Each day after work I head out to the garage to see my baby. So far she doesn’t look like much, just slender strips of African plywood and a stack of fiberglass sheets. Big jugs of resins sit on my workbench. It’s messy out there, what with five bikes, skis, paddling gear, and the flotsam of homeownership lapping at the walls. Yet each afternoon when the doors groan open and the sun splashes across what will be my boat, I grow proud. I am man, it says. I will build.
That’s a tandem sea kayak kit scattered about out there. I ordered it from Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis a few weeks ago, and it arrived on my doorstep in three boxes and a scroll of plans. It’s my project and I’m shockingly under-qualified for it. Make a boat? You mean the kind that floats? But I’ve never really made anything.
My shortcomings so far have been overshadowed by the fact that, well, this is actually coming together. As a bonus, I’m learning all sorts of things about boat building that have nothing to do with building a boat. That’s the great thing about a project like this. Small victories become huge triumphs.
Take for example an unwieldy thing called a sheer clamp. Sheer clamps aren’t really clamps at all but thin rails of wood that run along the interior of the boat to provide rigidity and a surface upon which to nail the deck. The instructions say to use as many real clamps as possible to glue these strips to the sides of the kayak. I’ve never needed a clamp before in my entire life and now I suddenly need three dozen. Should I want a piano tuned, a real set of lawn darts, or even heart surgery, I know friends who could help. But clamps? I’m out of luck.
I surf around Chesapeake Light Craft’s Web site and learn you can make oodles of affordable clamps by cutting PVC pipe into rings that you can pry open like a jawbone. In less than an hour I make 40 clamps, my saw blade smoking with thick black curls of burning plastic. Heidi, my wife-to-be, helps me position the 20-foot-long pieces along our back deck and together we clamp the sheer clamps. All in one Saturday afternoon. I’m becoming efficient.
That’s not all. I’m crafty-economical too, and start finding other ways to save money on supplies and tools. When I need sawhorses to hold the hull off the floor, I dive construction site Dumpsters to salvage scrap wood. I hit the soup bar at Safeway and score a modest stack of waxy cups and coffee-stirring sticks for mixing glues. I drive screws into a dowel rod and attach it to my drill for a homemade mixer. I do a lot of mixing.
I now love epoxy. The first time I mixed a batch I got it all over the place. Now I almost don’t need gloves to handle it, I’m so deft with the brush. In fact, I’ve become Epoxy Man. Each time I have a little epoxy leftover I scour the house looking for things that need to be glued as well as things that really shouldn’t be glued, like my shoes. I grab them one afternoon, slather the soles with glue, and use two of my 40 clamps to accidentally seal the toes shut.
Yet the rewards are tangible, too. With the sheer clamps attached, on Sunday I start to stitch the sides and bottom panels of the kayak together with copper wire. I suspend the hull from the sawhorses and work the twists out from bow to stern as best as I can. The next weekend I slip in the bulkheads and seal the hull with epoxy and thin strips of fiberglass. It looks well done. I know the big steps are still ahead—nailing on a deck, more fiberglassing and a lot more finishing—but the task doesn’t seem so daunting any longer. That’s a boat in my garage.
Next in Building the Boat, the project looks even more like a kayak (we hope) when Tim nails on the deck.