Okay, a bit of a jump here, from Nova Scotia in July to New Zealand in late October. A few things happened in-between, and maybe we’ll get to that later. But late in the summer my boatbuilding buddy Andy Hutchinson got a contract to build two Briggs-style open dories in New Zealand for float trips on the Whanganui River. Andy asked me to come along and help pull it off. We scheduled about three weeks to do it. A bit of an aggressive schedule, but hell–deadlines make the world go round.
Unfortunately Andy got severely delayed by visa issues and I had to go it alone for the first week or so. So the pressure was on. I set up our shop in a sheep shed high on a windy hilltop in the remote community of Pukeokahu, where our employer, Brian Megaw, had secured us space for the month.
The front door was pretty classy:
It came with our mantra stuck to the wall:
Brian didn’t really have the necessary tools for such an enterprise so we spent a small fortune gearing up. The clamps, unfortunately, were on the low end. Pro-Grade. If you ever get a chance to buy any Pro-Grade clamps, run the other way. Of the three dozen pictured below, only about ten survived the project.
But the saving grace was the bonus pack of top-notch Makita lithium cordless tools. Oh my good golly heck are they fine tools. Highly recommended. The circular saw, the planer, the drills–all bad ass tools and hell for accurate. Here they are sitting atop the full-size drawings we lofted back in the states.
The first week or so was a test in moral strength–alone on the hilltop in the howling wind and rain. Fortunately I excavated a wood stove in the corner of the shop and had her blazing full time. And I did have a few buddies in the far end of the shop who called my name incessantly: “Bra-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-addd!“
Here is the view out the lofting bench window: the world’s largest golf course. Never been anywhere even close to this green.
Brian was able to get some top-notch boatbuilding wood–Port Orford cedar for framing, Meranti marine plywood for the skin, and White Oak for the gunwales and chines. Here are the first five of twenty rib sets leaning up against the stack of plywood:
I came up with another in a long line of invented scarfing jigs to bevel the plywood so we could glue up twenty-foot sheets. This one involved making a wooden box and screwing the circular saw to it. It is the best jig I’ve ever used. Note the scarf cut in the bottom of the picture.
The clamping jigs were simply pairs of 2x4s above and below the scarfed plywood sheets, the flat surfaces of the 2x4s covered with black plastic. On the set top I drove wedges between the two 2x4s to distribute pressure, since I only connected the top boards to each other at the very ends. Another grand success.
By the time Andy and Kate arrived, I had all the ribs, bowposts, and transoms cut, and the side-panels and floors scarfed and glued. Gunwales and chines were milled and scarf-cut, ready to bend and glue. On their first morning we drew out the side-panels from patterns we made in the states–here we are truing the lines with wooden battens.
And that afternoon we pulled together the first hull.
Meanwhile we fired up our improvised steam bender. The jets on the burners were oversized (for burning sheep farts I guess?) so I pounded in a stick of wood in the gigantic orifice and drilled a tiny orifice more suited to propane. Damn if it didn’t work. Well, kinda sooty, but it worked. We also found it heated our jackets nicely while improving the bender’s efficiency. You can see a set of chines fresh out of the steamer in the previous picture, clamped to the new hull for shaping.
Things never slowed down much. Here is Andy cutting the sheer line on one of the hulls.
We fit in the inner chines next and traced the pattern for the bottoms:
Then we screwed them on and put on the outer chines.
Fortunately we passed our inspection:
Next we rolled them up and screwed on the Tasmanian Blackwood gunwale blocks and chiseled out the ribs to accept the gunwales.
Each evening we we glued up chines and gunwales for the next day. And on they went. (Go, Pro-Grades, go! Snap. Damn it!) Fortunately I had had time to email Andy to grab a few of my Highland clamps before he left the states, so we limped on through.
The saving grace of this manic schedule was that we were not decking them as we do in Grand Canyon, but rather installing fairly simple benches.
We saturated the bottoms with epoxy to toughen them a bit for gravelly landings and such. The sides we varnished. Interiors we oiled with Linseed-turpentine-varnish with a touch of pine tar (which is called Stockholm Tar down under.)
We planned to do a float trip on the Whanganui on our last two days before departing. We finished them late the afternoon before load-up day with hours (HOURS!) to spare. We christened them with a bottle of champagne and the local hot babes showed up to party with us.
On our final day of work we crafted a stack-loader for the trailer, loaded them up and drove them down into the Rangatikei River, where Brian runs River Valley Lodge. There we launched Zsa Zsa for a test float. She floated.
The next morning it was off to the Whanganui for an overnight. We had to stop along the way and photograph the newborn babes in front of Ruapehu. And photograph each other photographing each other photographing the boats.
And down the Whanganui we went. Relieved and exhausted in two damned pretty boats. On a damned pretty river. If you are ever looking for a lovely three-to-five-day float, contact Brian at Whanganui River Dories. It’s luvly.
Here are Brian and Nicola Megaw in Zsa Zsa, proud new dory owners. Friend Tommy is waving from the stern.
After a long drive back to River Valley, we got up early, cleaned out the sheep shed, and drove ’til ten p.m. to catch a flight home. Some day I hope to see New Zealand.
P.S. if you are a FaceBooker, Brian has done some great posts and videos–Friend him up at Whanganui River Dories.
Long time to wait for a blog but well worth it. Thanks for the great story.
This was really fun to follow via Facebook, and I was really happy to see the timelapse of the build linked above. My one question goes back to one of the first videos where you mention this is the first boat(s) to be assembled in this manner since Jerry Briggs back in the early 80's. Can you elaborate a bit on that comment?
I think that's not really accurate. Most recent Briggs boats have been stitch and glue, but with Roger Fletcher's book I am sure a few other framed ones have been built. The two we built are from newly lofted lines directly off a stock Briggs, so it may be the closest anyone has come. Hard saying.