Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mike and Susan Cranmer's Catboat

Three years ago we started talking to Mike and Susan Cranmer about designing and building their dream catboat. The intention was to have the design drawn by another boat builder and Pleasant Bay Boat and Spar Company would build it with the help of the Cranmers. Turns out, we ended up designing the boat ourselves, with their blessing and support. I had never designed a boat before but catboats have such a rich history, and the Cranmers knew exactly what they wanted, which made the process relatively, well...not easy but not that difficult either. Nine months after we started, we had settled on the final shape. She would draw her influences from Hanley and Crosby, and from the Cranmers' sailing requirements, which fell into step with our own. We focused on hull shape and performance, comfort as a day sailor with overnights in the realm of possibilities. Mike is tall, so we had to accommodate his comfort both in the cockpit and below. The clincher was going for an electric power plant. Most likely we will install a Mastervolt with the necessary battery bank. This kept the cockpit clear of cumbersome engine boxes, and eliminated the need for all the fuel related parts. Mastervolt and its competitor Thoosa make near-similar engines that drive a displacement boat with relative ease.

In November 2012 we started lofting the profile, while we waited for the final hull shape to be digitized so that the molds could be plotted and cut by CNC. Seth Ahrenholz is the lead builder on this project, working along with Brian Porter and Doug Ingram. Our shop operates as a team. Each project has a lead builder but the work proceeds on consensus. It makes for lively discussions, a democratic workplace, and no one is stuck doing the same build over and over. Brian is in the process of building our second Hurricane and is doing a fantastic job redesigning the deck for a new mold. Doug is the spar master and will build the Cranmers' rig, after he's built the spar orders for the season!

The stem, keelson, transom and centerboard truck had to be fabricated, taking us into December. The progress was slow but steady. The backbone of any boat is like a giant puzzle. You need to focus on the parts, the whole and how it will look when the boat is righted. The hull starts to come into view with each step. All the details that we worked out in the drawing and on the computer are starting to come to life. There are many questions going back and forth between me, who can only draw on paper, and our computer designer, Walter Zesk, of ConForm Lab. He has taken my form and refined it beautifully. The amount of information that was generated from that seemingly simple step was tremendous. We had a learning curve to overcome. I can only explain it as a series of overlays, each containing important information that is one step removed from the preceding one. We did get the hang of it eventually but not without stumbling a bit. Now the molds are set up, faired, checked and double checked. Everything looks great. The trunk is in. The sheer clamps are glued up in place then cleaned up. 

Mike at the shaper
 The Cranmers did an incredible job working with Doug to plane, mill and shape over 144 sticks of what was the most beautiful clear white cedar we'd ever seen. In all, it took 200+ board feet of cedar.

Gluing up with a cartridge and gun is so clean
  Today the strips went on with ease. The bead and cove edges making the work of aligning so much better than what we'd dealt with in the past. It was certainly worth the two extra days of milling on the shaper.

Susan is fitting the strip

We're using Pro Set from Gougeon Bros which makes gluing the strips much more controlled. Clean up is less messy and there's no extra glue left over! The progress can be seen in the photo below: 24 strips in less than two hours + 4-1/2 tubes of Pro Set and countless staples. Seth is using a special pneumatic nail gun that uses plastic washers; perfect for removing later when we get ready to fair.

4PM Tuesday after milling all the strips
The end of the day is my favorite time. Looking around at all the crew accomplished today, I am so happy. This is probably the best feeling in the world: to draw something on paper and watch it come to life. And even though I know there's so much more to do before she's under way, I can feel it in my bones. She's going to be a fabulous catboat.


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