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by Martin Pearce – Victoria, Australia

Once upon a time, when I was thinking of building a recreational aircraft, I decided that I was a buyer and a flier not a maker and mender. I now see that was wrong. I just did some adding up. I’ve designed and built a canoe, am building a modified flapdoodle, built a road/racing car from nothing but a bare chassis and a few panels, designed, built and flew an ultralight glider, modified another and substantially repaired a recreational two seat aircraft. Each time I’ve found enormous fun and satisfaction in designing and building it, or “improving” the original. sometimes not for the better! But you can always change it back can’t you!

So why build a boat?

My late Dad built two boats, a canoe and a little gaff rigged sailing dinghy. It was years ago that I designed and built a 17ft canoe, copying and modifying to suit what I remembered from my Dad’s canoe - ply frames, hardwood stringers and old fashioned canvas cover. Big enough for three and stable enough so we didn’t all drown together. It was light enough to pick up with one hand and we had lots of fun with it until one day a strong wind picked it up from its storage place (upside down at the edge of the lawn)  and threw it against the garage wall. Vale one canoe.

A number of years later, I purchased a 145 sailing boat. This is a 14½ft wooden boat and was once popular on Port Philip bay which can get steep choppy waves when the wind springs up which it does often in the summer down here in Victoria, Australia. We used the boat on an inland lake and again, lots of fun but definitely a two person boat, being well powered for its size. And my wife didn’t want to sail every week in the club races. So, contrary to the old (joke?), it had to go.

Having moved to Frankston, a bayside suburb of Melbourne, the water beckoned once more. Those wind surfers looked so much fun and so they proved to be. Despite being old enough to know better, I took it up, although I can’t say I was ever much good. However, I was sailing in the same water at the same time as a guy from West Australia set a world wind surfing record at 50 kts. WOW, was he flying along! I was mostly falling in! I was never happy with long fixed fins - to hard to beach start (knees don’t bend so well when you are 60!) and too hard to walk back to the starting point when wind and tide exceeded your sailing skill. So I designed and made a number of hinged fins and quick release fins to make life easier, with no adverse effect on sailing performance that I could see.

And then my ticker played up and I had to have a stent put in.  I found my stamina severely limited to the extent that I was concerned I might fall in and not have the strength to get back on the board. So what to do?

Flapdoodle was the answer!

I looked at all the folding, collapsing and stackable small boats, wanting something that looked at least moderately seaworthy (the bay is big and the wind can pick up unexpectedly) and was reasonably light. As I said to my Doctor at a recent medical check up, “I’m not likely to get any stronger as I get older am I”. He agreed. Hmmm...

The existence of a Flapdoodle forum was also a factor in deciding to build this boat. I previously have owned, maintained and repaired a  KR2 experimental recreational aircraft and found the group knowledge of  forum members to be very helpful.

Anyway, I thought 8ft might be a bit small, so decided to build the boat 25% longer at 10ft, and scaled the offset tables accordingly, with the intention that Bill’s designed hull shape be retained. I found a local plywood wholesaler who sold me three 10ft long by 5ft wide sheets, so no need to scarf the plywood. I have cut the top side panels down a bit (when I put the gunwale strips on) as they looked far too tall. The finished transom and bow plate are now just a little taller than the original plans so I should have plenty of freeboard.

Of course, 25% longer means 25% wider. More stability = good. More weight = bad. So I decided to do what the plans say not to, and use 4mm ply for the build. But I have cheated. I’ve laminated a 60mm wide 4mm thick stiffener all around the edges of the panels, and used two 4mm layers for the keel, giving 8 mm for the screws to bite into. I’ve also used pine for the gunwale strips because they bend more easily than hardwood. As always, building light has led to a bit more work.

Take from the bow looking at the port side.
View from the stern.

Pretty much everything else is as per plans, with sizes modified to suit, with the exception that I have decided to use homemade “Tee” bolts with captive nuts glued into the underside of the supports for securing the deck and rear seat. This is partly due to not finding a local supplier for the plans’ recommended  quick release pins, but also because I feel that this will provide increased stiffness to resist the twisting torques from the rudder and the mast. I am also adding a cover piece to the top of the front plate and the rudder support plate to capture and cover the top of the bow and stern waterproof canvas cover. This will hide the baggy finish to the fabric (I didn’t apply it with sufficient sideways tension when I glued it on) and also prevent (or at least minimise water ingress in the event of spray or a wave slopping over the top of the bow or transom.

In Victoria, if you fit any sort of motor, you have to licence the boat, carry inordinate amounts of safety gear and be licensed to operate the boat. That’s another good reason to plan on sailing it - no licence required, no registration fees and only the safety gear that you deem to be sensible for where and when you are sailing, as long as you wear a life vest.

I decided to make the mast and other spars hollow to save weight and used the “Coopers Mast” idea as expressed by Ed Davis under Masts in the “how to” index of the Duckworks web site. The main difference is that I used my hand held circular saw to cut the staves. After a few practices, I’ve ended up with one slightly bent yard arm (can tolerate ... caused by allowing the staves to be clamped together with the whole thing curved whilst the glue dried) one reasonable good boom and a nice straight mast, all different sizes to suit the duty. I plan to leave the mast octagonal and use an octagonal shaped clamp to positively secure the mast into the boat and the clamp will be closed by captive nuts and tee bolts so the mast is easy to erect and dissemble.

So far, and as expected, its not been a difficult build, and I’ve only needed the normal hand and hand held power tools. I have modified a few things, but not that many, and most bits and pieces have been easily found by using the internet to find local suppliers for things I can’t otherwise find at Bunnings (the biggest of the local handyman/hardware suppliers.) I think the most critical part of the build is to get the curves right on the panels, after which it is pretty much straightforward handyman type woodworking. I’ve found the parts to be easy to make, using the bits already made as jigs to create the next bit. There is a fair bit of making, temporary attaching, removing, reattaching etc until finally gluing the part in place, but that is normal when creating anything.

So there we have it. My boat is now about ¾ built I guess. I just need to finish off the front deck, make the centre seat support, add the mast step and locating bracket, hang the rudder and make the lee board and then paint/varnish everything.

If you have any questions about the flapdoodle, please address them to the Flapdoodle forum. It’s free and it’s there to support you and all the rest of us builders and users of the Flapdoodle dinghy. I am the moderator.

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