Starting on the Hull

You can only put it off so long. Now comes the actual boatbuilding! The first step is to fit the transom on the ends of the side tank bulkheads. The tabs fit into the slots in the transom, which means that these need to be clear of any excess epoxy from when it was laminated. Try dry fitting a few times, to make sure it fits cleanly. When it came to gluing, a did have a small issue aligning it, so ended up using a couple of Spanish windlasses to keep it square while the epoxy went off. Then add some fillets to the joint for strength.

The inner stem/Station 5 sub-assembly also needs to be fitted, with a couple of bolts to the frame.

Then the sole is added. Before fitting this, I glued and screwed the foot rests in place, as I figured it would be easier now than later. I also applied the coat of epoxy and 30gsm matting to the floor, but leaving strips untouched where later joins would be made to e.g. Station 1/3 and the centreboard case.

Note that all exposed edges of the MDF frames need to be taped, to avoid any strakes sticking to them. You can see this above.

The bulkhead at Station 5, and the inner stem both need to be chamfered for later fitting of the strakes. This is best achieved with careful use of a belt sander, and some scrap ply simulating the strake.

The sole is held in position with some sacrificial screws to the frame and inner stem while setting, and they can be removed afterwards and the holes filled.

Note the chamfers on the Station 5 bulkhead. The inner stem needs to be aligned with the centreline before gluing/screwing the sole to it.

The sole is glued to the transom and bulkheads 1, 3 and 5. When cured, it’s a good idea to add fillets to the joins underneath to improve rigidity

Scarfing or Scarphing?

As the kit is machined from 8′ x 4′ sheets of ply, making the strakes for a 12′ dinghy is obviously going to require some joining. One option is to use a kind of jigsaw puzzle joint, which is an option that Jordan can do, but you will never get as fair a finish as with scarphing. However, it is more difficult to do (apparently).

There is a nice little video on the Jordan website which describes the process very well, and also the relevant pages in the manual are well written. To create the scarphs, you can either use a router (probably more accurate but needs jigging) or a belt sander (actually quite easy but must be done with care). I opted for the latter, and this is where my Wickes worktop came in really handy! I couldn’t imagine doing this without a long workspace.

The completed strakes are quite long even on a 2.5m worktop – thank you Wickes!

Once cut and cleaned from the sheet, pair up the two halves of each strake, and mark them carefully for identification. Also mark the faces, so you don’t end up with a nice S-shaped strake which will fit nowhere! It’s worth spending a bit of tea-drinking time just checking and double-checking and remember the strakes for each side of the boat are mirror image.

When it comes to pairing up the two halves of the strake, there are some little holes in each part which are used to line everything up using string. You then pin the pieces down to the worktop ready for gluing. Do a dry run several times, as the alignment is very crucial. Get it wrong now, and you’ll have a wobbly boat.

Side Dishes

Apart from building the boat itself, there are quite a few side projects to be done, either as separate items, or sub-assemblies for later fitting to the hull

The separate items are the centreboard and rudder assemblies which can be done in parallel. The rudder was interesting, as it incorporates a lead weight, aswell as quite a complicated stock assembly. I learnt a few more tricks along the way.

The centreboard is quite easy, consisting of two laminates, which are then faired fore and aft, and this is where the belt sander came in handy. The entire blade is then epoxied and glass sheathed. I used 20 gsm glass for this, on the basis that it would render everything stiff enough, while providing adequate protection when grounding.

The rudder blade is similar, except a lead insert had to be cast, to make it heavy enough to drop in use. I used a old Camping Gaz stove to heat up a baked bean tin, with pellets of lead (you can buy them as fishing weights). The lead is cast directly into the blade, after first inserting three or four screws inside the hole, so the weight would not subsequently fall out. I found it quite easy to fair the blade afterwards, although I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to use a power planer for that!

The stock is just a case of following the instructions – I did consider making the stock permanently closed for strength, but I can see the logic for being able to take it apart for maintenance. It seems to be strong enough in practice. Make sure you use plenty of epoxy in areas which will not be seen, such as inside the stock itself.

The other two main sub-assemblies have to be done quite quickly – the inner stem with Station 5 bulkhead, and the centreboard case. The inner stem is easy, but the outer stem is where you need as many clamps as possible, to slowly build up the assembly with the 2mm laminates.

The centreboard case is quite straightforward – the only complicated bit is fairing the logs with the correct curves for the sole – there is a template in the kit to help you with that. Make sure you put at least two coats of epoxy in the inside faces before assembly, as you won’t get a chance to do it later!

The Bare Bones

To build the kit so that it’s fair and square, a frame is needed, onto which the strakes are built up. This consists of a square section tunnel, made of MDF, onto which the station templates are slotted in the right position. Most of these templates are temporary, but some parts stay with the boat, such as Station 1, Station 3 and the forward bulkhead at Station 5. It’s worth measuring everything three times, as any mistakes now will cost dear.

I did have one hiccup, where part of the frame that was supposed to hold the forward bulkhead at the right position just wouldn’t fit in the right place, but a quick email to Francois confirmed that one of the drawings was incorrect, and a new page was sent. If your plans date after March 2017, then you should be OK. Phew!

Slight panic as one of the frames doesn’t fit!

Once the frames are in place, it’s easy to see how the boat will take shape, and now’s a good time just to run your eye over the lines to see if anything obvious is wrong.

All stations in place, with the side bulkheads in place loosely to check alignment

After a dry run, now’s the time to tape up the edges of the frames with packing or Mylar tape, so the resulting hull doesn’t stick to them. This is especially critical at Stations 1, 3 and 5, as well as Station 2 where the sidetank bulkheads pass through the frame. The strakes will be glued to these bulkheads but NOT to the frame, otherwise, you’ll have a problem!

Some Light Reading

The paperwork from Vivier Boats includes a parts list, drawings and a basic manual, which if you follow it through, will just about get you there. But there are some basic skills which I needed to get clear in my mind, so I wondered if there was something like a basic boatbuilding book I could read in the wee small hours.

My prayers were answered by the ‘Clinker Plywood Boatbuilding Manual’ by Iain Oughtred, which quickly became my bible, and ended up as covered in epoxy as most of my clothes. The clue is in the title – it is a veritable collection of hints and tips, backed up by examples and photographs, which you can use to confidently complete the project.

No ifs, no buts, buy a copy NOW!

Tooling Up

I have to admit that one of the great things about a project like this is that you have to buy some extra tools. Being a gizmologist, I needed no second chance, so here are my thoughts on what you might need:-

Lots of clamps (or cramps as some people call them). I had a few old G-cramps in the cupboard, but these natty new quick grip ones are essential. I bought some Irwin ones in various sizes (see below) but you can get others quite cheaply on Amazon or at Wickes.

Power planer, jigsaw, power drill/driver and decent router. I went for the 18V Dewalt battery range – not cheap, but on the adage that a bad workman always blames his tools, buy the best you can, and then you have no excuse! The router is a Bosch beast which has already come in handy. Make sure the tools have dust extraction ports, and hook them up to a vacuum cleaner like a Henry or Bosch AdvancedVac. It keeps the workshop much more manageable

A belt sander might sound like a crude tool, but it’s a great way of achieving good scarfs, and fairing bits of the hull

Consumables like syringes, latex/nitrile gloves, tongue depressers (big lolly sticks), mixing pots, glass fibre matting, packing tape, and polythene sheeting (my Amazon purchase history looks like I am a drug addict)

Work area – I was lucky in that when I built my storage cabinets in the garage from a special offer kitchen range at Wickes, they sent me two extra 2.5m worktops by mistake. I knew they would come in handy, so I mounted one on four trestles and covered it in polythene sheeting to stop the epoxy sticking. If you have the space, I strongly recommend you do the same, as you need that surface to scarf the hull panels with the best alignment.

And last but not least, you need something to stick it all together with. I bought a large 5kg can of West 105 epoxy, with the 205 fast hardener. This is convenient if doing small jobs, but does not have much of a pot life if doing larger coverage, like glass work. For that, it’s a good idea to have some 206 slow hardener to hand. Also, buy the dispenser pumps – it makes it easy to get the right mix ratio.

Along with the epoxy, you’ll need some colloidal silica for filleting, and of course some microballoons for thickening/gluing. The West website has many hints and tips which you can download. I managed to do the whole build with one 5kg can of epoxy, but it was tight!

You will of course need a fair selection of brass screws, aswell as normal steel chipboard screws, for temporary fixing, but you can get these as you go along. Boxes of screws are surprisingly cheap at Toolstation or Wickes.

And finally, did I mention clamps? You really can’t have too many!

Getting it all together

Once the kit had been ordered, what about the rest of the timber? The manual gives a very comprehensive cutting list, but you need to decide if you are to do the lugsail version of the Morbic or the sloop version. Being inclined towards simplicity and single-handed sailing, the lugsail version seemed more sensible for me.

I worked through the cutting list, and after browsing the net, I finally settled on Robbins Timber in Bristol. They were recommended to me by another Hornet friend, Tim Coombe, who has a reputation of making exceedingly fine boats – he had recently finished a superb refurb on my Hornet as below. It won the Concours D’Elegance at the Dinghy Show 2013

Having spoken to George at Robbins, I ended up sending the complete list to them, and they put together a complete quote, which saved me a lot of trouble. If you’re considering a Morbic build, let me know, and I can send you the final cutting list. It turned out to be very accurate, and very good quality.

The upside was also that I now know what PAR* stands for!

Getting the kit delivered was challenge. I was down in Devon at around the time the kit was ready (I’d put a winning bid on a 10 foot launch on eBay which I had to collect, but that’s another story!) so I arranged to drop in and see Alec, on the off chance I would pick up some of the bits. It was pouring with rain, so I thought better of it, but it gave me the chance to have a look at Alec’s workshop, which was very impressive. It’s amazing how these CNC routers work – stick in a sheet of 8′ x 4′ ply, and press Go!

This is what comes out of the CNC machine – sheets of plywood with all the parts accurately cut out

*planed all round

In the end, TNT delivered all the sheet parts on a large pallet, which quickly had to be put in the workshop to avoid the rain. A few days later, another lorry came with the wood from Robbins. No going back now!

What’s it to be?

The idea of building a boat was rattling around in my mind, and browsing the Jordan website allowed me to home in on what I wanted to do. At about that time, we were on the Chichester Art Trail and visited an artist in Hayling Island. She lived not far from the lifeboat station, and her husband had a kayak which he launched from the garden. It turned out that their son was in the middle of building an Iain Oughtred design from a Jordan kit, and enthused about the fit and finish of the kit parts, which were CNC cut to great accuracy.

This sounded more like it, so I started to look more seriously. The parameters were simple. 12 foot. Clinker. Single-handed, but enough for two when my non-sailing wife wanted to come on a picnic. Easily managed rig.

As well as the Dinghy Show, I like to go to the Southampton Boat Show, and they have a ‘classic’ section where traditional builders peddle their wares. I happened across Adrian Donovan, who was exhibiting ‘Cadfael’, a 12 footer built from a Jordan kit from a design by Francois Vivier. Being a professional boatbuilder, Adrian had made quite a few tweaks to the build, but the basic design was very attractive.

‘Cadfael’ at the Southampton Boat Show

‘Cadfael’ is a Morbic 12, and I knew right away that this would fit the bill, even though I could only dream of achieving the same finish. I contacted Francois Vivier by email, and in no time, I had downloaded the plans and a building manual. Although these were quite daunting, it all seemed very logical and not beyond my capabilities.

The next step was contacting Alec Jordan, who was very helpful, and the order for the kit was placed. No going back now!

The dangers of Ally Pally

Every spring, the Dinghy Show is held at Alexandra Palace in London, and it is when the dinghy sailors of all shapes and sizes come out of hibernation and contemplate the new season. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, and normally, for me, this means being on the Hornet stand, fending off old buggers who come along and reminisce about having a Hornet with a sliding seat, even though such things were replaced with a trapeze over 40 years ago.

One old acquaintance is Dave Chivers who hails from Brightlingsea, and is now something important in the RYA measurement department. Over a beer, we reminisced about Hornets and Brightlingsea One Designs (which appear to be having a bit of a renaissance) and I expressed the thought that it might be fun to have a ‘classic’ dinghy.

Dave mentioned that you could buy kits to build classic designs, and pointed me towards Jordan Boats near Taunton. This was tempting to someone like me with limited woodworking skills!

I have actually built a boat in the past – just before I left for university, I teamed up with another Brightlingsea chum to buy a Hornet bare hull from Brian Cory in Deal, and complete it very much on a budget. The end result was a boat which was 25 lbs underweight, and it wasn’t difficult to see where the weight savings were! We knocked it up in a barn in Mersea, and its first outing was the 1976 Hornet Europeans in Fishguard, Wales. Needless to say, it wasn’t a great success, and I remember Jim Wood, a Hornet old hand who had just built his own boat, came along and said he assumed the boat was a temporary fix, and expected that we would finish it later!

‘Scaramouche’, sailing on Southampton Water in the late 70’s

It wasn’t so bad, and it followed me to Southampton, where we sailed it on and off at Weston SC. After selling it on, the last I heard was it had sunk in Portland Harbour after a capsize. For all I know, it’s still there.

Growing up in Mersea

The sailing bug started as I grew up in West Mersea, Essex, where my parents moved when I was only two weeks old. They also had a passion for boats, and my father originally had a yawl called Kitty Alone. The name came from the book by Rev Sabine Gould, who was the vicar of Mersea, and also wrote Mehalah, a tale of life in the Essex marshes. I believe he was also the author of the hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’, which was our school song at West Mersea Primary School, and we had it drilled in to us endlessly at school assemblies!

My father bought a 12′ sailing dinghy, known as a Searanger, in order to teach me and my sisters to sail. Clinker built, and decidedly solid, it was a good basis for learning the basics. It was gunter rigged, and didn’t really lend itself to dry sailing, so it was anchored off the waterfront in Mersea when not in use. This presented its own problems considering the range of tides in the Blackwater estuary!

We spent many days and hours pootling around the creeks in Mersea and beyond, including trips with the tide up to the Sun at Salcott, where we always sat outside with a ginger beer and packet of crisps (small blue bag of salt included!), while our parents enjoyed the local beer (probably Ind Coope in those days)

The Searanger was called ‘Spingere’, as my mother had just enjoyed a Danair holiday in Italy with her sister Pamela, and thought it amusing to have ‘Push’ written on the transom.

It later transpired, during a refit, that she was actually called ‘Susie’, as we found a brass nameplate screwed under the main thwart. Therefore she was sail number 11 as evidenced on this page I found on t’internet, thanks to Gunfleet SC.

‘Susie’ in her heyday, well before we got our hands on her!

Searangers are still sailed today, and until recently, there was a class at the annual West Mersea Town Regatta, and for all I know, there still is. Even when I graduated to a Mirror, a far more modern craft, Searangers were still competing on handicap at the Dabchicks SC, and gained a reputation as PY bandits.

A Searanger sailing off Kingsland Road in Mersea in the Town Regatta. A good solid craft

The upshot of all this was that despite my progression into Mirrors, Hornets, International 14s, Bosses, etc, I still harboured the idea that a 12 foot clinker dinghy was the way to potter around harbours and creeks.

The seed was sown……..