Saturday, 7 September 2013

The building of the "Nancy L" a 45 foot Ferro-Cement sailboat. Part 1

 It all seems so long ago but back in 1971 I decided I would build a boat. Not just any boat, but a 45 foot ferro-cement sailing motor yacht. I was single and my only responsibility was my dog Bear a gregarious German Shepherd. The plans were purchased from Marine Accessories Company in Mountain View California, operated by Jack Whitener who also was the editor and vice president of the North American Ferro-Cement Marine Association, I just called him Jack.
I looked at several plans by eminent marine architects, such as Sampson, Hartley, Benford and even Herreschoff designs  modified for ferro-cement construction. I settled for a Hartley design called The Hawaiian a 45 foot motor-sailer which could be configured as  center or aft cockpit design.
The sail plan was for either sloop or ketch. I had a chat with one of Jacks associates, Jim Catalano, who interestingly was a collection agent for the IRS. He redesigned the sail plan to include a bowsprit. The black and white pictures were taken by Jack for his proposed revised edition of his book Ferro-Cement Boat Construction, probably the best book on the technical side for marine ferro-construction.

The Hartley method calls for truss-rod frames to be set apart at, in the case of the 45 foot Tahitian, 3 foot intervals and hung from rafters of the building frame. On to this was tied a horizontal layer of 1/4" high tensile pencil rods about 2 1/2" apart then a diagonal layer of the same pencil rods.This rod came from 5 foot coils of Ex WW2 anti-submarine netting. These coils were delivered by the gregarious Larry Craig who also helped engage Art and John Rudy, a father and son plastering team when the time came for cementing the armature. Once the pencil rods had been tied securely to the frames 4 layers of 1/2" galvanized chicken wire was tied inside and out to the pencil rods.

This photo, taken some time in 1975 shows the harbour (Petes Harbor) as it was in its heyday. The boat in the forefront is the Nancy L. The red trailer was operated as a hair salon by Betty?? The large grey trailer on the right was used by Guy Carleson and Bob Hapgood as an office/workshop while they fitted out fiberglass hulls. The harbour masters Pete and Paula Uccelli's trailer/home is on the far right and still there today although since Pete's passing the harbour is now closed waiting development. When I was ready to assemble the frames I rented a building plot, 20 foot by 50 foot, including electricity from Pete at about $50.00 per month.
The frames were made from 1/4" mild steel rods welded together with trusses to make a very rigid frame. I originally started the frame construction in the garage of the house I was renting. One evening, when I returned from work at 01:00 in the morning I found out the landlord had had the police enter the house while I was at work. They weren't impressed by what they saw. Sitting on the table in the front room was my BSA 750cc triple engine in pieces waiting for rebuilding. Dirty dishes in the kitchen sink and in the garage an 8 foot by 12 foot plywood scrieve board (building table) with the outlines of the boats frames drawn on it and an oxy-acetylene welding set parked beside the boiler. Needless to say I was given an eviction order and subsequently moved the building operation to the harbour and myself and motorcycle back home.
 This photo is of one of the coils of high tensile wire used in the building of the armature. Being high tensile and in a coil meant that it had to be straightened before using. The method employed was quite standard, the rod was pulled between three pulleys which made the wire bend back on itself as it was pulled out. I would take the first two feet and bend it at right angles, this provided me with a handle, then I would set out across the parking lot pulling the rod till I had about 100 feet of straight rod. Unfortunately the kinetic energy stored in the rod had to expend itself somehow and this was achieved by letting the end go and jumping out of the way. I wasn't always successful in letting go and as a result I ripped some of the ligaments in my left thumb requiring the services of a plastic surgeon to repair. The car in the background was my Pontiac station wagon, the hull on the right is the doctor's catamaran Arkanoah.
The picture on the right shows the frames hanging in the scaffolding with the pencil rods attached to the frames, coils of pencil rod are laying against the scaffolding. Visible in the photo is the walkway round the hull. The uprights were made from 2 x 2x4's bolted together with 2x4 spacers. The rafters cosisted on 2x8 Douglas fir.Most of the timber was re-used during the framing of the interior, what wasn't used went back on to the community timber scrap heap and usually used for the Saturday night bar-b-que/party.

The above photos show the armature with the chicken wire tied and the boat now ready for cementing. The photo on  the right shows the reinforcing rods in place for the engine beds. If you look closely at the middle photo you will see the ends of the wire ties sticking through waiting to be twisted tight and trimmed. The right hand photo shows the ribs, minus chicken wire. This is added after the hull is netted and prior to cementing.

Photo above left is of John Rudy spraying (guniteing/shotcreteing) the mortar mix onto the armature at the rudder/propeller shaft aperture. When complete the spraying is done from the inside of the hull with the excess mortar being brushed down into the bilges before being removed, photo top right. The action of brushing forces the mortar further through the armature. When the inside has been sprayed the outside of the armature is scraped of flush with the mesh and then covered with a fresh layer of mortar. The photo above is of master plasterer Art Rudy troweling off the finished coat. More in my next blog about the building of the "Nancy L".

1 comment:

  1. Getting aware of Ferrocement, its an interesting article. Is there a part 2? Looking for instructions and what material etc to use to make best quality products?