More snot and disco skirts

Starboard side sheathed

Starboard side sheathed

Oh joy I am back on the fibreglass!

Wrapping the forefoot with nasty pointy stuff

Wrapping the forefoot with nasty pointy stuff

A mixed blessing fibreglass is. The unarguable protection it provides makes it a necessity, but dealing with it is not fun. The cloth is so slippery it slides out your hand like a wet fish, yet it jags on anything and distorts the weave requiring a stroking session to realign. Applying such large areas of it makes you stir crazy mixing the epoxy, and your wrist gets hammered squeegeeing it. That is all before we consider the health benefits!

The join of two sheets of fibreglass, still to be sanded

The join of two sheets of fibreglass, still to be sanded

My process is to mark out as much as I can handle by myself, which is about two to three meters of 1500mm wide cloth, drape it on the boat and position it, then mark out the area to be covered. I have two objectives in mind, making best use of the cloth and keeping straight-ish edges.

If I had a few more people who could keep my odd and un-planned hours, I would attempt the entire side at once. But by myself, I am leaving gaps between the cloth panels and filling with epoxy mixed with light weight filler.

With the cloth off the boat and the area marked out, I then roll on a coat of epoxy to fill the area, then approach it gingerly with the cloth and drape carefully to my marks, paying attention to straight edges. Then it is into the squegeeing in more epoxy, pushing the cloth into the epoxy against the hull.

It takes two to six mixes of epoxy to fill the cloth sections and any extra goes towards rolling on the adjacent cured area, filling the weave.

Wet 'glass on the bow

Wet ‘glass on the bow

The result is a lean fit with no lifting of the cloth, but the weave will need more epoxy, and this can be achieved whilst it is still tacky, (but not too green), or later after a light sand.

Sanding fibreglass is my big hatred. I desperately dislike the glass fibres that it produces. To combat these nasty, itchy, glassy, sticky-inny shards, I invested in a decent sander that works well with my extractor, and I upgraded the extractor with a Dust Deputy thingo to improve the suck.

The Festo extractor with Dust Devil on top

The Festo extractor with Dust Devil on top, ungainly but it sucks!

The Dust Deputy adds a cyclonic action to any extractor, or regular vacuum cleaner, much like Dyson has built into their celebrated vacuum cleaners. With my Festool extracter, I have done away with the bag, and just let the Deputy’s bin fill up. With the small amount of sanding I have done since installing the Deputy, I have filled the tub twice, indicating it is catching more than the bag did!

Kate gave me a Festool extractor four years ago, and it was the best thing she could have purchased me. Minimising dust is so critical with these modern materials, I don’t want anything to get in the way of enjoying this boat.

The Festool Rotex sander I purchased is amazing, it has two settings, a random orbit and a direct drive. So with the same 120 grit paper, I can remove material very quickly with the direct drive, and finish off with the random orbital setting. All with the twist of a setting on the head. To add to this, they are very quiet, almost not needing hearing protection.

The 90mm Festo Rotex sander

The 90mm Festo Rotex sander

I chose the small Rotex (90mm) because I wanted it for detail sanding, but now I really want the big 125mm unit. Now I want both. But at $900 each this will not happen soon.

Off to the glass fibre work I go, I’m itching just thinking about it!

Posted in Epoxy, Fibreglass, Tools, wooden boat | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Laser beam vs desk chair

That is a ‘link bait’ title, because I never got a chance to test the chair, but Ayliffe assures me it is the way to go.

So I need to mark the “waterline”, a key and mostly critical line on the boat, certainly equal to the sheer line in criticalness (criticality?). Nothing worse than an unfair line on a boat.

There are three challenges with marking the waterline:

  1. Is my boat still level?
  2. Where do I mark the water line?
  3. How do I mark the waterline?

Let us tackle the “is my boat level” question; I honestly cannot remember levelling the building jig… A major worry set in when I was posed this question. Surely I did, this is the first thing you do when setting up to build. Surely? 😦

So I climbed underneath with my best spirit level (yes I have a worst one, which I have since thrown out). I checked the beam level, which showed itself to be spot on. The fore an aft level was more difficult to ascertain, I could only rely on the centreboard case, and even with this could be out a bee’s whisker the way it is set in the boat and not matter. So my worry progressed to amber stage.

The centreboard case was not exactly level, over 1.6meters, it was out 3mm. So the whole boat could be 10-20mm out….. I rang Robert to share the worry, he guffawed and said “we haven’t had an earthquake!”. I neglected to share my doubts about my initial levelling of the jig back four years ago and replied, “yes indeed we had had an earthquake”. We had.

I decided to ignore the boat may not be level.

I then asked Robert on the phone what is the measure from the Reference Waterline (RWL) to the Design Waterline (DWL). He verbally shrugged and asked if I had the sail plan handy. I had. I blabbered about measurements and projected lines and worry, and he talked up and said.

“Look at the sail plan. See where the bow is just our of the water? See where the stern is just out of the water?” I replied in the affirmative. “Look at your boat” he said, “pick a similar spot at each end and mark it on the boat!”. “Oh” I uttered.

Turns out this is one of those science-meets-art moments. And because we add a “boot strap” of 75mm above the waterline, there is room to move.

Then I asked Robert about marking the waterline. I tell him I have been trying to transfer the RWL using a long tube filled with water and have been struggling. He spoke about friction when I complained I thought the air pressure was different by the door of my shed. I am sure I could have used the tube, I am sure the laws of physics still apply in Beulah Park. Robert suggested a much more clever idea.

I need an office chair, with a stick tied vertically to it, then to that stick I attach a perpendicular stick, and on the end of that I stick I stick a marker. I then get the chair height right and push it around the boat scribing the line. Elegant.

However, I do not have an office chair that I trust to stay inflated.

I recalled an offer by a friend/mentor/fellow sharpie builder to borrow his laser level for this very task. Chris Dearden even delivers. Within a day the laser was on my door step, with a smiling Chris, ten minutes of training and a hearty “good luck with that” and I was ready.

Dud spirit levelFirst job was to test the laser level was level. This is when I found out I had a bad spirit level. Chris’ recently minted laser level matched two of my three spirit levels. So I threw the offending thing out in disgust. How many times had I trusted this mid 1990’s stick with bubble? I certainly would have used it to set the building jig up (if I could remember setting it up!).

Interestingly, the spirit level that I now trust is a mid 1950’s Stanley that weighs too much for single handed work.

Checking the boat levelChris and I had discussed the limitation of his laser level beyond 45 degrees of operation, so the setting of the line will require many repositions down the starboard side of the boat, but the port side could be struck in one.

I set the laser up on the far side of the room and initially tested the level of the boat by aligning the transom-hull bottom intersection with the turn of the bow knuckle. This was perfect. Impressively so.

I then placed a piece of wood on each end on the bottom of the boat and raised the laser to hit my estimated water line. The pieces of wood at each end on the bottom are there to see the laser line projecting beyond the hull. Looking at the sail plan and back to the boat made the estimation quite easy, it made sense visually.

Then it was a matter of dropping the laser 75mm for the boot strap and get scribing with a 600mm ruler and  pencil. I found sometimes, the 600mm ruler was too long to cope with the curve of the hull and projected line. I had to make short straight lines to keep inside the laser line. Perhaps I should have used a fairing batton.

Transferring the line to the starboard sideAt the bow I transferred the line with a small trustworthy spirit level across to the starboard side and proceeded to move the laser step by step down the squeezy side of the boat marking as I went. The laser has a magnetic bracket which allowed it to clamp onto the steel walls of the shed.

At the transom, I drew a deep breath worrying about my process, and carefully checked if the line met the starting point. It was 2mm out. Wow.

Chris' most excellent laser
Next is to sort out the bow and stern lift. This is where the boot strap line is raised (lowered when the boat is upside down) at each end a squidgy just to hide any nose-diving or tail-dragging that may come from a badly ladened boat.

This is done by eye, so another task for me to drink tea with and contemplate for several hours.

Off by a laser beam's width

Posted in Robert Ayliffe, Tools, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Happy almost new year!

What an amazing few months of non-boatbuilding activity! Im not being facetious, they have been amazing. Kate and I reworked the face and many systems within our family business (, and it has taken every ounce of our energy and patience, (and adrenalin).

Regardless, I did slip into my overalls to keep the sharpie live (and my sanity).

Rounded chines from transomThe chines have been rounded, the bow knuckle shaped, the centreboard slot cut and the lip routed for the “zap flap”. I have also done some minor filling of screw holes and scratches.

I thought there needed to be some careful consideration for the chine rounding, some hydrodynamically critical radius that, like Brigadoon, I never properly found. I went with feel.

Slot cut and routed for zap flapThe centreboard slot was a dream, thanks to a router with a fresh guide bit. It romped around the radius like I had imagined it would. And the offcut… is like a core sample from the Arctic! You can see the bad years and the good years all layered up. Great fat layers of fairing between neat parallel ply layers. I shall keep one of these as a geological museum would..

The wackily named “zap flap” is a conjuring of Robert’s that prevents water jetting up the centreboard case. It requires a 25mm wide by 4mm deep ledge to be set around the case slot. Onto this is fixed a pair of flaps made from sailcloth and mylar, and this all sits in the ledge, flush with the hull. So this ledge requires some serious water proofing.

Slot detailsFor sealing this region, I intend to use thinned epoxy that will creep into the endgrain and build up a tough barrier. I have been trying to identify my container of TPRDA (epoxy thinner), I have several misty old bottles that are without labels, I have been testing their contents epoxy and have made some odd concoctions. None of which are trustworthy. I will have to buy another tube of it.

Laminating the centreboardDuring all of this I have been laminating up the centreboard. I initially worried about clamping such a big beast, particularly clamping it flat! Robert suggested I use Purbond for the lamination, because it does well filling small voids as might occur when you cannot clamp such a big item. The clamping went well with a nice flat bench and my pair of aluminium painter’s boards that I normally stand on to work on the hull.

Now to scribing the waterline….After that I will be in world of congealed snot, aka Fibreglassing.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Still topping.

Epoxy screed

Epoxy screed

It is funny how I cannot give up being anxious over this hull bottom. If I were to sit with a psychiatrist I am sure they would diagnose some sort of obsession mixed with fear of completion. I am rationalising it by arguing the boat will never be upside down again…


I expect the last thing you want to be going is working on it lying on your back, cursing the past when it was all at an arms length, waist level.

The other thing I am wrestling with is those little wicked creatures that sit on your shoulder and whisper in your ear, suggesting this or that.

My particular creatures come from the sail boat racing world, where speed is everything. The creatures are echoing my old racing friends criticising my choice of boat, questioning the rig….will it go to wind…blah blah blah.

I distinctly remember how impressed my friends were at a crew spending the morning before a race, wet sanding the boat for that extra speed. How dull. I recall discussions of re-fairing a hull for the next season (further cringing). I do not know why this bothers me.

So it is fair-ish. As you can see in the photo, I have screeded it. I used a builders trowel and epoxy thickened with micro-baloons to a fluffy-sloppy consistency. You will notice the wood showing in places, suggesting I have done some degree of levelling.
It still looks lumpy to my eye.

I asked Sensai Ayliffe for his opinion, and he gave me the “…but grass hopper, are you happy?” line. Exasperating.

He did suggest I lob off the forefoot and replace it with an epoxy-made sacrificial one. Which to my reasoning seems much easier than studying the fairness issue. So I bolted after this distraction.

Mould for sacrificial forefoot

Mould for sacrificial forefoot

Bow details

Bow details – how cool!

Posted in Epoxy, NIS, norwalk island sharpie, Robert Ayliffe | 9 Comments

Bottom topped.

Is work/life balance a thing to chase? Is just the energy spent chasing it, or feeling like you should be doing something wrong, destructive?

I am starting to think you can burn yourself out just worrying about the balance.

If your’re lucky, you will like your job and this makes spending time at work easier. I do enjoy mine, and it is rewarding. This year Kate has moved from focussing on her design business, to helping me redesign mine. She is a mighty talent, and I’ve never felt better about where it is going. However, on this boat build blog, this is starting to sound like an excuse.

The Sharpie has been a little neglected. I’ve made some pleasing progress. But it does mean the boat is not ready to turn over. Most of the past months have been fixing my unfair bottom.

Last weekend I afixed the third layer of 6mm ply just in time for some international travel. It felt so good leaving having reached a big marker like that.Last layer on, looking aft

I thought it would be helpful to detail the process of putting these strips on the bottom because there are some subtle shortcuts that I had learned by the last plank. I hope these help you, dear reader:

  1. Rip up your planks to 200mm wide in advance. Don’t be precious with the cuts, just make them as parallel as possible.
  2. Use weights to lay out each plank on the boat and mark off where it needs to be cut.
  3. Note any spiling that is needed. This does not have to be perfect. I had to narrow the planks at the end by upwards on 6mm. I did this by marking what I thought needed to come off the plank ready for planing.
  4. Rough cut it to length with a small hand-held circular saw.
  5. Plane off the excess at the ends to spile the planks . I use a Stanley rebate plane with guide fitted, it can fair long cuts and trim for spiling the very quickly whilst keeping the edge square.
  6. Refit the plank and check the spiling. It does not have to fit perfectly, a fit within a three millimeters is acceptable in my book and has been confirmed by Robert Ayliffe. If needed, mark for further spiling and plane off some more.
  7. Whilst the plank is back on confirming its fit, trace where it sits on the hull so you know where apply the glue to. Leave a weight on each end and number them in a way the orientation on the hull is clear.
  8. Trim up the next piece. You will need lots of weights. The further you can glue up in one session, the less cleaning up there is. If found I could do four to six at a time.
  9. Once the strips are cut and spiled, stack them in order.
  10. Starting at the fist plank, give both surfaces a light spray of water, then spread out the Purbond with a spreader, I found a 100mm wide works well. You will note the purbond goes whitish and begins foaming, you want to be clamping before it really takes off, so you can’t spread more than a full plank
  11. I think the most effective clamping is screws with plywood washers. The plywood washers need to be covered in brown packing tape to keep it removable. You will need a screw every 150-200mm. Even with the screws the pressure from the foaming purbond can distort things. So stagger the screws and put others in where needed. The critical areas are where the planks meet, so I overlap the washer from the next plank to the previous to help the mating.
  12. You will need to do some clean up as you go, as with any glue, it’s harder when it’s harder.
  13. Once you’ve gone as far as you can, keep cleaning up. The Purbond will keep oozing.
  14. When it’s set, remove the screws and clean up. If you have enough screws, you can just remove those on the leading edge and cleanup the squeeze out so you can continue gluing. A sharp chisel followed with a sander does well cleaning up.
  15. So there you are, after all that, all I have left to do before turning over is trimming up and rounding the chines, cutting in the centreboard slot…and…probably some serious sanding final fairing and the ‘glassing and then more sanding, then painting and then………..something else I’m sure.

Last layer on, looking forward

Posted in Epoxy, NIS, norwalk island sharpie, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

It’s not fair!

If you have young children you’ll recognise the other meaning of this exclamation. Actually it’s not an exclamation here, I did expect to have to fair this hull, but I didn’t expect to have to do it so soon…

I think I failed when shaping the chine logs, not nearly enough attention to them, plus that first layer of 6mm ply can sag. Thus after the second layer lamination, I saw troughs that need filling before the last layer lands.



The process involves using epoxy thickened with ‘micro balloons’, they are fine balls that will sand easily but have a good compression strength (See BoteCote Pacific). You first wet the area with normal epoxy, then trowel the thickened epoxy on with a toothed scraper. I chose one with an 8mm tooth. The mix has to be just right, too dry and it is ‘flaky’ and too wet and the peaks sag. Too hot a day and you have no time to work, too cold and it will sag.

The tools.

The tools.

The toothed pattern left halves the sanding effort.

After you make your boat’s bottom super ‘groovy’, you hit it with a sanding board, aptly called a “torture board”. You get tortured and board all at once. If the board is long enough and you are careful, you will reshape the hull to perfection. The grooves are then roughed with a wire brush and filled in with more of the same thickened epoxy. A final sand brings the magic.

Torture and board

Torture and board

Christmas time in Adelaide can be too hot for this palaver, but luckily the season is just right, so I’ve poured time into this. It has been mindless and very physical but rewarding.

I would like to have been prepping for fibreglassing the hull and perhaps painting, and in my wildest dreams, turning the boat, but life got in the way and I am not unhappy.

Forgive the video, it is a bit long, even though I have edited out most of the scenes where I am mixing epoxy. The mixing is laborious, it takes most of the time, even the sanding goes quicker!

Posted in Epoxy, NIS, norwalk island sharpie, Shedcam, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Purbonding time-lapse.

I am still messing with time-lapse photography, I had intended for the entire build to be recorded, but the failure of the DSLR I had employed has left me high and dry. Leaving a replacement $3k camera bolted to the rafters is something I could not afford and setting up a remote control-able camera time-lapse system was out of my desire range. So I will settle with recording interesting snippets when they occur to me.

The action of this Purbond is fascinating, you will note it foaming during the clamp up, also watch for the bit towards the end when I dive inside the hull and prop up a sagging plank.

Posted in NIS, norwalk island sharpie, Shedcam | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments