Number 14, March 1997
We hit the posh mags:
Some of you may have come across the excellent new magazine devoted to boats and boatbuilding – ‘Water Craft’ – which is published by the legendary Pete Greenfield. You’ll recall that Pete started ‘Classic Boat’ and ‘The Boatman’, which recently amalgamated. ‘Water Craft’ is his latest venture – a bi-monthly mag with a very strong bias towards boatbuilding (unlike some other mags which seem to be committed to reviewing the latest millionaire gin-palaces).
I phoned Pete a couple of months ago, asking if he’d like to publish an article on the Chebacco boats. He looked at a draft article and agreed to commit himself to publishing a major article on the Chebacco and its construction. Phil Bolger and Gil Fitzhugh have both contributed to the article, which will be illustrated with lots of photos of ‘Sylvester’ at various stages of construction. The article is due to appear in Water Craft number 3, to be published on 17 April 1997.
Subscriptions to ‘Water Craft’ (six issues) can be had for £16.50 (UK) or £20.00 (rest of the World) from:
Pete Greenfield Publishing,
Some Questions about Chebacco Building:
Dr Burton Blais of Ontario, Canada, has recently started building a sheet-ply Chebacco-20. He wrote to me with a list of questions which, I believe, are of general interest, so here they are, along with my initial responses to them.
1. What is the best way to set up a construction platform for assembling the hull? I am thinking of two parallel 20’ long 2×4 or 2×6 rails (straight and carefully levelled), with the frames and molds set at proper distances along the rails. I’m not sure about the best way to adjust the heights of the frames and moldsto produce the correct arrangement for assembling the sides, etc. . .
I used 2x6s, as you suggest. I reckon 2x4s wouldn’t be stiff enough, at 20’long. These were set up about 30” apart like a ladder with ‘rungs’ corresponding to the positions of frames and molds. The frames and molds were lightly attached to these to allow some adjustment to fit the topsides panels when these were attached. Gil Fitzhugh used a plywood ‘box girder’ for his strongback and this worked very well, too.
2. Exactly how does one go about affixing the stem cap solidly to the hull – is it bolted to the stem? If so, how is it bolted? (I presume this goes on after the sides and bilge panels have been attached to the stem).
Yes, it does go on after the sides and bilge panels are attached. I fixed mine with longish woodscrews in deeply countersunk holes. Really, the glass sheathing should make it strong enough without through bolting.
3. For the hollow keel, the plan mentions something about drainage holes, but I’m not sure that I understand what is meant here . . .
The hollow keel sections are free-flooding, and so need to be carefully coated with epoxy inside and out. Each hollow section is roughly triangular in shape, so I drilled a 3/4” hole through the plywood (on one side only) at each corner of the triangle. I did this, too, on the hollow rudder. Some builders have made the keel solid and I don’t think there’s any harm in that. For amateurs with limited woodworking facilities, however, the hollow built-up keel is easier to build.
4. For the plywood rudder, exactly how did you affix yours to the rudder post so that it holds strongly (e.g. even when there is pressure against the rudder)? Also, how did you affix the tiller to the post?
I strayed a little from the plans, in this case, because I happened to have some 1” dia steel rod for the rudder post, rather than the 2” dia pipe specified on the plan. I welded two, three inch long ‘prongs’ onto the post, which locate in holes in the frame at the for’ard end of the rudder. The whole lot was then sheathed in glass and epoxy and is very strong. The tiller is made with steel ‘cheeks’ in way of the post. A tightly fitting stainless bolt goes through both cheeks and the post. This would certainly be easier to get right with a 2” post. Play in this joint can be most irritating when you are sailing, as I found to my cost. I fixed the problem by drilling out the holes and using a larger size bolt.
5. Exactly how does one remove the two molds once the hull and cuddy have been assembled (do the molds not become entrapped within the structure?)? Does one simply ‘hack’ them out?
6. Do you recommend installing styrofoam for positive floatation and if so, where should it be placed?
I haven’t installed any in ‘Sylvester’, on the grounds that she’s a wooden boat and would be quite buoyant, even when swamped. Some owners put in 2 or 3 hundred pounds of internal ballast, and the case for buoyancy would be considerably greater in these boats. If I were to install some, I’d put it under the side decks and under the benches.
Burton later emailed me with an account of how he is going about the construction of his boat:
As you know, I am still very early in the building process, and am very much a novice, and so I fear I won’t have much interesting material to relate. However, I’ll tell you a little about what’s happened so far in my Chebacco building enterprise:
First, I should indicate the type of workshop facilities and tools I have to work with. I built my small workshop several years ago to suit my modest woodworking needs and the Canadian climate – the entire building (which is insulated against the cold -it can get to -30 C here in Jan. and Feb.) is only 12′ X 20′ , and much of the space is taken up by benching and work stations set up along the walls. Despite this, I did manage to build a 15′-long Bolger Gypsy in this space last winter. However, the experience taught me that I would need a larger, less encumbered space to build the 20′-long by 7.5′-wide sheet ply Chebacco. Thus, last Fall, I completed construction of a temporary 12′ X 30′ shelter behind my shop. This is built of a 2 X 3 spruce lumber frame covered with a blue polyethylene tarp (this is an inexpensive woven tarp commonly available in North American hardware stores). In spite of the sunshine and strong winds in our area, I hope that this tarp will last through to the end of next winter (1997-98), when I expect to have my Chebacco completed (or nearly completed – a lot will depend on the availability of funds, and other circumstances). Thus far the tarp seems to be holding up well through the worst of our winter, although its getting a little slack in places (I must remember to see about tightening it so it doesn’t flap too badly in the wind).
As for my workshop tools, I have what I consider to be most of the basic woodworking tools (at least, the necessary equipment for my other woodworking passion, furniture building): e.g., 10″ Delta table saw (this is the inexpensive table top model, with a carbide-tipped blade – this saw doesn’t owe me anything, having given me much service over the past 8 years), a small Delta bandsaw, a scroll saw, a compound miter saw, a router, a lathe, and of course, a skilsaw, a jigsaw and a a belt sander. But my real gems are couple of really nice Stanley handplanes and an old cross-cut saw I found in an antique shop! So armed, I proceeded to tackle the problem of building a sheet ply Chebacco…
At this juncture, I should point out that I am trying to build my Chebacco as economically as possible, yet aiming for a good quality boat in the end. I should state that, as I live at least 10 miles from my intended cruising grounds (the St. Lawrence river, near Morrisburg, Ontario), my Chebacco will spend most of her life on a trailer under a tarp (as does my Gypsy right now). This fact does influence my choice of materials. For plywood, I am using construction grade 1/2″ fir 5-ply (good one side). Now, I know that there are many critics of construction grade plywood in the boatbuilding world. However, marine grade is simply not an option for me because of its very high cost in my area ($90.00 CDN a sheet for marine fir plywood!!). I have contacted the Canadian plywood association, who inform me that all plywoods maniufactured in Canada these days, whether marine or construction grade, uses the same types of waterproof adhesive. The main difference appears to be in the quality of the plies, finishing and the number of voids (the latter factor being of crucial importance to the boatbuilder). I have searched far and wide in the lumber yards of eastern Ontario, and have found that there is considerable variation in terms of quality from one dealer to another. I have learned that there is some pretty terrible plywood on the market these days (both marine and construction grade), and that one has to have a very discerning eye in chosing either type. After searching, I have found a supplier who stocks what I deem to be fairly good quality construction plywood. After much cutting and handling so far, I have found this plywood to have few voids, and these are very small at that! I think that this material will suit my purpose very well. I do plan to use epoxy resin for the fiberglassing, and indeed, intend to fully encapsulate all plywood parts as other Chebacco builders have done. I believe that this (and proper regular maintenance of the boat once in use) will be the main factor in ensuring the longevity of my boat. Now, for epoxy, I did consider going the popular route of WEST System or EAST System products. In my area, the cost of these is roughly $120 (CDN) per gallon. However, recently while surfing the net I came across a company in Florida, Raka Marine, which sells a 2:1 marine epoxy at discount prices. I figure that even after taking into consideration the currency exchange rate and shipping charges, this product will still cost about half of what I would pay for the more popular brands. Anyway, I am going to try it out, and perhaps later next summer will be able to report on how the stuff works. As for the actual construction process, right now I am limited by cold weather. I have been doing whatever I can in my small heated workshop: thus far I have cut all of my frames and molds, assembled the transom and its framing, and put together the stem and stem cap. By the way, knee pads are an absolute necessity for laying out frames, etc., on the plywood – I wish I had thought to get a pair when I built my Gypsy! For cutting the frames and molds I used both a skilsaw and a jigsaw, as necessary. It is very difficult to cut a nice smooth curve with a jigsaw, and I may have to do some planing and epoxy puttying later (note that, since most of the side and bottom edges of the frames will be set in epoxy putty and taped to the inside of the hull at the assembly stage, a slightly “wobbly” edge should not be too critical).
I laminated my stem and stemcap using the 1/2″ ply and epoxy (not the Raka marine stuff, which I haven’t ordered yet). The result was the ugliest looking two pieces of wood I had ever laid eyes on! The stem is laminated from seven pieces of plywood cut with the jigsaw, and boy, talk about multiple wobbly edges! However, I persevered, and began be cutting a bevel on the stem to start giving it its proper final shape. At first this posed a problem: my jigsaw blades were too short for the job, and I broke two bandsaw blades trying to feed the stem through. At last, I was able to do a decent and quick job of it using my trusty cross-cut saw. The final surface and proper bevel were achieved with a blockplane and the beltsander. The aft curvature was worked with a combination of a drawknife and the belt sander. For the stemcap, which is laminated from 5 pieces of ply, tapering was achieved by laying the piece on its side and going at it with a blockplane, followed by smoothing with the belt sander. The result are a rather handsome stem and stemcap, if I do say so myself!
With all of this done, now I am beginning to attack the centerboard and its case…
Well, that’s pretty much all I have to report for now. As you can see, its not much in the way of accomplishment yet. Hopefully when Spring arrives in two months I can get some serious work done. Incidentally, I do intend to try making my own sails, when the time comes, as you have done. This will save me a considerable amount of money, but more importantly, I will learn something new.
News from Germany/Connecticut:
Bill Meier emailed me with an update on progress:
Dear Bill and other Chebacco newsletter readers, In spite of the fact that I haven’t written in probably more than a year (or has it been two years), I have been faithfully reading the newsletters and dreaming. My building plans were put on hold last Spring when my company offered me a one year assignment in Cologne, Germany. The opportunity to live and travel in Europe outweighed the boatbuilding schedule so the family and I packed up and moved. Recently, however, the rather damp and drizzly Rhein valley weather has driven me to spend my weekends reading boating books, magazines and newsletters to the point that I can think of little else but my lapstrake Chebacco, sitting patiently in my garage, waiting. The glowing reports by Frasier Howell of the Chebacco’s sailing performance have made the wait agonizing. The hull of my boat is completely planked, the CB trunk and bulkheads are installed and the cockpit is about half done. I didn’t know that there was/is a Bolgerlist newsgroup so I decided to vary from the construction drawings on a few points. I won’t know if the decisions were right for me until the boat is in the water for a while, but I thought I’d share them with you.
I decided to build a solid keel rather than the plywood sheathed one in the plans. I was concerned about the longevity of plywood, especially when moisture got into the structure and stayed there. I wanted a unit that could be easily replaced (i.e. not epoxied to the hull) in a few years. What I came up with after determining the price and availability of wood was to use douglas fir 2x6s laminated horizontally with plenty of 3M 5200 and bolted to the CB trunk and floors with bronze rods. The whole assembly including the bolt holes were given a good soaking in some Cuprinol I had left over from a previous project. For abrasion resisistance I used a 1x6x18ft hickory shoe that the local lumber mill gave me for free.
Was it worth it? I do know that it took quite a bit of work to get the shape right (with skil saw and hand planes). My work log is back in the States but I remember it being at least two and probably three solid weekends of work. It appears to be stable (not twisted or otherwise deformed) so far. I’m not terribly confident about the longevity of fir even with a Cuprinol bath but at least it won’t delaminate and I can replace it without too much difficulty.
All of the other timbers that will be in contact with the water, except the stem, are of white oak and are glued to the plywood with 3M 5200. I did some epoxy joint tests with my batch of white oak and was not pleased with the results. The 5200 seems to be fine, however, as long as it isn’t overclamped. The inside of the CB trunk has a layer of 6oz fiberglas cloth saturated with West epoxy. After the cloth was bonded to the wood, I filled the weave with two coats of epoxy thickened with West copper-based thickener to inhibit marine growth. The stem and all of the other dimensional lumber above the water line is ash, also glued with West epoxy.
The other point on which I deviated from the plans was to widen the cabin (slightly?) so that, in plan view, the cockpit coaming is a continuous, smooth extension of the deckhouse line. That leaves a side deck of about 1ft, which is on the narrow side but, as I remember, no worse than some other similarly sized boats I’ve sailed.
I’m essentially a novice with planking so I worked slowly and carefully to get the lines right and the scarphs well distributed and smooth. I worked the scarphs with a sharp hand plane (my trusty Record jack plane) and found it to be fast and easy to get a straight 8:1 bevel. I found no need for jigs or other special setups. I cut the plywood plank stock with a skil saw, leaving about 1″ extra on both the top and bottom for final fitting on the boat. The curves were gentle enough that a thin kerf carbide blade worked very well. A few passes with a hand pane were all that were needed to produce a fair curve on the completed plank.
Well, that’s where I am at this point. This week I was mulling over some of the rigging details when I found Chebacco News #13 on the Internet and decided it was time to report my progress?? and ask a few more questions:
I am concerned that, as drawn, the mainsheet will be right in the middle of things and will make it awkward for guests to move from side to side. How has it worked out for you? I’ve seen similar sized (18ft.) catboats and some classic gaffers with the sheet attached only to the aft end of the boom and cleated to the aft of the cockpit but I’m not sure that the Chebacco boom is rigid enough for that to work. If people have found the layout to be a problem, does anybody have an alternative that has been successful?
As far as the topping lift(s) is concerned, I was thinking about running two so they would help to control the gaff when lowering the main and so I could use the windward one to keep the boom up when running free. What is the experience of the group?
I, too, will be going for the low-tech boom jaw approach and I’d like to know what you’ve done to keep the boom jaws down? Is the boom heavy enough to stay put or do you need a line to keep it down and control luff tension?
Thanks for all your work coordinating and putting together the newsletter. I am enjoying it immensely both as a sounding board for design / construction ideas and for reports of on-the-water experiences. If anyone would like to contact me directly, I can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and usually by the Deutsche Post at:
I’d like to reply that I’ve never found the central mainsheet to be in the way, though the end does tend to get ‘in your feet’, but this is the case with any mainsheet arrangement.
I like the idea of a topping lift either side of the mainsail. I must try to figure out how to add one without too much extra hardware.
The weight of the boom is certainly enough to hold the sail flat in any conditions I’ve encountered. I suspect a downhaul wouldn’t be worth the extra trouble.
Wanted – A Chebacco boat:
Douglas MacCoy emailed me to ask if I knew of any Chebaccos for sale –
Family interested in acquiring a used Chebacco boat, basic version. Please contact Doug MacCoy, 1089 NW 83rd Drive, Coral Springs, FL 33071, USA, or by e-mail at email@example.com. Phone 954-345-6483.
Sorry about the shortage of photos in this issue. I do have some that have been sent in, but haven’t got around to scanning them yet. I’ll save them for next time when I may not have so much text!
We’ve had an issue dominated by Chebacco coustruction. This is pretty interesting to most of our readers, but most also like to hear sailing yarns, too. I know that it isn’t sailing season in the Northern Hemisphere, so how about some of our Southern Hemisphere readers giving us some stories? OK – I know you’re too busy sailing . . .
News, views, photos etc to me
88 Grove Road,