Building the ‘Boat in a box’


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What are the necessary ingredients for a boat building workshop? For starters, adequate space is an essential element, and it was clear when I began building the Mana 24 our garage was not long enough for two 23 1/2 foot hulls to be constructed at the same time.

 

Even with only one hull set diagonally in the garage, the stem and stern posts could not be added. Fortunately, my quest for a better option was successful and a new place became available just a block from home – a heated two car garage, inside dimensions 23 feet x 23 feet, leaving space for two hulls to be constructed at the same time when placed diagonally. The garage is well lit, with cupboards, pegboard and counter on one wall for tools and supplies. It also features graphics that would gladden the hearts of professional sports fans in this part of the world – check these out:

 

Yes, the Saskatchewan Roughriders and the Edmonton Oilers have a solid fan base here. I do hope they are not offended to learn that I have no interest in professional sports – I just want to build a sailboat and go sailing!

Still, the new workspace is pretty fancy and I consider myself greatly blessed to have found it. With the help from a good sailing buddy, I have moved in and set up shop. As they say in the cartoons, on with the show, this is it!

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One of my favourite stories from my summertime job in a Vancouver Island sawmill in 1967 was the joke that workers liked to pull on naive newbies to the mill. They would tell the unsuspecting victim that a certain pile of lumber had been cut too short and would then send him in search for the “lumber stretcher” to remedy the problem. The unfortunate victim would go from one area of the mill to another, asking for the device, only to be told that he should try in yet another place, until he had covered most of the mill and someone would relent and let him in on the joke. Fortunately for me, the mill workers thought that a farm boy from the prairies would have too much common sense to be caught by such a prank and they didn’t pick on me!

Boat building does have a similar problem to that posed by the mill workers – how to make short boards into longer ones in order to build boats beyond the length of available lumber. Various methods have evolved in the history of boat construction, including the scarf joint (which we will encounter in a future post). The advent of CNC directed routers, able to cut out patterns with great precision, has enabled one modern version of “lumber stretching” that the Mana “cat kit” incorporates – the jigsaw puzzle joint.

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On the Tiki 21 that I built in the 90’s and on most of the modern designs from James Wharram Designs, plywood panels are joined, end for end, in a butt joint with a piece of plywood epoxied over top of the joint. This method is effective and requires no specialized scarfing equipment or expertise but it does not leave a smooth panel on the interior of the hull. The jigsaw joint used on Mana 24  gets around that limitation – a 100mm strip of fibreglass tape reinforces the joint instead of a piece of plywood.

 

The puzzle joint ensures that the joined panels line up correctly. I followed the advice from JWD and placed MDF board above and below the joint along with plastic sheeting, weighed things down overnight while epoxy cured, and the results were a nice smooth, 23 foot long panel.

 

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Every project must have a starting point. With some rough lumber sized to specifications at hand, work in the Mana 24 began. The pre-cut plywood pieces enabled me to go straight to preparatory assembly, adding bearers cut from the planed Douglas Fir to bulkheads, six bulkheads for each hull.

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Most of the plywood used for bulkheads has its first coat of epoxy already applied, allowing work to proceed quickly.

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IMG_1824 With the bulkheads completed I turned my attention to the cabin soles and bunks, adding doublers to the underside of each where required, and then adding the second coat of epoxy also to the underside.

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The forward section of the keels also has doublers, which were added, and once that was completed, I couldn’t wait any longer. I had to try a dry-fit with bulkheads 2, 3 and 4 set in place on keel. It is starting to take shape, don’t you think?

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Remember the clear Douglas Fir that I sourced in Edmonton? As lovely as it was when I bought it, it still wasn’t the size that is specified for the Mana 24. The 1 inch rough boards had to be cut down. The two sizes most commonly used in constructing the Mana are 15mm x 40mm and 20mm x 40mm. What was required was some power tools – a barely used Bosch table saw and an on-sale MasterCraft thickness planer were acquired. Slowly my shop has transformed from bicycle building with welder and grinders to boat building, with wood working tools that are much more to my liking!

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And the results? Yes, smooth, clear Canadian Douglas Fir ready to become part of a double canoe in the Polynesian tradition!

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Well, since you ask, yes, I mast.

Okay so enough with the play on words. And yes, that is my truck, and no, I wasn’t likely quite legal that day. Let me explain.

It was cost prohibitive to air freight lengths of lumber as part of the Mana 24 kit, and even more so to transport the aluminum tubes that make up the two masts for the boat. Thus began a search for a local source that could supply the tubes as spelled out in a message for JWD (James Wharram Designs):

“The masts we intend to use on the Mana are plain aluminium tubes grade 6082 -T6. 

“The mizzen mast is a 3” x 10swg (75mm diameter tube with 3.2mm wall thickness) and is 4m long.

The main mast is 4 1/2” x 10swg (114mm diameter tube with 3.2mm wall thickness) and is a total length of 7.3m (24’).”

After converting that to North American standards this was the result – required was a 24 foot tube with 4 1/2 inch outside diameter plus a 13 foot tube with 3 inch diameter, each with 1/8 inch wall thickness. Since Grade 6082-T6 aluminum tubes are not readily available in North America, the suitable equivalent is Grade 6061-T6.

I also learned that such pipes come in 20 foot lengths. That presented no problem for the mizzen mast but what about the main mast? Designer, Hanneke Boon, of James Wharram Designs assured me that the solution is to splice four feet of the 4 1/2 inch pipe onto a full length to get the required 24 feet. That process will be the subject of a future post, no doubt.

In March I found a local supplier, A.S.A, who agreed to order in 2×20 foot lengths of Schedule10  four inch pipe (outside diameter 4 1/2 inches) and one 20 foot length of schedule 10 three inch pipe (outside diameter 3 inches), each with a wall thickness of 1/8 inch.

The company was unable to deliver the pipes to our address, and hence, with the assistance of my brother’s bed extender once again, I transported them myself from the north industrial area of the city to our home in the south side. I did a quick measure before I set off to get my cargo. The distance from the front of the truck box to the back of the bed extender is 10 feet 2 inches – just slightly over half the length of the pipes. So that meant that gravity was in my favour – sort of, with the extender acting as the fulcrum.

With my heavy duty ratchet straps holding the pipes down, and with an ample red flag taped to the end, I set off from the warehouse, taking care to remember my long load whenever I encountered a sharp turn. Mercifully there were only a few of those, and I returned home without incident and equally importantly without attracting the attention of the local traffic constabulary who might have had some words for me.

With timber secured and tubing for masts at hand, we waited until the “Cat Kit” would ship.

Due to the cost of air freight from the UK to Canada, James Wharram Designs suggested that I source the lengths of solid wood required for building the Mana 24. That sounded like an excellent suggestion and it was, but it did lead to a surprise. I was surprised to learn the market for lumber had changed considerably since I built my Tiki 21 during the 1990’s. Mahogany lumber was not available at any of the lumberyards that I called in the area. Even the clear Douglas Fir specified in the plans and which is grown in Canada was  not available from local lumber yards in Saskatchewan.

After many phone calls and considerable searching on the internet, I found a supplier in Edmonton who could provide me with clear Douglas Fir, mahogany and iroko as stipulated by the designer.

On May 1, my partner and I headed west, and after the 5 1/2 hour drive, pulled up outside the warehouse housing W.G. Chanin Hardwoods. The owner, Gary Chanin, had recently broken his leg and was hobbling around the best he could on crutches and with a cast on his leg. We quickly learned that this is a one man operation, and we had to exercise patience while he attended to customers who were there ahead of us,

This provided me an opportunity to snoop around a bit. What I saw still amazes me. In this dark warehouse space there is a collection of exotic hardwoods from around the world that made anything I could have imagined pale by comparison. The photos, shot on my iPhone in poor lighting, only hint at the treasure that is contained in that building.

Gary finally got to us and showed me a pallet of clear Douglas Fir, still wrapped in plastic, which he had recently received. He invited me to pick out the pieces that I needed while he took car of other customers. The shipment was all one inch rough sawn lumber in varying widths and in lengths up to thirteen feet. It took some time for me to select sufficient boards to meet my requirements and load them on my mid-sized truck. Fortunately I had borrowed my brother’s bed extender and that made it possible to carry the long pieces.

We still needed the mahogany.  This required Gary to expertly shuffle many different piles of lumber around with his forklift until he found the correct pallet that held some lovely pieces of mahogany. Once the two required pieces had been extracted,  he then had to return everything to its allocated space.

This left us with only the iroko – one piece was all that was needed. In my multiple phone calls preceding the trip, Gary had assured me that he could supply me with iroko – something that other suppliers had not even heard of. I am quite confident that somewhere in those stacks of lumber, there are some iroko pieces but Gary admitted to me that he did not know where and suggested that he substitute something similar.

Considering that the day was quickly coming to a close, I conceded with some reluctance. Gary produced a lovely piece of Burmese teak that he assured me would be more than adequate for my needs. Without asking the price, I agreed and I loaded  the board on the top of the other boards. While Gary went to tally the bill, I proceeded to tie everything securely and attach flags. It was only after he presented me with the invoice that I discovered that Burmese teak comes with a premium! That one board, measuring approximately six inches wide and ten feet in length, cost just over $250!

 

 

IMG_1749On July 19, after clearing the paperwork through Canada Customs in Calgary, Alberta, I took delivery of Kit #3, a wooden crate containing the CNC cut plywood components plus sails, hardware, lines and fastenings required to build a sailboat. The Mana 24 is the first kit boat to be sold by James Wharram Designs. The prototype  boat, #1, designed by James Wharram and Hanneke Boon, was launched in the summer of 2016 at Cornwall, England.  Kit #2 was shipped a week ahead of mine to another boat builder in Norway.

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On my return to Saskatoon, I unpacked the crate, moved  it into our garage, and reloaded everything back in the crate until the time construction would begin. I was pleased to see the plywood components had been packaged to facilitate the construction process with parts sorted into various steps as well as port and starboard sides.

Summertime is for sailing boats, not for building them, and I still had my WindRider 17. Little did I know that my sailing was not going to amount to much – other events and the weather played a role in that.

No worries. With the kit at hand, it was now time to get prepared for the winter ahead, assembling tools and locating a heated workshop.