A BOLGER CARTOPPER built to share
Once upon a time in 1997 I was walking through Bunnings in Parafield South Australia and there amongst the drills, watering cans and extension leads was a woodworking magazine that caught my eye. On the front cover was a sub-heading ‘How to build your own 10ft dinghy.’ My interest was suitably aroused by the potential of these words so I grabbed the magazine and proceeded to ponder. “Would such a thing really be possible?”
My genetic pre-disposition is not particularly inclined towards craftsmanship in a practical sense, so I sought reassurance from my brother, who being two years my junior, is probably even further removed from the sort of hands-on skillsets needed to accomplish the feat I was now seriously contemplating.
“Don’t you reckon you should build a coffee table first?” Sound advice!
In actual fact I was perfectly happy with the coffee table that had sat in our lounge room for a number of years so I decided to cut straight to the boatbuilding chase, so to speak. I couldn’t row a coffee table around the bay at Port Vincent or up and down the Murray River, better to jump into the real action and get nautical now.
The boat in the magazine was a flat-bottomed rowboat made from plywood using chine log construction technique. It required screws to hold it together.
Enter Robert Ayliffe.
A trip to Duck Flat Wooden Boats, then located on Flinders St in Adelaide resulted in a discussion with Mr Ayliffe who gently steered me to the Bote-Cote section and away from the Bronze Age when screws were popular! So on I ploughed, plywood and Bote-Cote Epoxy glue in hand. The 10ft, flat bottomed rowboat turned out okay, the boat got wet but my appetite for boatbuilding got wetter! My wife became involved in the construction process and at some stage bought me Harold Payson’s Instant Boat book. Six boats later we find ourselves on the verge of building Charlie Bear, the Bolger Cartopper and the prime subject of this article.
I turned 60 in January 2015 and, courtesy of extra contributions to superannuation during my 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s, and a scheme offered by Super SA called Transition to Retirement, went part-time in my employment as a secondary school music teacher. ‘Casually coasting through my out-phase’ became my catch-cry. The part-time pressure valve had been installed and activated. The urge to argue the point with those who make up the cumbersome bureaucracy that constitutes our education system had ebbed in me, the urge to keep things simple and enjoy life was flowing. No more collisions with the cast of characters who’s constipated mentality had caused me to despair about whether anyone really cared about or valued making music anymore.
The scene for the next stanza in my life was set.
Wake up each morning in our comfy little house, have a lovely hot shower, put on a nice clean shirt that has been washed and ironed by someone who cares about me and go about my daily business at a pace that suits me. Teaching music to young people, playing in various music ensembles, travelling to scenic and interesting places, planting things in our garden and watching them grow ... and building another boat. A boat that could easily sit on top of our Falcon stationwagon as we tow our pristine, 70’s vintage, Franklin Regent caravan to the aforementioned scenic and interesting places. My wife, also a part-time music teacher who spends her working days travelling from school to school helping young people to make music on the trumpet and trombone, sanctioned and encouraged my idea of building a ‘nice little rowboat, something we can pop out onto the bay at Port Vincent and catch a couple of gardies, or a squiddie without having to purchase a tinnie’ ... Great! We are on the same page my darling.
Enter Charlotte Mia Hannaford.
“Uncle Geoff can I help to build a boat?”
The words of my 11 year old niece were like music to my ears except I wasn't on a gig or in a classroom, I was in her family’s loungeroom. “Yes”, was my immediate response. Charlotte, or Charlie as she is known to her family and friends, is the third of five delightful children brought into this world by my wife’s sister. Funnily enough it was her grandfather who had introduced me to music at the age of 11, some 50 years earlier in 1966, thus changing forever the course of my life. Now here I was about to build a boat with his 11 year old granddaughter. Would it be a life changer for her..? Who knows? Doesn’t really matter for now, let’s just get on with it and enjoy the ride.
DOWN TO THE NUTS AND BOLTS
So if I was to start my own wooden boatbuilding business it would be called “‘Imperfect but Functional Boats’. I wouldn’t make a lot of money but at least it would be an accurate description of our product! A few years ago I decided to embrace the idea that we live in an imperfect world as part of my personal mantra, one of a number of tactics designed to deflect the stressful feelings that seemed intent on penetrating my brain. Luckily the stitch and glue method of boatbuilding accommodates this philosophy. The Bolger Cartopper uses the stitch and glue method of boat construction. The technical aspects of this method have been more than adequately covered over the journey by people who have forgotten more about boatbuilding than I will ever know.
Inner seams taped.
BUT FOR THE RECORD
The Bolger Cartopper is an 11ft 5inch row boat made from 6mm plywood using the stitch and glue method of construction. It is built around frames placed approximately at stations that divide the vessel into thirds. In the original form the frames are glued permanently into place then trimmed down to the desired size. I had already built a Cartopper about 15 years before and only temporarily attached the plywood skin to the frames then removed them altogether once the stitching and gluing was done. I figured that once the seats were in place there would be enough lateral strength inherent in the construction to render it seaworthy, at least for the type of use we required. The other slight departure from the original design was to install a small foredeck.
Seat frames in place.
The idea of this was to be able to have a secure and easily worked anchoring system for when we were gettng amongst the various edible sea creatures alluded to in an earlier paragraph.
As far as materials go, the stuff we used was unremarkable. Construction grade plywood, meranti, leftover recycled red pine, 400gsm fibreglass tape, Bote-Cote epoxy, stainless steel fittings, odd bits of aluminium and to finish it off some Killrust paint.
Although the workmanship and the materials could be said to be unremarkable, what was remarkable was the interaction and the dynamic of the relationship between myself and young Charlotte.
WORKING WITH CHARLIE
Even after being in the schoolteaching game for 33 years there are aspects of the psyche of an 11 year old girl that take me by surprise. The desire to build a boat with her crusty old 61 year old uncle is one. But here we are. There are great advantages and only a few disadvantages to working with a young person on a project. What she lacks in physical strength, although she does possess a certain wiry power and energy that belies her slender appearance, she makes up for in flexibility. As I get older the ground seems to be getting further away and requires more effort to get there, even when I make that ugh! sound that blokes my age tend to do when physically exerting themselves. Jobs that require ground level manoeuvrability are childsplay to a child; for example, marking the 12ft long flexible battens on plywood sheets placed on the ground or sitting underneath the overturned boat and passing the bits of wire through the holes so that I can secure it with my trusty pliers.
The passing of knowledge from one person to another can be a challenge, depending on the circumstances. We can all recall our own experiences, in school or at home and in the workplace, the good and the bad. There are two things about my interaction with Charlotte that stand out. Firstly, having to articulate the techniques that I had learnt myself over the years, I ended up thinking I might know a bit more than I give myself credit for! Secondly, Charlotte turned out be a very pro-active learner. She jumped into every aspect of the boatbuilding process without having to be pushed in any way shape or form. Shopping for materials and tools was interesting. Her eye for value, not just cheapness, was particularly noteworthy. “I see the Ryobi has two batteries, that makes it better value Uncle Geoff ” ... The Ryobi it is then!
The whole process of building Charlie Bear took roughly nine months. I would describe our work rate as easy-paced but steady. Both Charlotte and I have regular commitments already in place in our lives, I have work and music, she has school and Irish dancing which both require regular and constant attention and attendance. It was rather nice to be casual, our work sessions were liberally dotted with tasty lunches and convivial happy hours. We did indulge in the odd bit of gratuitous back-slapping and lively banter often orientated around who was the best sander or best pizza maker, all part of the fun and frivolity associated with boatbuilding!
Sunday November 27, 2016, was the day we launched at Bower Rd Aquatic Reserve, Semaphore. The sun shone, the breeze gently breezed, family and friends gathered, and there she sat on the grass waiting to be lifted into the water. Light blue with navy blue gunwales, foredeck and seats. Nine months under construction and now ready to be ‘berthed’. Compliments and admiring looks came thick and fast from everyone, I have to admit I was pretty pleased with myself and young Charlotte Mia Hannaford. Many people expressed the opinion that during the course of this endeavour, the building of a boat was just a bonus, I can see that. Apart from a young person gaining a few hands-on skills which will, no doubt, come in handy in years to come, building Charlie Bear has given us both something to hang our hats on.
Charlotte and I had the first row after a wee sip of champagne and a toast. As we pulled away from the shore and started to glide easily through the water, with that gentle breeze still breezing, a sort of spiritual, for want of a better word, and satisfied feeling came over me. There was applause and joyous shouts of encouragement from the two dozen people assembled on shore and I raised two fists in the air and gave it the woo-hoo! ... several times.
The boat got a good workout that day, kids piling into it and testing the stability and a bloke who weighs slightly less than a Volkswagen sitting on the back seat testing the load-carrying capacity, giving the boat the appearance of being on the plane whilst standing still!
There are a few things that I would like to tweak over time. My inner jury is still out on whether the middle seat should be moved forward slightly, we need longer oars and the bow roller on the anchoring system needs to be changed slightly. Nothing insurmountable.
For those of you out there in Wooden Boatbuilding Land who may be interested in the finer detail of the construction process you can go to my Facebook page, Geoffrey Meikle, and look up the album that I put together over the nine months called ‘Building the Bolger Cartopper with Cheeky Charlie and OUG’ ... OUG stands for Old Uncle Geoff. My privacy setting is on public, so you shouldn’t have any problems viewing the album.
Happy wooden boating to you all.