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26 March 2014

Filthy Lucre: The Rising Cost of DIY

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!
We Ante Up.

If the ante were lower, we'd play hands we shouldn't.
- Heard around Tenakee poker tables

Filthy Lucre: The Rising Cost of DIY

We have entered the dreaded and inevitable shop/buy phase of our project.


First, I guesstimated this boat to cost about $17.5K, all found. Materials, transportation, infrastructure and clean-up... the works.

But it seems that real world numbers have jumped up an average of 50% since we built SLACKTIDE in 2009. My guess is that this is post-peak everything at work, especially in terms of energy involved in procuring raw materials and manufacture and transportation. Our ACX Plywood, for example, is now coming from Chile, rather than our own forests (which have been cherry-picked below 'commercial viablility').

My guesstimate came up about $10K short! We threw up a broadly itemized 'worst case' scenario by supplier/service, for a 'ridiculously conservative' total of $27.7K. After shopping, it looks like that's our scenario.

To cover this, we've gone into debt for the first time in our lives (a very generous advance against next winter's caretaking commitment). While we're very grateful, this is a queasy feeling for us. But it allows us to fit the copper plate in good order, rather than retrofit, later.

Here's our list, to date, rounded a bit:

$1500     Container, SeattleWA to PetersburgAK
$1200     Sheepherder WoodStove from
$9500     Copper
$5000     Plywood, Foam, Underlayment (for Copper)
$2700     Red Cedar Framing, Coamings, Handrails
$2750     Home Depot and Harbor Freight - Paints, Glues, Tools, Sundries
$1200     Jamestown Distributors - Glues, Fasteners
$24350 SubTotal

We have yet to shop for Sailcloth + Rigging, Cushions/Mattress and Electrical System. Some of this will be forwarded from SLACKTIDE, and the latter two can be deferred for later. I expect another $3K?

Ooh! Aaah!! I feel the pain of pennies, wrenched from my skinflint soul.

Admittedly, the path we've chosen for our boats is an odd mix of cheap and expensive. The low road approach (ACX Plywood, Ply-Frame Construction, Nails vs. Screws) is juxtaposed with some higher end features (remote building site in far Alaska, Copper Plate, Ply/Foam/Ply Construction, Bronze and SS Fasteners, use of 3M5200 and Gorilla Glue, Wood Stove (Range with Oven), extra-heavy 2in Bottom).

Factor these out (and lower-cost alternatives in), and we'd be left with a total of around $10K (modest rigging, cushions, electrical, included). Reclaimed framing and scrounging could drop this further.

For a 32ft boat, this is still high. Especially since we count labor as free.

Why build DIY, when the market is awash with cheap, used boats?

Our answer is that:

a) Not one of the affordable boats out there are likely to let us sail where and as we do. Ultra-shoal, insulated, armored sailboats in decent shape are rare as hen's teeth, lying far away, and tend to cost a cod-wallop.

b) Retrofitting what we want as best we may - insulation, junk rig, maybe sheer-legs and metal keel-strip - along with fixing what's iffy - keel-bolts, blisters, backing plates, rig faults, etc? - takes time and treasure, and is tricky to back-fit. DIY lets it all install in good order.

c) Knowing exactly how it's built - the whats, wheres and whys - keeps maintenance manageable.

d) Most of the upfront costs are one-time expenses. They pro-rate over the lifetime of a boat that is exactly what we make of it... that fits us and our ways like a glove. In the long run, we make up an initial price difference (vs a used boat) and more.

e) There is a feeling to setting sail in your very own creation, with which no mere acquisition can compete.

Is DIY for everyone? Nope. Not even for us in some situations. If something were to happen to this one, we'll regroup, if possible, and buy used.

This one's our last, DIY home... better make it count!

20 March 2014

Virtual Boatbuilding

Puzzle Box

A goal without a plan is just a wish.
― Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry

Virtual Boatbuilding

To build for real, it helps to build in your mind, first.

Working out the order of construction in your head(s) influences your choices of materials, tools and infrastructure (sheds, jigs, power supply, etc.). It streamlines and coordinates effort, promoting efficiency. It keeps the horse ahead of the cart.

Believe me, we need all the help we can get!

Here's a general order for upright construction:
  1. Set up the Worksite - Shed, workbench, building jig.
  2. Build (and assemble) the Deadflat - This makes a large, flat work surface.
  3. Build and frame the Bulkheads - We'd best know ahead-of-time how furniture will fit, down-the-road!
  4. Build and frame the Sides - Let's say, full length.
  5. Erect Bulkheads and Sides - Got an order pictured? A method??
  6. Complete the Bottom Ends - Vague, very vague... a solid plan required here.
  7. Build Furnishings, Room by Room - Line 'em up, knock 'em down.
  8. Deck the Hull - With blows and pucky, falalalalaaaa, fala, la, la.
  9. Build Superstructures - Trunk Cabins, Hatches, Tabernacles, etc..
  10. Finish - Putty 'n paint, to make 'er what she ain't.
  11. Detail Work - Handrails, Coamings, CapRails, Hardware.
  12. Launch - What's your exit strategy?
  13. Rig Aloft and Alow - Masts, Sails, Hardware aloft; Stove, Cushions, Bedding, etc., alow.
  14. Liquidate your Land Assets - Worksite, and whatever else you can part with.
  15. Sail over the Horizon - Bet we had this part in our heads from day one!

Straightforward, in many ways. The first six are those requiring the most thought. They're the big, heavy puzzle pieces that must all be made to fit together. After that, it's pretty much a down wind reach.

If short-handed, the Bottom and Sides can be built in a modular manner... this means in small, interlocking parts that can be positioned and assembled in manageable bits.

Finish can be a floating step, working as we go. 

One of our mentors would end each work day with an hour of painting. He'd mark off where he was going to be gluing one piece to the next with a heavy hand, pressing an indent line into the plywood surface. Then he'd paint outside these lines and a little bit over the line. Next day - paint dry - he'd assemble and glue, using the indents to position his work. 

By not deferring finish issues to the end, he was able to launch as soon as carpentry was complete. Taken in one go, Finish is a sizable and somewhat daunting task.

We've manage only a bit of this... it takes true organization, and a daily dedication to shop cleanliness that we have yet to achieve. But it's an option.


A clear picture in our mind(s), and at least one, workable solution in hand for each problem is strongly recommended before our first cut. 

We can wing it, here and there, especially if there's no shortage of materials available, or if we have general experience with some particular aspect. But there's a danger in this... amazing how often some unlooked-for conflict will blindside us if we haven't pictured every detail.

Visualization aids - paper and pencil, mainly - are handy. I personally like a roll of butcher paper, and a block of quarter inch graph paper. There are a lot of balls to juggle, in boatbuilding. Cheat! Consider keeping a notebook of the latest and greatest solutions. What's fresh in the moment of victory may slip away in the next round.

One thing I find... when the elegant solution comes, you know it's right. If an approach feels awkward, keep at it... think out of the box... something will occur to you.

So this is what's been keeping me up nights. Ordering and reordering in my head. Copper Plate doesn't exactly simplify things.

But it's a winning battle!

07 March 2014

Flush Hatches in DIY Ply

Looks like this when put together.

Most real sailors advise not to go barefoot. HA. Muh dawgs cain't breath! If it's warm and sunny, the clothes come off; and that means gumboots, too.

But I do hate stubbin' my toe, or worse, turning an ankle. And Anke and I love to sleep on deck, of a starry night. Hatches in the cockpit, mounted proud, are rain on our parade.

So, one day I was envying fiberglass and metal boat flush hatches out loud when it came to me! A plywood sub-deck is the key. Or at least a key.

Considerations include the following:
  • The cantilevered trough/coaming structure is inherently weak... it needs considerable beef.
  • The trough has to be wide enough for easy (and frequent) cleaning.
  • The trough has to be deep enough to keep water from spilling over the coamings.
  • A gap under the hatch lips allows debris to drain without binding.
  • The hatch has to have enough room to be raised - angling up, over and leaned back along one edge.

In SLACKTIDE, we built a set, and - despite beginners' mistakes - they work very well, despite needing work on the first four points.

Downside is that these are relatively complex, especially with ply/foam/ply decks. They add considerable building time and material. But, given that we dislike footwells and want a big hatch for access to the main hold,  the results are worth it to us.

Shows the two main components;
Deck and Transom with on-edge framing, and the SubDeck Assembly

The larger opening is about 3ft6in square.

The on-edge framing provides most of the stiffness. The flat, SubDeck framing should be strongly joined (glued and fastened) into it, and it, in turn should be strongly joined to any structure available. A large hatch will need a bulkhead, mid-span, to add further support. We'll put ours under the gap between hatches.

Joinery is a matter of preference... hatch lips and coamings could be ship-lapped or dove-tailed, for example. We tend to just use simple overlaps, edge gluing and nailing. Fast, has never leaked, and if something bad happens to it, it's easy to repair. We'll fillet inside corners, in some cases, but not often.

Main thing to remember is that when two pieces meet, the uphill one should overlap the downhill one. Water is thus encouraged to flow by the joint. If ship-lapping, the lowest laps follow this rule.

To tell the truth, that 1/4in ply SubDeck is mainly a contiguous membrane to cover our lazy joinery at the bottom of the trough. If you're a real boatwright, you can approach the trough/coamings in a number of more elegant ways.

One bit not shown... the end of the trough tends to dribble down the transom, meaning we have to 'wipe our beehinds' often. We've been meaning to fit some copper (flashing) to form a small spout out clear of the transom.

This aft draining hatch isn't totally necessary - the usual thing is to use a drain hose. But they are a pain when they clog. If you do use one, consider a straight shot of tubing that can be poked clear with a rod (1/4in all-thread works as well as anything's going to... the threads help grab obstructions).

If built right, you probably won't need a gasket for inshore sailing. But it doesn't hurt. We like to mount them on the underside of the Hatch itself, so that it will press down on the coamings. Neoprene works best, but closed-cell weather stripping is cheap and easily replaced. If you can find an old wetsuit, they work great.

So there ya have it... if you end up sleeping out on one of these... sweet dreams!

05 March 2014

Honey, I Shrunk the Boat!

T32x8 with 5ft sides, 8in crown

Keep a clean mind. Change it often.
Cap'n Billy's Whiz Bag

Honey, I Shrunk the Boat!

Well, there have been a few changes at the ol' drawing board. And I'm only being funny with the title... WE shrunk the boat (y'all don't mind if I call you 'Honey', do you?).

As we started to work out the details, it became clear that the T36 gives up a lot of the synergies that make the T32 such an easy boat.

Another change is a waffle back to 5ft sides (up from 4-9-0), and now with an 8in crown (5ft8in headroom down the centerline). This allows bigger windows (though takes an extra pair of acrylic sheets). It also raises the height of the 'duck-through' the bulkhead between the raised galley sole and the lower salon, and increases the cut-out height between the galley counter and salon (lets the cook be more a part of the party).

It also gives Anke full standing headroom throughout the boat! She's 5ft6in. A 6in crown would be at a bad height, for her... she could stand, barely, but would be encouraged to slouch... resulting in 'that hang-dog' feel. At 6ft even, I'm not tempted to stand, but rather scoot into seats with ample seated headroom.

What we give up is Anke's clear view forward. At mid-deck, standing on an 8in raised sole, the bottom of the forward pilot house (galley) window is at 5-3-6... exactly her eye height. She has to crane a bit to see over. But it falls away, outboard, as the deck curves downward, and she feels as though it's a good trade for the headroom.


Material-wise, the T36 represents an extra half-panel of side (ply, foam, ply) port and s'brd, with an extra butt each side; an extra sheet (ply, foam, ply) of deck, spread over the boat; an extra panel of copper, an extra piece of bronze angle. The 10ft cockpit, 9ft pilot house deck and sides, and 22ft mid-deck exceed  an 8ft sheet of ply, so require piecing; that 22ft deck exceeds generally available 20ft dimensional lumber lengths, so requires piecing stringers, edging timbers and worse, hand-rails.

Displacement-wise, we lose about a ton, at any given draft, which is about the equivalent of 2in of extra immersion. And the T36 loses about 500lbs advantage to the weight of that extra 4ft of hull (not all payload, that is).

T32 allows us to be lighter - about 11Klbs at 12in draft) if we can manage - and can go as high as about 15Klbs at 16in draft, which I can't see needing to pack aboard.

In otherwords, there's about 2 tons of overlap, the upper end of which is likely moot.

Speed-wise, we lose some hull-speed, and two feet off our aft curve (increased drag). The mizzen is cropped, so we lose some sail-area, and reduce our SA/D ratio. The consequence is that we drop from potential of a 7.8kt to 7.3kt vessel (half a knot), and it will take a little more to reach hull speed. Tolerable, especially considering we spend so much time puttering along at far less, due to conditions.

Harbor-wise, or any time we have to pay length-wise rent, the T32 will be 11% cheaper.

On-the-hard-wise, I expect that extra 4ft makes a fair difference, when push comes to shove. Aground, the smaller and lighter the better! Even a kayaker can tell ya that.

Interior-wise, we lose a foot in the galley, aka 9ft3 of stowage. This is perhaps the most grievous loss of that one thing that really drove the desire for more. Yet we're gaining a foot on LUNA, whose galley was already ample. Crazily so when compared to other yachts our size. Really, we were just getting plumb greedy.

We lose 6in each in the bunk and salon. I doubt the bunk area will even notice it. The salon, neither, with the exception of guest storage.

Regarding Anke's brother, Peter (our extra-tall guest), we had a brainstorm. He sleeps on the made up dinette, which is slightly longer than he is... problem comes when he extends his feet, running up against the bulkheads. Not a big problem, but it annoys. We'll cut a removable plate in the galley bulkhead, allowing that extra few inches of clearance that should make all the difference! Problem solved.

Cockpit-wise, the two extra feet would surely have been nice for processing foods aboard on deck. But at 8ft x 8ft, The T32 gains a foot (of width) on SLACKTIDE's cockpit, which already handles everything we need. Ample for projects, and has enough room to set up a cooker in one corner, opposite the bench seat. Really, it would just have been a longer walk.


And so, we give up the... ahem... sleek lines, extra space and displacement of the T36, and return to LUNA's comfortably adequate dimensions, as extended by conversion to box barge. 

After all, when it comes to stuff, more-than-enough is too much.

About Me

My photo
Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, our T32x8 ketch. We sail by wind, tide and muscle in the waters of mid- to northern Southeast Alaska. We try to maximize the joys of life, and minimize the chores. ........ We live between the communities of SE Alaska, but drop in to visit with friends. Lately, we've worked, every other winter, care-taking Baranof Wilderness Lodge in Warmsprings Bay. This has given us a window on Web. ........ We're working toward a subsistence lifestyle, somewhat impeded by addictions to coffee, chocolate and cheese. ........ We think TEOTWAWKI is looming, and while we won't be ready, we'd at least like comfortable seats.