Fafnir sailboat building project.

Today I received the hatch for the Fafnir. It is bigger and heavier than I thought. It does look like nothing could damage it however.

It’s 35Lbs and I am worried about the weight above the waterline, especially that I also want to use bronze ports on the cabin sides and front. I might have to reduce their number and add a little weight in the keel…

Boat people, what do you think?

I wish the progress was on the boat itself, but I have been swamped lately and could not work on reinforcing the jig as planned. Good progress was made on the CAD files though with the cabin top, stern, windows and hatch. I just wanted to share this picture:

New Fafnir CAD view

New Fafnir CAD view

Hamilton Marine had a great deal on a Baier cast aluminum watertight hatch so I jumped on it. You can see it on the image above. The reason I decided to use a hatch is because most of the stories I read about small boats being lost at sea involve a flooded cabin. So I am replacing the original companionway with a commercial grade hatch. The opening is 24″x15″, and yes, most small life-rafts do fit nicely through the opening. I’ll just have to watch my diet!

Baier Hatch

Baier Hatch

The windows will come from New Found Metals. I will be using rectangular and round bronze ports. The only problem with using a heavy-duty hatch and windows is the weight above the waterline. Something will have to be done to counter that moment to make sure the boat has no trouble righting itself after a knock-down.

Now I need to build a scarfing jig to scarf the keelson and bottom plate. I must have the keelson and bottom plate on before the end of the month!

I got a slow start on the Fafnir build, though preparation work is quite important. The boat rests on a jig during construction, and that is what I put up yesterday.

Fafnir Jig

Fafnir Jig

I decided to have the boat plans digitized into CAD files. The first step was the jig verticals you can see above. The work is being done by my friend Erin Hood. The panels were cut by my friend Marc at Elite Woodwork in Sarasota. The advantage of having CAD files is that small errors on the plans can be fixed in the 3D model before any wood is cut. The precision of CNC cutting machines is amazing and everything should fit down to the millimeter. Erin and Marc did a great job and if Erin wasn’t familiar with boat building techniques, he certainly is now. I can’t wait to see the first bulkheads cut this way.

Fafnir 3D View

Fafnir 3D View

Those files will be made available to Fafnir builders who can prove that they paid for an original set of plans, assuming John Welsford has no objections.

The top of the jig verticals needed to be beveled. I used a file for the bottom of the notches and an electric orbital sander for the top edges. Filing by hand took some time but the sander was really fast, almost too fast for comfort.

My next step is to laminate the keelson in place, then the bottom plate. Making scarf joints will be a pain. I need to build some kind of a jig for my router to cut those planks at an angle. I’ll probably make a video of that, so stay tuned..

When do you start a boat log? When the boat hits the water for the first time? On the first day of it’s first voyage? Why not start earlier, when the decision is made to build it?

Building a boat in Florida when so many can be bought for a song might seem a ludicrous idea. Unless the design is not available commercially or not affordable enough. I would have been content with, say a Flicka 20, great pocket cruiser but hard to find below twenty thousand dollars. Let’s face it, I am not good at saving money and a loan is out of the question, especially for something that can sink. No bank would go for it. My last project, the restoration of a 32ft steel ketch was more than I could chew. I almost succeeded mind you, but when vandals ransacked the boat and stole everything of value from it, even cutting out the bronze ports, it became too much to finish. My heart wasn’t in it anymore.

Dagny needed a facelift...

Dagny needed a facelift…

I have been living in or near Sarasota Florida for twenty years. My forty seventh birthday is coming up. Two years ago I had no doubts about my future. My girlfriend and I were going to get married. Everything was great. We were going to be a happy family with her two children. Then she realized that she was probably going to lose alimony from her ex husband (my suspicion) and worried about her standard of living. Money can be an evil thing. I lost twenty pounds in two months and ended-up in the emergency room. It took me eighteen months to almost fully recover. It was like jumping to a parallel universe, nothing made sense. I would have worked myself to death for us. I would have done anything to make us all happy, and yet it wasn’t enough. I made a grave error in judgment and it almost killed me.

You live your life like everybody else or you do something extraordinary… Though my life has not been ordinary it is time for me to move on. I love Florida and this country and have many great friends here. Things are not like they used to be though. I have thought about moving out West, Idaho maybe, beautiful country in the summer. It is supposed to be the most Libertarian state of the Union. The winters have me worried. I hate it when the temperature gets below sixty. How would I fare well below freezing? The thought of warm sandy beaches, reclining on deck with a glass of Cointreau in one hand and a pipe in the other seems more appealing than shoveling snow. I need to save myself, save my soul. A boat seems to be the best way to do it, before it is too late and I lose that spark in my heart that has driven me to follow the route less taken. It might be a boat building project, but really, it is more of a life raft…

How do I get there from here? With my freelance work hours dwindling down to a trickle it doesn’t seem quite possible. The secret is to start and keep at it. Although I own a set of drawings for another similar 32ft steel ketch like my now defunct Dagny, I know it is too large a project for me to undertake under the present circumstances. Maybe later, in another chapter of my life. I need something smaller. How small can I go? Serge Testa sailed around the world in 1983 aboard Acrohc Australis, a 12ft boat he built himself. I certainly wouldn’t attempt such a stunt but I might be tempted to cross an ocean some day, that would be extraordinary. Pocket cruisers are not inherently unsafe, on the contrary. A small egg-shaped hull can be stronger than a large one. Comfort is another story… I spent countless hours studying boat designs in the 12-20ft range. Finally I reduced my selection to two. The Farthing 15 by McNaughton and the Fafnir by John Welsford. The Fafnir won and I bought a set of plans. Though only 13ft long it allows sleeping fully extended and is built like a tank. The design was originally meant to circumnavigate. It is made of wood, encapsulated in fiberglass and epoxy resin.

Fafnir Side View

Fafnir sailboat side view.

These guys are almost finished with their project: http://purjekas.planet.ee.

Call it a new year resolution, I have to start now. It might take years for me to complete. The only determining factors will be money and my health. Hopefully I will have both. I make no promise to myself other than keep trying and working at it as much as I can.

Last week I went to Laser Repro Graphics downtown and had the drawings scanned and duplicated for my friend Erin who will be digitizing the plans in order to determine how much marine plywood I will need to purchase for the bulkheads. He will create cutting files to minimize waste and speed-up the process. My first step is to build the jig on which the hull will be built. I just found two sixteen feet two-by-fours behind the house, perfect for the building jig. All I need now is resin, a few more two-by-fours and some hardware. When that is ready, I hope before my birthday, I will order the plywood, lay the bottom of the boat on the jig and start on the bulkheads.

Will I ever finish it, I don’t know. What I do know is that what you don’t start, you never complete. If I don’t get run over by a bus or anything else, I see no reason not to succeed. Where I will go then is uncertain. There is ample time to think about it.

My first project was very ambitious, too much so. Restoring a 32ft. steel hull sailboat is a costly operation. I almost succeeded. Had it not been for thieves, I probably would have pulled it off. I can’t rest on a failure. The idea of building a sailboat is too strongly embedded in me to give up. I just needed to reassess my needs and capabilities. Having worked on Dagny for so long and learned much about sailing and boat building, I compiled a list of requirements for a sailboat design that would both do what I want and be reasonable to build.

The idea is to build something that can be relied upon in an emergency, or simple during bad times, if paying a rent isn’t an option. Having a mobile vehicle that doesn’t need gas and can cross large expanses of water at no cost is very comforting. I live only 28ft. above sea level in a state surrounded by water. It wouldn’t take much of a tsunami to flood the coast..

Here is what I came up with:

Seaworthiness: I want a boat capable of crossing an ocean and cope with bad weather. Not that I necessarily want to cross an ocean, but you never know.. This will dictate many of my other requirements.

Small size: “Go small, go now.” as the saying goes.. Choosing a small boat might be the difference between completing a project and failing, or simply taking too long to complete. Cost is also a consideration of course. Each extra foot does cost a fortune in building material, time and later, maintenance. While 30 to 32ft. is an ideal size for a comfortable boat, I need to forego comfort, to some extent. The boat needs to allow my 6’2” body to sleep fully extended securely inside the cabin, protected from the elements and motion of the boat. It also needs to be big enough to allow a passenger to share the accommodations for a short period of time, say a week-end, or at most, a week. The minimum size allowing these simple requirements is about 13ft. My upper limit was set at 19ft. with a beam no wider than the inside of a shipping container. The general idea that smaller boats are not as safe as big ones is somewhat of a myth. Many pocket cruisers have crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A small boat is actually stronger than a big one and floats on top of waves like a cork instead of plowing into them. Only comfort suffers, not safety. There also has to be enough storage room for a hundred days of provisions, food and water for one person. Building space requirements are much less and a small boat can be towed on a trailer.

Junk rig: The Chinese lug sail is the simplest one to use for a single-handler. There is no need to go on deck to reef the sail, which on a small boat can be hazardous. Being flat, it is easy to manufacture and does cost less. Repairs are easier. It does not allow to sail as close to the wind as a Bermuda rig, but that is a small price to pay for it’s simplicity. There is only one sail to deal with. And of course, it looks good!

Plywood construction: Steel boats are the best in my opinion, but not possible in small sizes. Plywood is the next best thing. The hull can be covered in fiberglass for more protection. Steel prices are very high these days and tools required, like a welder and plasma cutter do cost more. Wood is easy to work with, and clean. We are not talking about the kind of plywood you can buy at Home-Depot here, but high quality marine plywood, like the British Standard 1088. It can be boiled repeatedly without coming apart. Epoxy is used as the glue and makes very strong joints. A boat can be completed with hand tools if needed..

No engine: That is a difficult and controversial choice. An engine does cost a few thousand dollars. A sailboat uses the wind, thus an engine is really used only to get in and out of port. I thought about a small electric motor, and might implement it later. A long pole can be used to get around shallow water, or an oar. In a small boat, an engine takes a lot of space.. I also don’t like the smell of diesel very much..

Full keel, shallow draft: A full keel protects the rudder, which is the single most important part of a boat. Without a rudder, you have no control, and it doesn’t take long for a wave to catch you broadside and capsize the boat. Not to mention drifting aimlessly. With a full keel, you can run aground without much damage. A shallow draft (3ft. or less) allows getting closer to shore and wade the rest of the way, or use a pole to get to a dock. Many wonderful areas are not accessible to deep draft boats.

Given all these requirements, the choices available quickly dwindled to three:

  • The MacNaughton Farthing.
  • The John Welsford Swaggie.
  • The John Welsford Fafnir.

There are others, but these three had all my requirements. If money was no object, I would have opted for the Farthing, maybe. The set of plans costs around $1200, and that is way over my budget for a few sheets of paper. It is probably worth it, since it is already lofted, but I just can’t justify spending that much on the plans. John Welsford’s designs are also simpler to build.
The Swaggie is the most attractive of the three. Not too big, not too small, with a big interior for it’s size. It can accommodate a couple easily for extended periods.
Fafnir is smaller, but costs three times less than Swaggie in time and money to build. And that is what decided me to buy Fafnir plans. In the end, completing the project is more important than failing to build a bigger boat.

Fafnir Side View

Fafnir sailboat side view.

A junk rig version is available…

Fafnir Accomodations

Fafnir Accomodations

I will make no predictions as to when or even if I will ever complete this project. I will certainly try my best. I hope to get the plans before the end of the week..