Among traditional boatbuilding tasks, the beveling of chine logs must rank as one of the most satisfyingly pleasant operations. You sharpen your favorite plane to near perfection, and let it slice through the wood, spewing long curls. It feels fine, sounds fine, employs no unusual chemicals, and raises no dust — only wood shavings (and, so long as you don't eat them or set fire to them, they seem to pose no health hazards).
Some of us accept plywood composite construction techniques reluctantly, because they trade all of this fun for clouds of sanding dust and the stench of resins and catalysts. Psychologically comforting structural members are eliminated. A healthy fillet might well be stronger than a chine log, but it doesn't look stronger. Still, all having been considered, builders of plywood composite boats are on to something good. They produce clean, strong hulls that seem more tolerant of casual care than do boats of conventional manufacture. So, how do you build a plywood composite hull? There are variations in name (stitch-and-glue, taped-seam, tack-and-tape, sewn-seam, Fast-G, etc.) that can indicate differences in technique, but in simplest terms: Draw the expanded (that is, flattened-out) shape of the hull panels on sheet plywood — no true lofting required. Cut out the panels (in the interest of your sanity and the hull's fairness, use a circular saw — not a sabersaw). Stitch the panels together (usually with copper wire) over a few frames or molds, and you have something that looks to be a boat. Cover the inside of the panel junctions with a fillet made from resin (usually an epoxy) mixed with a filler (this can be wood
flour and/or proprietary powders and fibers). After the resin cures, cut off or remove the wire stitches, and cover the seams inside and out with fiberglass tape. If you desire a yacht-smooth appearance, attack the areas near the taped panel junctions with sandpaper, surfacing filler, and patience — again, and again, and again. Finally, finish as you would any fiberglassed plywood boat.
On Bainbridge Island, Washington, Eric Hutchinson, proprietor of Good Enough Boatworks, succumbed to the lure of plywood / epoxy and asked Accumar's Scott Sprague to draw a stable, trailerable, easily built, outboard-powered fishing boat. The new design also would have to offer protection from the cold rain that seems to go along with catching blackmouth salmon in the Northwest. Sprague needed just a few days to respond with plans for the likable Good Enough 15.
The boat went together using the basic stitch-and-glue techniques described above. Apparently, the only intimidating part of the process involved pulling the bottom panels together up forward. Hutchinson claims he attempted to enlist the aid of Clark Kent but settled, instead, for a Spanish windlass and two threaded rods.
Despite the name of his shop, the builder had some trouble determining an appropriate level of finish. "I got sucked into the 'just a couple more hours' syndrome... days dragged into weeks," Hutchinson reports. In the end, he went off cruising and left the job to a friend. He seems pleased with the results.
The Good Enough 15 weighs less than 500 pounds, floats where she should, and makes 22.5 knots when
LIX Three Plywood Composite Outboard Boats pushed by a 25-horsepower outboard. In the words of contemporary copywriters, the small house combines protection with "full walk-around capability" on deck — a virtue mightily appreciated by anglers.
Preferring functional definitions, Tracy O'Brien of Headwater Boats (no relation to this writer) refers to his method of plywood composite construction as "taped-seam." For the fast-and-able Deadrise 19, he specifies that the epoxy fillets be covered with two layers of 24-ounce biaxial tape rather than several layers of 8- or 10-ounce woven fiberglass cloth. Essentially, biaxial cloth consists of multiple layers of nonwoven fiberglass fibers oriented at 45 degrees to the edge of the fabric. These diagonal strands are sewn to a thin fiberglass mat. The Chehalis, Washington, designer/builder points out that virtually every fiber in biaxial cloth crosses the joints between plywood panels, resulting in great strength for a given amount of material. Also, this strand orientation allows the tape to conform more easily to tightly radiused turns. (For these reasons, some experienced builders who use conventional woven fiberglass make their own tape by cutting across the weave of standard fiberglass cloth at a 45-degree angle. Store-bought fiberglass tape usually has its fibers woven parallel and perpendicular to the tape length.)
O'Brien's drawing technique results in a hull with a slightly different twist — or, rather, lack of same. At first glance, the Deadrise 19's panels do seem to show twist. But, in reality, all of its curved surfaces are cylindrical. Tracy accomplishes this feat during the design process by using station lines that are neither perpendicular to the design waterline plane in profile nor at right angles to the hull centerline in plan view. All else being equal, this should result in relatively low stress on the plywood sheets, and assembly of the hull panels should be easy — no small matter, as the lack of substantial molds and frames would make severe distortion of the plywood difficult to control.
Although the heavy, stark drawings shown here hardly flatter the Deadrise 19, this boat has a striking hull shape and a reputation as a strong, level runner. I might want to cut a stronger sheer into her, but unless I plan to haul pots over her rail or row her (not likely), logic won't be in my corner. (Logic might smile, though, at the resulting reduction of edge-set in the rails.) While we're at it, let's ditch the windshield and move the controls back to a nice console placed right, plop, amidships. And maybe fit an oval coaming, and... well, now you see why relationships between builders and designers can be strained at times.
Now, here's a building technique that lies some distance from ordinary. Glen-L Marine Designs has developed a construction method called FAST-G (Fold And Stitch Then Glue). Putting together the 15-foot 9-inch Console Skiff provides a thorough demonstration of this process: First, draw the expanded hull panel shapes on sheets of plywood and cut to the lines (full-sized patterns are supplied with the plans). Then, assemble the planking flat on the shop floor. Fold this weird, and large, wooden pancake into the shape of a boat hull. Stitch and glue everything together, and finish the hull with the usual filling and sanding.
You'll notice that the drawings show the bottom and side panels as being continuous up forward. Farther aft, two large darts in the flat panel form chines when the pancake is folded to form the hull. All of this scheming tortures some interesting curves into the sheet plywood.
Acknowledging the strength of the stitched-and-glued hull, Glen-L has drawn an open arrangement plan — just a console and a bench seat surrounded by uncluttered space. Few or no structural bulkheads and frames are needed for any of the boats described here. In fact, after one of these hulls is pulled into shape and has its floors and sole installed, you can take some liberties with the interior. Of course, various weights and centers ought to be kept in mind — to say nothing of aesthetics. Certainly, no major changes should be attempted without the advice and consent of the designers.
Having said that, I'm inclined to think that the Console Skiff has sufficient shape and beam to handle increased freeboard without degrading its appearance. If you'd like to be surrounded by higher sides, without incurring the wrath of Glen L. and Barry Witt (father and son), you might consider building their 16-foot 3-inch Cabin Skiff (not shown here) and omitting the house. Aside from the cabin boat's greater freeboard, the hulls appear to be identical.
Plans for the Good Enough 15 are available from Scott Sprague, Accumar Corporation, 1180 Finn Hill Rd. N.W.,Poulsbo,WA 98370.
Plans for the Deadrise 19, and kits as well as completed boats, can be had from Tracy O'Brien, Headwater Boats, 156 Bunker Creek Rd., Chehalis, WA 98532.
Plans and frame kits for the Console Skiff are sold by Glen-L Marine Designs, 9152 Rosecrans Ave., Bellflower, CA 90707.
Particulars Good Enough 15
Weight (approx.) 500 lbs Power (outboard) 25 hp
Accumar's simple Good Enough 15 goes together stitch-and-glue fashion. She provides good protection for the skipper, yet offers full walk-around capability on deck.
\LIX Three Plywood Composite Outboard Boats
Particulars, Deadrise 19
Weight (approx.) 750 lbs Power
(outboard or I/O) up to 125 hp Power
(inboard jet drive) up to 185 hp
Tracy O'Brien's Deadrise 19 has earned a reputation for running fast, level, and dry in rough water.
Particulars, Console Skiff
Weight (approx.) 350 lbs Power (outboard) up to 40 hp
To build Glen-L Marine's Console Skiff: Cut out and assemble a strangely shaped, flat panel of '/»-inch plywood (bottom); fold this panel until it looks like a boat; stitch and glue everything together.
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