Starting to get started

Hi, I sailed when I was a kid, and getting back to it now, many years later. I'm thinking about building a CLC boat, starting with zero wood-working experience. I've been emailing back and forth with Terry Otis, who has been helpful in narrowing my search.

- I have a house on a lake on the Maine/New Hampshire border, which is where I intend to build and use the boat, (late spring to early fall).

- The lake is occasionally windy, but mostly has mild breezes.

- I'm not interested in rowing or using an engine, just sailing.

My questions for the forum:

- Terry recommended either the Passagemaker Dinghy (standard), or the Jimmy Skiff II. How do I choose between these?

- Surely beginners (and maybe non-beginners) get things wrong when building these boats. If I epoxy some boards together and then discover that I misaligned them, how do I proceed?

Most importantly: I don't know what I don't know. What else should I consider before starting on this project?



16 replies:

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RE: Starting to get started

   As background - I'm about 18 months into my dory build, and hope to launch soon. I also started with practically zero woodworking experience and have gotten by pretty well - although not without some mistakes along the way. 


How do you choose? 

- Does it make you happier when you think about building/sailing one versus the other? 

- For me, I definitely wanted something more traditional looking. So the jimmy skiff would be a no-go for me. But if it is faster construction and you just want to get on the water ASAP, the skiff may be your best bet. 


Dealing with issues - 

- This is my first ever build, but my guess is that if you finish a boat and don't think you messed up a little somewhere along the way - you weren't paying close enough attention. I've messed up a bunch of times. I've been able to recover from all of them. Some are unnoticable. Some are only obvious to people with a keen eye. One are two may be slightly more obvious. But none will take away from the safety/performance/joy of the boat. 

- Just take your time. Re-read the manual before starting a new phase. Plan things out and think things through. 


Personally, this build has been a bigger test of my time and project management skills than my woodworking skills. That doesn't mean it isn't any less enjoyable, but just that it is a project that is much more realistic than most people think. 

RE: Starting to get started

   Having built a NE Dory and two kayaks in the past 1 1/2 years, but not having built either Passagemaker or Jimmy Skiff II, I'd say the Skiff looks a bit easier to build, but don't let that be your deciding factor - you'll get through the build, whatever it is, if you put in the time and effort, no matter the skills you start with.  CLC reps might be able to give some advice on difficulty of build and/or hours required estimates - they put these in the build manuals, which are a necessary bible, especially for a first build.

Like Jameson, I personally would prefer the traditional Passagemaker look, especially if primarily for sailing.  With your focus on sailing, I might consider designing "side seats" into the Passagemaker as a part of the original construction.  Jimmy Skiff would be my choice if I really wanted more of a runabout / fishing boat to push faster with a motor.

And to answer one specific question you had about "what if" some boards got EPOXIED together misaligned.  Sure, every project includes some mistakes, but in most cases and for most larger parts, actually allowing glued joints to set up misaligned will mean you need some new wood and will need a re-do - so don't do this, it might be a pretty big mistake you're talking about.  Maybe a heat gun will get parts separated, but...

There are lots of instructions in the manual and help in the forum to prevent mis-alignment.  With CLC stitch/glue process, it is easy to make sure things are aligned and you don't need to glue until you are SURE things are properly aligned.  And even then, tack welding with cyanoacrylate (super) glue seems to be a rather new technique for stitch and glue that is strongly advised.  These CA tack welds CAN be undone without destroying wood - but again, you'll probably never need to do this.  The CA tack welds (even more so than lumpier epoxy tack welds) in most locations will allow you to pull stitch wires and therefore put in neater epoxy joints and filets.

The build will take time, but for me, once I start I get kind of obsessed and devote most spare moments outside of work to the project - so 4-6 weeks on a kayak, or 4 - 5 months for the NE dory.  Other builders take years and that's OK.  Decide what pace you'd like to go and what works for you.  Part of the build might be making the wood look nice under a bright finish, but know that wherever you decide that you'll paint (like maybe the whole hull exterior?) can significantly reduce project completion times.

Best of luck to you!  And find some youngsters that you can teach along the way - at least how to sand!

RE: Starting to get started

Thanks for the feedback. I could buy a sailboat, but I do want to build it. And then sail it. So both are important to me. If I have to choose between an easier build and more fun to sail, I would choose the latter. Within reason, given that this is my first build.

As for the errors I'm wondering about: If I just completely mess up and need to replace some boards, what do I do? Can I buy replacements for individual pieces?

RE: Starting to get started

>> Terry recommended either the Passagemaker Dinghy (standard), or the Jimmy Skiff II. How do I choose between these? <<

The answer is a combination of personal taste and practicality. On taste: which looks better to you? Which will you enjoy? I happen to think boats should have pointy bows so I wouldn't even consider the Passagemaker, but that's just me. Do whatever floats *your* boat.

On practicality: it looks like the flat-bottomed skiff would be an easier build, which would be important to a first-time builder. I haven't built either model, so this is just a guess.

>> Surely beginners (and maybe non-beginners) get things wrong when building these boats. If I epoxy some boards together and then discover that I misaligned them, how do I proceed? <<

Go slowly and check your work as you go. Take a break and check it again before you commit it to epoxy. You're not in a race.

How you correct a mistake will depend on it's nature. Small mistakes you can fix with either a plane or epoxy. Bigger ones might have you taking things apart, but it's usually more productive to figure out how to make what you have in front of you work.

>> Most importantly: I don't know what I don't know. What else should I consider before starting on this project? <<

Space. Having adequate room to build is important. You'll want at least a couple of feet all the way around. The space will need to be covered, minimally by a tarp lean-to, to keep rain off your project. Epoxy doesn't stick to wet wood. Water on curing epoxy can screw things up. Ditto for varnish and paint. Extra points if the space can be heated in the cooler months - otherwise you'll lose time waiting on weather.

RE: Starting to get started

A couple of points to add to what everyone has said here. First, the Jimmy Skiffs (I and II) are absolutely traditional for the Chesapeake Bay. Flat bottom skiffs are/were a common workboat for fishing, crabbing and oystering. The Jimmy Skiff I is the more traditional version. It's a faster easier build and ends up lighter than JSII. The main things that the II gives you over the I is better accommodation for an outboard motor, flotation tanks in case of swamping and side seats. If you're never going to use a motor, are comfortable sitting on the floor or perched on the side and are comfortable with dealing with a fully swamped boat, I'd recommend seeing if the JSI is still available. I've sailed it several times and it was a real pleasure. The lighter weight makes handling easier and the simpler design is a quicker build.

Next, rowing ability counts, even in a sailboat. There have been many times that I've sailed out and rowed back - wind shifts, winds dying, mast breaking, etc. In the picture below, the wind was coming directly from the dock and I would not have made it to shore before the 60 mph squalls arrived without the ability to row.

Always have orsWhichever design you go with, you'll enjoy it. Those are good boats and between this forum and CLC support you'll get the job done.

Have fun,



RE: Starting to get started

During the build you'll want to keep your pieces organized. Write on them in pencil; bow, stern, left, right, inside, outside, top, bottom, arrows, numbers etc.. It's too easy to do something on the wrong side or end. If you search the forum you'll see examples of mistakes like when someone chamfers the wrong side of a plank.

Also orient your build so the bow is always at the same end of your workshop. 

RE: Starting to get started

I just finished a Passagemaker Standard.  While I'm not a beginner woodworker or boat builder, have no fear.  First, this is the best forum ever.  Post pics with your question(s) and you'll get great feedback. 

Second, at every step you'll get a chance to pause, stand back and look at what you're doing and decide if it's correct to proceed.  For example, you can spend as much time as you want stitching the hull together before applying tack welds, so you have plenty of time for adjustments before you lock it in.  The same applies for all the other steps.  A lot of us have what we call a "thinking/moaning" chair.  This is a chair or stool in the shop where we can literally percolate on the next step over a cup of coffee.  You can also mock up some parts and do fillets on them.  You can pick a small part and work it through cutting out (if you don't get a kit), trim it to the lines, ease the edges, etc.  See John Welsford's boat building seminars.  You could even start with cheap Home Depot plywood before cutting into some okoume.

Lastly, I would build the Passagemaker.  While a longer build, and slightly more difficult, you'll end up with a much more elegant hull form.  The panels create wonderful shadow lines, the spring to the shear is quite sexy (I'm looking at my PM right now through the window).  Visually, I think it will fit in more with the history of boat building in Maine (even if it uses modern materials and techniques).  I would also recommend the gunter-sloop rig.  It sails like a dream, even without the jib.

If you decide to build a PM, I'll be glad to share my experience with you upon request every step of the way.  Good luck and you can't really go wrong with either boat.

RE: Starting to get started

Welcome to the obsession!  Choosing which boat to build is part of the game.  I am a lifelong sailor and it took me over three years to decide.  I am still not sure that I made the BEST choice but I am very happy with my boat.  You will be too.

My top recommendation is to get to one of the CLC events where you can see/sail these boats in person.  Okoumefest is 17-18 May but there will likely be other opurtunities later this year.

There are a lot of good comments above.  From my perspective, there are only two major differences between the boats, the first of which is appearance.  Both are classic looking, but different types of classic.  Personally, I enjoy the sharpie look. 

The second major difference is seating.  For sailing, especially solo sailing, the side seats on the JS2 are wonderful.  Sailing solo in the PMD, you will likely be sitting a a little water on the floor.

The first of the minor differences that I would pay attention to is weight.  At first glance the weight difference doesn't look like much, but depending on how you will transport, store and move the boat that 60# difference will be huge.  My wife and I can easily rooftop, carry and hand launch our 78# tandem kayak.  Not so with our 150# skiff.  Remember that as a first time builder, you will be somewhat over the spec weights.

The second minor difference is performance.  I expect the JS2 to be faster rowing and under motor due to its longer water line length.  Sailing performance will depend on which rig you choose for the PMD.  The lug rig is simple and easy.  The sloop is more complicated but certainly a better performer than the lug. 

Have fun and good luck!



RE: Starting to get started

   1. Build the boat that most appeals to your eye. I built the Northeaster Dory almost entirely because I thought it was beautiful. As it turns out, it rows like a dream and sails very nicely with the lug rig. I'm thoroughly pleased with my boat.

But you are interested primarily in sailing. So,

2. I'd ask the good folks at CLC for a recommendation. Personally, I think the Jimmy Skiff II is best suited to your needs. It has a longer water line than the Passagemaker (by a considerable margin because of the rocker in the Passagemaker hull.) It has bench seats with great flotation, which means you can sail it comfortably and aggressively. (It will be easier to right and bail if capsized.) True, it has a bit less sail area than the Passagemaker, but I trust John Harris to have chosen the best rig for the boat.

3. You might want to ask about the Tenderly Racing Dinghy. (I've forgotten what it's actually called, but there are plans for a dedicated sailing version of the Tenderly that has bench seats and a large sail area. It would be great fun to build and sail.)

RE: Starting to get started

Thanks for all the suggestions, these are really helpful. I'm leaning toward the Passagemaker. The Tenderly looked good too, but Terry warned me that it was more complicated to build, and I am inclined to start simpler.

I'm still a bit unclear on recovering from errors. (I'm a software engineer, so this is always on my mind.) If I practice on plywood (not from the kit), and orient my pieces carefully, and I STILL get things irreversibly wrong: can I buy replacement boards from CLC?

RE: Starting to get started

We had some similar trepidation when we undertook our Passagemaker (take-apart, lug rigged version) build.  I am no sort of boatwright...more of a boat-wrong...and had never attempted anything remotely like this in my life.  (I, too, had made my living mucking about with computer stuff, seemingly the only thing for which my hands were ever much good.)  Turned out that the hardest part was the seemingly endless sanding and getting our less-than-perfect fillets to look good enough.  We got better as we went.

The alignment was less difficult than we anticipated.  With the lapstitch plank edges and the finger-joint scarfs, it's mostly just a matter of being careful and checking alignment as you go.  Seriously, I was the kid who couldn't get a model airplane kit to come out looking right.  Glue hates me, wood hates me more, and paint hates me worse.  If I can do this, anybody with patience can do one of these CLC kit boats.

I intended to use our Passagemaker more as a rowboat (have a larger sailboat already)--something I could use to get out for a row with little effort and advance planning.  The sailing was meant as auxiliary to the rowing and to have something more suitable for teaching grandchildren to sail than a 2900# catboat with a 270 square foot sail, a boom as long as the boat, and a four-part, flesh-eating mainsheet.  We chose the lug rig for simplicity and to be able to strike the rig to clear the boat for rowing more readily.

But, you know what?  She's turned out to be a much better sailboat than I ever imagined.  That lug sail Doug Fowler builds pulls like a mule, once you learn how to get it to set well (which ain't all that tricky, a matter of understanding what makes a balanced lug sail work), and I don't know that the "performance penalty" vs. the gunter sloop rig is as much as people might think.  I've been able to achieve steady GPS readings of 4-1/2 knots close-hauled in a good breeze, which surprised the heck out of me, given her short waterline and deep rocker.

Anyway, she's a tremendously versatile little boat, a joy to use and a joy to behold.

If you don't want to sit on the floor while sailing, think about doing something like what I described here:


If you're still worried, check with CLC as to whether they are able to supply "replacement parts" in extremis.  I'm betting you won't need any, though. <;-)


RE: Starting to get started

   I'm back on the thread for a second time...

Pick up the phone and call in to CLC.  You're going to be very pleasantly surprised at how helpfull they'll be with all of your questions and concerns.  I know the answer is yes to buying any solid wood and square-shaped okoume plywood blanks of vaious size, and I'm quite sure that their answer will be yes to buying individual shaped pre-cut ply kit pieces, but you can ask them about that. Remember that shipping will probably be the biggest expense in buying any replacement parts, especailly if longer (8 ft) pieces.

Good to get your concerns out of the way, but again, with your evident level of concern, it is very unlikely you're going to make the "big" kind of mistake you are worrying over.  I've had stain drip in the wrong place (sanding and bleach fixed that), sanded through glass (patching fixed that), had my tape dam leak on a kayak end pour (standing there for an hour with my finger in the "dike" fixed that (although it was still a mess- but not in a place anyone will ever see, and at least NPR was going on the radio), etc., etc. - most all of our builder mistakes are these kinds of things - "expected" and recoverable.

And I'll mention again that you might like to design and build some side seats on the Passagemaker during you initial build.  They don't have to be a modification of the existing kit, just an addition to it, probably not even permanently attached to the hull/seats proper, and can be built with wood from your local lumber place.  There are a couple of separate forum threads within the past months on side seats.

And again, best of luck. 


RE: Starting to get started

Getting there...

Now leaning to the Skerry or Northeaster Dory.

Last major question: How do I get the boat from my build/storage area down to the lake? It's a short walk, less than 100', but it is steep, rocky, and uneven. Furthermore, the launch area is very rocky. So there are two ways to go:

1) Carry the boat down, or get a little trailer for wheeling it down. Not sure about the feasibility of either of these. Then put boards down on the rocks at the shore, so that I don't rip up the bottom of the boat.

2) Drive the boat to a launch, but then it's a couple of miles back to the house on the lake. That should mostly work, my house is almost always  downwind.

RE: Starting to get started

AH! You've begun to come over from the dark side! Northeaster Dory is now in the mix. I'm a big fan of the Northeaster Dory and find that it is the best possible boat for me, but I'm also a big fan of the Skerry. Either boat should serve you very well.

There are many advantages of the balanced lug rig in these boats. One advantage is that the spar (or boom) is very light-weight and balanced with the mast as a pivot point. This means that it never has the velocity or mass to konk your crew with true venom. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how mild-mannered these boats are when tacking. On the other hand, jibing in a high wind is definitely exciting, and ducking for cover is a good idea.

I especially like the dory because when you strike the lug sail, it fits nicely in the boat while still giving you sufficient room to man the oars. That may be the case in the Skerry, too, but there is certainly less room.

As to you questions about getting the boat to the water, both boats are similar in weight and I'd recommend having a trailer for a steep, rocky descent of 100'. I can easily imagine a winch of some sort at the top of the hill that assists you in controlling both the descent and ascent. If you own the waterfront land, you could make a little ramp for launching. If you don't own the land, you can do what I do and put down 4" sections of drainage pipe to serve as rollers.

RE: Starting to get started

   Are we talking about getting the boat into the water at the start of the season? Or every single time you want to use it? 

The dory is surprisingly light for the size, but going over steep and rocky terrain may still be a challenge. 

Depending on how steep and how rocky- maybe a contraption like this could do the trick. Like the PVC idea - but a little better for longer distances.

RE: Starting to get started

> Are we talking about getting the boat into the water at the start of the season? Or every single time you want to use it? 

Not once per season. Each time I visit for a few days, I would get the boat in the water, and then take it out and the end of the visit.

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