Sail Plans

Original 52 sq/ft Chapelle Sail Plan 


(to start of project)

Astute observers and Melonseed owners will have realized I made too many spars. And there’s nothing called a “yard” on a traditional Melonseed. But once again I’ve done my best to channel Robb White, and in choosing a sail plan have gone somewhat against the grain and conventional wisdom. I used historic precedents, though, and the risks here are not as great as with the unconventional centerboard design. Continue reading “Sail Plans”


Oar Glue-up


(to start of project)

I would love to have two sets of those beautiful Shaw & Tenney spoonblade oars. They are truly works of art. But the Boat Budget is getting shallow, and I can see bottom now in places, so I’ve had to make some choices. There are sail kits available from Sailrite, which are pretty reasonable, and they actually have a couple of choices for Melonseed sails. I could have saved some money by making the sails from kits rather than having them made professionally. But I can make serviceable oars more easily than I can make professional quality sails, and the sails will affect the ultimate performance of these boats far more than the oars, so I’ll make the oars. There are some hardware fittings I’ll probably make, too, which will save quite a bit as well. That should see me through to the end. Continue reading “Oars”

Mast Making

Douglas Fir Mast, final sanding


(to start of project)

For most of this project, and long before, I assumed I would make hollow Bird’s Mouth masts when I finally got the chance. There are many resources explaining how to do it on the web, as well as in print, but essentially it’s a way of making interlocking staves to create a strong hollow tube of wood. Continue reading “Mast Making”

The 80 Pound Boat

North takes a trip, “Um, can I have this boat?”


(to start of project)

It’s going to take several posts to catch up with where things are now. I’ll try to do several this week, but a lot continues to happen fast.

With all the spars and masts to finish round, I needed more room and a long straight work surface, especially for the masts. The Strongbacks are the perfect length, but that meant moving a boat somewhere. I spent an hour engineering all sorts of pulleys and ropes and harnesses to lift North up to the ceiling out of the way, then said this is crazy. Every time I bumped the boat it would move. Gave it heft. Got T to help me keep it from falling, then just walked around and picked it up. The entire boat, complete with framing, missing only the deck and some trim, weighs just 80 pounds. Amazing. The centerboard, rudder and floorboards will add some weight yet; but still, I bet each boat ends up weighing less than I do.







Meanwhile, back to spar making.

This much I can tell you: a router does not a spar make. I set up a rack and jig on the Strongback, which works very, very well. I’ve seen pictures of people using routers to round out masts and spars. With so many spars to make, and wood to remove, I thought I’d try it.

Big mistake. Wisely, I decided I’d practice on the sprits and yards first – which were still a bit on the heavy side – before attacking the masts. Good thing, as I almost ruined two sprits before I gave up on it.





A router does a few things better than any other hand tool – cuts the insides of curves, makes smooth insets for hardware and inlays, and adds decorative edges. Anything else? Not so much. When working the outside of a curve of a pole, as a sort of makeshift lathe, you can only remove a tiny bit of wood at a time. Try to do more, or move a bit too fast, and the monster gets all upset, bucks, and chews up your wood. Not pretty. There are far better, safer tools for this. These would be manual tools, that don’t make shrieking noises and threaten to remove large portions of flesh. A hand plane works just as fast, without the risk of mayhem. Fortunately, the two mangled spars can be smoothed out and will work fine as the most light weight pieces. The rest of the spars received clemency. They got their treatment from the trusty old Block Plane.




The sprits will be set aside until the masts are ready, when everything will get the inside-out rolling-pin-sanding-belt finish.
melonseed skiff, mellonseed skiff, melon seed, mellon seed   

Sparring with Yards

First spars done, two sprits.


(to start of project)

Wow, been too busy to post. No Foolin. Got a lot done last weekend, but been too busy to stop.

I’ve had to modify the build schedule a bit, and take a detour into spar making. Dabbler tailors each suit of sails to custom fit the boat they’re intended for. Once I placed the order, Stuart Hopkins began asking for details I hadn’t anticipated, and surely couldn’t provide. I didn’t know how much I didn’t know about sails until he began to ask me for specifics. For one thing, he adjusts the shape of the sail according to how much the mast and components bend under strain. The only way to give him what he needs to proceed, and get it right, is to actually make the mast and spars. So to keep from holding him up I’ve become a spar making fool. Continue reading “Sparring with Yards”

Breasthooks, Hatches and Cockpits

South, framing done


(to start of project)

Another great weekend, and the first full day of Spring. Bonus!

Really got a lot done in two days. Ordered my sails Friday from Dabbler Sails, and spent half Saturday writing out all the specs and measurements to send to Stuart Hopkins, sole proprietor. Dabbler makes some of the best traditional sails anywhere. His shop is also on the Northern Neck, just up the road from where I spent summers and learned to sail at my grandparents’ house on Windmill Point. So, besides the quality of his work, for sentimental reasons I really wanted to get my sails there. Continue reading “Breasthooks, Hatches and Cockpits”

The Antipode of Autumn

Listening to Peepers, outside in the yard.


(to start of project)

I hope you can hear this. The vagaries of computers and the web makes some things uncertain. But if you can, this is what it sounds like here, right now, tonight. Driving home from work late, just after dark, I rolled down the windows just to listen when passing a wet place in the woods, or a farm pond overgrown.

Nothing sounds more like Spring to me than peepers on the first warm night of the year, the same way calls of geese coursing southward overhead on moonlit nights, plaintive and cacophonous, sound like fall. Minstrels announcing the entrance and exit of a very hard season, with a harmonic flourish.

Continue reading “The Antipode of Autumn”