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Builder Michael Ball - Australia; Ken Simpson, Designer

To Part One

Continued from yesterday ...

Michael chose to paint the interior of the buoyancy compartments. Looks great.

It must be restated that the plywood Michael used to build the Ultra-Pram was of very good quality, and probably heavier than the conventional ACX Grade recommended. It is also probably why he had trouble bending the plywood around the lower curve of the aft module, as harder grade multi-layer plywood is more resistant to this type of forming.

Another mention is the necessity for sealing the plywood in the buoyancy compartments. As noted, Michael chose to use a good quality paint, and it not only seals the wood, but looks good too. I usually recommend Thompsons Water Seal, as it penetrates the wood and adds an extra measure of moisture protection. It does have a down side, and that is it must be allowed to dry for 48 hours after application, and then all treated surfaces should be lightly sanded, if a finish is to be applied, such as paint or varnish. Otherwise, the Thompsons may prevent the finish from sufficiently adhering to the hull surface, and may peel over time.

This is a good view of the Rear Module nearing completion. The buoyancy compartment is sealed, the joints are all Taped and Glued, the gussets at the bulkhead are in place, and some panels have been sanded smooth. As the following photo shows, placement of the plywood seats is critical to comfort, and Michael has insured nothing comes undone by securing the seats with pegs, to prevent them shifting in rough waters.

The old saying that "A picture is worth a thousand words" is sure proven here.

Michael's Grandson is as anxious as he is to get this thing in the water. My guess is that all Australians are just naturally sea goers, and he is no exception.

As Michael will describe later, the little boat is stable and the high sides provide a good degree of confidence. Don't forget, this will be a salt water craft, and subject to the whims of the ocean. As a result, the bottom will be clad in epoxy, for better protection and hull longevity.

Are we ready to go fishing yet?

Looking in the background of the picture, you can tell immediately that Michael is a craftsman. Good tools abound, indicating a can-do person, and even a car door is no problem when it comes to repairs. I have commented to him that I envied his wonderful clamps, and the degree of finish applied to all the cuts and fittings. Big round holes (I mean round, not jagged), how does he do it ? Patience, I guess.

This is a photo of the bottom of each module, showing the epoxy coating. The necessity for this is the intended use of the Ultra-Pram in the ocean and its tributaries. The skids serve double duty as protection for the underside, and as additional support for the standing area above.

Bottom of hull modules epoxied and skids fitted.

At this point in construction Michael will take time to step back again and inspect all the work that has brought him to this finishing stage. Some things were difficult, to say the least, but with perseverance and determination, he has succeeded in building his first boat. I wish to thank Michael for choosing one of my designs as a first build, and for the fine work displayed in these photos.

The next pages will show the finishing paint scheme, and in water views, as well as a few words about the maiden voyage.

Top: The blue hull and tan interior are no accident. Michael wanted the Ultra-Pram to mimic the color scheme of his sailboat, pictured below. He has been working on this boat for some time, retrofitting it and refinishing it to new status. As they both serve a different purpose, each will play a role in Michael's boating life for some time to come.

Centre: This is Michael's other pride and joy, a Geoff Hawkshaw 012.

Bottom: The finished boat is 8 feet long and 4 feet wide, with 18 inch side panels. The light interior gives the boat a spacious feel, and room for 4 people is evident.


The aft view of the boat, and no name has been chosen to paint on the transom?

The oarlocks have yet to be secured in place, and pull handles will also be added.

The hidden motor mount slot allows for a clean transom, and will accept up to a 3hp outboard.

This is the finished boat, sitting on supports in the back yard. The flat sides and curved forward panels come together well, and the boat has a good working look to it, not an accident. With dry storage and ample under seat volume, Michael's family can enjoy a day on the water without the hassle of what to bring and where to store it.
The plans indicate the finished boat should weigh about 90 pounds dry. Michael has added quite a bit of extra material, including epoxy coating and foam filled compartments, as well as using thicker and heavier plywood in various areas. The net result is a boat that weigh in at about 150 pounds. As a result, Michael built a 2 wheeled dolly to assist getting the boat to and from the dock. A great idea, and well implemented.

Finally, in the water!

At water's edge. All systems checked out, and an OK to go from the Grandson!

It floats! Just seeing the boat in the water for the first time makes all the work and frustration worthwhile.


The following is Michael's account of the first time out in his Ultra Pram.

Maiden Voyage

After all the time spent making the UltraPram the day finally came to get the bottom wet. I had been ready for a week, but the weather was not kind. Finally the sun was out and I had the time. I loaded the 2 parts into my trailer, thankful that I had made the trolley as it made moving the 2 halves a lot easier. I was using this first voyage to find out the best position for the oars, as well as to make sure there were no holes left unfilled. I had made some blocks of wood with holes in them to clamp to the gunwales to allow me to move the rowing position about. I got out my trusty 30 year old 3HP 2 stroke outboard and started it at home to make sure it worked after 2 years of non-use - and it did!

I drove to the nearby Shoalhaven River where there is a boat launching ramp with a sandy beach beside it. Assembling the UltraPram I had some interesting looks. The motor was sitting a little high but the only way to fix that was to cut down the top of the motor mount; and once I was in the stern the propeller was just fully submerged so I have not bothered to cut down the mount. With the oar blocks, clamps and oars in the UltraPram, the motor fitted and camera at the ready, I pushed off a little way from the wharf to see how it felt. Very stable and only drawing about 3-4cm of water. Most importantly no leaks visible!

So having passed the float test I started the motor and checked manoeuvrability within the confines of the wharf and beach. All good; in fact the UltraPram turns in its own length when the outboard is hard over. So off into the river for speed trials!!! With the 3HP motor running close to WOT (wide open throttle) and one aboard I think I we got to about 5 knots. I will have to take my GPS next time for an accurate speed. There was no real chop on the water, other than that from passing boats, and they were few as it was a Friday afternoon, but the chop that was encountered was handled easily. In any waves I imagine that the UltraPram could pound somewhat depending on the height and spacing of the waves. But this is a calm water boat after all.

So, all in all, the maiden voyage was a success. I managed to establish the optimum location for the rowlocks; I was satisfied that the outboard motor would push the UltraPram along at an acceptable rate, there was plenty of freeboard and stability and most importantly there were no leaks.

Having established that the UltraPram was stable and leak free I invited my son and his son (my grandson) out to the beach to see my boat - the one that dad/grandad had spent all this time building in "grandads shed ".

The grandson was very excited to finally go out in the water on grandads' boat; not just stand in it in the shed! This was to be the first time that more than one person was in the UltraPram. We took it very easy to start with and stayed in the shallows near the beach to familiarise ourselves with the stability and handling. After being satisfied with the UltraPram we headed out into the river. With 2 adults and one 4 year old aboard the UltraPram was sitting very well in the water and was easy to motor and seemed to have lost no top speed. My son tells me it was easy to row - he is younger than me and therefor is the rower!!

We cut this first rip short as a storm was quickly building. To pull the UltraPram apart and get it in the trailer was not too difficult with 2 adults. As my UltraPram is well over the design weight, due to many factors, I think one built to the design weight would be quite easy to pack up by one person.

I hope to have many more fun filled days on the water with this little boat. Thank you to Ken for putting up with my many e-mails and I hope the next one I am building will not entail as many questions of the designer as I have learned many things during the UltraPram build. An important thing I learned is keep your tools sharp, and cheap tools are not cheap in the long run.

Cheers Michael

Since this was written, Michael has been out in the Ultra-Pram many times. As proof of it's maneuverability, the following photos, taken from one of his videos, includes sharp turns and straight line runs in the sound. The YouTube video tags are listed below, for your viewing pleasure. Needless to say, I am very pleased that Michael selected one of my designs as his first attempt at boat building. And, I am especially pleased that the project turned out so well. Because he took the time, invested in quality materials, and was not shy to ask questions, he now has a boat that he is proud to say, when asked, "I built it!".

Please click on the YouTube links below to see the Ultra-Pram in action. As you already know, plans for the Ultra-Pram, and many other great designs, are available from Duckworks Boat

Builders Supply. After seeing the videos, and reading this article, perhaps you too will be convinced that building a small wooden boat is not some impossible task. Just tell yourself, Michael did it and so can I.

Happy Boating,

Ken Simpson

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