Building a boat

The boat designer Iain Oughtred has a special feeling for Shetland and Norwegian boats, and so it was appropriate, as I was living in Norway, to choose one of his boats to build - a Hardanger Færing. 'Elf'. I started building it around 2005; progress was slow, but now (end of 2017) it is virtually ready to put in the water.


Here is a model of a rather larger version of the færing

The hull consists of 3 plywood strakes each side; the two internal frames are laminated from thin strips of wood glued with epoxy resin. (The epoxy needs a warm temperature to set, and so work was effectively limited to the summer months, when there were other distractions, accounting for the protracted construction time.) I realised early on that working on houses is no preparation for building a boat; there are just no straight lines or right angles. However, the challenge was well worthwhile, given Iain's excellent book as a guide. 

                   Making the stem and stern posts

Setting the keelson on the frames together with stem and stern posts

The hull was constructed on a sort of 3-D template, of plywood shapes set at intervals (stations) along the length of the boat (15 feet, 4.57 m).

The first strake glued to the keelson

The second strake, with simple, clever wooden clamps holding it against the upper edge of the first strake while the epoxy resin glue sets
Turned right-way-up and released from the frames, it begins to look like a boat

Fixing the gunwale requires an even higher density of clamps

The oar locks of this design are strictly known as tholes. They are made from acacia wood and glued to the gunwale; I'm hoping they will withstand the pull of the oars. They will eventually have a rope ring attached, to keep the oars in place.


Room for two rowers and one passenger

Once the boat was complete, I took advice from somewhere to cover the hull in a synthetic mesh, Dynel, to strengthen it. Gluing the mesh on the curvature of the hull with epoxy proved to be very difficult, and there were many 'bubbles' where the mesh had simply not attached to the wood. These bubbles (at least the most obvious ones) I cut out, and patched the exposed areas as best I could. Also, where adjacent sections of mesh met, the overlap was visible. All in all, the hull was a bit of a mess, and I regretted taking that advice.

I decided on a final two coats of clear epoxy followed by a coat with dark blue pigment, hoping that this treatment would hide the blemishes. Unfortunately, it seemed to accentuate them - and in some places, it was apparent that the epoxy wasn't adhering to the mesh. Touching it up with more liberal application of pigmented epoxy did improve it, and the general effect now is OK, but still I am disappointed. At least most of the hull will be invisible underwater.

Floor boards in place, boat oil applied

I decided that making the oars would be too much of a challenge, so I ordered them from a boatbuilder at the Hardanger og Voss Museum, in Norheimsund - Hardangerfjord being the home of this very traditional boat. The oars were ready at the end of 2018, but it was July 2019 before we collected them - with the help of good friend (and boat enthusiast) Gunnar Brunborg. There were several Elf-like færings at the boatyard - a couple for sale, and others in the water; we borrowed one for a brief and impressively fast row.  I had a close look at the tholes to see exactly where the holes were drilled for the rope ring to hold the oar in place - I'd found Iain's drawing hard to interpret.

The oars are works of art (or craftsmanship). We met the ex-marine biologist apprentice who had had a hand in making them. The end of the oar by the handle has delicate carving - the craftsman's trademark.

Back in Oslo, we transported the oars - around 2.5 metres long - by metro, tram, ferry and bus to our house on Nesodden - a journey best forgotten.

With holes drilled in the tholes and rope rings inserted, it was time, finally, to launch the boat, which we did in the small lake near the house, two of us carrying it 70 metres or so down to the water. Present at the launch, apart from Maria and myself, were Maria's daughter Katka, her partner Martin, and 19 month-old son Adam (who launched himself into the water), joined later by neighbours Lars and Ingrid.

 Our Elf floated and, I must say, looked beautiful. We need more practice at rowing, but she really skimmed over the water.

--> -->