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By John Turpin - Edmond, Oklahoma - USA

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After damaging and losing my sailboat in the tumultuous 2009 Texas 200, I returned home and began searching for a replacement boat. I spent some time looking at ads for plastic production boats and found plenty of good, proven designs out there. But a decade of sailing in windy Oklahoma and Texas has rearranged my thinking about desirable sailboat characteristics and forced me off the mainstream boat-buyer's path. There are some sailboat design features that prove advantageous around here and still others that prove disadvantageous and I'm steadily figuring all this out the hard way. I've always owned sloops, but here where I sail, the boats that seem to perform best in these shallow, windy cruising grounds sport the twin spars and smallish sails of ketches, yawls and the occasional schooner. The problem is that there just aren't many non-sloop plastic trailer sailers out there to be had.

After a few months of internet searching, I had to make a decision. Either I'd compromise and pick up a production fiberglass sloop or I'd build a boat to my liking. After talking it over with sailing friends and builders, I decided to bite the bullet and build. Unlike many builders, I didn't really have a strong urge to build a boat. (I know, I know. That's blasphemy.) I admire the "serial builders" I know; the guys who crank out boat after boat. But, that's just not my thing. My goal was simply to produce a boat that I couldn't buy off-the-rack.

The Hunt

My research process produced a moderate list of design features that I'd sorted into "must have" and "nice to have" categories. So, I began looking at boat plans. (Many of you just smiled.) Hunting for the perfect small boat plans can be somewhat addictive. There must be hundreds of sailboat plans out there. Thousands? But, my "must have" feature list quickly pared down a giant list into a moderately-long list. My list particulars changed over time, but six parameters were set in stone. My future boat would have to have the following:

  1. A split rig
  2. Speed
  3. Shallow draft
  4. Decent freeboard
  5. Easily reefed sails
  6. Beauty

Design feature #6, beauty, was important. I would not build a sailboat that was not beautiful. Surprisingly, this eliminated a large number of potential plans. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholding sailor and I certainly judge design aesthetics in my own particular manner. But, it was an important, albeit arbitrary, factor in my hunt. Now, there are many builders out there that seem to discount this; simply valuing functionality and performance measurements. I wish them well, but for me, my boat would need to turn heads and generate approving nods.

My short list brought me to the design library of Graham Byrnes of B&B Yacht Designs. I'd sailed with Graham in the 2008 Texas 200 and have sailed on/alongside his Core Sound and Princess boats for many years. I'd even built one of his nesting dinghies several years ago. His designs met all my "must haves", perform very well in my cruising grounds and are quite fast. I instinctively went to the time-proven, perennial Core Sound 17. This cat ketch has a great reputation as a camp cruiser and endurance race boat. But ultimately, I selected Graham's newest cat ketch design, the Lapwing 16.

The Lapwing easily met my requirements for design, performance and looks. There was a sizable list of "pros", including a strong pedigree, user-friendly cat ketch rig and a strong builder/owner community. It also featured an eight-plank, lapstrake hull with pretty lines, a shapely transom and subtle tumblehome. I did, however, have to consider a significant "con". This was a new design; I mean, really new. The Lapwing was first commissioned by veteran designer/builder Tom Lathrop and he completed Lapwing hull #1 just a few months earlier. While Tom's Lapwing had been completed, and another was being built in New Zealand, I would be on the leading edge of this boat's development. Graham's own Lapwing build had been interrupted by other projects and remained unfinished in his shop. The leading edge of such projects often becomes the "bleeding edge".

To make it even more challenging, Lapwing #1 had been built in a different method than that specified in the still-infant plans. Tom's prototype Lapwing had been constructed over a mold, while the new B&B plan set described glued lapstrake construction over permanent bulkheads with no intermediate, temporary forms. The difference in those construction methods is actually quite significant. To make it even more challenging, B&B had not yet been able to create patterns for the boat's planks. Until those patterns can be produced from Graham's shop, builders will need to perform this tricky task on their own. So, to tackle this, I'd be way out front of the Lapwing community's learning curve. But, enchanted by her beauty, I ordered the plans and was assigned hull #5.

The Build

On August 8, 2009, I ordered a dozen sheets of ¼" Okoume from a marine wood outfit, ordered epoxy and materials from Chuck and Sandra at Duckworks and picked up a dozen #1 Doug Fir 2X6s from my local lumberyard. While my marine ply was headed toward Oklahoma from the North East, I had time to work on my building space. I have a spare two-car garage at the back of my property that's always been used for storing my boat and lawn equipment. So, I spent a few weeks transforming it into a boat-building shop. Once the spiders, bugs and snakes were finally convinced that I meant business, they begrudgingly left and in their place soon came long work surfaces, a dozen new saw horses, shelves and a wall-length plywood rack. With the dirt, dust and fauna gone, the place even started to smell a little better. Go figure.

The workshop where I would spend the next year of my life

My first project was the centerboard. I ripped down some of my Doug Fir stock and oriented the pieces in an alternating-grain pattern. Some epoxy, clamp time and shaping resulted in a centerboard. Borrowing a neat trick from the building community, I routed a channel into the edges of the board and inserted an epoxy-soaked piece of polypropylene rope. When set, faired and sanded, this gives the centerboard a rock-hard edge. This will be handy as I "discover" submerged rocks and tree stumps. To add some weight, I routed out a pocket and filled it with lead sinkers and epoxy. Ultimately, the centerboard was covered with 9 oz. cloth and graphite-embedded epoxy.

Alternating the grain orientation adds structural strength and resists warping
Cutting and shaping tools transforms dimensional lumber into a sleek control surface
An epoxy-soaked rope gives the board a strong, resilient edge
A close-up of the rope-edge being faired with silica-filled epoxy
Smashed lead sinkers add a couple of pounds of weight to the centerboard
Fiberglass cloth and multiple coats of epoxy produce one tough centerboard

When my Okoume finally arrived, I was able to get started on the boat's structure. BS-1088 Okoume marine plywood is a joy to work with (once you recover from the sticker shock). I spent a few weeks scarfing together large panels that were then cut into rough shape using a cordless trim saw. Final shaping was performed with my belt sander and hand planes. When the inner-structure's panels and bulkheads were finally shaped, the boat was able to go "3-D" on August 29th.

A dozen sheets of Okoume Marine Ply in my new plywood rack
Here, I learn how to scarf plywood
Gluing together huge plywood panels with epoxy, plastic and heavy weights

Bulkheads begin appearing and await construction

A dozen saw horses and old doors provided me with the long temporary work tables I needed
#1 son, Ethan, helps me glue all the structural "bones" together

At this point, I had many tasks to perform before I could start planking the hull. I had to build a tricky, curved transom; tape and fillet joints; and shape and install the keelson and stem. I was happy to take my time with this part (chiefly to put off the upcoming planking task that was quite intimidating).

Ethan and #2 son, Colin, show off the transom they made
The transom goes on and the joints get fillets and tape
The stem is shaped, fastened and braced in place
The keelson ties it all together and the boat starts looking quite long

Working with Graham and New Zealand Lapwing builder, Richard Whitney, I started trying to figure out plank shapes. I read a book on the topic, spent hours of internet research time, and Richard supplied me with some measurements that he was using for his garboards and the #2 plank (Thanks again, Richard!). I can't explain how challenging this step is for the inexperienced lapstrake builder who cannot afford to waste expensive plywood. With help from a million clamps, the boys and I got the first two planks in place (four planks if you count each side of the boat).

It helps to have lots and lots of clamps
The garboard finds its home at the stem
The planking team gets plank #1 on!
Some 9 oz. cloth goes on the garboards
Planks 1 and 2 pretty much span the entire width of the Lapwing's bottom

The next three months were all about planking. The shape of each plank had to be found on the three-dimensional boat and transferred to two-dimensional plywood. To do this, I constructed a spiling truss. This device consists of a pair of 18' long strips of plywood and dozens of small truss pieces. By attaching the long ply strips to the correct "upper" and "lower" locations of the needed plank, you find the needed shape. You then hold that shape by temporarily attaching the truss pieces. I used hot glue and staples to set the truss into its shape. The truss can then be CAREFULLY moved from the hull to the plywood for tracing and cutting.

By mid-November, I had all eight (sixteen) planks on the boat. Fall arrived early and I was now working in the cold. My plan was to get the exterior hull painted before winter arrived, leave the project, and then return with the springtime warmth.

The spiling truss finding a plank's shape
The spiling truss holding its shape for tracing
Plank clamps hold #4 in place while the epoxy sets
The Lapwing hull starts to take shape
Shaping the shear strake

to be continued....

For more details on this building project and our ongoing adventures, visit Blue Peter's website at

Fair Winds
John Turpin
Edmond, OK
s/v Blue Peter


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