The Dinghy Project

Back in the 60s, we used to build our own boats on Catalina Island. Using wood and fiberglass and paint, we'd construct everything from a rowboat to a cabin cruiser. Of the sailboat class was the popular "Sabot," a small "pram" type boat with a square bow. These prams were often used as dinghys, or "dinks" for larger boats.

Now owning a Catalina 25, I needed a dinghy to drag behind the sailboat so that if we anchored out overnight in some cove, we could go ashore. But instead of buying a modern plastic molded boat, I decided to see if I could still remember how to build a dinghy from scratch.  So, with a sketched out set of plans (one sheet drawing of "ideas") and a list of materials that I wrote up as I mentally engineered the project, I set out to see what I could do with a jig saw, a belt sander, and the patience of a sniper. (Okay, maybe not quite that much patience anymore, but still able to hold my epithets to a moderate roar when I mess up).

Starting out with  drawing the bulkheads and keel strips on a 4x8 sheet of 3/4" spruce plywood of the best grade I could find locally, I attached the project with a saber saw:


 Laying out the patterns on the floor as they are being cut out.



Gluing and Clamping the bits and pieces. Note that the keel is a laminate of three 3/4" plywood form-cut strips, glued together. The side strips will be where the bottom hull plates will attach.


Setting up the bulkhead formers with the keel in place on a solid jig board. The jig board would hold these pieces in place until I could bend the stringers along the sides to build up the basic shape.


The stingers had to be steamed for two hours each before they could be bent to the frame without breaking or splitting. Two 1x2 stringers would fit in a 4" PVC pipe 8' long. The "steamer" was a Coleman camp stove and a steel tea kettle! I hooked it all together with tin foil and it worked. Total cost of the "steamer" was $00.00.

Using hi-tech equipment (military surplus tie-down straps), I was able to bend the stringers into position to glue, screw and clamp. I let them dry for 12 hours before removing the straps.




All stringers are in place now. The center seat box will be totally enclosed, so I stained and varnished it at this point as I would not be able to after laying the bottom and sides. I also filled it with a large foam block for permanent flotation before closing it up.

The sides went on first. I cut 18" strips (long enough to make the hull bends and wide enough to cover the edge of the transom dimension). I had a friend help me hold each side in place, then used a pencil to mark the outline of the stringers. I was then able to custom cut each side and glue and screw it into place. The screws were 1" #2 Phillips head brass screws. The glue was Carpenters waterproof exterior glue. I'm sure there's some high dollar marine glue out there, but hey, this is Oklahoma and I wanted to see what I could build with local materials on the cheap!





Rolling her over for the first time to see how the hull turned out. There would be a lot of sanding and smoothing, but the hardest part was done.




Laying on the fiberglass. I used mat, cut into the same shapes as the hull plates. One has to remember to resin the raw wood first, let it dry, then resin it again and apply the mat and more resin until it is transparent. It is rough and will require sanding, and many people like woven cloth better. But cloth is more expensive and won't take the sanding as well. I used cloth on the compound curves and on the keel since it folds better than mat.


After sanding--and sanding--I finally was able to paint the hull with white Marine deck enamel. Since I was in a neighbor's garage I could not spray paint it, so had to brush paint it--which makes it thicker and three times as long to dry.



It was now time to stain and varnish the interior. I used a teak stain and a polyurethane spar varnish, marine grade. I also used fiberglass cloth strips along the center seat seams where it contacts the bottom to keep water from leaking into the seat box.

At this point I realized that I had made a mistake. I needed the transom to be twice as thick so I could mount a trolling motor or a 2 hp outboard. I would have to cut another transom plate and glue/screw it into place. No worries mate, I have a jig saw..and glue...

The finished product. I decided to make it a four seater so that a passenger could be more centered on the boat instead of riding on the bow. The total length of this boat is 7'6" with a beam of 40 inches. Empty draft is about 2 inches. Weighted draft with two men is about 5 inches. I installed oar locks, stern cleats, and a towing eye to the bow. Now to see if she floats...

Here I am for the first "float" in "Hip Shot".  I decided that this was an appropriate name for the dink since the whole project was shot from the hip.

Myself and a friend, Dr. Tony Madeira, checking how much weight HipShot would hold. I won't tell you how much, but over 400 lbs is safe.



My neighbor, Brigadier General (Ret) Ed Wheeler showing his rowing skills. Ed it about 6'3" or more, and over 230 lbs.




The "Doc" is making a wake. HipShot worked as designed. Total cost less than $800. Total labor...don't ask.


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