Boat Building Epoxy NIS norwalk island sharpie Robert Ayliffe Uncategorized wood work


The blank canvas that is a NIS galley loomed large on my little horizon.

How much can you achieve in such a small place? Do I follow the L Francis Herreshoff “Cedar Bucket” plan of elegant austerity? Do I get tricky and attempt carpentry magic with little cupboards and clever nooks to retain the vittles?

Reality check: it’s a big boat, but it’s not that big and the degree of meal preparation, cooking, and wash up will be limited by a single burner stove, small sink and imagination. So the priority must be to maximise bench space, facilitate the stove to operate safely, and allow for dishes to be washed or stowed.

The plan.

The stove choices are pretty slim when space is a priority, I quickly gravitated to the butane options as my old boat Fresh Aires saw many meals made with one. Furthermore, research suggests they are very popular, and while butane is risky indoors, the risk can be managed.

Butane stoves are light, portable and deliver a lot of heat, the fuel is cheap and comes in convenient cans. I also love the idea of taking the stove outdoors to cook when I can, and perhaps having another stored aft to operate as a second burner for more elaborate meals.

The risky aspect is a tough call. The fuel can sink into the bilges and go bang and hot when ignited. So I will install vapour sniffer alarms and use the stove in the cockpit when possible.

That decided, I rushed out and purchased the most modern, slim lined unit to serve as a template for this part of the galley.

Stove and sink on an upside-down template of the galley counter top. i.e. the limits.

Next the sink. I’ve done a lot of camping and wrestled with washing up. Success in this department relies on two elements, hot water and a good sized bucket. For hot water, we have the stove. To contain the splashy soapy water, the sink should be deep and as broad as a fry pan. A quick trip to the local plastics shop yielded an ideal translucent white tub.

I thus had my two defining elements for the galley area. They both dictated the layout of the counter top and the depth of the first shelves.

I chose to sit these items inside the galley unit with lids to reveal when needed, keeping the surface clear. I contemplated a drain for the sink, and have not settled on that as yet, but for the interim, the tub can be slid out and the waste poured off. The tub really is big enough to accumulate dishes over the day and keep them hidden beneath it’s lid. The lid fits well, so I think this is all fairly practical.

Rough fit up.

A good sized cutlery draw was next on the plan, and this was spiled up to maximise it’s shape against the hull. The draw runs on Hoop Pine runners and a 6mm diameter brass rod acting against a notch to all hold the draw in when heeling. No further tricky storage has been built, below the sink and stove are big openable cupboards which I expect to divide up depending on how I find myself using it.

Fit check

Most of the components were made out of 4 and 6mm scrap plywood, and in most instances disappointingly warped when the clamps came off. A quick call to Robert and he suggested I laminate another layer of ply to the bases where needed and make some surgical cuts at the points of tension which could then be backfilled with thickened epoxy.

Carefully planned cuts to relieve tension and stop the rock.
Sink lid gets a cut too.

These surgical cuts were disturbing to make in my nicely formed lids and draw. But as you watch the wobbly item on a flat surface it was obvious something had to be done. By observing where the rocking piece pivots, you can decide where to cut to relieve the tension. Then with a swift stroke of a Japanese pull saw, some weights to flatten while the fill of epoxy sets, a good sand, and hey presto, flat like an CNC sheer!

Next we paint.

Boat Building Epoxy Tools wood work


The plans place a bulkhead in the middle of the berth, allowing for good support and a natural break up of compartments, it also sets the height and level of the horizontal surface.

My work with the cleating gave a good outline of the shape, and the kit has provided both for and aft panels so it should be a cinch, all I need to decide on is the access hatches’ size and position.

Not quite a cinch as you may have guessed by the flippant nature and my choice of the word. My building has produced some irregularities, nothing more than 7mm out in places, really quite ok, but no cinch.

I found it easiest to split the forward piece in half and remove the excess, to create a regular shaped insert from the centre as the edges made a reasonable fit. Also forming part of my logic, the hatch needs structure supporting it, so the structure can also hold the halves together.

Trimming up plywood lets me use one of my favourite tools, a Number 78 Stanley plane with a guide in place. It is the quickest way to trim rough jigsaw cut edges back to a line.

I chose the openings of the hatches to be big enough to pass down large objects, but not too big as to weaken the structure.

The forward insert has to be left out (it will be epoxied in) as we need to still access the back of the first bulkhead to fit the tabernacle with ease.

The aft panel and it’s hatch required a little more consideration as bunkees need to come and go over it. I decided to make a large hatch over the port side, shaped sympathetic to the entryway, so when working up forward, with the hatch removed, you can step through the hatch to the hull. This will lessen the crawling and generally give more room to swing the cat, if the cat needs swinging. If you get my drift.

It was a treat to splash the paint about in this finished zone, a bright white Aquacote is quite ship shape in Bristol fashion. It feels finished…

Boat Building Epoxy Tools Uncategorized wood work

Fit out begins

I am loving this stage. So many small non-critical re-makeable decisions to consider, lots of fiddly templates to make, some careful cutting of plywood, lots of Purbond (polyurethane no-mix glue), and best of all, watching the living spaces resolve.

I began by levelling the boat on it’s trailer, fore and aft, port to starboard. This allows the use of a laser level to mark out the interior furniture.

Using a laser to mark out the V-berth cleats

Next I shaped the bevels for the cleats so the v shape hull sides and the flat interior surfaces can be fixed with maximum glue surface. I quickly realised it’s a job for the bandsaw and not a hand plane. Coincidentally, now the boat is housed at work, I get to use some of the workshop machinery we have for our box and frame making, (most helpful).

I attached the cleats with Botecote’s E-Glue, which is a dream to work with. An epoxy 1:1 mix that is already thickened, so it comes together rapidly and can fill the gaps created by my average carpentry skills. You spoon it out and mix it on a flat sheet. It’s quick and ideal for the smallest of mixes.

Botecote’s E-Glue

Some of the cleats could be clamped with spring clamps, some needed to be drilled and screw clamped, and some needed a trickier solution.

For the cleats that are midway on the hull sides, I didn’t want to drill into the topsides to clamp those cleats, so I set up a long bar that anchored with a loose screw (for quick single handed placement) into the chine logs. This bar could be clamped at the sheer with a Quick Grip clamp.

Note the screw into the chine log sits in an open slot on those clamping bars, this allowed for a dry run, break down, then a quick set up when it got serious.

I also attached the cockpit cleating, and perhaps went a bit too far and have to cut slots in the new cleats to fit in cabin sole sides and decking. I was very excited and really should have thought it through first.

Dry fitting the self draining sole in place. It went in perfectly!

At this point it dawned on me to look at all of the kit parts that were left over and nut out where they fitted. Current kits all come labeled, but my ten year old kit has been a bit of a puzzle.

I really should have done this sooner, it was so rewarding to see how it fits. Especially the cabin sides and decks! Wow!

Wow. It’s a sharpie.


In these difficult times I feel fine about making up a new word. I define it as the opportunities a lock down can provide.

We are weirdly busy at work, and with reduced staff numbers in the building, I find myself doing more to keep things running. While being grateful for the ability to be open, operating and employing in an almost normal way, I am sincerely worried for my staff and their exposure, but we are following all guidelines and making some up ourselves. (e.g. we still process film, and are one of the few businesses that can process uncommon types of film, we had to put a quarantine on incoming film. Mostly because some types require licking of the backing paper to seal it up….yes licking.)

So, am I making another excuse for not having my boat launched in these restricted times? No, I’ve been busy, working up to the maximum my wrist can cope with, which is about 4 hours at a time.

My favourite sneaky view I can see when I exit my office. That’s the boat through that narrow doorway. 🙂


I chose to fibreglass the interior sides as well as the floors. While not prescribed, I felt it would be good for impact protection and durability of locker internals.  The process involves the following; Ensuring the surface being ‘glassed is even, so potentially it needs to be faired first. Fibreglassing it dry to prevent sagging in the epoxy on the upright surfaces. Potentially sanding the fibreglass to take out lumps. Filling the cloth weave with epoxy that has a little lightweight filler to fill it quickly without sagging. And a final sanding to make it fair.

Festool Rotex 150 at work

It is a slow process, one I did not account for. Thankfully late last year Morgan could spare some time and the fibreglassing was done leaving me to do the finishing. And I am almost finished this stage.

Next I will be building in interior furniture. Yay!

Looking forward you can see the filled and faired interior coming together.

All this time I have been working out where to move the enclosed head to. I do not like it’s position just forward of the centreboard truck to starboard, it shrinks the cabin so much. It takes what should be a generous welcoming space and chops it up too much.

That being said, I cannot get rid of a private toilet space on the boat, I am not an animal. (Plus I have a wife and two daughters).

As Ronald Reagan said, Tear down this wall!

Boat Building Epoxy norwalk island sharpie Uncategorized wood work

Getting the floors sorted

The hull bottom is made from three layers 200mm wide strips of 6mm ply, cold moulded, the first layer runs perpendicular to the centre line, the second and third are planked opposed diagonally . This creates a very strong self supporting structure of its own, but it does result in an uneven surface which needs filling and fairing.

Funny to be back fairing again! Thankfully it’s all under foot, under locker and under bunk, so no one is worrying about it’s hydrodynamic performance. I jumped into mixing epoxy and a new (to me) type of light filler, the West System’s Light Weight Filler.

I’m very used to the BoteCote’s micro balloons, and they have served me well, but I really like the West System equivalent of the filler (Microlight 410). It’s hard to describe, perhaps ‘fluffy’ is a good term. It mixes in quickly, and bulks out well. In the consistency I am using it, which was quite wet, it is a pinkish plastic consistency. It set hard and shaped well with a course paper on the random orbital sander.

Each irregularly shaped compartment of the Sharpie has a bit of flooring, so the process is to clamber up into the boat, hopefully remembering all of the tools required, sand the section, working with 40 or 60 grit paper, switching between the extractor connected Festool Rotex 90 set with the corner detail fitting and then the big 150 for the middle bits. Then hop out to mix the epoxy. Then hop back in, spread it out, spatula it smooth and clean up. The next time I’m back on the boat, I check and sand the filled floor to smooth and patch with the next mix of filler if needed.

I could have just sanded the whole interior, then filled, but it’s too much of the same thing for my wrist and brain. It has gone quickly and looks great.


The turning.

In an attempt to wrangle our lives under our control, we decided to sell our house (and huge shed) and move into the apartment above our business. It was a decision made for financial and emotional reasons, an attempt at simplification. To explain it further would require a War and Peace grade novel, not what this little blog is for.

So how did turn the boat get turned over?

To set the scene, I’ve been struggling to do heavy work on the boat since the surgery to my wrist in December, we decided to auction our house in March. We decided to move out of the house to stage it properly, we decided straighten up the shed but use the boat build as an attraction. We had to move the boat at settlement, and as a bare minimum, the hull anti fouled and onto the trailer right side up.

I was truly a deer in the headlights about it all. I made many calls to friends and professionals, I received many offers of help, but all required my leadership, and I was not in a good head space for that.

Robert Ayliffe was aware of my state, I think he could see this coming and offered to help push this through. Robert lined up two helpers, Morgan and Sebastian. All three of them dove in to the fairing and glassing of the lead and wood keelson I had formed.

They worked like demons possessed. More was achieved in those few weeks than I had in the past year, I think there is an advantage in not being the pedantic owner and builder. You cannot imagine how good it felt to see this boat rise up, flip, and rest on its rightful bottom.

Seb stayed through the fairing, but Morgan and Robert saw it home. During the last week before settlement of the house, the pressure rose. Everything had to happen before Tuesday, us moving out, the hull, trailer, turning and the Goolwa WoodenBoat Festival.

I’m not sure exactly how, but Robert turned up on the Tuesday morning, after throwing himself through the 2019 festival, with Ian Phillips of Botecote, and Marrack Payne in tow and a carload of heavy lift gear. Also joining us was Graham Crane and the mighty Morgan Clarke. All six of us keen to see this through or perhaps wanting to gawk at whatever happened.

At this time, none of us were sure of how this was to be accomplished. I’d heard several theories, and fearing a competition of opinions, I kept quiet and wide eyed. Full marks to Robert for picking the team, as half the crew voiced strong opinions, but all settled and supported Robert’s plan, slightly adjusted from the discussions. I am sure arguments at this stage could have wrecked the hull, or one of us.

I had imagined two slings on the boat’s thirds, lifting, and a control line easing the turn. This control line was to be critical because the center of gravity is just below the lead, and once it began to turn, it was likely to swiftly run away from us.

Robert’s plan, and the way we achieved the turn was to make a single lift through the centreboard case, on the designed centre of gravity, the forward end of the case. Once the weight was off the building frame, we could cut that away and leave it free hanging, and use manpower and blocks to stabilise. This was very quickly achieved, a matter of thirty minutes.

Once it was freely dangling, a control line was attached to the same lift point, but coming out from under the hull, off to the side and up. This would lift the sharpie onto it’s starboard beam, and onto a mattress slid in place. With some further effort, we stabilised it on this side, and swapped the main lift point to exit the inside of the boat, and lifted once again. Within minutes, the boat was aloft and the trailer was being backed underneath.

It was truly marvellous. All the worrying had distilled down to a brilliant series maneuvours. We were all beaming with pride and relief.

The boat was then towed the five kilometres to it’s new home, and even though Robert had insisted on placing the boat well forward on the trailer (thus minimising the overall length), my measurements of the it’s new home had failed to predict the shed was 10cm short for the sharpie and I couldn’t close the roller door.

Graham jumped in and designed a method to cap off the entrance flush so we could lock it all up, while I returned to the shed to tidy up for the new owners. That night I went to bed with the boat locked up and snug. First good sleep in months.

Significant thanks must go to Robert for picking up the lead, Morgan and Seb for their energy and great work, and Ian, Marrack and Graham for being so level headed, strong and supportive.

I’ll be celebrating this effort for the rest of my life.

NIS norwalk island sharpie Robert Ayliffe Sailing Uncategorized

Some history #2

This is the story of Robert and Ian’s crossing to Tasmainia in Charlie Fisher, his 23′ NIS. Thanks to Robert and Australian Amateur Boat Builder Magazine for this rollicking tale.

AABB-Charlie Fisher Bass Straight (1)

Friends Robert Ayliffe Uncategorized

Some history #1

While I get my thoughts together to tell of the past six months, I dug up a couple of articles that mean a lot to me. Please take time to read them both, they appeared in the Australian Amateur Boat Builder, both written by Robert Ayliffe. Enjoy.

AABB-Fresh Aires Sale (1)

Boat Building Epoxy Fibreglass Robert Ayliffe Uncategorized

Leading in to the lead and out

With the lead securely fitted, I had to make a ‘shoe’ that would lead the water into the lead and back out the stern, making the bottom hydrodynamical sound.

I chose to use 16mm ply and laminated it on the hull. Because of the significant amount of rocker (longitudinal curvature), the plywood would need to match the curve. After setting out some plastic sheeting to prevent it prematurely glueing to the hull, I held the layers down with straps and cross bars while the glue cured. This went well.

The dowel is being used to clamp the ply shoe down as the laminating cures

I then attempted to glue the forward shoe down in one go…which I rapidly realised was a huge mistake.

Not only is the hull curved longitudinally, but it also has a gentle cross curve, which is a part of the Mark 2 design refinements. This cross curve meant the ply would need to be made to curve in a second dimension, which is effectively impossible when dealing with thick ply. Therefore, the ply would need bedding in a significant amount of thickened epoxy to support it. And, you cannot mix up that much epoxy at once without it curing in your hands.

After throwing away the first litre of mix, by scraping it off the hull as it hardened, I cut the sections in quarters, with 3:1 scarf joints, and set about fixing them one at a time. This worked well, and progressed quickly because it wasn’t delicate work.

Within a few weeks, all the shoe was attached, and fairing and filleting had begun.

Just after I attached both fore and aft sections, Robert, Morgan and Seb stepped in and began the push to getting the boat turned. It was their filleting, fairing, fibreglassing and finally antifouling that got it turned and in the new home.

The bow section being shaped by a planer

Looking forward pre-fairing

Bogging in the bow
The bow knuckle added to with epoxy mixed with high strength filler


Boat Building Friends

The Terry Thomas Sign

Terry Thomas Sign

What I did not need is another excuse for slowing/stopping progress, but I’ve found a ripper. A fall while off-trail bushwalking in October 2017 apparently tore a ligament allowing bones to rearrange themselves in my left (dominant) wrist. The condition is called SLAC wrist, or the charming “Terry Thomas Sign”. I’ve always loved the pantomime villain Terry Thomas played in some of my favourite movies, he was brilliant.

At the time I ignored the hurt, but during 2018 it got worse so I pursued a gradual escalation of medical intervention. That ended with an attempted reconstruction in November 2018. Once into the wrist with his knife, the surgeon discovered too much arthritis to proceed. Apparently the left wrist is riddled with it, quite a mess. There are also signs my right wrist may also be arthritic. The Doctor didn’t want to risk pulling it all tightly back together, when it wasn’t going to fit. So he set about performing an arthroscopic cleanup.

The medicos think the heavy fairing process did a lot of the recent damage, and I’d have to agree. I could never sustain fairing with a torture board for long, and was sore for days afterwards.

The whole thing has left me feeling pretty down and rapidly aged. It turns out I can’t do it all, being a part-time boat builder when I spent a life as a desk jockey has consequences.

I am writing this in March 2019 feeling about as recovered as I will be from the arthroscopy and news of the reality. I am feeling better in myself now, I’ve reconciled how I can progress with the build, I have also made real progress, I’ve changed out some tools, and learned a few new techniques which I will share in future posts.

I have also embraced some help from friends and I am deeply touched by their support.