First Sail

IMG_6524We took Billie down the hill to a lower elevation lake today for her first sail. My first sail in a dinghy. At Lake Natoma winds were light and variable, just as forecast. Anywhere from 0 to perhaps 6 mph with stronger gusts, swinging from south to west and back again on a whim. Temperature about 70 degrees. Commodore and Ship’s Photographer Katie stayed on shore and took photos. It was nice to have her along to help with the dock lines, but I wasn’t comfortable having crew just yet.



I was nervous to cast off, IMG_6440but as soon as we did it felt great.This first sailing picture is right after cast off. (You can click on the photos for a better look.) I had one reef tied in and the boat still moved with only a whisper of wind.


And went where I pointed. Whew! Only when I attempted my first tack did I remember that the rudder board was only half way down. Putting it fully down helped a lot with tacking. This boat is responsive. When gusts came up it really took off, even with 100 lbs of ballast and a reef. The ballast I used was rocks from our property, just like they used to do with dories. I’ll need to secure it better because it shifted some during transport.

IMG_6444One of the many things I need to work on is where to position myself. I felt most under control when kneeling behind the middle thwart. That’s hard on these old knees. I haven’t even begun to think much about sail trim and such things. That will come later. But I already can feel the potential in this little boat.

This time out I stayed pretty close and just practised moving about and tacking. IMG_6517Getting back to the dock was a bit of a challenge because it was up wind and shifty, and the dock is in a narrow channel. I thought about dropping sail and mounting oars but in the end after several tacks and a 360 I got a favorable gust and ghosted into the dock, almost like I knew what I was doing.


I know. The fender is out and dragging. Jeez.

One modification to the boat that I’m contemplating is a notch in the transom, to use as a mast cradle when trailering. This would make it more secure and make it a little faster to launch and retrieve because I wouldn’t need the sail ties to keep it from shifting to the side. IMG_6527I may also try backing the trailer in farther at the ramp to float the boat off. So far I have just backed far enough to get the wheels to the edge of the water and shove/pull it off and on. This takes some effort with my new ballast.

I can’t wait to get out for a longer trip, perhaps all the way up Lake Natoma and back. Ideally with a little more wind. But I’m not going to whistle because I’m not ready for a lot of wind yet.

One other thing. I got a foot wet while getting the boat off the trailer. The boat itself was leak free. This time.

One other other thing. I made an appointment for next week with DMV because California is clear about the rules. boats over 8 feet with a sail should be registered and get a registration number. At the California State Park entrance, the worker asked if it had a CF number. Because it didn’t yet, she didn’t charge a fee for launching. She said the rangers there don’t ticket for lack of a registration, at least for sailboats. I think our other local lake has the same policy. So now, do I register it or not? Spend 30 bucks to register it and another 10 bucks for each launch because it’s registered? Not sure why I would do that.


Maiden Voyage- Lessons Learned

To bring things up to date: Finally, about a week ago, spring like weather arrived and I was able to get the hull varnished and painted, with help from my wife Katie. I was making a big push to get the boat launched at least once before the rains returned.

GIS_031517I also finished modifying the trailer to accept the boat during this time. I’ll spare you all the details. Then it was off to the lake for our first actual in water test.




Launch Day March 16 2017.


It was a beautiful day here in the Sierra Nevada foothills of Northern California. We launched at the closest lake to us, Lake Jenkinson at Sly park. Just 10 days ago they had several inches of snow at this elevation. Today was about 65 degrees F. Light winds gusting to perhaps 10 knots. A good day for sailing if I had that part done. Before leaving, Katie announced: I don’t want to get my feet wet. Don’t worry, I said. We’ll be launching from a dock.

It’s been a while since either of us had been in a boat this small. Our last boat had a ten foot beam and a keel with 3000 pounds of ballast keeping it upright and steady at the docks. This one, with no ballast, is going to take some getting used to.

Everything was non eventful until we were ready to leave the dock. I carefully planted myself on the middle seat and tried to keep my substantial personal ballast midships while Katie boarded. Unfortunately I couldn’t hold the stern to the dock quite securely enough and she kinda had to do the splits to gain entry. Lesson 1: Have 2 dock spring lines rigged, fore and aft, which I can reach easily from midships to make crew boarding easier.

While trying to release the hard to reach bow line and push off from the dock, Katie announced- The boat is leaking! Apparently, there is a small leak around the centerboard. Not going back to the dock yet- I successfully, if not very gracefully mounted oars and started to row. MV_4Then Wam!, my PFD self inflated just to add a little to the tension. Lesson 2: might want to test the boat for leaks first. Lesson 3: Wear your PFD. Mine was on the floor by my feet and self inflated while sitting in the pool of water that the leak caused. At least I know it works.

So we still managed to have a nice little row while I tried to re learn how to do that and our feet got wet. This weekend I will be fitting proper leathers and buttons in addition to fixing the leak.

The makeshift MV_5“buttons” from bungee cord didn’t do the trick.







Our sole audience for the post return bailing out was smart enough  not to make any comments.20170316_115002





Anyway, we had a nice picnic afterward and we are looking forward to having another go at it next week. It’s going to be a fun process.




The Making of a Mast

Over the last few weeks I have been working on the boat bits part time. Over this time I completed the mast. It’s just a long round stick, right? Well, it could be. But we like to make things complicated. A solid round mast made out of Douglas Fir is estimated to weigh 30 pounds, which is a lot for a boat that weighs maybe 150. So I chose to make a hollow mast, which is almost as strong but about 40% lighter. The plans show a hollow square mast option. But I wanted a round one. So I went with a ‘birds mouth’ hollow mast. I used the calculator found at  to design it and determine dimensions. The mast is 15 1/2 feet long by 3 1/2 inches diameter and has 8 sides, or staves. Each stave is 13 mm thick and has a notch cut into one edge which kinda looks like a birdsmouth.

Before attempting the full scale, I made this test which is left 8 sided and is now an ornamental vase20170222_160635. It made a nice (cheap) anniversary present for my lovely wife.






The staves for the 12 inch long vase were a lot easier to handle than the 16 foot mast staves. The vase took maybe an hour, the full size mast quite a few more.

The process of making staves involved ripping 2 10 foot 2×6 fir boards into 1/2 inch by 1 3/8 inch strips on the table saw. 20170210_133041Cutting 45 degree notches into one side of each one. Scarphing pieces together to make 16 foot lengths with the scarph joints staggered, then tapering each of the 8 resulting staves. (Did I mention the mast is tapered?)


The tapering was achieved by tapering the non-notched (straight) edge of each piece. First I marked one stave for the taper and planed it down, then I clamped it side by side with the others and planed them all down to the same size with my trusty hand planes. I very nearly succumbed to the urge to buy a power hand planer at this point, especially since I still needed to do the rounding part. And most especially since the new internet sensation and master shipwright Louis Sauzedde makes such good use of his. (See )  But I pushed through with my trusty old hands planes. I need the exercise.

20170213_141143For glueing the mast together I made 3 cradles to hold the whole assembly on top of a makeshift ‘Spar bench’. I used thickened epoxy for glue, and a combination of plastic wire ties and metal hose clamps to clamp it together. In this picture I’m just doing a dry fit.




For strength and to receive fittings, there is a solid wood plug at each end. The top end gets a little 2 inch octagon. 20170211_162542The bottom end gets a 30 inch long octagon. The top end of the bottom plug gets a tapered V notch cut out of it, otherwise all the bending stress of the mast is concentrated at the top of the plug. Or so they say. The plug fits loosely inside the staves, with thickened epoxy filling the gaps.






At this point I had an 8 sided mast with extra beak bits. I still wanted it round. I checked the Home Depot website. Seven Ryobi power planers in stock at my store, only $68. Same model that Louis uses. But then I read the reviews. While mostly favourable, one person had his come apart and take a big notch out of an expensive wooden  door that he was planing. So I sharpened up my hand planes again and went to work rounding.




A few hours later it was pretty round. A little more work with sandpaper and it was good enough for me. The end result weighs 16.6 pounds and is quite strong. I hope.

It looks really long when installed in the boat. It will be varnished like most of the other parts.


It’s been too cold and rainy lately to do much finish work, although I did get a couple coats of varnish on the oars and tiller assembly. The first coat took a very long time to dry over the epoxy, so I’m going to wait for it to be less humid and warmer before I do the rest of the finish work. Might get a good weather window later this week. I’ll let you know. Meanwhile I have more spars to make, the boom and yard. Think I’ll leave these square.


Runners, Oars, epoxy, sanding….

After prodding from my fan base (Ron), I decided to bring this blog up to date on progress. We have to go all the way back to December 3 last year to find my last post, titled “Hull Construction Complete”. Except it wasn’t really. I still needed to turned the boat over, affix bottom runners, apply fiberglass tape to the chines, and epoxy the whole outside of the hull.

For the runners, I needed some tough hardwood, 2 pieces about 1 1/2 by 1 inch and 10 feet long. At Hughes, I surveyed what they had and settled on White Ash because it’s tough but flexible and also is a traditional wood for oar shafts, so I could get those out of the same piece of wood.  I went through the pile and found a 8/4 board that was nice and clear and big enough for both runners and oars. Don’t say this outloud in the store: “I just want to buy this nice piece of ash”. It doesn’t sound right.

Here is the bottom after the runners were glued on and fiberglass tape and epoxy applied and dry. By tape, I mean just a 3 inch wide strip of fiberglass cloth.20161209_091446

This picture is after the tape was applied and wetted out with epoxy, then 3 more coats of epoxy applied to fill the weave of the cloth. You can still see the edge of the fiberglass tape where it was applied to the chine (interface between the side panel and bottom panel).  Although the cloth tape is white, it magically turns clear after being wetted out. The edge of the tape then had to be planed down and feathered in with the orbital sander, then the entire hull sanded thoroughly to hide the tape and bring the glossy epoxy finish down to accept paint. I hate sanding.



Building Oars

Naturally, since I am building a boat I also decided to build my own oars. Actually I only fully decided after pricing a good set of ready made oars. This by itself was a pretty substantial project, so now I know why they are so expensive.


These are 9 feet long, spoon bladed oars per plans from the boat designer. At this point the oars still need varnishing. My lovely wife helped with this photo. “Don’t make me look fat”.

If you turn your attention back to the oars, you can almost make out the spoon shaped curve in the one turned sideways. Click the photo to enlarge it for a better look.





This picture shows the raw materials after being roughed out. The shafts are the ash mentioned earlier milled to 1 3/4″ square, and the blades are from the same 6mm plywood the boat is made of. The designer calls out 2 layers of 3mm plywood, pre laminated to get the spoon shape. I decided to experiment and get the shape by soaking the roughed out blades in the bathtub overnight and then clamping to the approximate curve and letting dry. While drying, I cleaned the bathtub. “Bob, there’s a ring in the bathtub!”


The shafts have to be tapered down at the blade end and then rounded. Then a curve is cut at the blade end to match the curve of the ‘spoon shape.


The established way to round a shaft is first go from 4 even sides to 8, then 16, etc. Marking out for this is done with a ‘spar gauge’, then the corners are planed down to the marks. I used a draw knife for roughing out and finished with a plane. After getting to 8 equal sides, you take it to 16, and then can take it to 32 sides and then finally round it off. Or if you are like me, you just eyeball it to a round shape after the 8 sided stage. Anyway, this was quite a workout because, as I mentioned, ash is tough wood. After making it round, I had to do another one.


One the shafts were completed the blades were glued on with thickened epoxy and everything faired.

Rudder/tiller assembly and foils.


During this time I also completed the tiller and rudder cassette assembly, and ‘glassed’ the foils. By foils, I mean the rudder blade and daggerboard.  You may recall that I had started the foils in my very first post but they still needed to be shaped properly and then fiberglassed before applying paint. I didn’t take pictures of the process. Glassing the foils goes something like this: Drape the board in fiberglass cloth. Mix up a batch of epoxy and slather it on the fiberglass wetting it and pushing it down to the wood, trying to avoid epoxy runs and getting loose fiberglass thread coated in sticky epoxy on everything in site. Trim the sticky excess fiberglass off and let the whole mess dry overnight. Then recoat with the purpose of filling the fiberglass weave but also creating lots more epoxy runs which have to be sanded off later. Let dry overnight. Sand it all down. Sand some more. Swear that if you ever build another boat you will use traditional methods than were in place before this dreadful epoxy was invented.



Hull Construction Complete

It’s been a while since my last post, during which time we have been doing a few other things, but I also completed the construction phase of the hull. The other things included helping son Bruno some with his shed project in San Jose.


And building a dining room table top for daughter Natalie and her boyfriend Maxwell.


In the end it came out pretty well, but take my advice and don’t try to stain maple a dark color.

Back to the boat. I glued the gunwales permanently in place and machined an outer lamination for the gunwales out of this piece of mahogany from Home Depot. I probably should have chosen a harder hardwood for this outer rub rail, but it’s kinda pretty.


Making and gluing on about a bazillion inwale spacers was next, along with notching the tops of the frames to accept the inwales. The spacer blocks are from cedar. They provide a nice look and a convenient way to tie things to the boat, as well as making it easy to dump out water.


Before glueing on the inwales, it was necessary to do lots of sanding and filling in the interior of the boat, and then epoxy coat the whole interior.  Not my favorite part of the job.

Also a part of the shear structure is a breasthook for tying things together at the bow, and transom knees at the stern. I don’t make up these names.

20161103_082928Here is the breasthook being fashioned from some nice douglas fir.

The final result came out pretty nice if I do say so myself. It’s worth taking some extra time with this part since people’s eyes will go to that first, and it may distract from all the sloppy work I did elsewhere on the boat.


By the way there is a Facebook page for the Goat Island Skiff builders group. I posted some of these pictures and a question there and almost immediately got some very nice feedback from around the world.

Next up, cutting a hole in an otherwise perfectly nice boat bottom for the daggerboard slot. Then lots more sanding, epoxy coating, paint and varnish.  I’ll need to find more reasons to procrastinate.  Bruno’s shed isn’t done yet. I have a fence to put up. It’s football season. Katie needs me to watch her decorate the Christmas tree…



The seat support structures and seat tops have now been fitted and glued in place. This work was rather fiddly and took some time, but I think I am now done with cutting and fitting all the plywood. The fit doesn’t need to be perfect because epoxy fillets will be added later to cover all the seams and add strength. The front and rear seats are the tops of buoyancy chambers which should keep the boat sitting high in the water in the case of a capsize. This first picture shows a part of the stern seat top. An inspection hatch is being added. Although the chambers are intended to be water tight, some leaking may occur, and the inspection ports should be loosened when the boat is not in use to let them air out. In the case of the stern seat, the port also provides access for bolting on the rudder hardware.


The middle seat also has more purpose than to provide a place for your bum. It will be bonded securely to both the dagger board case and the side walls to provide structure amidships.


A variety of gravity clamps is used to hold the front seat top down while the glue dries. I did not stage this. 20161026_113756

The middle seat is held with temporary screws. Along with gluing the tops down, I coated the inside of the buoyancy chambers and the area under the middle seat with epoxy for moisture protection. The designer specifies coating everything with epoxy. This technique is disputed by many in the boat building world, but I’ll go with the designer on this one. The Okuome plywood darkens up a lot when coated, and turns a nice mahogany color. My intention is to keep the interior clear, with a few coats of varnish over the epoxy for UV protection. The outside will be painted. Color to be determined. You can click on any of these pictures for a better view. If you see any drips, that OK because they wont effect sailing performance.


Bottom and Centerboard

October 20 Update.

I re-organized the web site some, and changed or copied some old pages into blog posts. Now you should begin to see a more traditional blog arangement with newest posts first. Although every thing I’ve done previously is going to show as being posted today. I’m still learning this WordPress stuff.

The bottom was glued on and held in place with a bunch of temporary screws.20161014_194628

Later all (hopefully) the screw holes will be filled with epoxy. The bottom was cut oversize and then trimmed to fit after the glue dried. It would have been a long dangerous session with a saw to trim it down, but a flush cutting bit with a bottom bearing mounted in the router made quick work of getting it close. Then I finished up with the block planes.

I read an article in Fine Woodworking recently about keeping 2 block planes at hand. One set to take thick shavings for coarse work and one set fine for finishing up. I use an old Stanley 62 1/2 garage sale find for the coarse work, and this sweet Lie-Nielson mini-block plane for finishing up.


While waiting for glue to dry, I did some more work on shaping the daggerboard (center board) foil shape using the templates provided in the plans. This takes a lot of planing, and I brought out the big boys. I always keep my #5 jack set up as a scrub plane for taking off wood quickly, and the #7 joiner does a good job of finishing up. Both I got at garage sales a long time ago and they do the job. Not that I would mind if some new high end replacements showed up under the tree some day. Later the board will be fiber glassed, smoothed up, and painted. Still need to start on the rudder blade, which will get the same steps.


Daggerboard Trunk. 

The centerboard trunk was cut out, assembled, and fit into place. I used epoxy mixed with powdered graphite to coat the inside of the trunk where the board will slide up and down, to reduce abrasion. At least it’s supposed to. Those of us who have helped Cub Scouts with pinewood derby racers know it makes a nice bearing lube.



I’ve had to enter this post twice now because of some internet connection issues, so back to the real work. Next steps include fitting some structure for the seats and then the seat tops.

The GIS Build Begins

Building the Goat Island Skiff.gis_sailing

I’m retired, so I could spend most of my time on the build if I want, but I’m going to try and pace myself. I was going to keep track of hours, but I’m pretty slow and might be embarrassed by how long I spend.  I am keeping most of my receipts so will have a pretty good idea how much I spent when it’s all over. I might even share it.

September 14 2016. After deciding on the GIS, I purchased the downloadable plans from Duckworks and was able to download right away. Instant gratification.

September 15-17. Printed and went over the plans, ordered a metric tape measure from Amazon after trying to find something in the house or at Home Depot that is marked in metric. The table saw fence has metric as well as ‘Imperial’, but that scale is firmly attached to my table saw. I also began sourcing materials and supplies. MAS Epoxy from, because I’ve used it before with good results, and it doesn’t usually develop ‘amine blush’. (A waxy film that has to be carefully washed off before overcoating.) Some sheets of Okuome plywood from son Bruno’s stock in my storage shed. These are a little beat up and water stained, but mostly usable. (Thanks Brun.) After searching online for more Okuome marine ply, which not many yards carry, I called my regular hardwood supplier Hughes Hardwoods in Rancho Cordova, and (Yea!) they had tons of it in stock. Cheaper than the online places too. I bought 4 sheets of 6 mm. Using this stuff isn’t going to get me any badges for using local products. The wood is grown in Africa, shipped to France where it’s manufactured into plywood and BS-1088 certified, then shipped over seas. But it’s the best product to use for this kind of boat. There really isn’t any competition. At least the cedar and fir that I mention later are Left Coast native.

During this time I also used up the 12 mm Okuome plywood sheet that I was storing for Bruno, to laminate up for the dagger board and rudder. He might not miss it right away. I laminated it to 24 mm thick blanks with the rest of Bruno’s West Marine epoxy . (Shhh.)  I was a little concerned that the epoxy wouldn’t work because it’s 4 or 5 years old so I did a little test glue up first to see if it would set. Harder than advanced calculus.20161001_111954

In order to build the boat, I needed space. My lovely and understanding wife Katie let me use her parking spot in our garage, the rest of which is conveniently already my shop.20160927_111910

Some people do this part in their living room. Katie isn’t quite that understanding.

Sept. 19-23. Beach Time.20160920_080834-1

Sept. 26-Oct. 3.

Started cutting out panels from the plywood. With this boat, no lofting or mold making is required. Instead the plan gives sizes for the panels which will then define the shape of the boat.20161001_103355

Each panel is only 6mm (1/4 inch), so they are each backed by some solid wood (framing). The designer recommends clear (knot free) Western Red Cedar for most of the framing to keep the boat light, and Douglas Fir or similar for a few places that will take more knocks. I spent some time looking for the right framing material at our local yards and home Depot. Finally, I went back to Hughes Hardwoods, and low and be hold they had a nice stock of clear, straight grained Western Red Cedar and some really nice vertical grain Doug Fir. They should change their name to Not Just Hardwoods. I’ll be going back for more Doug Fir later when I build spars and oars. Probably bought too much Cedar. But it smelled nice.20160927_111837

Interesting Note: The Australian designer, and apparently many boat builders around the world use Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir when they can get it. He calls the Fir “Oregon”. But hey, it comes from California, Washington, and British Columbia too.

Most of the rest of this week I will finish marking out and cutting panels, glueing on framing, beveling, fixing mistakes, and all those very shipwright kind of things. By the end of the week I hope to start assembling things into what looks like a hull. Maybe I’ll see you then.


GIS Assembly Required

October 4. Scarfing.

20161004_160600-1 20161004_162525 20161004_164612

No, not eating too much food too quickly in a gluttonous way. I mean joining pieces of wood to make longer pieces while retaining strength. In this case, a 6 to 1 scarf for the gunwales. If you say gunwales the nautical way, which is to leave out a few letters and use a bit if an English accent, you get gun’ls. Which is what these will eventually be. “Scarfing up the gun’ls” is what I did today. Along with making some shorter sawhorses out of an old pallet. gun’ls that’s too short, sawhorses that are too high- no problem.  Ready for the next day.

October 5. A tale of 2 transoms. You will notice 2 transom assemblies in the photo.20161007_132317

They look pretty good. No, I’m not contemplating changing the design to a pram. I badly messed up the dimensions on the first one and had to re cut it. I noticed it after looking at pictures of other GIS transoms and thinking this one had too much rake. Cursing and rebuilding took a good part of the day. Went back over everything else and verified correct dimensions.  Also cut notches in each bulkhead for the chine logs.20161005_161747

October 6. Dry fitting. After messing up the first transom, I was anxious to see if what I had so far actually fit together. This is also where it starts to look like a boat. The stem piece, 4 bulkheads, and transom are all put in place and screwed temporarily. That’s what the instructions say to do. Sounds easy. Problem is, those plywood sides are big and bulky, and quite a lot of pressure has to be applied to bend around the first two bulkheads. Katie helped hold things but we had to put some tie down straps and clamps to use to really pull it together.  The good news is, everything fit with just a little adjusting of bevels. Whew!


The sheer is pretty wavy because the plywood is so thin. The gunwales will stiffen it and bring it into a nice curve once they are in place. I dry fit one to make sure, but forgot to take a picture of it.20161007_13025620161007_130322

October 7. Finished messing with the transom fit and screwing things together.  My knees hurt a little from the last 2 days of standing on concrete and bending over, so I’m taking it  easier today. Looks like a (bottomless) boat now. Then I took it all apart for glue up.  I’m going to wait a few days for cooler weather to glue it up. Epoxy cure time is very dependent on temperature so having it be a few degrees cooler in the shop will give me more open time. In the mean time I can start  shaping the centerboard foil and centerboard case.  Go Giants!

October 10. Put together the side panels and bulkheads that were dry fit the other day, this time with very permanent epoxy glue. (epoxy mixed with silica powder and/or sawdust.) This step needs to be done all at once to allow for final adjustments to any twist. Katie was roped into helping more than she expected, I don’t know how I could have done it alone. Even with her help it was a long morning.


One thing I like about boat building boats is there aren’t many things that are square. Mostly it’s about eyeballing for fair curves and bevels. I did do one measurement check, measuring from the bow to each corner of the transom to make sure they are the same. You don’t want to have too much twist in it at this point when the glue dries, although actually it will still be quite flimsy until the bottom and seat tops are glued in place.


The gunwales have been clamped in place to stiffen the sheer. There I go, using nautical terms again. The gunwales needed quite a bit of persuasion to find their proper curve at the bow.20161010_100806

October 12. After a day trip to Hope Valley to see some fall colors, I turned the boat over and started to plane down the chine logs and bulkhead bottoms to accept the bottom panel. Here Katie is demonstrating proper technique with a drawknife. As soon as I put the camera down she set it down and made a beeline for her studio. 20161011_151835

I actually only used the drawknife for some roughing out and then switched to a block plane. Planing cedar is fun and aromatic. I’ve probably had enough fun for one day though and there is a lot more to do. Tomorrow I’ll finish planing and also do some shimming where I didn’t fit a bulkhead or two quite right. Enough said about that.

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