This blog is devoted to my John Welsford designed 15' Navigator yawl Ellie. I built her in my garage over a period of 18 months and launched her in 2011. She sports a sliding gunter main, roller furled jib and sprit-boomed mizzen. Her construction is glued-lapstrake over permanent bulkheads and stringers. This blog is a record of her construction and her voyages here in the Puget Sound area and (hopefully) a useful resource for fellow Navigator builders.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lovely Wooden Blocks

Quite a while ago I decided that I wanted Lovely Wooden Blocks on my Navigator.  I finally got around to estimating how many I would need.  The tally came to 4 single blocks and 12 double blocks (give or take). I spent many hours searching the web but couldn't find blocks that I liked.  The style of block that I really like were the ones I saw last fall at a Port Townsend chandlery.  Problem is the price was $80 & $100 each for the single and doubles.  I'll save you the trouble of doing the math. It's over $1,500.  Call me cheap if you like, but I'd rather make them myself for next to nothing, thank you very much.

The photo above is that of the first two prototypes. Total cost was under $2 each. The materials are scraps of mahogany, maple, plywood, and some brass.

They are still a work in progress. I will post plans, photos, and instructions on how to make them in a future post.  NEWSFLASH:  The guide is now available. Click here.

Progress report on the hull

The hull has been turned over, fiberglassed, has the stem and skeg installed, and has three coats of epoxy applied.

Unfortunately I didn't take any photos of the hull turning or fiberglassing. To turn the hull, we propped the boat up on some sawhorses, disassembled and removed the building jig, and lowered the boat to the floor. We laid some foam padding under the boat amidships, rolled her onto her side, slid her over and rolled her onto her back. Then propped her up onto sawhorses again.

After a bit of filling and sanding, the chines were glassed with two strips of fiberglass tape. Then 6oz fiberglass cloth was applied up to the first lap.

All of this work went quite smoothly.  The stem, however, didn't.

The stem

I choose to use white oak for the stem, centerboard guard & skeg combo (the keel).  The plans show the keel ending at the forefoot and the stem is simply rounded off and fiberglassed over. This would have been way too easy.  No, I choose to add a stem of white oak as well.  To do this I had to bend the oak 90 degrees at the forefoot.

Attempt #1

For my first attempt, I decided to rip the oak into 1/4" strips and laminate them directly on the boat. First, I covered the boat with packing tape to prevent the stem from sticking. I read somewhere that epoxy did not stick very well to white oak and that Gorilla Glue worked better, so I used that. I was able to bend the 1/4" oak strips without steaming. So I moistened the strips (both sides), applied the glue, bent them and screwed them in place.  I allowed it to dry for a couple days. When I attempted to remove the stem I discovered that I could not get the screws out. I broke the screws trying to remove them. Even worse, after I finally got the stem off, I was shocked to discover that the Gorilla Glue did not stick to the oak at all.  I was able to pull apart the laminations with my bare hands!  The glue dried to the consistency of styrofoam and was about as strong.  Stem #1 went into the firewood bin.

Attempt #2

For my second attempt, I thought I'd try building a jig and steam bending the oak in one piece so I wouldn't have to worry about the integrity of the glue laminations.  After steaming the 1x4x10' oak for an hour, I was able to bend it on the form fairly easily. I let it dry for a couple days but when I removed it from the form and fit it onto the boat, it did not fit very well. The oak was too thick and too stiff to follow the contours of the form closely enough. There were unacceptably large gaps between the stem and the hull.  I tried to re-steam and re-bend the piece twice more but it eventually broke in two.  Another stem went into the firewood bin.

Attempt #3

Having now learned three lessons the hard way I combined them. I cut the third stem into 1/4" strips for lamination, formed them on the boat, and used epoxy. Success at last!


  1. Nice work, and an exciting stage of the build- to be planning details and fittings while completing the hull. Blocks will be great.

  2. joel - great work - it's coming together real well and those blocks look fantastic - so yeah, when you have a moment a post on how you made those would be much appreciated by very many of us - well done
    arwens meanderings

  3. Great looking blocks Joel. I second the motion on some description on how you made those fine blocks. As for the boat, you know its a great piece of work you have. Keep up the great work the finish line is in sight!
    Pathfinder "Pikake"