Fetch; Great Lakes Boat Building School

by · January 8, 2013

A week after sailing in the North Channel (see last blog entry), I started my position at the Great Lakes Boat Building School as a second year instructor. There were 17 first year students and 3 second year students. Pat Mahon is the head instructor and focused on the first year group. Since I only had 3 students, I took part in the first year projects as well. I am still living in one of the Water Lawn Cottages in Cedarville with Bud, my housemate. The views from the cottage keep me entertained everyday.

early morning in front of cottage


just one of these days

Another thing that is intriguing out there is watching the water level go up and down. There is some fluctuation due to wind, but the overall trend is going down. The Great Lakes suffer from loosing water. There is lots of speculation as to what causes this. Climate change, dry summers, lack of ice in the winter which makes for more evaporation, increased drainage in Detroit river and Chicago canal etc. A lot of boathouses are completely dry, waterfront docks don’t reach water any more. I just heard the Lakes have a record low. On top of that, the plant growth around Cedarville is unheard of, possibly due to low levels, clarity of the water, nutrients, who knows. Don’t forget, these Great Lakes hold about 1/3 of the world’s fresh water, that’s serious. At the boat school the first year class started with basic woodworking technics and making dove tail joints. They all build a small step stool and a toolbox.

starting up at boat school


Kerry and Troy


Chad’s dove tail toolbox going together


toolbox ‘factory’

After that they each lofted a small dinghy. Lofting means drawing the lines of a boat full scale, so you can make patterns of certain parts of it. The process can be mind-aching at times.

James (shop assistant on right) helps Kris with lofting

The second year students started lofting a whaleboat. It’s a replica of an original 29’ whaleboat like the ones carried on whale ships. The last remaining American whale ship, the Charles W. Morgan is nearing completion and will be launched this summer in Mystic Seaport. We’ll contribute one of about 8 whaleboats. The original boats had steam bend stems (double ended) of 3” deep, so we tried that as well and it worked. A complicated bending jig with a compression strap is what it took.

Bending the stem with Hans on the lever and Ed and Mark assisting


successful bend using compression strap.

We then made the molds, the keel and cut the rabbets (grooves to accept planking). After careful lining it all up on the shop floor we started planking.

Ed trimming a mold and Andy plumbing one behind him


progress at beginning of Christmas break

The first year students started two small boats; the Chica and a Chippewa. The Chica is a dinghy less than 8’ long, designed by Carl Chamberlin in Port Townsend. Although designed to be cold molded, we built her traditionally with white cedar lapstrake planks, oak frames and keel and mahogany transom. Planks were clench nailed to each other and riveted to the frames. Early December the hull was lifted of the molds and by Christmas break the boat was done.

bending on a steamed oak keel


simulating plank lines


hurray! the hull comes off the molds


bending frames


nailing preset copper nails through hot frames (Chris holding frame and Andy with hammer)




adding structure like rails, thwarts and knees


there she is!

The other boat is a Chippewa, which was a locally built whitehall type rowing boat. 14’ long, very low freeboard, plumb stem and wineglass transom. Most of the students built oars as well.

Chippewa getting planked up

After setting up the whaleboat, the second year class started their contemporary project. The school got a commission to build a Rescue Minor, designed by Atkin for use in the war. This small powerboat (20’) was designed to plane in 6”of water and pick up wounded soldiers from the beach. The prop is in a kind of tunnel in the stern. We changed the topsides some. More flare forward, tumble home aft, glue-lap plywood planking above the chine and a gracious curved transom. She will be driven by an electric motor. Next blog will have more pictures of this boat.

Rescue Minor getting ready for planking

Early October Bud and I went to the Van Dam boat yard in Boyne City to test drive a powerboat the school had built a few years back. The yard had done some of the mechanics and finish work and she looked great! This yard builds custom fancy one of a kind exotic powerboats! Very complicated cold molded shapes, glossy hardware and powerful engines. A few of the boat school grads have gone here to hone their skills.

powerboat the school built a few years back


first test drive


Van Dam’s shop


exotic speed boats indeed


wanna order a boat?

The ride back gave us wonderful fall colors. A lot of hardwood trees that seem to light up in the afternoon sun.

fall colors

  In evenings and weekends I’ve been working on a design called Loon, that I started years ago and needed some more tweaking. In the April/May issue of Small Craft Advisor you can read a plan review of it. This time around I decided to widen the hull some more and make it so you can comfortably sit up in the cabin. The off-center board is my favorite. Loon is a 23’, canoe yawl, trailer sailer.

23′ Loon


sitting headroom


outboard can be stored in the well without taking if off the bracket

It was time to make a model to verify the lines and proportions and to see if I could pull in a commission. I built a cedar dove tailed box to store it in as well as a display base. I like it and hopefully you too. Any takers?

glueing the rails on the model


ready for paint


there she is!


on her storage/display box


Another post will soon follow, stay tuned.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. Wim says:

    Hai Kees,
    Je bent er weer! Leuk.
    Mooie dingen doen jullie daar hoor. Wel eng dat het water zakt.
    Alles is natuurlijk gebouwd aan de oever zoals die was.
    Hoe lang is die oever? Duizenden kilometers? Big problem!
    Wat het veroorzaakt is natuurlijk nog enger.
    Je geeft nog geen indruk van de winter daar. Volgende blog?
    Hier alles ok. Zitten weer hoog en droog. Al een week geen wolk gezien.
    Overdag korte broeken weer. Drie graden boven nul ‘s nachts.

  2. Richard says:

    great blog Kees,just caught up reading your activities since you left saucilito
    Keep up with your writing and discovering faces those great pics you take
    Love your new design,would Lee boards work ? or two centre boards one aft one forward of the cabin ( great for balancing) both would clear the cabin of a trunk
    regards Richard

    • kees_prins says:

      Yes, both options would keep the cabin clear as well, but I prefer the off-set option (for now) from an operational point of view.

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