It has been a while since we have had a reader story – it has been worth the wait. Chris has been asking questions and posting photos of his build on Woodenboat forum for a couple of years now. This is the first part of a two part story. Enjoy. Chris Smead writes:
Hi Andrew! I started building my sheet-ply version sometime in mid-2019, with great inspiration from those who have gone before me on chebacco.com! My wife and I have four kids and live in a Virginia Beach neighborhood which doesn’t allow building projects outside. I chose the design partly because it seemed like the “most boat” I could build and store in my garage!
Dude, look at this picture (from chebacco.com). I don’t know who this is or where this photo was taken, but look how many adults and kids are just having a blast on this thing! It’s like a sailing adventure party and it fired up my imagination.
I started out laminating the spars, trying to get used to epoxy and how to work with it.
I think that’s the boom, oblong in cross-section. I used cypress. I still haven’t made the mast, which will be fir, but the rest of the spars are made and just waiting for fittings/finishing.
I hired these guys to be the crew. This picture was taken in 2019 out by Lynnhaven Bay. They look so small now. Two years makes such a big difference with kids. Don’t they look like they need a boat for adventures?
I remember laying out all these huge plywood sheets in the garage back in 2019, making straight lines and cutting with the jigsaw. You can see bulkheads and the temporary forms up against the back wall. On the ceiling is the other boat I built, an awesome 8’ Dave Gentry skin-on-frame sailing pram. Maybe it could be the tender one day? You can probably see that I have to work around lots of clutter. Our little garage serves many purposes besides boat building. It’s hard to keep it all organized, especially as the boat evolves. The curvy parts were more interesting and fiddly. This is the making of the stem pattern, bending battens over nails. This made me feel like a real boat builder, instead of just a jigsaw handler for straight lines on plywood. I made the inner and outer stems at the same time, thinking this would SURELY make them line up perfectly when it was time to attach them. (They didn’t, but it ended up working anyway.)
Here is the inner stem being laminated. It was hard to keep the layers aligned. I would have tried another system to hold everything in place if I had it to do over again. Luckily, it worked out anyway and there was plenty of wood left for the bevelling, which I messed up anyway. I needed more clamps. I still need more clamps. The thing is, it’s hard to make the inside surface smooth once all the epoxy cures because the surface is so concave and I don’t have a tool to match. A smoothish surface is needed later when fiberglassing the joint between the stem and the plywood panels on the inside, especially up near the breasthook.
Then, I got to shape the stem with a planer and a file. It’s funny, I tried to keep the bevels symmetrical as I did this, but I got off track somehow and didn’t realize it. In a later picture you may be able to discern the consequences of this mistake. If you look at the bow straight on, you mayyyyybe might see a slight asymmetry. It worked out alright, and I don’t think anyone would notice by looking at the boat now, but I will always know…
I tried to construct the hull bottom (which is flat athwartships, of course) using Payson’s method of fiberglass butt joints. Why did I make my first attempt upon the largest joint in the whole boat? You are right to ask this question. I messed it up. It’s supposed to go: Wet out fiberglass tape and ply ends with epoxy, lay out on (plastic-protected) floor, wet out new ply ends, apply fiberglass tape on top, saturate with epoxy and squeeze out bubbles with a painter’s edge.
I’m not sure if you can see in the picture, but there are a few air bubbles under the fiberglass tape (somehow). I had to perform some surgery on the big joint. Then, I had to completely remake the small forward joint. Maybe I didn’t measure the epoxy components properly? Nearest the bow, I remade the joint using some thickened epoxy between the butted edges. I also needed to make a small fillet, as the forward section of the bottom is made of Okoume 12mm, whereas the rest of the bottom is made of Doug. Fir 5/8″, which I had on hand. I know, I know, “Why would you try to make a flat panel out of different thicknesses of plywood?” Next time I will not be doing that, as it adds too much complication.
Humbled yet again, I sat in a chair for a long time thinking about what I could’ve done differently. Payson made it sound so simple in his book! Anyway, I laid some blue tape and a straight line and measured offsets to join my side panels. I used lots of epoxy this time to really saturate the tape. Yes it ended up on my floor. I also used a bit of thickened epoxy in the actual joint (I think this helped). Then, after using a roller to remove air bubbles, I lay down some saran wrap and plywood and screwed it down just to hold it together. I was nervous to look the next morning…
They actually turned out great! I then carefully laid out the strongback with a straight string. I put it on casters so I could roll it slightly out of the garage when working, since otherwise the transom is right up against the wall.
I recently learned that my neighborhood association will not allow permanently stored boats or boat trailers on the property. However, after fuming about it for a few days, I realized there would be a few advantages to storing the boat permanently in the garage, especially during hurricane season. Also, the finish might hold up longer, etc. I’m building the boat 5″ shorter than in the plans so it will fit in my garage. Trust me, I thought about all kinds of ways to build out my garage door so I could keep those 5” but didn’t come up with a reasonable solution. I briefly investigated the practice of scaling a boat’s length. It seems that boats often get stretched more successfully than “smooshed,” but we’re only talking about 2.5%, so I think it’ll be fine. Here’s hopin’!
Moving forward, while measuring things out, every 4′ becomes 47″. Things got more confusing than I thought. Here is the first bulkhead up at station 5.
I had trouble making sense of the plans regarding the transom bevels. After sitting and scratching my head for a long time, I cut some wood and made this.
I left the transom with some curve on top. This was meant to be an experiment in motorless cruising, so I didn’t see the need to cut out the motor mount yet. I know Chebacco was specifically designed to take an outboard, but I’d prefer to leave it off. I’m willing to take more time to account for tides, winds, etc., and possibly extra sail. I also realize I will need to build in safety features that don’t depend on an outboard. I am open to suggestions in this regard! My mission is to take the whole crew island-hopping in the Chesapeake Bay and Albermarle Sound over multiple days, albeit with primitive accommodations.
Here is where I noticed I had somehow messed up the bevels on the stem. See the humongous gap? I had to do some re-thinking, then some re-shaping, and later some generous gluing.
There are 7 “frames,” including the transom, which are attached to the strongback. Only Frame 4 and the transom have vertical levels specified in the table of offsets, as far as I can tell. I tried to guess at the remaining 5. After this, I lay the side planks on the frames. It took HOURS to adjust the heights of the frames to make them look right. Since the side planks are vertical, they have defined marks from the plans for placement on the frames. These fore-aft marks on the planks lined up remarkably well with the frames.
See how the bow wants to stick out of my garage? It’s a good thing I measured so carefully! I was so proud of myself. Later, when I flipped the boat, it did NOT fit because the pointy bow hit the upper rolly part of the garage door. Why hadn’t I thought about that?
I had a tough time fitting the “bilge panels” in the forward section, but got it done with some straps and clamps. Maybe I should have laminated it instead, but it wasn’t too tough. You can see I also fit the keel pieces! The centerboard case is in there too. Trust me. This is a messy job, but the end product is quite satisfying!
I spent some time on the inside fillets of thickened epoxy but decided to leave the fiberglass tape for when the boat was right-side up. I did fit the sheer stringer. Maybe you call it the clamp? Here is the ugliest part of it, where I scarphed in a piece and tried to make it look like it belonged there. Luckily, this piece will be under the deck behind the cockpit coaming and will not be visible in the finished boat. Here is the test with the centerboard pivoting in its case. I had to do some sanding with a long stick to smooth out the epoxy on the inside of the case. Once I got it working, I shaped and ballasted the board. I used some lead shot I found combined with some ingots I ordered online. I painted it with some red leftover Rustoleum hardware store paint. I mean, only fish will see it, right?
I spent some time fairing the hull. I used West System fairing filler with some silica thickener. By this point, it was much harder to see the asymmetry between the topsides at the stem!
Oh, and I started messing with an offcut from one of the spars to see if it could become the Jonesport cleat. I really like the look of the Chebacco bow, so I wanted to get this piece right!