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I am not sure how a post like this may lead to responses, but I thought I’d go ahead anyway.

While indirectly technical, this essay is a philosophical. Yet I can’t imagine a better audience for these kinds of thoughts on proas than those who read and write here.

***

I am writing by candle light and the battery in my laptop, for the power has been out all day. This has a peculiar bearing on the topic at hand because I had been pondering the power of limits, and then suddenly, the universe provided me with a perfect example.

Let me explain what I mean by “The Power of Limits.” I think I first observed this in art work. First, I figured out that my paintings were flawed because my drawing skills were out of balance with my colorist skills, so I decided to take a break from painting and draw more.

Then, I discovered that I could take everything I needed to produce nice work on a backpacking trips. The amount of material I needed went from a bulky twenty pound package to a slim, few ounce satchel. A world of possibilities opened. Suddenly, I could do finished, original art on a mountaintop.

Rather than be frustrated by a limitation, I embraced it. The result, for me, was better art; moreover, art that could not have been done at all any other way.

Working as a carpenter, it was always nice to not have to haul around a lot of junk. In home construction, I would always see these guys who thought they were so cool with all their crap. Why then was it taking them a week to do a day’s work? My answer—and it is an answer shared by many high production workers—is that you have to understand what your margin of error is. Cabinet work requires high accuracy in the finish, but rough framing does not. If you know how to play that limit, your production can increase exponentially.

These days, when I’m not doing schoolwork (I’m one of those old guys who went back to school), I carve wood. At first, I used only hand tools, but I soon discovered I wasn’t going get much accomplished that way, so I took up the chain saw. This may seem contrary to my thesis, but the fact is I discovered that a surprising degree of delicacy can be had with a chain saw; furthermore, by letting the wood lay rough and not fussily primping and polishing, the work took on a vibrant immediacy. Best, I could finish a piece in a matter of hours and minutes instead of days and weeks.

Now, as I embark on a proa building project, I learn to embrace the limits of these boats. These are not “flaws.” They don’t need to be “fixed.” Proas have limited sail carrying capacity and limited accommodation. This is just in the nature of what they are. I know there are many people much more clever than me who have pushed those limits, and perhaps there are some who might claim to have transcended them, but I do not want to walk that path.

For me, The Way of the Proa is the way of a boat who dreams of being a bird.

Now, I am thinking of that big bag of North windboard sails that my brother left in the garage. He said I could have them. (Really rather high end gear.) Maybe I should be building a boat to match the sail rather than the other way round?

Ooooh… chills

Limits. You see? You get things DONE. You don’t have to HAVE in order to DO. I just saved a BUNCH of time and money. Thank you, power failure.

Be well,
Rick

     

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Well, I for one enjoyed this post immensely. Well written and more than a little wisdom thrown in. I have a friend who was recently interviewed by Mike Clelland, who writes about Ultralight Backpacking and he makes the point over and over that the less you take with you, the better the experience. It’s a down to earth lesson in zen, and one that the proa can teach us as well, I think.

Well, so far we are five on this forum designing/building a 24’ proa. You, me, James, Skip and Chris. The Gang of Five?

     

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Thanks, Michael.

Yes, there’s something about a 24 that’s “just right.” Big enough and stable enough for weekending or a gaggle of kids, but small enough to be easy to haul and relatively cheap to build. I did not notice that so many of us were considering that size. Interesting.

I had a look at those windboard sails today. I was wrong about them being North sails. Just one of them is, and that’s the tiny big wind sail—the last one my brother bought before he got married. The rest are Neil Pryde. The biggest is 6.5 sg. m. Not really big enough for a fast boat in light airs, more suitable for a 16 footer. I was thinking of something in the 200’² range, giving him a power to weight ratio, with crew, unladen, of a Hobie 16.

OTOH, I’ve recently been studying spar construction. A gleaming, golden fir mast would look beautiful and satisfy my traditionalist tendencies.

Now, if I could learn to sew…

     

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I really like what you have written, Rick. I can’t help smiling with a certain sense of ‘groking’ what you mean by your memorable line, “For me, The Way of the Proa is the way of a boat who dreams of being a bird.”
A bird packs light and is free because of it.

I think that the difference between an advantage and a limitation is often simply a matter of perspective or reframing, if you like. It’s much like Pareto’s Principle aka the 80/20 Rule which states that 80% of any benefit in any given situation comes from 20% of the effort, time or whatever quality happens to be under scrutiny. To then have an uncommonly good product or service, all you need do is maximise that 20% that is greatly valued and minimise the 80% that is little used or little valued.

So to restate and expand on someone’s previous excellent comment here, to make the most of proa and it’s qualities, go long, low, lean and light for any given length of boat to maximise speed and seaworthyness and minimise weight, cost, maintenance and construction time. Then you have something that works superbly well within it’s design brief, narrow though it may be.

Or to state it yet another way, you can have what you want once you decide what you are willing to go without. And there is an awful lot we don’t need as you pointed out so well, Rick.

     
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Thanks James,

I never heard of “Pareto’s Principle” before you mentioned it. I used a “90/10” rule myself to describe the effort of learning something new; that is, one can learn 90% of what one needs to know with very little effort, but to really master something always seemed to require an exponential increase in time and effort.

Yet, as you point out, the difference between, say, a gifted amateur and a true professional (in the rich sense of the word) is defined by that extra effort. In the case of boat building, I am, however, willing to go beyond. I’m happy to scrimp on luxury, but I’ll take no shortcuts when it comes to craftsmanship. Building out of cold molded plywood may be only marginally better than ply, but the former construction method adds exponential perceived value.

Interestingly, by my calculations, the material costs are actually less.

Cheers,
Rick

     

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Pareto was an Italian economist and he found in every economy he studied that 20% or the people ended up with 80% of the wealth. Others then extended this finding to other fields and found it held true. So in business today, for instance, it is almost always the case that 80% of the profits come from 20% of the customers. And inversely, 80% of the complaints and difficulties come from 20% of the customers. 80% of our pleasure in life comes from 20% of our time and activities. So it can be a useful tool to evaluate all sorts of situations and to make valuable adjustments.

Building out of cold molded plywood may be only marginally better than ply, but the former construction method adds exponential perceived value.
Interestingly, by my calculations, the material costs are actually less
.

Could you expand on this, Rick? Is it because you would be building without stringers with the cold moulded method?

     
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Heh,

When designing HVAC systems for commerical applications, ASHRAE states “on average 18% of the building occupants will be dissatified with the temperature/comfort level”.  This is actually a design parameter wink

There are also more than a few thermostats installed that do nothing except give people a button to push at the behest of building owners…..it works.

Tom

     

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Hi James,

Yeah, I can expand. There are two factors at work, caché and cost.

Taking the latter first, I was just pricing out sheets of ply vs. veneer, using the prices at Certainly Wood and CLC to compare costs of Western Red Cedar and Douglas Fir veneers with Okoume ply. All good stuff from reputable venders. One problem with ply is you have more waste; whereas with veneer, you can use every little scrap. Crunching numbers, over and over again, showed that my costs for the veneers would be a little less. I would need a lot more epoxy, and that stuff ain’t cheap, but it’s cheaper by the gallon when you buy a lot, and I’d by enough to get the discounts.

Getting into caché now, according to my main reference for cold molded construction Cold Moulded and Strip-Planked Boat Building by Ian Nicholson, Stanford Marine LTD, London, 1983, Okoume is not at ALL a fine wood on many counts.

Properly, I should have said “strip-planked.” But everyone seems to know that “cold molded” means basically laminated construction. [edit 7Dec11: No, it is me who is confused about the terms. smile] ] The plan is high frequency ribs, stringers, and no more than three layers, possibly only two, sheathing the hull in polyester, maybe dynel on the bottom. This would result in an exceedingly strong for its weight structure which would be tough enough to withstand the inevitable abuse a working boat gets. Certainly I could build to the same strength as ply with less weight, or, as I am wont, the same weight, but therefore super strong. Also, with cold molded, I have the advantage of the the strength and beauty of compound curves, but best, the inside of such a boat is a thing of startling beauty. Every boat I fall in love with is built either this way or old school traditional wood construction. Everyone loves a well built wooden boat!

And back to cost again… I am seriously looking into buying raw timber; that is, logs. I’m even looking into cutting the trees myself, but so far, I’ve found the US Forest Service does not know how to play with super small operators. These logs, I’d cut and mill myself. In fact, I might even be able to pay for the wood by selling a bunch off. Also, if one is selective, about every fifth two-by-four at Home Depot is a gem of a piece of wood. If you buy it green and rip it fine, fast, it dries in a matter of a couple weeks, if not days, without cracks. (Yeah, you gotta lay it out just right and baby it, but still…) CHEAP! All you need is a table saw and a planer, and you could get by without those. Have you ever looked at the numbers with regard to Doug Fir? It’s right up there with Sitka Spruce, but even stiffer.

I could be way off with my calculations, but as I understand it, the extra cost of cold molded is in its labor intensity. But for me, such labor is pure joy. It is nowhere near as difficult as people seem to think. Not that I’ve done a whole lot. A lot of models, and one time, a car hood for friend of mine who had a rally car, and we were talking about lightening it up. It came out well, and he got a lot of attention over that wooden hood. Point is, I’ve done enough to have the feel, and I know that this is the way for me. So even if it turns out more expensive, I’ll still go that way.

But I don’t think it has to be more expensive. And certainly not if I mill my own lumber.

And Tom,

That was funny. And true! I’ve wondered about that. It’s always too hot for me when others think its cold.

     

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Thanks for your detailed reply, Rick. When you talk of milling your own lumber, are you talking about for strip planking or for making your own veneers for cold moulding?

I have done a little bit of strip planking and find it a lot of work to fair afterwards. I don’t know about cold moulding for fairing but i have seen pictures of it with a lot of filler applied, though that may be due to technique in laying the veneers. But you’ve got me thinking! I can source some cheap 4mm ply here that, from the weight of it (very light), must be made from Kiri which is rot resistant (unlike Okoume which is very rot prone). I imagine two layers of that would make a very strong hull.

I’ve literally used tons of polyester and vinylester resins over the years and some epoxy, but less so. For sheathing, I’d go with vinylester. It is almost as easy as polyester to use (though it stinks worse!) and way easier than epoxy. It is also much easier than epoxy to get a low resin to glass ratio with just a brush and roller and it is more chemically resistant than epoxy, believe it or not. Sea water is a chemical soup. I wouldn’t recommend polyester as it is not totally water resistant. Though it has enough adhesion for sheathing purposes, water can fairly easily pass through polyester and it is this water expanding that leads to it lifting off ply and other timber hulls. Vinylester and epoxy both have more adhesion and are water impervious. If you use vinylester, make sure you order it with thixotropic agent and ‘promoter’ mixed in. Can explain more if you want.

And Tom, I agree, that is both a funny and revealing example of Pareto’s Principle at work smile

     
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Hi James,

After I wrote that I went , “Yikes! Too MUCH!” So overly detailed. Also, I was confused about my terms. I thought “strip planking” was a new use for an old term for when a cold-molded boat was built around frames and stringers. Sorry for the mixup. That’s what happens when you’ve learned how to do stuff from looking at pictures and experimenting :(

Anyway, I’m actually following a building pattern I saw in a Choy cat. It was Buddy Ebsen’s boat, Polynesian Concept, a TransPac winner, from way back. It was ingenious. Instead of a mold, they built the hull over plywood frames and stringers. That way you didn’t need a mold. That boat was intended to be production model, and the plan was to use the finished hulls as male molds for the fiberglass version.

As to sheathing, well, I’m all ears when it comes to recommendations. I was attracted to polyester as a sort of “poor man’s kevlar.” I had NO idea it had such unsuitable marine properties! Scratch that stuff! Vinylester sounds like just the ticket. I assume it has a little “bounce” to it? Does it finish transparent? Does it need to be painted? When it is hit, does it crack or craze like fiberglass? I’m very curious.

It so happens that I’ve been sawing all day. I can definitely tell you that milling your own wood sure leads to inconsistent thickness. It’s a problem. It’s a big problem. It never quite goes away. You can narrow the margins, but you never really eliminate the variations. You’ve probably noticed this when you buy lumber. You get a batch and then one day you need some more of the same, but it’s a different run, and it’s just not the same!

Nevertheless (in my probably not in this instance humble opinion) any builder you saw using a lot of fillers is in the wrong business. I mean, I’m not a boatbuilder, I’m a carpenter, but even I know that. Fillers are evil. The use of them is a “sign.”

I find the trick is in sorting your wood. If you mill it yourself, you have a lot to pick from. The most filler that should be used is for filling things like staple holes or tiny cracks that might appear after you’ve laid up the wood, but not gaps, or hollows. You just should not have those. Period. The fact is, the fairing work is no big deal. With cold-molded, we’re talking like a swipe or two with a hand plane. That’s how it goes if your form is fair and your pieces are selected and trimmed perfectly. Strip planking is probably another matter. I’m not qualified to tell you, but my woodworker instincts would suggest that if you’re really sweating the fairing, you did something wrong.

Also, with the two ply method, I’d be laying them longitudinally and tapering the ends. It’s a crazy amount of work, but if you ever see a hull built that way, you’ll want to whistle. Gorgeous. When the wood is all matched up on the outside and varnished… Wow! Knock ‘em dead gorgeous. 

(That sounds like some nice ply you got. Gotta be something great you can do with it!)

Cheers,
Rick

     

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Rick - 07 December 2011 05:34 PM

As to sheathing, well, I’m all ears when it comes to recommendations. I was attracted to polyester as a sort of “poor man’s kevlar.” I had NO idea it had such unsuitable marine properties! Scratch that stuff! Vinylester sounds like just the ticket. I assume it has a little “bounce” to it? Does it finish transparent? Does it need to be painted? When it is hit, does it crack or craze like fiberglass? I’m very curious.
I

Vinylester, transparent, not affected by UV(!) there’s a stripper back on the rack that’s been there for 15 yrs, still bright, slightly lighter weight than epoxy, but….it’s just not quite as tough as epoxy, will crack and debond a little easier, stinks, shelf life sucks.

Pay your money and take your choice.

cheers,
Skip

     
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Rick, just to be clear, I’m talking about resins only, not reinforcements (fabrics). I agree with all of Skip’s observations except the UV resistance. Though, of course, I’m not disputing Skips experience with his stripper, but I have never come across any resin be it polyester, vinylester or epoxy supplied with UV inhibitor in it. So I wouldn’t assume it has it, if I were you. They all need painting for external use. Though you could varnish it to gain UV resistance if you are feeling masochistic.

To enlarge a little on mine and Skip’s remarks, vinylester has the most offensive smell of the three, no question. But a few days after curing, the smell disappears and you wouldn’t tell it from epoxy in that regard. The reason is that it fully cures (cross-links) just like epoxy. Polyester goes on emitting styrene vapours forever because if never fully cures. So polyester is not a good choice for boat internals either.

Vinylester has less adhesion than epoxy (but more than polyester) and shouldn’t be used for structural joints. Sheathing is not generally regarded as a structural element, though. But that is your call. It is a better chemical barrier but epoxy is not deficient in this area. Vinylester has good resilience with high elongation to failure (stretch) and is better than some epoxies in this regard and worse than others depending on quality of the epoxy. Polyester is pretty terrible in this regard and will crack fairly easily. Frankly, I don’t think polyester resin should be anywhere near a boat. Though people have used it successfully especially on boats that don’t live in the water and are covered when out of it.

The big problem with epoxy (apart from the cost) is that it is toxic to use and to sand if it is reasonably ‘green’ still.

The shelf life, as Skip points out, is not real good, six months is the usual after it has been ‘promoted’. For this reason some vinylester resin is supplied without being promoted but the user has to add it before using it. I do not recommend going this way as it has led to explosions from people not knowing what they are doing. Vinylester is also sometimes supplied without thixotropic agent for infusion work and for making pipes on continually rotating mandrels. Thixotropic agent will allow the resin to ‘hang’ on a vertical laminate. This is one of the things that makes it easier to work with than epoxy. Epoxy does not have thixotropic agents in it and will drain out of a vertical laminate in some situations.  So, epoxy is best used on the horizontal flat if at all possible

After all that, Rick, if I haven’t confused you with too much information and you still want to use vinylester, order it pre-promoted and with thixotropic agent all mixed in by the supplier and use it in the six mths shelf life period and when your neighbours are away on holiday smile  (though I’ve used it after 12 mths at times without problems. Weather can make a difference to the shelf life)

     
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Thank you both, Skip and James.

I seem to always suffer from a lack of knowledge of terminology. For example, when I first said “polyester,” I was talking about fabric, and I was considering this as a superior—for the purpose—alternative to glass. I think it’s marketed under Xynol? Supposedly… lighter, better abrasion resistance, and more flexible but relatively cheap compared to dynel and kevlar. Seemed like good bang for the buck. Any experiences to share?

Even so, I had no idea that polyester resin was so permeable. I always used it on my experimental kid boats with no problems, but these were freshwater contraptions that never lived in the water.

Also, it turns out I have used vinylester—in a hot tub I built with a friend for one of his clients. We were waterproofing cedar, as I recall, and the stuff we were using was recommended by another friend. As soon as I saw “styrene”  in the description, I recognized the material.  It was the smell. Ghastly. I thought I was going to faint, and I could not find the right filters for my mask. It ended up with a nice finish though. Our customer was delighted.

But just backing off and looking at the design theory… One of my first boats was a canvas covered kayak. It was surprisingly strong. I really abused that boat, crashing it into rocks, taking it through really shallow rapids, and dragging it around on beaches. Though I had to patch it occasionally, it really could take a beating. So I’ve been fond of the idea of thin skinned boats whose strength is derived from the internal structure. Again, this goes back to a minimalist philosophy and aesthetic. For example, if your boat is light enough, and flexible enough, it bounces over and around rocks rather than crashes into them.

Like the willow, who yields to the wind but does not break, unlike the mighty oak…

     

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I’ve built a couple strip built boats and a couple ply builds.  Strip takes about 3x the hours but looks can be exceptional.  Ply tends to look like ply unless you do something like torturing it or lapstrake.  Either way, I prefer epoxy.  No sensitization (yet) and I am as careful as I can be.  I still get it on me though.  I’ve been using epoxy called “No blush II” and it’s reasonably cheap.  I actually like it a lot better than most West products.

Have you thought of going skin on frame?  It’s really the lightest short of inflatable boats.

Dan

     
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Interesting philosophical thread turned practical. Polyester resin is water permeable, but I haven’t noticed in my current 35+ year old trailer sailor. I’d like to build using an adhesive that doesn’t require a respirator. Maybe Titebond II or III and screws to build the wood frame and attach plywood panels. Then I’ll find someone who doesn’t mind epoxy to sheath the hull exterior with glass, and paint.

The aesthetic bent is curious to me too. I’m totally a form follows function guy, so my boat will be ugly. But if it’s very quick to build, and it works, them I’m happy. And it will make all the pretty proas look that much better. :o)

Can we rewind to rigs? I like the idea of using pre-existing. I’m thinking a 7.2m proa schooner using two Laser rigs. My sailing club has a fleet of Lasers, and they won’t mind if I borrow a couple rigs when I want to sail, at least until I get my own. Sail area might be a bit modest, but not if it’s blowing 20-25 knots.

Curtis

     
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Hi Dan,

I found the website for the “No Blush” epoxy some time earlier. The prices are great, and the website info phenomenal. It’s good to hear a user review. Also, I’m totally exploring skin on frame boats. I’ve just ordered a kit by which I can both get experience and have, as a result, a nifty little rowboat. Thanks for your thoughts.

And Hi, Curtis,

I too would like to rewind to rigs. I’ve kinda been saving that talk though because it opens up SO much. I do get the philosophy of form following function, but what impressed me about the developer of that thesis, the architect Louis Sullivan, was that he showed it was possible to take a highly functional design and just keep going a little (or a lot) further to get something that did the job but was also beautiful.

I make (sort of) a living as a wood carver. Before that I did a lot of oil painting, so getting a pretty effect is just in my blood. At the same time, there is beauty in the beast. Sometimes its an acquired taste. I can think of a lot of workboats I’ve seen. They have an honest look. Not all tarted up. Nothing there just for looks, everything functional, but they pull off a certain beauty because they have integrity; thus, they outshine the faddish looks of many yachts.

Cheers,
Rick

     

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