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by Larry Appelbaum - St. Louis, Missouri - USA

Part One - Part Two

Author’s Note: I built 60 Grit during 1994 through 1996, thus the pre-digital photos. I scanned and touched-up the photos and wrote the article in 2009, but didn’t finish editing it until now in 2015.

My *ultimate goal* was a 20 to 25 foot shoal-draft coastal cruising boat, such as Karl Stambaugh's Mist, at 20 feet, or Reuel Parker's Terrapin 25. A boat that would be somewhat trailerable to Midwest Messabouts or Florida two or three times per year, but otherwise kept in a marina on a local lake or kept in the backyard at home to work on over the winter.

Joining Plywood Sheets for Side and Bottom Panels

Most of the construction photos are fuzzy, because they were taken with an old 110 film camera at night in my poorly-lit garage. A few years later I added more lighting, and since then I need even more. These are the 3/8-inch fir plywood sheets being joined to make the blanks for the side and bottom panels.

I had been day sailing my *first boat*, a Bolger/Payson Cartopper, for a few years, and really wanted a cruising boat. I really enjoy being on the water in the early morning and evening, just relaxing watching the birds, and not having to do anything or go anywhere else. I also like sailing around in the morning before the chop from the powerboats gets too thick and the sun too hot, then anchoring and relaxing for the rest of the day. From Friday after work to Saturday afternoon or evening is a common cruise for me.

Dynamite Payson Butt-Splice

I used the Dynamite Payson Butt-Splice, because the design needed the full 16 feet of the two sheets. I was leery of planing and scarfing at the time, and this was easy to do, strong, and looked good. But I've since learned how and really enjoy using a hand plane, and have gone to traditional scarfing for joining sheets and sticks, which is easier for me now. Also, okoume plywood comes in sheets a little over 3 inches longer than normal, which is enough extra length for scarfing.

So my *next step* was a 14 to 16 foot micro-cruiser, like a West Wight Potter 14 or a Compac 16 in a production boat. (I wasn't aware of the Montgomery 15 at the time.) Something to be easily trailered and launched, and kept in the garage at home for the time being. But of course I wanted to build my own boat even more than sail it, so Glen-L's Minuet, Sam Devlin's Nancy's China, both burdensome 15-footers, and the Norwalk Islands Sharpie 18 were the finalists. (I don't remember Jim Michalak's Frolic 2 being available at the time.)

The smallest, and I think the prettiest, of the three designs I was considering was the Nancy's China. I really wanted a boat with a yacht-like appearance, but was also seriously concerned about sufficient accommodations in the cabin. I had been able to climb inside a Compac 16 at a local dealer. It was yachty-looking, but the cabin, with only quarter berths and a spot for a cooler, was pretty tight. The answer came when I was able to climb into the cabin of Tom Grime's West Wight Potter at the Lake Monroe, Indiana, Midwest Messabout one year. "This is big enough!"

Ahhh, the Fair Curve

The key to the Potter's arrangements was the split vee berth in a fairly tall cabin. Of course I could lay down, as in the Compac, but I could also sit up comfortably, and there was room on the opposite vee berth to set up my backpacking stove and boil water for oatmeal and coffee. So the Nancy's China it would be. Overall it is slightly larger than the Potter, and the cabin is not as tall, but it would have plenty of space for me, Kingston (my new dog), and my camping gear.

Side and Bottom Panels Got Out

You can barely see the blue interior and yellow rail of my Cartopper boxed-in against the wall in the background. A moderate mistake I made when half-way through the two-year Nancy's China project was selling the Cartopper before the new boat was ready. I was being efficient, but missed having it the rest of that summer and the next. I took the half-finished Nancy's China to Rend Lake, and my Old Town canoe to Lake Monroe that year.

There were some mistakes made along the way, and also some good decisions. I ordered the plans from Devlin, which included a draft copy of part of his not-yet-published book, as a building manual. This was my second boat, and the construction method was somewhat different from the Cartopper. When Devlin's book became available and I finally read it, I realized it would have been a big help to have had it at the beginning.

Starting to Stitch the Bottom Panels

I used soft steel wire, which was recommended and turned out necessary for strength in certain spots. After the interior of the hull was epoxy-filleted and fiberglass-taped, I removed the wires by heating them with a soldering gun and pulling them out with a pliers. There were no problems doing this.

I knew nothing about boatbuilding when I built the Cartopper in 1990. The process went like this: I remembered studying boat plans like the Tahiti II in Mechanix Illustrated when I was a child or teenager, so twenty years later, I go to the public library near my old grade school, ask for the Mechanix Illustrated microfilm from somewhere in the 1970's, spool it up on the reader, and start flashing by so much stuff I remembered from so long ago.

Bottom Panels Stitched Together

The spacer is stitched down to the bottom joint to force the proper bottom vee angle. The supports mounted on the sawhorses are also cut to the proper angle. To the left on the wall is my Old Town Hunter canoe. It would eventually be replaced with a Swamp Yankee built custom for just Kingston and I.

I really had to concentrate on the ads in the back of each issue, or I could have been there for days. So I found Glen-L, Ken Hankinson, and Clark Craft. I wrote them, received their brochures, and a few dollars and a few more weeks later, had catalogs from all three. I also found WoodenBoat magazine somewhere, and Payson had a small ad in the back of it. So I wrote and got his catalog for a few more dollars and a few more weeks.

Bottom and Both Sides Stitched Together

I had a problem stitching the sides to the bottom panels near the bow. As you can see in Devlin's method, the sides overlap outside the bottom panels, but neat they bow they butt along each other. There is supposed to be a notch cut in the bottom edge of the side panels near the bow, but I wasn't able to figure it out from the plans. So my boat has a sharper chin than it's supposed to, but no one would know this. I finally figured it out after studying Devlin's book a few years later.

I was really interested in a micro-cruiser in the first place, but my wife and I finally found a house to buy, so I had to decide on a design so I would be ready to start building the boat when we moved in. The house had a two car garage which would be all mine; she was very grateful that we had moved back to our hometown. The original purpose of the house idea was to have a back yard for Kingston, but the boatbuilding idea came along while we had been living in the apartment.

Complete Hull Stitched Together, Except for Forward Bulkhead

(Yes, this is two photos joined with an X-Acto knife and Scotch tape. Such was my level of technology in 1994. I'm afraid removing the tape now would destroy the photos.) I decided to omit the side pieces of the forward bulkhead, which was mostly open, to allow unblocked sleeping space along the sides of the cabin. I thought the hull would be stiff-enough as I was going to build it, so this support wasn't necessary. This turned out to be a good idea, as it also allows better storage of oars, sails and my beach umbrella inside the cabin. I set up the umbrella at anchor, because I'm too lazy to make a bimini.

I had taken up canoeing while living in upstate New York near the Catskill Mountains, and started canoeing around the St. Louis, Missouri, area when we moved back. As I was paddling my 14-foot Royalex Old Town Canoe across Horseshoe Lake, Illinois, one hot sunny day, the thought came to me, "I could be sailing across here." I had briefly considered building a canoe back in New York, but now I became serious.

I really liked the stitch-and-glue designs much more than the older 1950's designs in the catalogs, and was already looking at the Nancy's China, which was in Hankinson's catalog. But I decided to go with smaller and simpler than I wanted for now, and ordered the Cartopper plans. This was a very good decision.

Hull Turned Over for Sanding and Taping of Outside Seams

(This photo was joined from two originals by computer, and is somewhat distorted.) I don't have any pictures of taping the interior of the seams. It was easy using three layers of -inch, 9-ounce tape, staggered by an inch or two. This is a heavily-built boat, as has already been mentioned, and will be mentioned again. The unfinished hull was turned over easily by one friend and myself, as it only weighed about 150 pounds at this point, was strong, and we were young.

From all the reading I had been doing, I knew how little I knew about how to actually build a boat, so I also ordered Payson's book, "Building the New Instant Boats". I followed Bolger's plans and Payson's book religiously, and the construction turned out very well. There were a couple problems where I took some shortcuts, later corrected, and learning to sail was much harder than I thought it would be, but was eventually accomplished.

Outside of Hull Taped and Glassed

I made an appearance of fairing the outside of the hull, by sanding down the selvage of the tape, and then smearing on some epoxy/micro-balloon/silica thickener putty. Later for my Swamp Yankee canoe, I made my own tape by cutting 4-ounce cloth diagonally into strips. This was wasn't a lot of effort for a small canoe, and left the tape edges much easier to sand down smooth - no putty needed.

The Cartopper was *very* seaworthy. I was put off by its tenderness and unreefable sail the first few years I was learning to sail, but then I started carrying a trolling motor battery and 4 gallons of sand for ballast. That set her down on her lines with me and Kingston aboard, and she was much more solid at a normal angle of heel. I also added a row of reef points to the boomless spritsail, but never really used them, having learned to depower the sail using the snotter and sheet with a stiff mast and sprit.

Cartopper and One-Third-Completed Nancy's China

The Cartopper oars are to Jim Michalak's plans. He rowed this boat and liked it. I actually used the trolling motor more than I rowed, sometimes just taking her out for a powerboat ride. You can see the sand jugs in the stern. I'm fairly skinny, so Kinston and the battery plus the sand brought us to about 400 pounds payload weight, which greatly increased the inertial stability. This made sailing in gusty winds and choppy waters much more comfortable for me, since I'm not very agile about quickly shifting my weight.

A bad shortcut I took on the Cartopper was using PVC pipe at first for the mast and sprit. It was cheap, easy to work with, not too heavy, but boy did it flex in a breeze. It was fine for light airs, but the sail always became parachute-shaped when the wind picked up. This was solved cheaply and easily by using a 10-foot piece of stair railing stock and a 10-foot closet pole for the new mast and boom.

The sailing stability of the ballast was the main reason I wanted a heavier boat at the time I was selecting a micro-cruiser design, not just for the cruising accommodations. But since sailing a lot more, and canoeing and kayaking in a lot of choppy water, I think I would be more comfortable with a lighter sailboat now.

Finished Cockpit Seats

I remember really tiring of taping and glassing by this point in the project, so I took a break to do some woodworking. Devlin's drawings showed the cockpit seats with two wide slats per side, but I thought the narrower park bench slats looked better. This doesn't provide any enclosed cockpit storage or floatation, which is an inconvenience and a concern. For another boat I would really have to weigh what to do, because these seats look so much nicer than plywood or cushions, and they are comfortable.

For the Cartopper's hull, I had used the high quality, waterproof, 5mm luan plywood that was commonly available at the time for less than $10 per sheet. I used System Three epoxy and fiberglass, and had no problems with it. So for the Nancy's China, I was able to obtain some nice marine-grade fir plywood locally at a good price to build the hull. This also resulted in a strong, durable hull, but was not a good decision.

Installing Cabin Floors

The center two sections ahead of the daggerboard case would hold 285 pounds of wheel weights mixed with cement for ballast. That's not a common practice these days, but does make for a stable but heavy-to-trailer boat. The two side sections and the forward section except the very tip would be for storage.

I was still trying to buy everything I could locally, as I had with the Cartopper. But after completing the bare hull with the fir plywood, I decided I better glass the inside also to keep the plywood from checking, as I had been reading about. This cost a lot of extra time, money and weight, and was necessary at that point. But it would have been much better to order the expensive okoume for the hull, pay the high shipping cost, and wait a few more weeks for it to arrive.

Completed Cabin Sole - Two Inches Too High

To be continued...

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