Little Boat Things

Recently, a new friend Troy Madlem said (my paraphrase) that he appreciated the boat process but that you had to wade through a bunch of fluff in my blog posts to get there. So here are a few little things about the boat without so much of the stories:

It all started with these balsa wood models that I made around age 13-16. At the time they were working boats, one had an air motor, and the others had sails.

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The dream became more compelling in 1972 when I was in high school and my dad bought this 16′ Marlin Scorpion with green metal flake paint. It had an 85 HP Johnson motor which pushed the boat close to 45 mph and your heart rate over a hundred. This was never known for sure, as it had no tachometer, speedometer, fuel gauge, or any other gauge, but it was capable of pulling a barefoot skier.

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My brother Joe and I took a few runs on Shavehead Lake in the early 80’s. We sat back on a knee board and stood up as the speed increased. I did enough to say I “footed”, but Joe got pretty good. A hard fall convinced me eventually to stick with skiing on the “Green Flash”, our O’brien slalom ski with a concave bottom that could really cut.

And so these little things led to the day I decided to make the dream a reality and build a boat of my own.

Below is the first stage of the process, a 1/5 scale model made of 3/8″ plywood, cherry and maple. The motor is thanks to Jeff Margush’s sculpting.

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Then, the model took a proportional weight test in the hot tub. At 1/5 scale, 1 pound is equal to 125 pounds in real size. So the 2 lb. exercise weight in the driver’s seat represents an adult man with the seat. The miscellaneous mix at the back adds up to the 420 lb. Evinrude 135 hp motor.

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Next, is a photo of the assembly of the cross frames. It shows the dowel assembly and the custom clamping that was often required for irregularly shaped parts. This may be overkill engineering, as the joints were then reinforced with plywood gussets.

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Here is a photo of shaping curved parts with a self-guiding router bit. Notice the bearing at the top of the cutter. I would carve or rasp that top edge to a fair curve and then rout the rest to join it. This was a cut and repeat method until it looked right.

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The strong back is the assembly that the cross frames are attached to. It is one of many operations in boat work that is eventually is removed from the boat, but is essential to get right if the boat is going to have fair lines.

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Then, the longitudinal stringers and structural parts were added. This is where a multitude of spring clamps shine, being easy to place in tight spaces.

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Eventually, the top stringers were added, being let in to the cross frames, sawn with a wonderful Japanese pull-stroke saw.

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To help match the stringers as they came forward, I clamped on the short sticks and torqued the pieces until the angles were the same.

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Here is Jeff Margush and his son Jason, installing the fiberglass fabric to be embedded in epoxy. This created much more stiffness and puncture resistance for the marine plywood core.

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By themselves, each of the steps above is a little thing, but when they are done well, and in combination with many other parts, become a thing of beauty. Here is our friend and favorite musician Jon Guerra, with his wife Val, my daughter Amanda and their friend Sarah.

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The title track of his recent album, Little Songs, is about offering the best of what we have as first fruits back to God, the words, the tunes, our hearts. It is an inspiring way to live.

Some unattributed author wrote, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”

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