The Construction Story

So many boat project never get finished. Lots of folks thought that I would not complete this boat. I guess they underestimated my committment. I lofted Alyria in a friend's barn on Whidbey Island. Lofting is the critical process of drawing full size images on a floor. It's proper execution is vital to making the finished boat match what the designer (in this case John Alden) had in mind. We ended up moving to Lopez Island before we started building Alyria, which turned out to be the perfect place to do the work of building her.

The moulds provide a temporary form to hold the shape of the boat while various permanent pieces get added. They are eventually removed and can be used again if another identical boat is being built. The outer edges of each mould have a changing bevel which is "picked up" from the drawings done during the lofting phase. These are then cut along the edges with a bandsaw. It's important to get these right, and to align them correctly, or the boat won't come out as expected. Here, you can just begin to see the shape. 

All but the first 3 frames in the bow are now in place. What fun it is to bend a 2 inch thick piece of white oak into these graceful curves! Now the shape of the hull is really starting to show. Soon, the moulds and ribbands will be removed and for the first time, I will be able to walk around "inside" the new boat. It's an exciting moment. The floor timbers and other structural members can then be added. In Alyria, the floor timbers are made of Ironbark from Australia and are bolted through the wood keel, placed on top of each pair of frames, and the frames are also

Here the planking has started. I chose Western Larch as the planking material on the reccomendation of my teacher, Bob Prothero. The fasteners are all silicon bronze screws and have held up quite well. I followed Bob's advice in using a maximum plank width slightly less than what it would normally be for a vessel this size to accomodate our planned voyages to warmer climates. It has proven to be a wise choice. The white painted longitudinal inside the planking is called the bilge stringer and is 12 inches wide by 2 inches thick, tapering

Corking the finished hull was speeded up by my hiring Dave, a master corker from Port Townsend, Wa. Although I'd done it before, it was great to have the master right there with me. I think he did about 2/3 of the hull in the same time it took me to do the other 1/3! I used cotton for corking then a layer of oakum over that. Oakum is made of hemp fiber that's been treated with pine tar. We then painted the oakum with 3 coats of red lead paint below the waterline and white lead above. The putty goes into the seams later...

In this pic the lead ballast keel is fully fastened to the hull and the filler pieces are in place forward and aft of the lead. The original ballast was designed in cast iron and had to be adjusted for lead. I did the calculations myself and on the day that I was building the wood mould for the ballast, a friend who had built the same boat in Montana sent a gift. He had hired a naval architect to re-draw the ballast in lead and so he sent me the plans. I was pleased to see that what the naval architect came up with was identical to my drawings!

The interior of Alyria is a combination of varnished Yellow Cedar (over head and the ceiling), white painted larch panneling (solid wood T & G, made in my shop) and Honduras Mahogany. A few other woods crept in as accents here and there such as a thin band of purple heart that you can just barely make out directly above the wide yellow cedar board at the bottom edge of the cabin sides in the photo above. In this picture, the Honduras Mahogany does not have varnish on it yet so it's about to change in a lovely way. You can almost see all the way to the transom in this shot. The place where an engine would usually go is spacious and open...

After making the bronze castings for the rudder, fitting all the bronze through bolts from the aft edge of the rudder to the 2 inch bronze rudder post, the Purple Heart rudder was ready to hang on the stern post. I shortened the bottom of the rudder upward a couple of inches to give it more protection in the case of a grounding. The amount of surface area it removed was so small that I don't think it made any difference to the steering. Fortunately we've not had to deal with any grounding damage so far!

As we got closer to our launch date, we had to work even faster to be ready. I had certain things that I wanted to be done prior to launch so it got pretty busy around the shop the last few weeks. Here I am building the box for the Edson worm steering gear and cast iron steering wheel. That Mahogany coaming looks real nice next to the Port Orford Cedar deck and the Purple Heart footwell trim plank.

By the time this picture was taken, I had built a total of 5 buildings connected with the construction of this vessel, had moved twice and was expecting the birth of our youngest son, Julian. This pic shows the backbone of Alyria, all made from hand adzed Balau. Balau is one of the best woods for this purpose and I was fortunate to be able to get some. Alria was essentailly built outside, with a roof over top. Since I never planned to install an inboard engine, I improved the timber layout accordingly. The first mould is also up.

With the moulds up, many other temporary and permanent members can be added. Here ribbands (temporary), clamp, shelf, deck beams and other less visible (permanent) members are in place. This is all in preparation for the white oak frames to be steam bent into their new shape & locations. The frame heels are all heavily fastened to the wood keel timber and you can see the notches awaiting the frames. These notches all have to be cut with a chisel, by hand. That's why lots of builders don't do it; but it's th best way.

 through bolted through them as well. This area of a sailboat needs to be super strong, since it will eventually be holding about 10,000 lbs. of lead ballast in place. Remember that the lead ballast will be moving from side to side, etc., along with the boat! In this view, the moulds and ribbands have been removed, some painting has occurred, and that beautiful curved, raking eliptical transom has been planked. Some say that this type of transom is the hardest to build. It is certainly the most beautiful...

to 1 inch thick in the ends of the hull. This is another example of the extra stout building that went into Alyria's construction. Still, I was conscious of weight considerations before making even minor changes. This next pic shows the transition in planking from the top down, to planking from the bottom up. The garboard plank (bottom plank) has quite a bit of twist (look closely) and was challenging to fit. I made the garboard (again on the advice of Bob Prothero) about 2 inches thick and then tapered the planking up to the design thickness.

Here we see my son Julian checking out the mould I built to cast the lead keel. In the background, the large steel tank inside the steel box looms, waiting to be heated up enough to melt 8,500 lbs. of lead to pour into the mould and become Alyria's permanent ballast. Of all the jobs involved in building a traditional wooden boat, pouring the lead keel and fastening it to the hull was my least favorite. The keel bolts are 1 inch diameter silicon bronze and are beyond Lloyds of London standards. They go through 18 to 48 inches of material.

Alyria's deck is 1  7/8 inch Port Orford Cedar, fastened of course with silicon bronze. It is corked with cotton and pitched with real pitch from England. The company that I bought it from has (so they say) been in business continuously for 400 years! The covering boards are not on yet in this pic. They are made from some nice pieces of what is called "Island Oak," which is actually a type of maritime Douglas Fir. I was amazed at how it felt about twice as heavy and quite a bit harder than regular Fir.

Looking aft again from farther forward, here we see the galley with its propane 3 burner Force 10 stove and oven set in place. The sink is in the right side of the picture and you can just see the handle of the broze hand pump fresh water pump over the basin. The sink area also has a foot pump salt water pump built into the cabin sole directly in front of the sink and a built in soap dispenser on the countertop, which is made of solid maple. Looking closely, you can see that the 3 inch thick triple layer bulkhead only has the first layer in this shot. The verticle larch has not yet been added. The galley cabinet (Mahogany) also has not yet been installed in this photo.

The cabin top of Alyria is made of 1  3/8 inch T & G Yellow Cedar which, along with the Yellow Cedar inside of Alyria, came from a log that washed up on San Juan Island. An older friend who had built a boat in the '50's had saved it for some special project and I became the lucky recipient! Because we did not use plywood in the cabin top, I strengthened it by adding some bronze strapping let into the cedar and wrapped down to the Honduras Mahogany cabin sides. Over that went Irish Felt, canvas and paint.

Tom is busily making the main hatch out of a wood we used a lot; Honduras Mahogany. We did get just a little non-traditional here by adding a thin piece of marine plywood on top of the Mahogany planks to stregthen it. The plywood is covered over and invisible of course because of the Irish Felt and canvas over it all.

We launched Alyria on the beach on Lopez Island on June 30th, 1996. It was a blue moon and quite a party. Everyone gathered to laugh and talk and eat food while we waited several hours for the tide to float her. The weight limit of the travel lifet at the local marina was almost exactly what I calculated Alyria to weigh so we opted for a beach launch to be safe. I highly recommend it as a way to lauch a boat! 

Launching Alyria was a wonderful accomplishment but there was still a lot of work to do. Many details that all together add up to many more hours of labor and still more money. Besides completing the interior, the rig was the biggest job left.

We made Alyria's masts from whole Douglass Fir trees that I bought from a telephone pole company in Bellingham, Washington. They were peeled and had been curing for about a year when I got them. They were much larger than the finished diameter and so we cut them to their maximum diameter with a chainsaw mill. then put the taper and began the process of making them round. Here we see Bosco guiding the Foremast into its new home while I am (I think) down below making sure all's well.

When we first put in the masts, I made a temporary rig of cheap wire so that I'd get all of the measurements right. It's not always done that way if you are very confident that the boat matches the plans exactly. I felt sure that the Alyria was built extremely close to the plans but I decided to play it safe and take measurements off the actual vessel. It turned out to be not much more work than measuring off the plans and good for peace of mind.

Alyrias rig is traditional: galvanized hand spliced wire with service over. It's the best kind since it does not fatigue like stainless and will not rust if properly cared for. We've not had any problems with it all these years. Even the work of making the rig is fun if you have the right tools and a little know-how. I had the assistance of world famous rigger Brion Toss to guide me. In fact, he did more than guide me. He did all of the hand splices while I did all else. A fantastic guy to work with he was.

Here is the interior looking aft like the previous shot but this time completed. That cabinet that I metioned before is now in place as are a lot of other details. Most of the cabinets have sliding doors which are built to ventilate while open or closed. This is a good thing always but especially if you go to the tropics. The mainsail on Alyria is quite large and has some hefty poles (boom and gaff) so I chose to use steel hanging knees which are visible in this shot. I was not sure about how they'd look but I really like them now. 

This shot shows the interior looking forward from the galley into the forward cabin. Many details are still not complete in this photo but you can see the basics. the big double bunk forward is truly a wonderful place to sleep, even for me at 6' 3" +! The formast goes through where the feet go but we have not found that to be a problem. We built the forward cabin so that we could add a door for privacy but have never wanted one. Not shown in the picture is a curtain that is now where the door would go.

Anchored and fully ready to sail (but not quite ready to cruise for extended voyaging), she sits at anchor, waiting to raise sail and do what she does best; SAIL! She is suprisingly nimble and we've sailed her in many close quarters including up to and away from docks, in and out of crowded anchorages, etc.,. It's even not too hard to back her out of a crowded anchorage under sail alone if there is not enough turning room. 

Helpful People

I learned the art of traditional boat building directly from famous Seattle master 8th generation boat builder, Bob Prothro, founder of the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. My wife and I helped start the school  and I am a graduate of the first class.

Until I had the first 7 planks on her, I worked alone. Once I realized that everything was turning out better than expected, I had nothing to prove to myself anymore and so I hired Sandy as my first paid helper. He was so easy to work with and made the transition smooth.

Todd was trained by Frank Prothero, another master boat builder and brother of Bob Prothero, whom I learned from. Besides being very talented himself, he was trained in the same traditions that I was so he was especially easy for me to work with. He could do everthing!

Helmut assisted with the planking phase and while he was not around as long as some others, he was a great helper with a great attitude. We insisted on hiring people who's desire to work on the project went beyond just getting paid. It was a happy boat shop!

Wayne was also trained by another famous boat builder in the Seattle traditions. He not only contributed to the interior of Alyria, but also purchased our previous boat, the Kristen Jean, a wooden, engineless folkboat which we sailed around puget sound for 6 years.

Tom was a tremendous help in making much of the beautiful finish work inside and out on Alyria. He was not only great at what he did, but very fast. I remember needing to be very clear with Tom about what I wanted because he would build it so fast that I couldn't stop him!

Bosco built and sailed his own boat from the Northwest to Tahiti and back and always worked (and lived) barefoot, even in winter! He gave a hand with steambending the white oak frames, always a good time to have a few helpers around, and a few extra clamps too!

Besides helping me make the trees square that became our masts, Steve made some of the ironwork for Alyria's rig. He was a pleasure to work with and an invaluable asset to our project especially since I am not a metal worker.

Although my dad thought I was crazy for building this boat, he nontheless did come for a visit... and I was able to get some free labor out of him despite the fact that he spent most of his life sitting at a desk!

Klaus (from Austria) was traveling around the world and had some boatbuilding experience so we hired him! He turned out to be a good worker during the short time he was around.

My brother Marc briefly was on the scene helping. Here he is painting the plank seams with white lead paint. We used white lead above the waterline and red lead below on the seams and hull. It goes a long way towards keeping the bugs out!

Carol Hasse made the cotton sails for Alyria. Her loft is one of the most respected in North America if not the world for making long lasting, well built cruising sails. She has always been a great supporter of us and of our projects.

There were many people not shown here who helped out for short periods on one thing or another. Stephanie and her former husband Keith, owned the farm where we built Alyria and were both always ready to be of assistance in numerous ways.