i550 – Cockpit Deck

Recent work has largely revolved around the cockpit. It is surprising how much there is to do! First, I needed to finish the interior of the boat where the cockpit is to go, this because it won’t be possible to reach many of the areas once the cockpit deck is glued down. I found I was able to reach the Spinnaker cleats and the Traveller cleats in a trial run – although I had to breathe shallow and the deck was moving up and down on my stomach…I will need to lose some weight or rent a small child – either way it can be done which means two fewer hatches!

At the aft end of the cockpit there is no chance of reaching the fittings so here there is no choice but to cut some holes. I decided on one hole for both the rudder fittings and outboard fittings and one hole each side for the spinnaker fittings. With the plan to put the rudder fittings inside a box the deck also had to be cut to allow access to the upper fitting. Perhaps some pics will explain it better?!

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There has also been a fair bit of work done to the undersides of the cockpit decking. All the Toe-strap points have been reinforced as have the Traveller cleat, fairlead and block points. In addition there are lengthways stiffeners at the edges where the cockpit floor meets the sides. This is because there is nothing supporting the floor there apart from the join itself (which is pretty strongly taped and filleted with 450gms Biax on both sides).

After the additional work was done to the underside of the deck (including the necessary butt joints) I flipped the board and tacked the sides to the floor being careful to ensure PVC sheets were placed where the floor rested on the cockpit frames in order to prevent accidental gluing.

Once the tacking dried it was a simple matter to fillet and tape the joint. Note that in the picture below I was careful to screw in 4 blocks of wood (and backers on the deck underside) so that I could attach cross pieces to support the flimsy deck as it is removed from the boat. We remove it from the boat so that the whole structure can be flipped and taped from underneath as well (see the 2nd picture below).




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Here you can see the cockpit flipped and the temporary cross beams in place to hold it steady

Here you can see the cockpit flipped and the temporary cross beams in place to hold it steady


i550 – Hardware reinforcement points

I spent the bulk of this weekend working on the side decks and bunk surface. I want a reasonably stiff deck. One because I hate that spongy feel you get where you’re worried your foot will go through at any moment and Two because I am a big guy…

To achieve this the plan was to add a stringer below the side deck and fillet and tape it in place. In addition it was also time to add some hardware reinforcement for the kite blocks and cleat.

I started off by dry fitting the stringer in the frame and adding a gentle curve so that it supported the deck roughly along the ply’s centre line. At first I used a hacksaw to cut notches in the frames but found this to be both time-consuming and inaccurate. It wasn’t long before I set the depth on the Circular saw and went to town with that instead. The operation was made a little more tricky because of the curve in the stringer.

To achieve this I set up the ends first before pulling the curve into the stringer and marking with a pencil and cutting with the saw.

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The end of the stringer notched and ready to set into the foreward deck support. the notch was developed with a chisel.

i550 Stringer and frame notch

Note the angle of the cut, this to add the curve to the stringer.

Stringer end

The Stringer end is angled this supports the deck once downward pressure is applied. The stringer will always seek to seat itself more firmly. (This borrowed from the Gougeon book)

Stringer end in place in frame

Stringer end in place in frame

Stringer in Frames

The end product, the stringer sitting snugly and ready for gluing to the deck.

The next step was to glue my pre-prepared side deck to the stringer without accidentally gluing the stringer and deck to the frames. Obviously one has a choice in the way to go at this point. You can either glue the stringer to the frames and then the deck to the stringer – the downside of this is that you are left with a simple glued joint with no fillets and no tape. To add tape from the underside once the deck is in place is possible but a pain in the butt.

An easier approach is to glue the stringer to the deck and then the deck + stringer to the frames. Your main points of difficulty are then ensuring the stringer is flush and glued to the deck with no gaps. This is easily achieved by pre-drilling and screwing with wood screws during gluing.

The underside of the deck, ready for wood screws (screwed from top down)

The underside of the deck, ready for wood screws (screwed from top down)


To prevent any accidental bonding between stringer/deck and frames I covered them with a layer of Stickytape.

After allowing the resin to set I pulled the deck and shaped the stringer with a hand plane ready for filleting and taping. The idea here being to create a round form where the tape was to go while leaving a square form where the stringer sits in the notched frames.

Stringer glued to deck

Stringer glued to deck – note the profile change from round to square and the added hardware reinforcement

Next steps were to add the reinforcement for the kite blocks and cleat. I didn’t want to just secure onto ply so I decided to borrow a trick from the PDX guys in Portland and add a GRP reinforcement plate. This way, once the hardware holes are drilled (oversize) and filled with resin there will be no point of contact between the fitting and the ply.

To make the GRP reinforcement plates was very simple and satisfying. I got two shutterply off cuts and secured some PVC builders waterproofing to them with wood screws. I then lay up 4 x 250GSM Biax tape and peel ply and sandwiched it between them adding clamps. The end result was a nicely formed flat GRP plate which I could quickly make into reinforcements.

Unpacking the raw plate

Unpacking the raw plate


Close-up of the plate

Close-up of the plate

Plate cut to size, sanded on corners and edge and glued in placePlate cut to size, sanded on corners and edge and glued in place


i550 Hull – Cockpit Deck Support

Not only have I come back (reluctantly) to the build, I have also managed to (sort-of) fix my internet connection! It is still worthy of the first ever page I tried to download back in 1995, which took the entire hour of the computer time I’d paid for and still hadn’t arrived by the time I walked out. Things have come a long way in the rest of the world but they are very much the same in Devonshire Avenue, South Africa.

One thing that has finally changed is the progress I have made on the boat. It’s not much but it’s a start and a job started is half done as they say. Anyone who may have visited (and I know there are not many of you!) will have noted that I have published nothing here since July 25th. I have actually done some work on the boat since then but in all honesty it hasn’t been much. You see, the family visited, then I got a puppy. After that I caught a bad dose of procrastination combined with, what was at first, a means of spending a little time away from the build but then became a disease. Photography. Not just Photography, but the worst kind of Photography – bird photography. Imagine hours spent travelling to and from remote locations, hours more finding the little bastards and then more hours editing the pictures – which were all crap anyway!

A man can only have so many hobbies, so today was a determined attempt to close down on one. Building an i550.

The first thing was to clean my boat-shed. I find there is nothing worse than trying to start a job in a messy work area. I spent an hour sweeping dust and vacuuming the boat. Of course it’s pointless vacuuming the boat because sanding is going to cause more dust but there is nothing better for morale than seeing the shiny epoxy coated hull emerge.

With a clean shed It was much easier to actually do something. I decided to finish the Cockpit Deck Support on the remaining frames. This means sanding back and smoothing the existing supports and adding some new ones to F110 and F124. Most of the rest were done during the dark days between July 25th and now.

I have always worried a bit about how I am going to clean the nooks and crevices up underneath these supports. You know, all the little corners where water is bound to find a weakness. I am particularly worried about sanding dust preventing bonds on subsequent coats (I have already seen this first hand where I have had poor adhesion of second and third coats of epoxy to the bunks and great difficulty sanding it back).

Today, I came up with the plan that I should double coat the supports before gluing in place. Gluing only when in the last stages of cure. This would prevent any water getting into these parts at least. To do this I hung them from nylon twine tied around a nail in the upper surface (i.e. the surface that will be sanded back for bonding to the deck). It worked very well and I just wish I had employed this method originally. Hindsight eh…

The amazing thing is how many hours it took me to do this work. 8 hours and 33 minutes, with some standing around admittedly. This for 10 bits of wood and a bit of fairing up elsewhere. I must literally be the slowest i550 builder in the universe!

New Addition to the pack

New Addition to the pack



Finishing and fairing the cockpit supports


Support meets mainsheet traveller frame

Cockpit Support

Clamping the deck supports in place

Extra Support

Some work from the dark days – There was an ominous crack when I stepped on the forward hull join. This Pumpkin frame was made in an effort to deal with that…

Makeshift Wind-chimes

Makeshift Wind-chimes


i550 Hull – Engine Well

It’s been a while since I last posted, and I owe the site a cost and hours update for June too. I am afraid it is a reflection of my reluctance to work on the boat. I don’t mind the wood work so much, chopping things to size is not so bad. Neither is the odd bit of sanding. No, what really takes determination is epoxy work. Picking up the paper cup, donning the organic filtered face mask. Drawing on the latex gloves. Cleaning the ply with acetone. Mixing the resin, round and round, side to side, for two minutes. Shaking the acetone out the brush. Wetting out the fibre and the ply. Using the left over epoxy to mix up silica filler. Filleting the seam. Scraping back the excess filler. Laying on the fibre. Rolling out the air bubbles (hopefully). Laying on the dreadful, clingy peel ply. Rolling out more bubbles. Is a monotony even less stimulating than reading this post-modern paragraph.
The other part that sucks is the transition that the shed needs to undergo in order to transform from dusty, saw dust strewn timber workshop to neatfreak clinical pro fibreglass shop.
It’s irritating, in a way that makes everything else irritating. The hair in my eyes, the itch of glass dust in my skin and under my overalls (what’s left of them after the 7 month marathon). My dog whining for supper whilst accidentally sitting in a puddle of resin and soulfully staring up at me…
No. Building a boat is not always fun! The days where I wake up and while showering, think out the i550 plan of action are gone. I know what the plan of action is now. Knock out the next part, glue it to the boat and tape it in.
I spend a long time in my shed just working up the mental fortitude to undertake the next epoxy session. Boat building can be a drudge.
But there is something worse than working on the boat and that’s the knowledge that it is not progressing. Before long, the guilt gets the upper hand. I go out into the cold clear winter air. Pull the latex on and hit a seam or two.
After a while a mini-plan comes together. A bit of the boat starts to look less rough, more like the finished article and my conscience is salved. I might have resin in my hair and on my dog but at least I turned the TV off, got out the house and made progress!
It turns out it’s true what they say; “a job started is half done”. Indeed.
This month the plan of attack has been changed. The game plan is to spend daylight (read weekends) making parts from ply. These then get stockpiled for the depressing epoxy sessions in the night, when making noise chopping would disturb the neighbours.
I think this has been more efficient. Once you get into the epoxy groove there is a kind of Zen to it. If you can tune out a little, it’s possible to forget your beer belly is tucked up under your armpits and you are hanging upside down, like a bat, painting the underside of a deck support and wondering just when and how you grew so fat!
I’ve also decided that finishing parts of the boat helps to mend morale. Seeing the whorls of wood take on that rich colour and shine under a layer of epoxy really cheers me up. Of course, somewhere lurking in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I will have to sand it all down again before painting but I try not to let that thought squeak into the light.
One such, ‘finish this bit’ project has been the engine well. I prefabricated the panels for it two or three months ago in an astonishing fit of foresight. Covering them in a layer of glass while they were easy to work on outside the boat.
This month, I glued and taped them in place, adding the quarter berth flat panels horizontally on either side. They look good. Looking through the inspection hatch holes at the shiny insides cheered me up. So too, did the inside of the engine well. Here I lay down two layers of woven glass so that when the engine bumps and scrapes the botton of the well it won’t damage the ply. This has been my first larger area of glass and it has come out well.
Sanding back the frames so they are level with the deck supports has lent a whole new air of neatness to the after portion of the boat. I don’t know about anyone else but neatness really does make me feel better. Somehow, I think I must be doing something right.

There is news too, from beyond the shed. The South African 550 membership has grown again! A hull, tentatively named Cookie Monster will be starting in November, while an un-named 5th boat is very close to starting as well.
Rodney Beresford’s boat is also progressing. His new CNC machine has been put to work making a plug for the keel foil which, hopefully, all of us can use. I’m told the sheer clamps are in and with Rodney hot on my heels there is a race on to see which i550 will be first onto South African waters.

i550 Hull – More bunks

June has been about crawling around inside the boat cutting the bunks to size and prepping the bilges for epoxy. I am not friends with the heavy 450GSM biaxial tape I am using. So many air pockets to sort out. I have found out (far too late of course!) that cutting the edges off the tape length ways with a rotary cutter significantly improves the quality of the taping. Also, the cooler weather is allowing me the luxury of wetting the tape out first, leisurely filleting and then applying the tape, spiral rolling and adding peel ply and spiral rolling again. This has, mostly, raised the quality of my glass work as the tape is very heavy and prone to trapping air. On the few occasions I have felt able to use the lighter 200GSM tape it has been a breeze, maybe I should have used more?!

The downside to the weather, of course, is the length of time required for the epoxy to cure to a consistency safe for sanding. It can be days, even weeks, before the resin cures properly. Thankfully the shed seems to warm up just enough. But given the choice of summer heat or winter cold, winter wins. The cold gives me an idea of what it must be like for the boat building pros to work with pre-impregnated carbon and lovely post curing ovens. If only I had a ramp and lots of black plastic I could wheel the boat into the sun and let the post-cure commence!

June has also been about breaking my phone – the only relevance of this is the lack of pictures for the blog and a hazier view of hours spent toiling on the boat. It has also been about digging deep and staying motivated. The dark evenings and bitter temperatures hovering around freezing mean that I am extremely reluctant to go outside and face the 550…Thank heaven there is no snow (yes, I know this is Africa but it snowed here last year!) So the hours have really dropped off this month. Keeping motivated is going to become more and more important and I think the Honeymoon may have ended.

Nevertheless things have been done and the bunks are mostly in place. I can start seeing things taking shape and am thinking ahead to the internal painting and starting work on the deck supports. Flipping day is getting closer! There is still much to do before then, bowsprit, forward stringers, planing the sheer clamp, constructing a lead smelter and cast, finding a rig…when I think about it all it becomes daunting but as a wise i550 builder once said, “building an i550 is a series of small jobs”. I should keep my eye on the next few steps and carefully avoid looking up at the distant horizon.

An extra frame fitted longitudinally beneatht the aft bunk and between the hull side and the engine well

An extra frame fitted longitudinally beneath the aft bunk and between the hull side and the engine well

Bunk gluing points and supports going in

Bunk gluing points and supports going in



Cutting the bunk to size. I split the panel in half to make it easier

Cutting the bunk to size. I split the panel in half to make it easier


The finished bunk classed in. Note the string of air bubbles along the upper forward tape

The finished bunk classed in. Note the string of air bubbles along the upper forward tape


i550 Hull – Bunks and stringers

The last few weeks I’ve been putting together the port side bunks, bulkheads and stringers. The first thing was to cut longitudinal bunk supports to the correct shape then attach strips of ply to serve as gluing points for the bunk.
I ended up doing some testing and thinking about materials for these. I tested pine, douglas fir (oregon pine) and laminated ply for these. After weighing each of the materials it turned out the ply was the lightest material and also the cheapest since it came from off cuts. Using ply saved about 400grams for both bunks.
To laminate the ply I cut 20mm strips on the table saw and bonded together to form 12mm strips which, when glued to the bulkheads become 18mm thick.


I had a long think about what to do with the inside of the bunks wondering whether to paint or leave in raw epoxy. At the end of the day, the fact that I had to wait a couple of weeks for the paint swung it in favour of leaving it raw. Other considerations were that it would be impossible to repaint the inside if it were ever to flake and peel and also that the epoxy, in the dark interior of the bunk, would not suffer from UV exposure.

20130604-230714.jpgI was pretty sure the long unsupported bunk would not support my weight and that ‘soft deck’ feeling is not one I enjoy in boats so I added some extra braces which I then glued the bunks to. They turned out pretty rock solid.
To construct the bunk I didn’t really feel that one piece of ply would be easy to shape and form to the tight tolerances of the curving hull and keel box area so to keep it simple I sliced it in half length ways. This meant that I could shape each edge and then simply draw a line down the middle overlap and cut and the pices should fit in the hull very nicely.

20130604-232047.jpg Seemed to work pretty well!


20130604-232229.jpgOnce it all fitted I just taped the seam together, painted the underside with two coats of epoxy and glued the bunk to the bulkheads and supports using plenty of lead to weigh it all down.
After that I added the aft stringers and glued inthe port side of the engine well. The engine well frame was pre laminated with glass and consolidated with peel ply.




i550 Bowsprit Collar

I’ve been playing around with making the bowsprit collar. I want to make a female mould so the other guys can use it and I might use it if I ever make another boat. To start I glued two 300mm square pieces of 50mm thick insulation foam together and then rough shaped it with a heated scraper and a saw.
After rough shaping I plastered it with polyester body filler. I discovered this was a bad idea because the filler disolves the foam! Despite this enough of the foam survived…


Once the body filler was fair, I went a slightly different way and filled with flexible wall filler before painting the whole thing in a couple of coats of tooling gel coat.
This was an experimental plug that I made when I was waiting for bonds on the boat to dry, but so far its turning out quite nicely. If, when faired, it looks good, I will use it.




i550 Keel Box – The Saga

March was pretty slow. Lots of work for the company year end and the new consolidation software but not much work on the i550. Lack of time was one issue but then the keel box saga was another.
I wanted the inside of the box to be sheathed in epoxy mixed with graphite. The aim being to lubricate the head of the keel.
Not difficult really, just a little West 423 and off you go. Not in South Africa. No graphite powder to be had anywhere for love or money. Eventually I tracked some down inside of a dust extractor in a factory. It was a bit lumpy but useable.
To make the box I laid glass on the plywood and then coated it with a glutinous mix of dust extractor synthetic graphite and epoxy. So far so good, but after the box was finished I wasn’t happy with ithe smoothness of the box interior and worse, the after part of the box wasn’t square due to warped ply.
I had a long think about it but I wasn’t prepared to have such an obvious part of the boat so obviously wonky! Box number two…







For box number two I thought I’d make a glass box over a mould. I knocked up a ply mould pretty quickly and coated it with wax from melted candles before laying on a thick coat of graphite mix. The material dried unevenly under a lamp before I could get some layers of glass on it. I decided to chuck box two out on the basis of it having too many potential cavities in the glass. Keel box 3…


Keelbox three was built in the same way as number 2, but this time I wrapped the mould in polythene before laying on the black goop. I laid the glass on the goop while it was still wet to avoid bubbles and voids and wrapped it all up in peel ply. Demoulding was not great. I had to cut it off the mould, but the seam glued up pretty nicely.

This time I strapped the ply end pieces to a chunk of timber to try to make them straight while they glued up then glued the box around the glass liner.


Cutting a hole in the bottom of the boat was pretty nerve wracking. Trying to find centre is not easy, then trying to get the box square and level is awkward when the whole boat and indeed floor might not be level. In the end measuring in from the edges of the frame cut outs did the trick.





i550 – Sheerclamp 2

Winter has come to South Africa. It’s not true winter yet but the lengthening autumn shadows and crystal blue skies combined with a front from the Cape to drop the temperatures from the upper 20’s to the chilly 12’s overnight. Winter doesn’t just bring the need to dress in jeans and extra shirts the cooler temperatures are making the wait between epoxy coating and sanding unbearably long.
Workpieces which, previously, would have been ready in hours now need special treatment. A stint wrapped in a black plastic bag in the sun or alternatively a couple of days to cure in the shed.
Well this Sunday saw one such wait…and to kill the time I decided to start the task of planing my sheerclamps to size.

To start, the power plane made short work of the angled surfaces but I had trouble where the side deck met the foredeck. There is a small drop between the two. A change in level which meant I couldn’t take the plane all the way to the end of the sheerlamp.

To level this I eventually developed the technique of gently sliding a chisel across the grain at 45degrees. This led to levelling out the sheer without gouging too much of the Oregon Pine.

To finish a brief sand with a mouse sander.