Monday, April 29, 2013

Squirt: Brief chronology of a short boat

Although I never actually finished my Squirt, I’ll share my build story with you. Perhaps it will give some helpful insight to the new builder. Perhaps it will help you to avoid some of the mistakes I made.

This is the paint scheme I'd conceived for my Squirt. It is based largely on the Squirt "Fastidiots" I saw at the G5 Gathering.


First of all, let’s start with the basics: What is a Squirt? And, why did I opt for this plan instead of the Zip?

The Squirt is a classically-styled runabout, very much like the Zip in its overall appearance. Its just a good bit smaller. Frequently built at 11 feet in length (rather than the original 10 ft), the Squirt has a beam of 4’ 4”. As such, it only has enough room for two people. Although it is small in size, the Squirt in my opinion is an equally graceful design as the Zip. I consider it quite an accomplishment of design that Mr. Witt was able to design such a small runabout without it looking like a toy. A well-made Squirt is really a sight to behold.

Why did I choose this design over a Zip initially? It basically boils down to this: Having very little woodworking experience, and about an equal amount of woodworking skill, I felt that the Squirt would be a more realistic goal for a first-time build. I felt I had a better chance of finishing it once I’d started the project. Also, being a smaller boat, it needed a smaller motor... less cost, less material, etc, etc.

The first step was to transfer the plans onto wood. The way I went about this was to trace the patterns onto poster board, then cut out the poster board parts and use them as templates to transfer to the wood.

Poster board frame member templates & the pine forward deck beam
The plans show half-breadths of the frames. So, you have to flip the plans in order to draw the parts out full-size. As you can see from my poster board cut-outs, I only used the half-breadth, then flipped the template itself when I traced it onto the wood. I think this was a mistake, as it opens up more opportunities for error. I wound up with some asymmetry in my frames from doing this. Better to follow the instructions and trace the plans directly to the stock you’re going to use.

Frame #2, without backing piece, showing the gap where the aft end of the stem fits.
The bottom members of frame #2 (the forward frame) do not actually mate together directly. There is a gap between them, into which the stem fits. The stem butts against a backing frame member. This backing member also joins the two bottom members.

Frame # 2 with the backing piece. The deck beam would actually be installed on the opposite side of the side members.
Once the frame members are cut out, they are assembled with epoxy and screws by fastening gussets to the butt-joined frame members. I used vertical grain Southern Yellow Pine for most of my frame members. For the gussets, I used standard pine exterior-grade 1/4” plywood. Perhaps for the gussets, that wasn’t such a big deal. Marine-grade plywood made from better material (Douglas Fir, Mahogany) would have been better. For fasteners, I used stainless steel wood screws. I believe that was another mistake. There are plenty of comments online that stainless steel WILL rust if it stays wet long enough. Definitely get the recommended bronze screws. But, be careful with them. They’re soft & the heads will strip out on you very easily.

Close-up of frame #1 gussets
Frame #1 assembled
The transom is made by fastening the transom frame members to the plywood transom using epoxy and screws.  A solid wood motor board is fastened similarly to the interior center of the transom. On the first transom I built, I used cheap pine 3/4” exterior-grade plywood because the marine grade plywood was expensive and unavailable locally. That was a mistake. Get the marine grade plywood from wherever you have to go to get it from a reputable lumber yard. It will be made of better material, with minimal or no voids. And, being of better quality, handled by more professional wood merchants, it will be straighter.

Gluing frame members onto the transom using Glen-L Poxy Grip epoxy. (This is actually the second transom I built.)
This is how I botched the first transom. "Lusitania 13" was born.
The transom, viewed from the side, is raked backward at a 12° angle. As such, the bottom of the transom is beveled accordingly. I cut this bevel with my circular saw, making my next mistake: I cut the bevel the wrong way, meaning the transom would rake inward... NOT outward. I had to scrap the whole transom. The correct nautical term for this is “firewood.” At this point, I named the boat “Lusitania 13” because of all the luck I was having with it.

Lesson learned: Don’t try to pre-cut that bottom transom bevel unless you’re an expert wood craftsman. Deal with it during the fairing process, and save yourself a big headache. I built a new transom using marine-grade 3/4” plywood (Douglas Fir), and was much happier with the results.

Once the frames are constructed, they are mounted upside-down on a building form. Take construction of your building form very seriously. Take your time. Read the instructions thoroughly and understand them. Make certain that the form is level and true in all the required areas. I did not. Surprise! Misaligned parts. Not what you want.

Placing frames on the construction form.
The stem is made by laminating two pieces of 3/4” plywood together using epoxy and screws. Again, use the bronze screws. I used Glen-L Poxy-Grip on all of my assembly up to this point. Poxy-Grip is a very viscous two-part adhesive. Its thickness helps greatly to fill gaps in less-than-perfect joints. This can also be accomplished by thickening regular epoxy with fillers such as silica or wood flour, or a combination of thickening agents.

The breasthook assembly is similarly constructed from two pieces of 3/4” plywood. The bottom portion has a notch cut in it. This notched portion fits down directly onto the upper surface of the stem. Take the alignment of these parts very seriously as you cut and assemble them. I did not, and as a result, my breasthook was out of alignment with the centerline of the stem. Don’t be intimidated by the need for all this alignment. It is NOT hard... just take your time and pay attention. Mark all your center lines clearly, work slowly, and concentrate. It pays off.

A note about the breasthook assembly: The forward tip of it will extend outward past the  stem just a little bit. This is so that there is enough material there to fair away so that the sweeping upward curve of the stem can be carried through the breasthook.

Once constructed, the stem / breasthook assembly fits into its notch on the forward face of frame #2. The keel is also placed into position before the stem assembly is fastened on permanently. I did not get that far.

I had built my stem from cheap 3/4” pine exterior-grade plywood from one of the big-box stores. When dry-fitting it into place, I realized that the stem had so much of a bend in it that the breasthook was a full two inches off-center from the centerline of the boat. And the breasthook wasn’t on straight anyway. And my building form wasn’t correctly level and true, so my frame alignment was off. And there was asymmetry in the frames.

Lusitania 13, one sigh away from being scrapped.

At this point, knowing that I was in for re-construction of some major parts, as well as my building form, and knowing that the finished boat would be too small to carry me and both my kids, I decided to scuttle the project. I decided to look for something that would carry 3 passengers, as well as be a somewhat simpler boat to build. That’s what led me to choosing the Utility design. While not a classic runabout, it does have a certain 1950’s styling (likely because it WAS designed in the 1950’s). It still has a wood deck, and a substantially simpler interior arrangement. So, I bought the plans and moved forward.

I still have Lusitania 13’s transom in the garage. I may finish it and hang it on the wall of my shop one day.

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