Modified 'Ruth' skin-on-frame rowboat

Documenting the building of a Skin-on-Frame Wherry

Introduction:      [March 18,2023]

This will be our fifth skin-on-frame boat build. Although the photo above looks somewhat like a smaller version of our Chamberlain Gunning Dory it is a totally different design also by Dave Gentry. As designed his 'Ruth' high performance wherry would be 18' long with a beam of 33" and could weigh as little as 45 lbs. Our slightly modified version will be 16' long and will have an inch more freeboard (depth).

I've made these changes for a couple of reasons. Length: 1)We have found that 18' boats are a bit longer than is easy to store in our boat shed. 2) Shorter means lighter, and 3)rowed/paddled boats 16' or less don't need to be registered in Michigan. It seemed prudent to add a little depth to the hull for safety while rowing on Lake Michigan and because of the slight reduction in buoyancy caused by shortening the boat.

One other minor change will be the use of heavier, 13 oz. polyester fabric rather than the specified 8 oz. material. As it turns out that lighter fabric is no longer available from George Dyson or any of the other sources I've researched. This 13 oz. fabric is the same as the material we used to cover our dory back in 2015 and it has held up really well.

[March 30, 2023]Stringers
We have had a few nicer days with daytime temperatures predicted up into the upper thirties so I fired up the woodstove in the boat shop and got to work. I have ripped out all of the long pieces; gunwales, inwales, chines & keel, and have made the 7:1 scarf cuts so they are ready to be glued end-to-end to make them 18' long.

The wood I'm using is Radiata pine, the nicest knot-free wood available in the area. It is a little heavier, stiffer and stronger than the specified western red cedar so all these stringers have been scaled down in cross-section about 25%. This should allow the stringers to bend more easily yet still be at least as strong as if they were red cedar.

[March 31,2023]Frames cut out
I cut out the individual parts on the full-sized printed plans, laid them out and traced them on some 1/4" Baltic Birch plywood. They are all now roughly cut out with a scroll saw and ready to be cleaned up on the band saw. A nice cozy 55 in the shop today.

I also laminated two stem pieces so the finished stem is 1/2" thick per the plans.

[April 1, 2023]
We got over 7" of heavy, wet snow last night so I spent quite a while shoveling which meant a late start in the shop this morning. By the end of the day I had all of the frames cut out to their final size and shape and began the process of getting each frame ready to be placed on the strongback for assembly. Frame #1 with reinforcement pieces.

The plans called for the frames to be made from 1/2 marine plywood - something not available locally. Dave Gentry says it is OK to substitute when necessary so I've come up with something that is admittedly not normal for this sort of thing but here it is:
As I mentioned above, the frames are cut out of 1/4" Baltic Birch plywood and I am adding reinforcement pieces at all points where the gunwales, chines and keel meet the frames. This will give me a 1/2' thick spot to screw and glue each joint and generally strengthen the frames. I could have just cut out a second set of frames and laminated them to be 1/2" thick but they would be quite a bit heavier than my new system. Those little reinforcement pieces (all 42 of them) were cut out of scrap. I knew I'd kept all those little chunks of plywood for something.

[April 13, 2023]
We have had some nice warm spring days and most days I have been working on the boat. The individual frames are completed and set up on the strongback.Frames set up on strongback Today Sue noticed that it looked like the rowing seat was quite far forward so I did some research and measured the expedition rowboat and decided to move the center three frames around a bit to get the rower's weight in a more balanced position. The frames that support the seat are now about 6" toward the back of the boat and I extended the space where your legs & feet go by about 2 more inches. Overall I like the look of the boat in this new configuration. The widest part of the boat is somewhat farther aft and that should make it easier to steer. In the photo the bottom half of the gunwales are just clamped in position. The next step is to screw and epoxy them permanently in place and then laminate on the upper halves. The laminated gunwales will be stronger and help the boat keep its shape. Clicking on any of the images should give you a larger photo.

[April 26, 2023]
I have been working on the boat pretty regularly and it is coming along fine. In this photo youGluing inwale spacer blocks can see that the gunwales and stringers are securely glued in place and I am gluing on one of fifty (50) 2" x 1" cedar blocks evenly spaced along the inside edge of the gunwales. Once the glue is dry I'll begin adding the laminated inwale pieces to complete that structure. This creates a very strong and stable sheer of the boat. Boat building is sharing  time with spring chores. We're heading into a bit of a rainy period so things should progress a little more quickly.

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[June 10, 2023]
Well, it has been entirely too long since I've posted an update here. As usual this time of the year I've been splitting my time between boat building, homestead projects, biking, and even a bit of rowing. As of today the frame has been completed, sanded, oiled and skinned. Today's project is to finish shrinking out any remaining wrinkles with my 'shop iron' set on high and then putting on the first coat of water-based spar polyurethane varnish. I'll follow up with at least two more coats and then begin painting. The decision to paint the boat rather than leave it translucent was settled by having smashed a full mosquito on the fabric - not pretty! At any rate, here are a few photos of the frame before skinning and one in the skinning process.   Click on any image to see it enlarged.

  ... on the grassBow - on the grass

Stern - on the grass 


[June 14, 2023]First coat of green
A couple of days ago I applied two coats of water-base polyurethane varnish as primer to the hull and today put on the first coat of 'Essence of Green' (pale green) acrylic latex porch and deck paint. It looks good but will probably need a couple more coats both for protection and waterproofing and to even out the opaqueness.

It is possible that the boat will be ready to launch by the 4th of July!

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[June 26, 2023]
Stem Protecrtor
After putting on a few coats of that pale green paint Sue advised me that it was just too pale so I bought some slightly greener paint and I have to admit that it does look better. Being red-green color blind doesn't make these decisions real easy so I do appreciate Sue coming to the rescue. I think I have three, maybe four coats of the new color on and the painting is done.

The first photo shows the laminated oak stem protector temporarily in place and the secondSkeg shot is of the skeg trial-fitted.

The way most builders of this design finish the transom is to wrap the fabric over the edge a couple of inches and staple it in place. Then they fold an inch or so of the fabric back over to hide the staples and fasten that in place with upholstery tacks. I didn't really like the look so came up with my own system - as usual. I just sawed out a couple of pieces of 1/4" plywood the shape of the outside edges of the transom and refined the shape a bit to have them cover the fabric and two rows ofTransom done ... staples. They are fitted around the aluminum skeg stabilizer and held in place by stainless steel screws with finish washers - similar to those on the stem. It looks cleaner to me and is serviceable if needed.

We flipped the boat over and I spent today fitting the gunwale rub strips that both protect the edge of the boat and hide the staples that hold the fabric in place. Those pieces and the keel rub strip are made from 1/4" x 3/4" unfinished oak 'screen molding'. It looks nice and being oak is very durable. The transom was varnished back when I put the first coats on the fabric but all other wood is treated with tung oil. This worked out well on our other boats and is especially nice because it is so easy to touch up.


[July 4, 2023]
Made it! - sort of, anyway. I was hoping to launch the boat by the 4th of July although it isDone and ready for the water! ready to go the weather didn't cooperate. It was 86 here this afternoon - just too hot to enjoy being out on the water. The forecast is for a couple of days of rain, which we will enjoy, then a couple of days with temperatures in the 70's. I console myself knowing that these hot, dry days ensure that the paint is drying well.

Speaking of paint, I suppose the project isn't really completed until I get a coat of paint onDone - front view
. the new wooden trailer/boat interface.

I'll get some better photos soon. In the mean time, the I'll be cleaning and reorganizing the shop. It is amazing how small the shop looks and feels while a boat is in there and how big and bare it looks now.

Here are some photos of the boat just before it was launched: 
 Breast Hook
Breast hook
Mirror assembly 
Riggers with fixed seat
Riggers with fixed seat 
Riggers with Sliding seat
Riggers with Sliding Seat
Sliding Seat
Sliding Seat Detail

And now the boat has a name, "Lilli B" (short for Lilli Bulero, our calico cat).
I burned the name and image with my trusty pyrography tool.

Lilli B on Transom

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