Monday, April 2, 2012

The Varying Flavors of Victory

The PocketShip manual is insufferably optimistic.  It's invariably happy.  Upbeat.  This is in many ways a good thing.  It imbues the reader with a it's-not-to-hard-you-can-do-it warm fuzzy.  And it's true.  Building a boat is a long series of little steps, all of which can be done.  However, what the PocketShip manual does not tell you is that the actual experience of boat building is not invariably happy and upbeat.  There are moments of sublime pleasure, proud accomplishment, transcendent joy.  And there are moments of utter terror, pain, frustration, confusion, and disdain.   This last month, I've been riding the emotional roller coaster of boat building. 

Things started off on the wrong note.  I noticed (why didn't I see this before?) that I had accidentally rounded over the UPPER edge of the starboard sheer clamp/cabin deck carlin, instead of the lower edge!  After assessing the situation, I realized that there was really nothing that could be done except accept it.  Once that bit of timber gets planed down to accept the cabin deck, it'll be barely noticeable inside the cabin.   

Port dorade box, stitched in
With that moment of defeat readily dispatched, I tackled the dorade boxes.  This was a pretty straightforward stitch and glue operation.  The only thing that I had trouble with was what angle to set the forward side of the box.  I ended up making it parallel to the forward cabin bulkhead, only to wake up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night after I'd filleted it in that I could have grabbed the correct angle off the plans!  That is, after all, why there are plans to begin with.  After glancing at the plans, I confirmed my suspicions...the outboard ends should have angled forward.  I've more or less internalized the remaining steps in the build, and consequently haven't looked at the plans or manual for months...I guess that is the price to pay.  Anyway, there was nothing I could do about was in there permanently.

The fillets that made my mistake permanent.
 So far in this project, I've had a couple of approaches to errors.  I've been known to scrap whatever went wrong and start over.  Another approach I've taken on occasion has been to cover up the error.  when those aren't options, there's always the accept it and move on routine.  But this time, I've had an epiphany, a leap forward in maturity.   Rather than just accept this error, I'm taking ownership of it.  This is my boat.  Not John Harris', not Dave Curtis', not Sean's, Pete's, Bruno's, Bill's, Jay's, Peggy's or anyone else's.  Mine.  Each boat has its own "errors,"  its own geometry, its own character.  Among other things, mine has dorade boxes which have faces parallel  to the forward cabin bulkhead.  It has them now, and it will have them forever.  No other boat will have the same combination of elements, perfect and imperfect, that mine has.   This is the boat that I have built.

With that out of the way, I decided to work out the bugs in the transom "skirt".  I decided to cut a brand new "skirt" out of a scrap piece of 3/8" ply.  I just happened to have one...exactly one...piece that was large enough.  After some head scratching, I figured that I needed to reduce the camber of the skirt by 1/4", and came up with a clever way to mark it.   I took up my pencil, batten, nails and measuring tape, and laid out a new skirt.  Saw to wood...test fit...and...uh oh.  Instead of reducing the camber by 1/4", I increased it by 1/4".

If you look at the middle of the skirt/transom intersection, you'll see that this is definitely not right.
Laminating my transom skirt extender.
I immediately realized the error in my method, laid out the correct curve on the bottom of the skirt and cut again.  This time the curve was right, but now I faced the same problem as many teenage girls have these days.  My skirt was too short.   I looked all over the shop for a suitable piece of 3/8" plywood to make new skirt from.  Nothing.  I considered a huge variety of options for moving ahead...install the old "bad" one and fill with thickened epoxy like crazy, laminate 2 pieces of 1/4" and make it out of that, buy a whole new sheet of 3/8" ply...  After sleeping on it, I decided that the 100% best thing to do would be to laminate a 3/8"x1/2" piece of timber to the top of the new skirt, thus making it the correct dimensions.  I did this and, to my immense relief, it worked great!  I bit of thickened epoxy later and the transom skirt became a permanent part of the boat.

New and improved skirt
Filleted in.


The next thing I wanted to tackle were all the cleats that will support the cabin deck.  The easy part are the ones that go on the inside of the dorade boxes.  The ones inside the cabin along the upper edges of the cabin bulkheads are trickier.  They are bound on one side by the "sheer clamps" and by the cabin deck carlins on the other.  Getting the lengths and compound angles just right it a lesson in trickiness itself.  For me it'd also prove to be an exercise in patience, frustration, fear, courage, and persistence.

I didn't realize all this in the beginning.  After being bitten by not reading the manual, I started reviewing the sections covering whatever I'm about to do before I do it (that was before having my epiphany...I largely set down the manual again, post epiphany).  It seemed like a simple affair: trace some patterns, cut some wood, et viola.  So, I traced a pattern, cut out a test piece of wood from some scrap, and found that I'd forgotten to take into account the fact that the outboard ends have to be beveled to meet the sheer clamps nicely.  With that in mind, I marked up another piece, this time a little bit long, cut it out, applied what I thought would be the right bevel and achieved...failure.  My angles were all wrong and, despite have cut out a piece that I thought was extra long, I ended up with a cleat that was too short.  This was going to be harder than I thought.

The saga of these chingaderos (see Larry Cheek's blog for a definition of his colorfully coined boat building term will continue soon.  But first, this is as good a time as any for a note to anyone reading this who is currently building a PocketShip, or is considering doing so in the future.  I highly recommend marking and cutting out these cleats before installing the inboard cabin deck carlins (the ones that run on either side of the companionway opening).  This'll give you room to mark and measure and fiddle with these parts without being constrained by the bookends of sheer clamp (I still dislike that term, but that's what the manual calls it) and carlin. 

Anyway, seeing the challenge ahead, I decided that rather than forge ahead with those fiddly bits, I'd work on something easy.  Like the seatbacks.

The last of the plywood become the seatbacks!
Unbelievably, I didn't cut out the seatbacks back over a year ago when I cut out all of the other plywood parts.  This is because the Pocketship manual makes some parenthetical comment about potentially making these based on your own pattern (measured from and fit to your boat) rather than using the pattern in the plans.   At the time I thought this was great idea.  But, in the intervening year, the weight of that suggestion seems to have decreased dramatically.  So, rather than fiddle around with making a pattern, I pulled out my last sheet of 1/4" marine plywood, unrolled the plans, and set to work with awl, pencil and circular saw.  This sure brought back memories!

The plans yield seatbacks that are sufficiently oversized to allow them to be trimmed back to fit the boat perfectly.  It took a couple of iterations in and out of the boat to get things fitting just right.
The setbacks really help define the final shape of the cockpit.
Around about this time, I also installed some thick timber backing blocks between the two seatback deck carlins (aka upper seatback stringers).  This will give a nice thick hunk of wood backing the seatback decks so that the screws holding things like mooring cleats will have something to sink their teeth into.

With this done, it was time for an epoxy seal-a-thon.  The insides of the seatbacks, the seatback frames, stringers, reinforcement blocks, and generally any bare wood that'd be enclosed in the seatbacks got a couple of thick coats of unthickened epoxy to seal them against moisture.  I also hit the cabin overhead with a couple of coats while I was at it, and the insides of the dorade boxes.

Epoxy sealing in progress.  Cold temperatures outside and limited floor area in the shop lead to anything not attached to the boat to be treated the the boatyard annex (a.k.a. upstairs in my house).

When the epoxy finally dried, it was time to start putting it all together.  The aft quarter or so of the seatbacks is a storage area accessible from the cockpit, so I had to cut two access port in the seatbacks to accommodate these.  There are some 3/8" ply reinforcements (if you remember, these were the very, very, very first parts I cut out on this boat!) that glue on to the insides of the access ports.  I neglected to mention it, but these were actually glued on while the sealing epoxy was drying and later served as guides for cutting the access ports.

Cutting out the cockpit storage locker access.
The forward three-quarters of the seatbacks are watertight and stuffed with foam flotation.  A la Sean's PocketShip, I drilled  holes in the watertight seatback frames at the forward end storage locker to accommodate screw in/out drain plugs to allow the watertight areas to ventilate when the boat is out of the water.  I also ran a length of black plastic tubing from the aft cabin bulkhead, through the seatback structure, into the cockpit storage lockers.  This will serve as a wire conduit for the stern light (and potentially anything else I decide I need electricity for back in the cockpit).  I don't want to totally spoil the surprise yet, but I have come up with a nifty way to get route the wires through the cabin into this conduit.  Stay tuned.

The hole in the bottom of the seatback frame is for a drain plug to go in.  Just visible along the very top of the hull is the black plastic tube that I'm using as a wiring conduit.
Here you can see the reinforcement blocks being installed.
The last of the foam flotation.  My PocketShip is now assured of having positive flotation.

I knew I was getting close when I found myself cutting up blue foam to stuff in the watertight compartments.  Once again, this went strangely fast, and was enjoyable well out of proportion with the actual magnitude of the act.

Epoxy sealing, check.  Reinforcement blocks, check.  Wire conduit, check.  Foam flotation, check  Seatback installation dry run, check.  Clearly, it was time to mix up the thickened epoxy and install the seatbacks once and for all.  While the thickened epoxy was flowing, I also installed the upper breasthook, and a piece of 3/4"x1" timber along either sheer line inside the cabin...the purpose of which I'm not ready to divulge yet.

In they go!

But the cockpit was where it was at.  This was victory, sweet, sweet victory!  The cockpit was transformed into something closely resembling its final form, and, coincidentally, became a very comfortable place indeed.  After cleaning up the squeeze out, I found myself reclining in the cockpit, just enjoying the moment.  Indeed this was a victory to be savored. The next day, after spending a few minutes pulling out temporary fasteners, I again found myself spending quality time reclining in the unfinished cockpit. Surely the cockpit is one of the finest features of Pocketship's design. It is roomy, inviting comfortable.  This is the boat that I have built.

The now fully installed upper breasthook.
The mysterious timber running along the sheer line inside the cabin.

Looking aft at the cockpit.

Fresh from the revelry of victory, I dove headlong again into those pesky cabin cleats.   I was on a boat building high.  I was unstoppable.  Port-side forward cabin cleat, round 3 was a disaster...the bevels got cut the wrong way.  No worries, mistakes happen.   The fourth iteration turned out a little better, but not good enough.  I intend to for these to be visible and varnished inside my cabin, so the fit has to be perfect.  Okay...gotta try again.  Number 5...getting closer...getting closer...ACK, NO, TOO SHORT, WRONG ANGLE, WHY DON'T YOU FIT.  Breathe.  As Ivar Hougland would say, keep clam.  Take comment.   Three hours since feelings of exultation.  Now?  Failure.  Despair. 




Things were bad.  I figured I'd take a day to regroup.  The next day, my throat was killing me, the first symptom of what was to be a nasty, late-in-the-season flu.  A couple days later I was feeling better, but had lost all momentum.  I couldn't do it.  I was afraid to go out into the boatshop.  And it got worse.  The longer I delayed, the bigger that stupid piece of wood loomed in my mind.   Days passed.  A week.  Two.   I went out to the shop one day with the best intentions, but instead spent time working on rehabilitating my increasingly decrepit garage door.  I finally go to the garage door to open, which allowed my to take a couple shot of the bow of my boat.


After wallowing for...way too long, I girded my loins for battle (figuratively).  I went out to the shop. I cut out a new, extra-long piece of wood based on my pattern.  I then very slowly and methodically worked away at it. I'd test fit the piece as best I could, make as close an approximation the the correct angles as I could, nibble away a tiny bit of material using the stationary belt sander, and repeat.  Slowly, surely things took the right form.  Within an hour...a long tedious hour to be sure...I had one done. 

The dragon had been slayed.  I expected some sort of emotional response; a hint of elation, perhaps.  But, there was nothing.  I had four more of the things to make.

Finally right!

I managed to get the forward center cleat right the first time through, though it has the least complicated geometry of any of them.  The forward starboard side cleat sent one hunk of wood to the scrap pile before things worked out right.  The aft cleats were done in one take, though I have to admit that this is more because I was running low on timber...the fit wasn't perfect.  Oh well.

A pass through the router and some quick sanding and the step-from-hell was behind me.  Now that the battle is over, I should be able to savor my victory.  Yet, for some reason, this victory tastes bland.  Perhaps the battle was too bitter to revel in its conclusion.  At least the fear has evaporated.  I can look at my boat once again, unwaveringly, and contemplate the next steps with peace and equanimity. 

In they go!  You can also see where I've cut out the holes in the forward cabin bulkhead for the dorade vents.


  1. Jon, Are you willing to have another Everett resident take a peek at your project. I'm on the verge of ordering plans from CLC. Somewhere in your blog you commented that you live a mile or so from Martin Lumber. I live a couple of miles north of Martin. My e-mail is
    Thanx, Dave.

  2. Jon, I think I have read all the current PS blogs with great interest as an armchair dreamer. I've returned to reread your blog because of your style and skills. Reading all the blogs, I ask myself what I would do to solve a troubling task. With the cutting struggles you had with the forward cabin bulkhead cleats, would tracing the top of the bulkhead full width and cutting one beam (cleat) be of any help?