The Little Boat We Have
Three years ago, I undertook a boat building project so that we could have a small dinghy for Moonrise. Using plans and some materials from Bateau.com, I built the Prameke, an eight foot pram. Our dinghy, Puddler, is easily towed behind Moonrise and has been a great tender. She is also quite fetching, from a distance.
I undertook this boat building project in the winter of 2007-2008. I purchased the plans, epoxy, wood flour and glass tape from bateau.com The plans are well done and in a 1:1 ratio so it is pretty easy to trace the pattern onto plywood. The Prameke plan has an option for rowing or a sailing configuration. The sailing layout contains additional drawings for a daggerboard box, mast and rudder. I would also recommend that the you buy or download the West System Use Guides. These manufacturers of Epoxy products have put together some great printed and video resources.
I initially started this boat as a sailing boat and cut out the area for the daggerboard but then realized that I had better keep this first effort as simple as possible. As the photos below will attest, I had my hands full just building a decent rowing boat.
The photo above shows the hull coming together. You will notice that I have used plastic wire-ties to stitch the plywood together. Other boat builders use copper wire for the stitching process. After the seams have been epoxied and filleted the stitching ties are removed and the holes filled with epoxy.
In the photo above, you can see that I have begun to fillet the seams. You have no doubt noticed that the bulkhead plywood is different from the rest of the hull. I purchased two sheets of 1/8 inch marine plywood and one sheet of 3/8 inch marine plywood to build the boat./ The 3/8 inch is used for the bulkhead and bench sections of the boat. I cannot recall how, but I miscut the center bulkhead out of the marine plywood and opted to carry on using a piece of ordinary plywood from Lowes. I treated all of the wood with epoxy anyway so I think this mistake will not result in structural failure for some time to come.
This photo shows how the glass tape looks after it has been applied to the seams at the bow of the boat. this is where the ambient temperature of the materials and the workspace become really important. I built this boat in our garage from December through January. The cool temperatures made the application of epoxy problematic but I was too naive to know how hard I was making it on myself. At lower temperatures, epoxy does not flow nearly as well. When the epoxy is too viscous, it does not saturate the wood or fiberglass easily, leaving voids and creating more work. Because I was more worried about the epoxy kicking off too quickly and becoming hard, I figured the cooler temperature was to my advantage. Being a novice, I wanted lots of time to fix my mistakes. The takeaway here: work in a warm location where all of your materials are at least above 65 degrees and use an epoxy with a cure time that will give you some leeway to fix mistakes.
Sadly, the photo above is of the fillets on the inside of the boat. Using epoxy and woodflour mixed to the consistency of peanut butter, I lay these fillets down with a tongue depressor. A good fillet will require a minimum of sanding to make it smooth, but these are not good fillets. I noticed that my fillet material would get thinner as the the epoxy began to heat up due to the exothermic chemical reaction. Again this is another reason for the novice to choose an epoxy catalyst that will give them sufficient working time.
Another photo of my secret shame. I figured that more epoxy would mask what my lack of skill would betray. This probably was sanded down more prior to applying glass tape and epoxy.
On a wintry spring day without rain, I carried the boat out just to look at the progress I had made. My hench-dog, Skipperdee, reluctantly models the new craft.
After all of the hull had been coated with epoxy, I thought it would be nice to see if the boat would actually float. Luckily, Melissa was away from the house which gave me the opportunity to use her Koi pond to perform some tank testing. I am happy report that the little pram performed admirably although some koi were mildly inconvenienced during this test.
This is certainly not an exhaustive account of how I built Puddler but it should give you some ideas of the trials involved. If you have specific questions, please feel free to add a comment or send email.