Details, Devils, Whatever

Perfection is the enemy of production. Remember that.

From the start of this project I have known that I want a “workboat” level of finish on it. Still I found myself getting sucked into the madness that is a perfect final paint job. In both composite aircraft construction and in boat building you can measure the quality of the finish by how far away you have to be to see the imperfections. 10 feet is a good workboat finish, Three feet is a work of art, and on occasion you see a one foot boat. Those are best in show winners. I have said several times that I am not the greatest woodworker around and that is very true but, one area I do know well is composite construction.

I have been working with advanced composites for quite a while now and I knew that a three foot boat was well within my abilities. Over the course of almost two months of part time work I found myself sliding deeper and deeper into madness chasing that three foot boat. Follow me on my journey and use this as a warning for yourself.

Picking up from the last post I had the bottom fiberglassed and the center line runner and skeg installed. The next operation was to get the hull ready for paint. The first step in this process was to fill and fair all of the screw holes, panel gaps, and plank edges.

fillet 2

This is a view looking at the junction of the number one plank and the number two plank. You can see that there are voids that need to be filled. The plans tell you to use high density epoxy putty to fillet these areas.

fillet 3

The areas were masked and filleted.

fillet one

I went through a lot of trouble on this step to ensure that I cleaned up all of the goobers left over and smoothed the fillet out so there would be little to no sanding later.

You can see from the pictures above that a ton of screw holes needed to be filled. I broke out the QuickFair and went to town on both the screw holes and the panel joints. I will give you a warning on this. NO MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU PURPOSELY AND CAREFULLY FILL THE SCREW HOLES IN YOUR BOAT, YOU WILL ALWAYS FIND MORE LATER. Enough said. For fairing the panel joints I had a full arsenal of sanding equipment. Stiff long boards, flexible long boards, sander, foam pads, soft blocks etc. It took a while but I finally got the hull to where I was happy with it and started coating the entire outside hull in epoxy.


Coating the hull is a critical part of this style of wooden boat construction. First it seals the wood, and secondly the plywood it is made out of is super soft and needs epoxy to toughen it up. Most designers recommend two coats of epoxy before paint. To make sure that I had a full two coats left after sanding I rolled on two coats of clear epoxy followed by two coats of epoxy with white pigment in in. This allows me to see the color change as I get closer to the base coat so I do not cut to deep. At this point I hit all of the high spots with 80 grit and the whole boat with 120. This is the point where all of the defects stand out. It hurts. To correct it I started the process of mixing epoxy/microballon paste, evenly coating the boat, and then sanding almost all of it off. This went on for almost a full week until the lovely and level headed Bride told me to cut it out, “It’s the bottom of the boat, no one will ever see it!”. Yes ma’am.


During the times the epoxy was curing, I broke out the plug cutter and some mahogany type wood I had laying around and cut plugs for the upper rub rail and installed them.

At this point I stood back and looked at hull and decided that I had done all I was going to do. F&%$ it I am painting.

After reading a really good article in Small Craft Advisor magazine and talking to several people that have painted wooden boats I decided to go with an oil based alkyd enamel paint in a satin finish.  I started with a coat of primer under the watchful eye of the shop foreman.


From there two coats of color on the bottom.

hull 1st coat

The blue took four coats to get a good deep finish.

transom final

profile final

Cheryl picked out the colors and I couldn’t be happier:

Gray – Sherwin Williams Knitting Needles

Blue – Sherwin Williams Navy

With the masking tape pulled I have a little bit of touchup to do here and there but I am super happy with the overall quality. It’s not a three foot boat but I can live with a really good 10 foot boat.  At this point there was nothing else to do but clean up two months of mess and enjoy the view.

Painting final


The Devil’s STILL in the Details

Moving right along with the build list – it’s time to make a center line runner and skeg. There isn’t a whole lot of info on the skeg and center line runner in the plans or the build instructions so I kind of figured it out as I went along.

Runner 1

I started by continuing the outer stem to the center case. I used the same white oak that I had used to laminate the outer stem. You can see in this picture that the outer stem and the centerline runner do not quite line up. The boat was still in the build stand when I attached the outer stem and I had to guess where the center line was on the bottom. Looks like I got it wrong. Oh well. Once it’s faired and painted it’s going on the bottom never to be seen again. Hopefully.

skeg 4

The last of my Eco Relics white oak was milled up and put in the clamps for the skeg blank and while it set up I went to work figuring out what it should look like.

skeg 2

I picked up the overall height of the skeg from drawing 2. It looks to me to be about 150mm. Starting with a piece of plywood that approximated the curve of the bottom, I used a long piece of 80 grit sticky back sandpaper stuck to the bottom and a whole lot of elbow grease to perfectly match the ply to the boat. A long straight edge from the center case surround to my 150 mm mark on the plywood gave me a rough outline of the skeg. With that done I cleaned the skeg blank up in the power planer and then transferred the shape from the ply to the skeg.

skeg 3

Purely for decoration I cut an “S” curve into the skeg, glued it down, and called it good. Since I was in an “S” curve mode, it was time to make the trim pieces for the upper plank.

I am not sure what they are called but I approximated the shape from the plans and used my jigsaw and spindle sander to shape them. The screws are temporary. After the glue sets up I am going to pull them out and fill the holes with QuickFair.

This is the aft one.

finalie 2

And this is the forward one.

The shop foreman kept a close eye on my progress. So much so it wore him slap out.

Wore out

Devil is in the Details

So the boat is flipped, now what?

Flipped 2


With the beer drank and the help gone I was left to survey the job ahead. Screw holes, panel gaps, and miss aligned panels stared at me. From the bottom to the top I could see how my skills have progressed over the course of the build. The only problem is that I have to fix the mistakes I made in the early days.

Mr. Welsford suggests tacking a batten along the panel bottoms and using a rabbet plane to fair out the bumps in the panel. I was pretty proud of how well I had done on the panels until I tacked the batten up…

Batten 1

Looks good right?

Batten 2

Yeah there it is. It was like this over all of the planks. I sharpened up the iron of my plane and got to work. Do not skip this step. It makes all the difference in the world. I do not have the camera technology to show you how much this helped the overall appearance but trust me it is a must do. Time to get it ready for fiberglass.

System 3 Quickfair. Lots of it. You can see in the picture below how many screws I had to fill and panels fair.  That is all I have to say about that. On to fiberglass.

Fiberglassing was pretty straight forward. I ran two lines of 6″ bias ply tape over the junction between the bottom board and the first plank and then two layers of 6oz boat glass on top.

I picked up a cool trick from John Harris at CLC boats. In their video on the construction of the teardrop camper they used normal thumb tacks to hold up the glass on vertical surfaces. Good idea and  promptly stolen.


With a Little Help…

rub rail 3

It turns out that the day you flip your pathfinder is much more exciting than Christmas. Christmas comes once a year but it’s taken me two to get to this point! When I left you last I had finally installed the upper and lower rub rails and located the chain plates for the main mast rigging. Since then I had cobbed together a rolling stand to place the boat into after we flip it. You can see it sitting inside the cockpit above. I have seen a lot of complex rope and winch designs that folks use to flip their boats but I figured out a better way, I have really strong friends.


With the promise of lunch and cold beer afterwards, I lured a bunch of folks over to muscle her out. We hung out and got a feel for the task and, in short order, a plan was devised. Turns out it was super easy.


Six guys and some scrap wood got her out to the grass.

move 3

Then I hopped in to unscrew the boat from the build stand.

move 4

The build stand was removed and the boat gently rolled over in the semi soft grass.

And there it is.

flipped 1

Now that the pathfinder was upside down you could clearly see the learning curve I traveled during construction. I have to admit I was slightly embarrassed when all of my rookie mistakes were laid bare to my friends, but after a close examination they all pronounced it good. With that it was time for beer and barbeque!

Many thanks to my friends, Darrel, Mike, Nestor and son, Donald, Mark, Kevin, Gabby, and my lovely wife Cheryl. Couldn’t have done it without you.

Rub Rails

I am sure that you have picked up on this but finding quality building materials in my neck of the woods is difficult at best. With the outer stem bent I had used the last of the oak I had on hand and it was time to find some more. After scrounging the area for years trying to find a good supplier I have found my place, Eco Relics. They are an architectural salvage warehouse on the north side of Jacksonville and have all I need. Red oak, white oak, 1/4 sawn, live edge, Mahogany, Cherry, Babinga, you name it. With a little help I found the planks I needed and almost choked at the price. It was 1/3 the price I was used to paying at WoodCraft. Needless to say I loaded up way more than I needed and headed back to the shop. If you are in the North East Florida area look them up.

Joined, planed, and sawn the discount oak looks great.

rub rail 1

I started on the forward side to see if steam bending was in order. Fortunately the rails bent in with no problem at all. Before I mounted them permanently I had to locate the chain plates for the mast rigging.

I had to lift the measurements for the chain plates off of the master rigging drawing. Mr. Welsford gives a measurement off of bulkhead three and leaves it up to you to locate that on the upper planks.


I measured 500 mm off of the bulkhead and marked it on my stem. Then, with a straight stick and a plumb bob I transferred it to the planks.

Measurements to the nail on the bow evened them up. For the chain plates themselves I wimped out and bought the racelight plates. I didn’t feel like cutting stainless. The last order of business was to mount the rails on.

rub rail 2

rub rail 3

The rails went on in a normal way with little fight and just like that I was done with the build stand. You have no idea how happy I was to reach this point in the build. Two years of joy and frustrations all welled up together. It’s finally coming together.



Once again, I am a bad student that has fallen behind on my homework. Stuff has been piling up for weeks and weeks and I have been dutifully ignoring it hoping it would post itself. So much for that. It should take me around four posts to get caught up and hopefully nothing will distract me. Wish me luck.

I will start my makeup work with the story of my trailer. When I first started building the pathfinder my sailing buddy Jason contacted me and told me that he had a trailer waiting for me. Many years ago his wife’s grandmother had parked her sailboat, the Feline, at the families metal working shop in Savannah. Over the years the old catboat deteriorated and it was time to go. Fortunately the trailer was fairly new and in good shape, and, if I helped dispose of the old catboat I could have the trailer. That was an offer to good to pass up.

Feline 1

The boat was buried in the back corner against a fence. Twenty years of vines and stuff surrounded it. Fortunately Jason has a big ‘ol Ram truck with a winch that helped up clear a path. Slowly Feline emerged.

Feline 2

When we finally dug our way back to her I could see the remains of what was once a perfect day sailor. She was built of plywood and fiberglass with Mahogany trim. Back in the day she must have been beautiful. It was sad to send her out so unceremoniously.

feline 3

Turns out the trailer is in perfect shape. I put two new tires on and it rode home fine – the lights even still worked. How about that?

feline 4


If You’re Gonna be Dumb…


It’s Superbowl Sunday in south Georgia and this is how my Pathfinder looks. As you can tell there has been a lot of work done so I really need to catch up on my “homework” so here we go.

I set myself a punch list on the wall of all the things I had to do before I was able to lay the decking:

  1. Fiberglass, fair, and paint the anchorwell
  2. Floorboard supports
  3. Fillet and seal the interior
  4. Deck It

The deck edge supports were a pain in the rear but I got them done. It’s not my best work but I think they will do the job. If you want a picture let me know, otherwise I will let this part of the build be permanently hidden by the floorboards.

Fiberglassing and fairing the anchor well was pretty straight forward. I laid down two layers of glass to help protect from the pointy bits of the anchor and painted with interlux bilge coat. anchorwell

Checklist completed I headed on to decking.

Decking was a refreshing task. It was an easy task with each step leading to huge visual progress. I started by roughing out pieces of 1/4″ and tracing the underlying structure on to them.

Being an aircraft mechanic I really love the neat even rows of rivets on my planes so I duplicated that with boat nails on the decks. I laid out the “rivet pattern” with dividers and pilot drilled the ply. After that it was a simple matter of epoxy coating the bottom of the deck and gluing it on.


After the deck was on I trimmed the overhang with my router. I still have to shape the front with my belt sander and add the doublers called out in the prints but the deck is on! With that done there are two things preventing me from flipping and finishing the bottom of the boat – the outer stem and the rub rails.

I have been reading about traditional bent frame caravel construction so I wanted to try my hand again at steam bending wood. I made a pattern for the outer steam and busted out the “steam weasel”. outer-stem-one

I had enough oak laying around so I could try bending the stem in a single 1″x2″ piece and, if that failed laminate the outer stem with four 1/4″ strips. If you have been following this blog for any length of time you know how this one ends.


Lets try that again.

There was a video of the first attempt but it was deemed not suitable for younger audiences or those with weak hearts.


A little glue and screws and that task was done! After all that work it’s time for a break. naptime