsmouth spars, instead, and my wallet convinced me to go with CVG fir instead of Sitka Spruce. Bob figured out the scantlings, and bought a Veritas birdsmouth bit. I toddled on over to Crosscut Hardwoods in Seattle, and bought some fir. We decided to mimic the ring pattern of a tree, and so bought 8/4 vertical grain fir for our staves. Ripped, these provided the correct dimensions with the grain running on their long faces. Flatsawn 4/4 fir would have been easier. But no one sells flatsawn clear fir. At least that I’ve been able to find. We scarfed 10 foot planks to make our 13 foot mast, cut mouths on one side, and tapered the other. We built a jig to keep everything straight during glue-up, slapped on a bunch of epoxy and hose clamps, and voila!

The most interesting part of the process for me was the plug for the bottom end. With a hollow spar, one must provide solid support at the partners and, of course, at the heel. In the mizzen on Ratty, the partners are super close to the heel, so we just built a one-piece plug to span both. However, a square end at the top end of the plug would create a stress point. So we cut a sort of multipronged swallowtail contraption, and I laid a piece of purple heart in as a tenon to fit in the step.

I’m a bit afraid of fairing the spar, and haven’t attempted it yet. Soon, I tell myself. My plane isn’t sharp. I don’t feel like it. and other excuses. Other than that, the main point still to determine is the masthead sheave. I’m inclined to drill an internal sheave for style and cleanliness. Bob thinks a thumb cleat and a rope-stropped block is more to the point. We’ll see. I’m a fan of the system we used, and will likely mimic it on the main mast, which is currently a pile of more 8/4 CVG gathering dust in the barn.  So it shall remain for a while yet.

Lastly, the centerboard:

Not much to report, here. The board itself is a 130 pound chunk of 5/8 steel that I had cut according to Tad’s CAD drawing by Carlson Steel in Bellingham. It’s now a coffee table in my house, and I made a plywood copy for using in constructing the trunk. At this point, the trunk is just two halves of a plywood box, fiberglassed on the inside. I built it over tall so that I can sneak up on the perfect fit once I set it in the keelson; I’ll trim the bottom with a skilsaw to get it just right.

IMG_2310Oh Yeah. One more thing. NOLS made a really nice video of the boat getting flipped. Check it out!


Entry Filed under: Building Ratty


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