hello world – 1

was choosing a good day, and also waiting for the tide (it’s just after full moon and the water is low still), time seemed to be so long. Finally, christened, trialled the boat, and started its maiden voyage, all in this same day! 🙂 First impressions: the boat is very agile, good speed, better than the plastic boats I used. It’s a real pleasure once you ride into, and the boat gets momentum after just a few paddling strokes, the feeling was light and firm. It tracks very straight, perhaps even too straight. On the minus sides: the canoe’s fat hull makes the turning angle a bit wide (it’s a bit difficult to turn quickly), and it’s somewhat shaky at times, probably because the seats are too high, maybe I should cut the seats’ legs down a bit to lower the center of gravity (or maybe not).

Some photos for now, would post in – action videos once I finish trialling the boat more thoroughly on longer distances… The last several days, I’ve finished two additional testings: one 10km run and another 15km run. Overall, I’m very pleased with the canoe’s performance. The sustained speed is improved by a small margin, from 5 km/h to nearly 6 km/h, but the paddling effort seems to be much less, I don’t feel that tired like with those plastic boats. The windage is good, given that the boat tends to keep straight very well, once it gets momentum, it doesn’t drift much under unfavourable wind. The rolling motion can be unpleasant for novice paddlers, but I’m ok with that still, actually I prefer to have some little shaking, after all, it’s not solid flat land, it’s bobbing water!

Some very beautiful scenes captured when trialling my new canoe. It rains sometimes, but the sky was clear was bright. Waterways in this region have lots of traffic, high buildings along the riverside, many activities afloat, most people I met was opened and friendly. And everyone was asking from where I bought such a nice and handy boat! 🙂 And many ones who patiently spends hours along the banks for casual fishing look at me with envious eyes 🙂 ! It is pure pleasure to enjoy the river in many of its status: tranquil, wavy, windy, sunny, rainy… all within one same day, and it is even more pleasant to enjoy all those things in a built – by – your – own – hands boat! Well… every journey begins with a single step… consider this first step successfully done! 🙂

Today, I tested the canoe in tandem configuration, and I must admit, it’s a failure! The only point that I’m pleased with is that the boat is still very light and agile with two paddling hands, it’s very quick to get momentum, velocity is very good, and there’s less effort needed to propel the boat to optimal cruising speed. Things to be improved in tandem configuration: 1. distance between two seats is too tight, the paddles can collide if two hands are not paddling in sync; 2. the canoe rolls a lot, to the point of instability, the only cause is that seats are mounted too high. It’s a dilemma, I don’t really want to lower the seats, they make comfortable positions and reduce paddling effort. I’m considering possible fixes to this problem and would update the canoe in the upcoming weeks.

hello world – 1, part 4

he canoe construction has reached about 3/4 of the overall progress, but there’s still much work ahead. Lots of small errors and mistakes made here and there, lots of lessons learned, but I’m happy to see the general status of the canoe standing well. Since I’ve put more materials (epoxy, fiberglass, hard wood…) into the boat, its final weight might far exceed the projected 20 kg, but that’s not very important anyhow. If it’s too heavy to be easily carried on one’s back, I’ll make a simple carriage to help moving the thing (with my bicycle) around then! Although designed to be mostly a solo canoe, for now I see it can easily accommodate two persons and some little gears, making it a nice weekend fishing canoe very soon in the next 10 days or so! 🙂 .

10.     SEATS

One of the most important things when go paddling for extended time is… the seat. If you spend several hours mostly with your upper body in action while the lower part doesn’t move much, you’ll understand why a comfortable seat is very much needed. I’m gonna install two seats, to prepare the boat in tandem configuration. Usually, seats are just mounted (hang) against a single bilge, but I think that installation is too weak. Instead, I will make 4 legs to support a seat, each leg also serves to link 3 bilges together, hence strengthen the boat overall rigidity. It could take some times to cut and install the 8 legs into the correct shapes and positions, but if done properly, the boat structural strength would be much improved, that’s worth the efforts.

11.     PAINT

Next comes the job of painting… Unlike the old – day, one – part paint, which is simple to use, today two – part PU (polyurethanes) offers superior properties, but is more complex to work with. First I would need to sand the hull at 120 grit in preparation, then apply two layers of primer, sanding after each layer (150 & 180 grit), then apply two other layers of main coats, then briefly sanding again at 240 grit, finally a topcoat of gloss. In total: 5 layers of paint and 4 times of sanding are required for the interior and exterior, a huge pile of work. I allocate 5 days (could be more) just for this painting job 🙁 ! Actually, I don’t expect a really fine, shiny finish, and the topcoat would only be semi – gloss (or even satin – gloss), it just need to be smooth, that’s already good enough for me.

12.     FINISH

There’re still many small jobs that need to be done to finish the canoe: polish and varnish the naked wooden parts, cut and stick the decal decorations (boat name, owner’s contact information and especially the boat eyes, a must – have, intrinsic part of Vietnamese boats); apply the topcoat (a semi – gloss on top of the decals to protect them from the weather), adjust and fit the two seats, fit two handles at two ends to help lifting the boat… and some other miscellaneous items (styrofoam fenders…) I intend to build also a simple trailer (some wooden planks with two small wheels) to reduce the burden of moving a 35 kg mass on longer distances. Thinking like if I can wait one and a half month to get the boat done, I can wait a few more days to go paddling in it! 🙂

hello world – 1, part 3

aving worked with epoxy resin when setting up the workshop, I’ve gained some experiences with it. When mixing component A & B together, the pot time is so short in tropical climate, as the rule states that: reaction time is reduced by half when room temperature increased by 10° Celsius, I usually have less than 3, 4 minutes before it hardens. The average day temperature in Saigon this season is around 33° ~ 36°, it makes a tedious task working with epoxy, quite many times did the mixed epoxy burn hot into smoke before I can use it all. Epoxy also exhibits the characteristic of a “chain reaction”: it easily burns hot when the mixing weigh exceeds a “critical mass” of just 30 grams or so (depending on temperature), forcing me to mix into smaller batches.

7.     GLASSING

Finally, I devised a trick to cope with the situation: before mixing, I put the components A & B into the fridge for an hour 🙂 , to cool them down and lengthen reaction time, giving me more time and flexibility. Also, I would glass at night to avoid the higher day temperature. For the fiberglass fabric, I can only find cloth of 1m width at the current time, not enough to cover the whole canoe’s beam, but decided to proceed with it anyhow. The missing part will be left as is for the interior, and will be covered by other fiberglass pieces for the exterior. Though glassing would add about 2 ~ 2.5 kg to the final boat weight (just estimate, I use 6 oz, or 200 gram/m2 cloth), it would re – enforce the hull with more stiffness, anyhow this is my first build and rigidity is a bigger concern over weight.

8.     FITTING

The hull is now completed, the next step involves many small works that help building up the boat structurally: fit the forward and aft bulkheads (I decided to seal the water – tight compartments permanently and not to use hatches for later maintenance), fit the inner gunwales, fit the forward and aft thwarts, then fit the outer gunwales, then fit three bottom runners (to protect the boat when touching ground), and some other miscellaneous works. It seems there’s alway more effort and time spent in each step than I originally planned, partly because I’m an inexperience first – time boat – builder, partly cause I want to do it carefully to learn and improve my skills. It’s just like when you go on long – range paddling: don’t think about the destination, concentrate on each steps!

9.     MORE FITTING

For the gunwales, thwarts, seats… my chosen wood was a very hard and heavy tropical one, Vietnamese name: căm xe (Xylia xylocarpa) and the choice was not quite right. Having density at 1.15 (1150 kg/m3), the wood is too hard to bend into desired shapes, it’s even hard to saw or to chisel. I was thinking of setting up boiling devices to steam and bend the wood, but it requires much more effort, so finally I decided simply to compromise and change the design: instead of “flush decks” at bow and aft, I lower them a bit to fit with the “sunken” gunwales. Also, I’m worrying that this wood would add much more weight into the boat. On the plus side, hard wood makes the boat more sturdy, and if done right, its grain and colour would be very nice after polishing and varnishing.

hello world – 1, part 2

was having quite lots of work, those coding stuffs, and suddenly I recall a popular joke of the IT field: Question: how many software engineers does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: none, it’s a hardware problem! 🙂 . Plus the burden of many nameless tasks of the canoe building, sometimes I feel a bit tired. But occasionally on the way back to my workshop, I stop on the bridge, look out the wide scenes on the river. Boats of all kinds and sizes come and go, waves gently flapping the banks, the tide quietly rises and lowers, and the breezes murmur into my ears a long – forgotten melody: Moon river, wider than a mile, I’m crossing you in style, some day… And I felt that, the rivers are calling, they are calling me… To the next steps of the boat project…

4.     STITCH

This gonna be a fun part cause it resembles a kid’s game when he/she just cuts pieces of paper and stitches them together with glue. Forming the boat hull from plywood planks is much the same way, on a larger scale, hence the boat construction method named: stitch and glue. Starting from the center bilge, I drill 2.5 mm holes at 22 ~ 24 cm intervals to stitch the next 2 pairs of bilges together using short pieces of steel wire. Then I fit the forward and aft bulkheads, also the center mold, then stitch the final upper bilges. Let take a look at this photo album to see in details, how, in just a couple of hours, the hull gradually takes shape. It’s really fascinating to have completed this step, it produces the first impression on how my canoe would eventually look like! 🙂

5.     GLUE

The bilges are just temporarily hold in place by steel wires, next is to permanently glue the seams with thickened epoxy. I used a mixture of silica and wood flour (the collected sanding dust) to thicken epoxy, then apply to the seams with a small masonry trowel. The two sides of a seam are covered with duct tape in advance so that epoxy won’t mess around, and duct tape is removed when epoxy half cures, leaving a clean fillet line. The next steps are glueing the bow and stern sections, cutting steel wires, filling remaining empty slots, then turning the hull over and do the same thing on the exterior side. There’s actually not much work, but it require leaving epoxy overnight for it to completely cure before glueing more, it gonna take the next few days to finish this step.

6.     SANDING

Now the labour – intensive task of sanding (even with the help of power tools). But first, I would need to fair the seams’ fillet curves a bit with the angle grinder using 60 grit sand paper. Then fill all drilled holes left by the steel wires, then proceed with the random orbital sander through 3 levels of fineness: 80, 100 and 120 grit. Since the glueing was a bit messy, it puts more work into this step, to really smoothen the hull’s surfaces before being able to move to the next step. Sand the hull, wipe out all dust, sand again with finer sand paper, repeat 3 times and for both outside and inside, that means: lots of work, given that next week would be a busy week for me with my job! 🙁 But those “gorgeous curves” gave me lots of joy and encouragement on the to – be – finished – product! 🙂

hello world – 1, part 1

y first boat project now officially starts! 🙂 I’ve been thinking about building my own boat for a very long time, but still couldn’t arrange for it. Now, just have to stop daydreaming about “the ultimately – beautiful watercraft of my life” and roll up my sleeves. Given my poor woodworking skill set, after lots of consideration, I’d decided to start with a simple design and construction method, a 12 feet (3.66 m) Selway Fisher’s Asymmetric Baby Raven, intended to be my general purpose / fishing canoe with the given name: Hello World – 1 🙂 . In the upcoming blog entries, I will try to keep a log on the building progress, which is expected to finish within a month or so, cause I would mostly work at weekends, and some limited hours in the weekdays.

1.     PREPARATION

It took almost 3 weeks to make all necessary preparations: building myself a table and a shelf to store tools and materials, a simple workbench to work with the boat on. Also, I built a bed, a smaller shelf and a chair, all of the simplest kinds, as household objects. That is to get myself familiarised with woodworking, gain some experiences with wood, epoxy, fiberglass fabric… There were lots of new stuffs for me, whose hands have rarely touched those kinds of job before. Anyhow, my small workshop setup is now basically completed: hand saw and power jig saw, a drill kit, random orbital sander, a disc cutter, hand plane, chisels, clamps, pincer, hammer… paint, brushes and rollers… I even have a small electronic scale to help epoxy resin mixing more accurate.

2.     CUT

It’s easy to find exterior – grade plywood to WBR (Water and Boil Proof) standard, but it’s hard to find really – good exterior – grade, not to mention marine – grade ones. First, many of the so called “water resistant plywood” out there in Vietnam market use melamine, not the superior phenolic glue. Second, most of them are laminated from cheap poplar veneers, the best I can find so far are those with interleaved layers of poplar & tropical hardwood veneers, usually marketed as: meranti or okoume, but I guess they’re just other tropical hardwood equivalences. Today, the ordered plywood sheets have arrived (I use 5mm thick ones), it’s time to draw and cut the planks. As usually said: measure twice, cut once, I proceed slowly & carefully to this initial stage of the canoe.

3.     JOIN

I was too busy during this week to actually got any boating bit done, need to get all the cutting and joining jobs finished this weekend… Finally, the complete set of planks is cut out. Before joining, all bilges need to be trimmed down to the precise shapes. I clamped each pair of port and starboard bilges together, then used an angle grinder to trim the edges and smoothen the curves. Since the plywood sheet has length of 2,440 mm, they need to be joined to the 3,660 mm length of the canoe. Bilges are screwed down to a piece of wood to fix the position, a layer of bin bag is placed in between to prevent the wood from sticking together. Then I applied epoxy, pieces of fiberglass, and epoxy again until the glass is completely wet out to form simple butt joints which get the jobs done.

voiliers d’indochine – 3

ome texts quoted from the book, the English translation can only partially convey this old, romantic French writing style: if there is one region in the world where the picturesque ancient sailboat has sheltered and prevailed in its multiple facets, it is on the coasts of Indochina. A vast array of colours, the old scent of wood from the past… Nautical Indochina shows contrast especially in its fishing boats: each province has its own type of boat, all shapes of hulls, all the varieties of sails do their utmost to give us an image constantly renewed of maritime culture too regrettably ignored by the French and the Indochinese themselves. Very few are those who attempted to preserve their images, to describe their shapes, to speak of their poetry!

voiliers d’indochine – 2

r. Piétri was a biologist, and a biologist in the old days was trained in pen, ink anatomical drawing. His skill came into great uses for boats illustration. His writing style is that of a romantic, nostalgic, old – school sailor, he was describing something that would soon pass away in Indochina, as it already had in the Western world: large fleet of sailboats in their daily activities: fishing, cargo transporting… He provided various information into a beautiful world that has now gone, even today we still can find wood – workers who possess the knowledge of building traditional hulls in VN (the number of them can be counted with fingers on your hands), some in – depth details like blocks, tackles, shackles, lines, sails, rigging… can only be found in his book.

voiliers d’indochine – 1

onsieur Piétri was Director of Fisheries of Colonial French Indochina (Vietnamese: Giám đốc nha ngư nghiệp Đông Dương), his career may had taken him to many watery parts of Vietnam, but only his passion for boat and sailing that resulted in Voiliers d’Indochine (Sailboats of Indochina), a book he’d spent many years working on, in the 30s the previous century, first published in Saigon, 1943, two decades ahead of The Junk Blue Book. I was reading it through an English translation of The Vietnam wooden boat Foundation, and its foreword: dedicate to Mr. J B Pietri in recognition of his passion to accurately record the creativity and ingenuity of the Vietnamese people in the building of unique wooden boats…

the junk blue book – 3

he Junk Blue Book – Marion C. Dalby, by its mission definition, is to provide knowledge to help identifying various Vietnamese indigenous boats, a military technical manual to be precise, not a book about boat design and construction. However it’s among the very rare well – written and fully – illustrated documents available today for us to know how, just half a century ago, our ancestors were operating sailing crafts. As in most of the world the working Vietnamese seamen had little interest in chronicling their environment, or perhaps they had no idea that such everyday life would be of interest to anyone… VN people is, as always, extremely easy to forget the past, and we’re today placed at a fait accompli of a now vanished culture!

Around mid 20th century, the Age of Sail has been long over in the Western world, while in Indochina, sailing crafts were widely used still, and Westerners came to VN seeing them from a “recreational sport” point of view. Many of whom were surprised by the diversity in boat designs and constructions, some were astonished by unique features that only VN boats have, some admired the beauty and performance characteristics of certain VN sailing crafts. One such person is J.B. Piétri and his book Voiliers d’Indochine (Sailboats of Indochina). A marvellous book, no photographs, but all beautiful hand – drawn sketches, not only do they clearly show technical details, but also illustrate the other artistic side of the subject. To be presented in my up – coming posts!

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the junk blue book – 2

ore pictures from The Junk Blue Book – Marion C. Dalby, more about cargo boats (the previous post presents mainly fishing boats). First image in the series: a typical ghe bầu, the main “work – horse” of Southern people in the old days, ancestor of cargo boats usually seen in the Mekong delta nowadays (though the hull shape has changed significantly with introduction of combustion engine, I suppose). At the time of The Junk Blue Book, boats of this type were usually found around 100 ton in displacement, though in previous centuries, they were often constructed bigger at a few hundreds ton to be used for both trading and naval purposes. Ghe bầu composed the ‘spiral – cord’ of Vietnamese landlords’ navies in feudal time.

According to records of Western missionaries, adventurers, soldier – of – fortunes… who worked in Vietnam in the late 18th century, the Nguyễn and Tây Sơn lords’ navies both had a few 70 – guns mans – of – war, built and equipped to Western designs, but the majority is of ghe bầu type, with 20 ~ 60 guns mounted, capable of transporting upto 700 troops. Though these facts are likely, they’re still vague descriptions, there’s a lack of details and evidences. 50 – guns warship is a very strong frigate indeed, could be classified as 4th – rate ship – of – the – line, par the Royal Navy rating system, and should have the displacement at least at 1,000 (metric) tons, a question mark whether Vietnamese traditional boat building at the time was having such a capability.

Click on each thumbnails to see large versions and comments…