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 Bulkheads and strongback

 Sheathing the hulls

 Keels and laminating hulls..soon

  Suckers for punishment?

I'm not going to build another boat... not me, never....

 Story & photos by Diane Challis,

Suckers for punishment? I don't know the answer to that one. Ten years ago I began building a 40 ft catamaran with my ex husband. It was a long tedious job with two and a half years and near on seven days a week of continuous work (15,000 man/woman hours and launched 2001). This was of a foam sandwich construction and designed by Gary Lidgard who now is the designer of the well known Fusion catamarans. When the project was finished I swore then that I would never do such a thing again. No way. Never. Not this little black duck, ever…….

2009: I am happily embarking on another boat building project. I guess once the sea is in your veins you can never shake it so here I am building a Peter Snell designed 12 metre (oops! a 11.99m) 'Easy' catamaran with my new hubby. John and I are enjoying the whole process and once we got our heads around the concept we have found that the 'cat' has been relatively easy to build. My only experience has been in foam sandwich and it was quite some time ago and sometimes I feel I have forgotten more than I remember. Now we are dealing with plywood and glass construction so the medium for me is different but I realise that the principles are still the same. Both John and I are not carpenters or cabinet makers. Outside of 20 years working with juveniles in detention centres, half way houses for street kids, the intellectually disabled and Autism Society, John spent his time in the brick/mortar brigade and the roofing game mainly in England. As for me …well I guess I aspired to be a Jackie of all trades within my feminine scope. I am not scared of tools or domestic engineering, so working outside the female norm doesn't really faze me. I love challenges.

Never having a fear of trying something totally different and giving anything a go, we now found ourselves endeavouring to become boat builders' extraordinaire. For me the word 'again' crops its ugly head but this time with a smile, or is it a grimace …. not sure really…. and for John, this is his first time.

We left Western Australia for Queensland about three years ago, or was it four? Our dream was to have a home base in slightly warmer climes and then find ourselves the ultimate sailing vessel to travel this fantastic coastline. Our first thought was for a mono with centre cockpit and aft cabin. After travelling up and down the Queensland coast and seeing the amount of rivers and their sailability, we started to think about something with a shallow draft. So trimarans became the thing, but we wanted space to stretch out and be able to do our own individual thing. These vessels didn't quite have that sort of room below but catered well up on deck for the most part.

Another trip up the coast and back down again had us looking at catamarans. Wow, this was definitely the way to go. Bugger….the bank account didn't really allow for the purchase of one, let alone leave enough money over to do them up. If we spent $500,000 we wouldn't have to touch them but we didn't have that kind of money and the ones down near the $150,000 all seemed to need work on them as they were of an older vintage. We didn't have the spare cash for that; we would have been over capitalising. What to do? I didn't fancy building another cat; it was bad enough the first time and I didn't think I still had it in me (we're not spring chickens anymore). Actually building was not really in the equation at that time.

A conversation with an acquaintance about the 'Easy' catamarans had us thinking for a while. The costing was more in our balance book's favour and we both really wanted to explore those far away places of our coastline. Our dream was and still is to travel around the Gulf of Carpenteria and manoeuvre up the rivers and estuaries where monos can't go. We wanted to live the majority of the time on our boat in secluded places where we could contemplate life and our belly buttons, fishing to our hearts content and just be one with our surroundings. To some that may seem a bit wishy washy but that is what we want for us. So the prospects of building for me became more of a reality and for John it was a long awaited dream coming to fruition.

Oh what the heck; we jumped in feet first, didn't think too hard about it, bought the plans. There was no turning back now, we were committed. Once the plans were purchased and before the timber and ply arrived on our doorstep, we needed to erect a temporary shed to house the project. A shed with steel frame and tin roof spanning 8.5 metres wide by 15 metres long was erected at the end of the large shed that we now live in. This structure has now become more or less a permanent fixture with a concrete floor, semi open sides and an open end. There is plenty of air flow and with using epoxy, ventilation is important.

Soon our plywood and pine was lying on the concrete floor of the shed. It really didn't spark the imagination much. How was this pile of 8 x 4 sheets going to make a boat let alone float? After a few upheavals and health issues we finally began with trepidation marking out our ply frames as per the plans. When we were a couple of days into it out of the blue and quite unexpectedly Garth and Denise, fellow 'Easy' builders and a couple of non boatie friends Chris and Sue arrived for an impromptu visit at exactly the same time. After some bantering and cuppas they grabbed tape measures and pencils and we had two teams working. One couple measured out the portside frames and the other did the starboard side. We had a team of adjudicators double checking that each frame's measurement was correct and lined up with the other hull's frames. We made a day of it with lunch and laughs and great encouragement and moral boosting to boot. This help really gave us a kick start for which we would be eternally grateful.

With renewed invigoration we were up early the following day and the real work began. With jigsaw in hand we cut out all of the frames and when done each one was then edged with hoop pine. This was spread out over the following few days with gluing and temporary screwing. Each frame was notched for the stringers and painted firstly with a two part epoxy wood preservative and then
a coat on both sides with epoxy resin. We also manufactured both keels and both rudders.

Once the frames, keels and rudders for both hulls were manufactured, the strong back was then built, levelled and squared followed by dyna bolting to the concrete floor. This took time but time well spent, as this is a crucial part of the overall end product. The hull needs to be true and if the strong back is not right all the measurements are thrown out and that would make the task at hand very difficult. Once we felt confident that we had done all within our power to have a level platform to start building on, we marked all of our distances from the '0' point and placed crosspieces on these points. Once all crosspieces were in their correct position we commenced butting the frames up to them and followed through by temporarily supporting the frames with stringers.

There is a chine about half way up the hull. This John shaped in preparation to receive the first of the ply panels to be attached. Every piece of ply and pine for this part of the job had been coated with the wood preserver then followed by rolling on of epoxy resin. This may take a little longer over the whole job but for our own sakes we will have peace of mind that we have done our best to have protection from wood rot and moisture in the future.

John and I personally chose to use a slightly heavier fibre glass cloth to not only supply a waterproof exterior but to add just that little bit extra strength. Reason being is that we intend going into areas where there could be heavy, dangerous objects floating down some of the river systems and we would feel better knowing that the 'cat' could take a few extra knocks and surprises out of the norm. All these things are personal choices and that's the great thing about building your own vessel.

Since we first bought our plans we have met many people building the 'Easy' catamaran. There are five catamarans within a 60 km radius of our rural area, all in different stages of their manufacture. All these people are working towards their individual dreams and a life of freedom which we feel they all deserve.

We have completed our two hulls and turned them. The time taken to prepare for this day made every thing go smoothly. Our friends had an absolute ball helping and the bbq and drinks afterwards concreted the bonding. Building this boat is a job to us not a hobby. It is a job with a future at the end of it, a dream. A dream that will soon become a reality. We don't wake up in the mornings thinking 'Oh no, here we go again'. We actually get frustrated if we can not spend as much time on the catamaran as we wish. As time goes by we will keep you informed about the progress and as the project gets even more interesting.

And no matter what Murphy tries to throw at us during the build we will keep on smiling and dreaming.

 copyright 2010 The Coastal Passage