By Paul Boyer - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - USA

Now, Where Was I?

Two months ago I walked out of my garage, midway through the construction of the rudder and cockpit seating for my Stevenson Pocket Cruiser. I thought I would be away for a few days while a midwinter cold snap passed through. But three snow storms, four feet of snow, and endless days of grey skies ransacked my plans. I huddled in my house like a refugee.

Rudder and stock

I tried to be productive. I finally tackled a long-planned bathroom renovation and repainted the kitchen walls. But I only visited the garage when I needed to grab a tool. I offered silent apologies to my boat, which looked abandoned and forlorn in the cold air and dim florescent light.

These long breaks can be dangerous for amateur boat builders. Momentum is lost and, as attention shifts elsewhere, the sense of urgency and excitement can dissipate. Once or twice, I looked at my boat with detachment and wondered why I started building it in the first place. Was it a temporary midlife madness? And if so, what do I do now? Not for the first time, I wondered how I could get rid of an uncompleted hull.

But as February passed, the icy path to the garage melted, temperatures inched up a few degrees and the outside world looked less forbidding. Skunk cabbage—a reliable precursor of spring—poked green tips through the shallow waters of a nearby marsh and, like other warm blooded creatures, I started stirring from my den. My thoughts turned to the boat.

With a warm coat, gloves, and hat, I went back in the garage, ready to pick up where I left off, but after so many weeks of inactivity, I felt like I was staring at someone else’s project. I found the rudder in several parts, epoxied but not assembled. I know I had purchased the bolts needed to put it together, but where were they now? Before the interruption, I was also preparing to cut the cockpit seat backs—I could see some rough lines scrawled on a sheet of plywood--but they now looked as mysterious as ancient hieroglyphics. What, exactly, did I have in mind?

It all looked so daunting, but I forced myself to start work. I found the missing bolts (they were still in the bag from the hardware store) and attached the rudder blade to the stock. I had already rough-cut the tiller, so all I needed to do was sand it smooth, drill two holes and bolt it into the rudder. Two hours later, the whole assembly was finished and I slid it into place against the boat’s transom. With the addition of this simple but unmistakably “boaty” mechanism, my wooden box is now looking more like a real sailboat. More importantly, I have something to do while sitting in the cockpit; I can swing the tiller back and forth while squinting into the imaginary horizon.


The next day, I was back out in the garage, trying to pick up where I left off with the cockpit seating. It didn’t take long to rediscover the purpose of my preliminary measurements and within a few hours the plywood parts were cut and ready to attach. I will wait for warmer days to epoxy sides in place, but the hard work is done.

With these tasks completed, I can count on one hand the steps needed to assemble the rest of the boat. The transom needs a motor mount, the hatch needs a door, the cabin needs its portholes, and the mast needs to be assembled. These are not small tasks, but neither are they hard or intimidating. And as the “to do” list shrinks, my sense of progress seems to accelerate. With each hour of work, I feel measurably closer to the end. I no longer feel that I am toiling without purpose.

Of course, one major task does loom large—fiberglassing. Following the instructions, I plan to glass the whole exterior, from bottom to top, but I have long dreaded this final hurdle. Word on the street is that glassing is time-consuming, messy, tricky and even a bit risky. I stumbled across an online post by a builder who was giving away his partially completed craft because he botched the glassing job and didn’t want to fix the mistake. The story sent shivers down my spine.

But even that fear is dissipating. Just before the cold weather hit, I decided to practice fiberglassing a few small parts. My goal was experiment on pieces that, if necessary, could be replaced, rather than risk catastrophe with the whole boat. I began with the sliding hatch cover.

Following the method recommended by a very helpful online video produced by West Systems, (link), I simply draped a piece of 3 ounce cloth over the board, then spread a thin layer of epoxy over the surface with a flexible rubber squeegee. Like magic, the fabric turned transparent, which let me know that it was sufficiently impregnated. The next day, I spread another coat and, following some light sanding, I then put down the third and final coat the day after that. The only “mistake” was some dripping on the edges, but the belt sander took care of that problem.

I will probably find some new challenges when I try to glass the entire hull. But what I learned is that—like so many other things related to boat building—a skills that seemed hard and complex in theory was surprisingly easy in practice. I may not do it well or efficiently, but I can do it. And for now, that is enough.

I suspect that I am underestimating the work remaining. Even now I am realizing that rigging will probably take some time to figure out and the sails will cause me fits. But after such a long delay and so many worries, I am simply pleased to be back at work, and happy with my progress.


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