Day 4 – Laminating the Other Side

I started the day by taking some measurements of my canoe and lying down in a few places to get a measure for how much space I need to sleep in reasonable comfort. The 55cm width of my canoe (at its widest point) is pretty comfortable, I would say almost luxurious, but I suppose that’s relative. ; ) The Vaka in the Mbuli plans is narrower at the bottom, only 45cm so definitely too narrow to sleep on the floor. Spanning a removable net (or hammock) 20cm above the floor would give all the width I need though.

After that I ran an errand and headed to the workshop. Yesterday’s laminate turned out really well (even if slightly epoxy-rich in places), and by the time I got to the workshop today, it was dry enough to start preparing to laminate the other side. I sanded a couple of areas and then cleaned them with acetone. Fortunately Jan K. stopped by for about an hour to help lay the glass cloth onto the hull. It’s pretty smooth stuff, so until you affix it to the hull with a bit of tape, it doesn’t really want to stay there. I then spent about an hour gently adjusting the cloth and stroking all the folds and creases out of it until it was smooth and even. After that I started applying epoxy directly onto the cloth on the hull. Overall I think doing a dry layup proved considerably easier than the wet layup I did yesterday. Applying the epoxy took and getting the laminate done took me about 3.5 hours working alone, so it was a little faster than the wet layup Benjamin and I did together yesterday. For this application, the dry layup definitely seems less labor intensive.

Progress today: Looked into the sleeping accomodations of the vaka. Laminated the 2nd side of the ama.

Overall I’m feeling pretty exhausted, the last few days have been really long days in the workshop and not enough sleep. I’m very much looking forward to a bit of rest on Sunday! The plan for tomorrow though is to either epoxy-coat the outside of the hull, or laminate with fiberglass tape on the inside, that depends a bit on what time I get to the workshop. There’s a few things I could do after that, potentially I could even start work on the deck of the ama tomorrow, we’ll see!

29 days to go!

— Marco

Day 3 – A Big Laminating Day

Today was a big laminating day. The plan was to laminate over the outside of the ama, left and right, with a single layer of glass cloth. Benjamin H. came by to help out, and we got to work. We cut the cloth to shape, and opted for a wet layup, i.e. we saturated cloth with epoxy on a table, rolled it up onto a rod, and then unrolled the saturated cloth onto the hull. Since we intended to laminate both sides in one go, we did that with the hull standing upright, which made things a little more difficult from a handling standpoint.

This is by far the largest surface which either of us has ever laminated, but overall I think it’s going to turn out extremely well. From what I could see today, there are no bubbles, dry spots, creases, tangled fibers, or other defects anywhere, and the fiber volume ratio should be pretty good as well so I’m eager to see the results tomorrow! With two of us working it still took about 6 hours to get it done though (preparation included). Getting the creases out of the cloth was pretty difficult. For the other side I am going to try a dry layup. With a dry layup, you spread the dry cloth over the hull, get any folds and creases out while it’s dry, and then apply epoxy right onto the cloth on the hull. It should be faster for this task. Interestingly, for laminating fiberglass tape on the inside of the hull it’s far quicker to do a wet a layup. I guess there’s different horses for different courses!

Progress today: Laminated one side of the ama. Also spent about an hour removing fittings from the 470 dinghy.

The primary objective for tomorrow is to find a supplier for my plywood for next week. If the epoxy has cured sufficiently by tomorrow morning, I’ll do the dry layup of the other side, otherwise I’ll just epoxy-coat the laminate from today. Thanks a whole bunch to Benjamin H. for all the help today, and for sticking it out all the way to the end!

30 days to go!

— Marco

Day 2 – Errands & Only a Little Progress

Just a quick post today. I ran a bunch of erands, but came short of achieving my primary objective for the day: scrapping my old 470 dinghy. In 10 days it has to be out of the sailing club’s hall. It’s broken beyond repair so instead of going back in my garage I’m going to salvage all the hardware from the boat and the hull is going in the dumpster. I started doing that too late though. Every Wednesday at 18:00 is Boat-Fixing Night at the sailing club, so I didn’t find much time to continue working then. We got a few things done at the club though and I did take an hour or two in the afternoon to clear my head and enjoy the good autumn weather. : )

I also called several plywood manufacturers / suppliers in the region today to check their stocks of marine okoume plywood. The 5-ply 1200x2400mm sheets in 6mm thickness which I need seem to be low in stock all over the place. Prices are all in the range of 25-30€/m². I need nine sheets of the plywood, the best I could find at any one supplier so far was seven sheets, with times of 2-8 weeks until they restock. It looks like it’s going to take a few more phonecalls, I need the plywood next week!

Progress for today: Called a few plywood suppliers in the region. Transported 30kgs of epoxy resin/hardener to sailing club. Started dismantling my broken 470 dinghy.

Tomorrow morning I’m meeting a friend and we’re going to laminate the entire outside of the ama in one big operation. 31 days to go!

A quiet moment at the waterside, between running errands.
A quiet moment at the waterside, between running errands. There’s a little bit of wind at the far side of the lake… 😉

Day 1 – Changing Course

What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all – in the material sense, and we know it.

— Sterling Hayden, Wanderer

Today marked a radical change in the overall course of my project. In the last few days it has become increasingly clear that future access to the facility where my ama is currently stowed, may become problematic. Furthermore there comes a time when you have to face the facts, and the simple fact is that I got practically nothing done on my boat this summer. I had the perfect opportunity, access to a great workshop, and after completing my Bachelor’s thesis I had even taken the rest of the semester off to work on the boat. Despite all of that, since I left Wilhelmshaven in late May / early June, I’ve spent at most 30-40 hours working on the construction of the boat, in a whooping four months of time. It’s a dismal result, and it’s down to having too many other things on my plate, getting stuck, and at times just feeling overwhelmed with the project. I don’t have a sea-faring background or extensive cruising experience to rely on. In an 8.5m cruising proa for coastal and possibly trade-wind use, there’s a thousand details you have to get right, and at present I simply lack the experience and the skills to do so.

There is no way that I will let the next summer pass me by again, but four and a half months down the road I have nothing more than a half-finished 5.8m long ama, so what’s the plan? Simple, I am going to build an Mbuli from the plans by Chesapeake Light Craft. Mbuli is a 6.1m proa with a ‘cabin’ that’s large enough for one person to lie down in. It’s a two-handed daysailor, or a singlehanded minimal weekender designed for sailing in coastal waters. You might say it’s not half the boat I’ve been dreaming and talking about over the last few years, but it’s a boat which will be every bit as capable of taking me on adventures, far more than any ship of the imagination ever could. I am going to finish the ama, build the vaka from the plans, and rig the boat with the single large mainsail I already have. Later on I could even reuse the ama, mast, and mainsail for a larger boat.

What a pile of junk! An afternoon later however, the garage is tidy as ever, and ready to start work.
What a pile of junk! An afternoon later, the garage is tidy as ever, and ready to start work.

At 6.10m the hull would barely fit into my 5.5 x 2.5m garage, having to be oriented double diagonally, but what counts, is that it fits, at least overnight. Thus I have a place right infront of my doorstep, to get the boat done. I can always build the rudders, do the rigging, painting, etc next spring, but now it’s pedal-to-the-metal to get the bare hulls done this year. I’ve got about a month of time before it gets too cold to do anything with epoxy.

Progress for today: Conceived my new strategy, identified the (small) design changes which will be necessary to accomodate my rig, and cleaned out my garage so it’s ready to start work. Thanks a ton to Nils B. for helping me out with the garage, it took all afternoon, but we came through in the end! : )

Now it’s off to bed, for an early start tomorrow! 32 days to go. Let’s do this!

— Marco

Designing the Vaka

It’s been a while since my last post, so I thought I’d get back to it by talking about some of the CAD work that goes into the project, a facet which I haven’t covered at all yet in the blog. After coming up with a design brief and the general configuration and dimensions, the CAD work is one of the most important parts of the design process. Originally I did all of my modelling using Autodesk Inventor which I started using & learning for that purpose back in 2013. As you can see form some of the early renderings, initially I was pursuing more of an open beach-proa:

Soon afterwards I made the jump to a boat with a cabin though. I have since gone through many iterations of the vaka (the main hull) to improve the design. As I would learn later, these early models, especially these early renderings of vakas with a cabin) have a chronic lack of volume in the ends. This would have made the boats a disaster when sailing off the wind or in rough seas. About a year later my designs were starting to be a bit more refined. I took a great deal of inspiration from John Harris’ Mbuli.

I was attracted to the ease of shunting a schooner rig, you go on a beam reach, stop the boat, sheet the booms in toward the other end, and off you go on the new tack. There’s no jibs to raise and lower all the time. The bottom of this hull was round, to minimize the wetted surface area, but at great cost in construction time. I was continuing my trend of having no overhang at the bows, and was also starting to have very little to no flare at the ends of the boat (near the bows the sides of the hull are vertical) to reduce pitching in a seaway. The hope therein was to slice through the smaller waves instead of going over them. This is very much the middle ground between conventional bows and the wave-piercers. After building a mockup of the vaka, it also turned out that the cabin was too small, I simply hadn’t left enough space on the inside. Building and trying out the mockup was a powerful lesson in that sometimes, especially for ergonomics and comfort, it’s best to just build it and have a look. Whether you have enough elbow room or if something feels comfortable or not, is difficult to gauge in a CAD program, especially when the goal is to find the smallest possible configuration which offers that minimal but essential level of comfort.

Overall the designs continued to progress from there, with more volume in the ends, a sloop rig for better upwind performance, a flat or nearly bottom to make the boat easier to build, and a number of other changes. This summer I also changed to a different CAD program, Rhino 5, a NURBS-based modeller, which I find much better for the modelling and manipulation of organic shapes. Overall, Dick Newick’s 34′ atlantic proas ‘Godiva Chocolatier’ (aka ‘Lady Godiva’) and Cheers as well as James Wharram’s Tiki 26 catamaran have been huge inspirations for me over the last few months, at least where the cabin and interior layout is concerned. My underwater body of choice is completely different however, with a flat or near-flat bottom and plenty of volume in the ends. Getting a good combination of all the widths, heights and angles wasn’t easy, but I think it’s really starting to look like something. The heavy flare of the hull at midships (beam overall of 1750mm with the pod, 1300mm without) and slightly increased total height (1350mm) should provide for a quite roomy interior. The LOA is 8500mm, BWL 560mm.

These most recent vaka designs are by far the best I have produced to date. There are still a few more details to work out, but I am really looking forward to building my second full-scale mockup sometime soon!


Building a voyaging proa on a student's budget