When I was looking for a dinghy to complement my traditional gaff cutter I searched for some time until I settled on the Eastport pram from Chesapeake light craft. Pretty to look at I could build it in my spare time and it would suit the mother ship very well. Chesapeake Light Craft has been making kit boats for years so they seemed to know what they are about. One of the smallest in their range the Eastport pram seemed to offer everything that I desired. Pretty lines, good load carry ability and best of all I could add a sailing rig at some later date. In fact I have mentioned this dinghy several times before but here is a step by step series of how I set about building her.
All the parts in the Eastport pram comes as a set of precut parts. These are cut on a computer-controlled router so they are ready to go together almost straight form the box. In truth the kit came in two boxes one with all the ply parts and the other with all the necessary hardware and epoxy. In common with all the other kits in their range the Eastport pram in constructed almost entirely of marine ply but unlike some of the other kits as not parts are longer than 8 feet, the length of standard sheet of ply no scarphs are required to join lengths together.
A kit boat is good introduction to boat building, as little preparatory work is needed before construction commences. You will need some space and typically this will be the family garage but because the boat takes shape so quickly the car will not have to stay outside for more than few days.
The boat is built using what is often called the stitch and glue method, pioneered successfully many years ago by Barry Bucknell and Jack Holt in the mirror dinghy. Now however rather then using polyester resin and glass tape epoxy resin has taken over and is used both as glue and coating material.
The average reader is likely to have more than enough tools and skill to successfully build this boat but I would strongly recommend building a couple of strong sturdy saw horses on which to work. Make sure that the work area floor is level because it is all too easy to build a twist into the boat. Read the through the instructions several times before you start is a piece of advice that I should have told myself in past construction projects. Reading the plans and instructions that come with any kit will make the project go that much easier.
I mostly followed the manufacturers instructions but where I deviated I did so as either time saving method of work or because experience has taught me that their might be a better way of doing it. Next issue I will be concentrating on painting and varnishing.
Building the Eastport pram took me about 40 hours of building time and this is a reasonable estimate but expect to put as much time in again on the finishing if you want a high quality job.
Tools that you need
I laid out all the parts and checked for damage that might have occurred during transit. At this stage it is hard to believe that this is a boat.
Check through the parts list is essential and helps identify each of the parts, which I marked off as I went through to make sure everything was included. The first parts needed are the lower two side panels for each side (in total there are 4 per side but you do not need to the top two just yet). Also I pulled out the bottom panel and placed this on a couple of saw horses so that it was at a convenient height.
All the panels have been cut at the factory using a computer controlled router. This makes them very accurate but sometimes there are nibs left plane off with a sharp plane. If you do not have a plane then some 80-grit paper wrapped around a block is fine too and would have worked almost as well.
The panels are temporarily stitched together with copper wire and for this 1/16th diameter holes have to be drilled. Clamping the two lower panels together face to face and marking out for the holes at 4 inch centers and 1/2” in from the lower edge save time as I only had to do this one for each pair.
Note that the panels are rebated. The rabbet is positioned on the inside of the boat and laps over the edge of the panel immediately below it thus concealing the panel edge and allowing an area for the epoxy to bond the planks together.
Although the holes maybe small I did not want to do anything that might cause wood to splinter ultimately spoiling the finish. Holding a scrap block of wood prevents breakout and gives a neat clean hole.
After separating the clamped panels I used the lower panels as a guide to mark and drill the holes in the edge of the bottom panel. Like the sides these should be drilled 1/2” from the edge and align with the 4-inch centers that you marked and drilled into the sidepieces. A weight in the middle of the bottom panel makes alignment easier and stops it from moving about.
I cut the copper wire into 3 to 4 inch lengths and bent them into a staple shape and pushed them through the holes from the inside to the outside.
Next was to twist the ends together to hold the panels. A common mistake is to over tighten which damages the wood and is likely to break the copper. You can always go back and re tighten later should that be necessary. The two lower panels are added after which the bow and stern transoms are wired in place followed by the remaining two upper panels on each side.
Fitting the bow transom
Fitting the third plank
The wires should look like this after stitching. If some parts of the hull are a little reticent to come together do not be afraid to add some additional intermediate ties but I did not find this necessary.
After finding the approximate position of the center frame I wedged it into position to help maintain the correct beam while gluing the planks. With the hull completed stitched up (it was still be a bit floppy at the stage but most certainly boat shaped) I got my wife to help turn it over in preparation for gluing.
Mixing up some epoxy and after thickening it with some Cabosil to a ketchup consistency I loaded it into a syringe and injected it into the small gap between adjacent planks. I checked under the boat occasionally to see if glue was running down inside, luckily it did not. But had it done so then I could have tightened the copper ties slightly. It is important not overfill to laps, just squirt in enough glue until it comes level with the top edge of the lower plank.
After allowing the epoxy to cure for at least overnight removed the cooper ties from the plank overlaps but left the ties holding in the transoms until later. To remove the ties snip through only one of the ‘legs’ then with a piece of cardboard under the pliers pull the complete length of copper wire out.
Turning the boat back over I once again set it level on the sawhorses. Mixing up some epoxy thickened it with wood flour to the consistency of peanut butter I used a rounded end mixing stick to spread it into the corners where to transoms met the planking and formed a smooth fillet.
This is one of those spots where I defected from the instructions that came with the boat. CLC recommends using masking tape on either side of the joint which you peel off for a neat joint. Whilst this undoubtedly works at producing a neat clean joint sticking on the tape takes time. My preferred method is to make the joint as outlined above then very carefully scrape off the excess. You need a steady hand but I find this faster than the tape method.
While I was at it I applied a smooth fillet between the bottom panel and the first plank.
After the fillets had cured I removed the copper ties for the transoms. I then vacuumed out the insides of the boat after a light sanding of the bottom panels and lay in the 6oz glass cloth. This covers the bottom panel and the no 1 planks. Using sharp scissors I cut it an inch or two oversize. There is a great temptation to drape it over the ends of the boat and cut it later but this is a mistake as the excess gets in the way and it’s weight drags the cloth from the surface.
Mix up unthickened epoxy and wet out the cloth smoothing out wrinkles as you go. This is another one of those times when I deviated from the instructions. A brush or roller as recommended in the supplied instructions tends I find to lay on too much epoxy. My preferred method is shown here. A small amount of epoxy is poured on to the dry cloth and spread with a plastic squeegee which smoothes the cloth and uniformly distributes the epoxy. Do not try to completely fill the weave of the cloth; later subsequent coats will do that.
A close up of how properly wet out cloth should look; saturated but not dripping with excess epoxy. Note the visible weave.
Because the cloth only covers up to the edge of the first plank the cloth has to be trimmed with the plank edge. A sharp new razor blade and trimmed the cloth level with the edge of the plank edge in no time. If you cut too early you will drag up the cloth, too late and the epoxy will be impossible to cut easily. Wait until the epoxy is at the green or partially cured stage when it has the consistency of toffee.
Flipping over the boat once again a layer of cloth is stuck to the outside of the boat. This simply covers the bottom panel and not the planks. The squeegee comes in handy here for working the cloth well into the intersection of the bottom panel and first plank. I trimmed this back with a razor blade as soon as it reached the green stage.
While waiting for the epoxy to harden on the bottom of the boat I made up the skeg and dagger board box. The skeg helps the boat track straight when under oars or being towed behind the mother ship so it has to be straight and true. Not wanting to impart a twist into it I clamped and glued the two parts together onto a flat bench top. Note the plastic to stop the skeg from being glued to the bench.
After carefully measuring the bottom panel at either end to find the center I struck a chalk line along the bottom to aid setting out the skeg and skids.
After checking the position and placement of the skeg and skids I drilled pilot holes for bronze screws that will hold these components in place. I then had to climb under the boat and screw these components into place after coating the mating surfaces with Cabosil thickened epoxy.
I built the whole project on my own. The only time that I had help was when I pressed my wife into service to turn the boat over. Heavy cans are as good as a second set of hands when it comes to holding skids and skeg in position as you drive screws.
From the plans I ascertained the position of the center frame, the next component to be installed. As a reference I placed a straight edge across the gunwales to enable me to accurately mark the station mark with a pencil. I found that the frames were a sufficiently tight jam fit to hold themselves in place as the glue set. Had they been loose I would have used a few copper ties.
Here the center and seat frames are glued in place with epoxy/wood flour fillets. It is also necessary to fit the dagger board box even if you have no intention of ever sailing the boat as this supports the tongue on the forward end of the seat.
Two strips of mahogany make up the rubbing strips on each side and these were glued at this point. You need a lot of clamps!
With all the frames fitted the insides of the buoyancy tanks were coated with epoxy to seal the wood as once the seat tops, which were also coated are fitted it would be impossible to get to them later.
Transom doublers are fitted to give extra rigidity to the ends of the boat and support the weight and thrust of a small outboard. I found that a certain amount of dry fitting was necessary to get a perfect fit before gluing these in position.
With all the woodwork complete the next stage will be about 8 to 10 hours of sanding and cleaning up preparation for paint and varnish, which I covered previously here.