Building a Roamer dinghy


Most boat building starts with drawing the bulkheads from a table with 'offsets' on a large piece of paper, a dreaded process called 'lofting'. Getting it right is essential so I would advice to start doing this early and to draw all bulkheads on ONE piece of paper. This way you can easily spot if one of your points is in a wrong position. This saved us from making one station with the wrong dimensions. Once all lines are on paper than the next step is to device a way of getting this onto to plywood. We used nails which we hit trough the paper into the wood. Then we cut of the heads of the nails and lifted the paper of, keeping the nails standing in the wood. The final step was to draw the lines on the wood using a ruler and the nails as a guide for the ruler. This way we could prepare the stuff at leisure at home and transfer the lines onto the plywood in minutes.

Drawing the lines on paper:

Setting up the bulkheads

Getting a straight line on the floor is easy, you tighten a piece of string between two points and spray-paint over it. This will leave a straight line which is clearly visible and durable.

A straight line:


Cut the bulkheads out using a jigsaw and set them up. Make sure the center of each bulkhead aligns with the straight line on the floor and make sure that all bulkheads are setup in a vertical position.

Setting up the bulkheads

Making the scarf joints

Making a scarf joint made me worry for months. In the end it proved to be very easy. On the picture you can see the little gadget I made from some scarp-wood. With this we made joints on 6 sheets of ply in about 30 minutes. The whole process of making the scarfing-tool, making the cuts and gluing took about two hours with two persons.

The tool The tool in action

Building the hull

After setting up all the bulkheads we used them to measure off the size of the plywood skin. The picture shows one way of doing it. You take a strip of flexible wood, put it in place over the bulkheads, measure at each station the distance from chine to the strip of wood. The last step is to put the strip of wood on the ply-wood, transfer the distances measured and use those to cut the wood. It worked for us!

Taking measurements for the next piece of ply for the hull

To get the ply wood in the correct shape, ie bend it around the bulkheads is a process which requires either of two things: steam or brute-force. As we did not have time to use steam, we used brute force. Spanish windlashes, 20 cm long screws and sweat were al used to force the ply in shape long enough for the epoxy to cure. Once cured, the two layers of glas/epoxy assured that everything stays in place.

All plywood in place for the hull:

Covering the hull in glass/epoxy

Epoxying is easy as long as you take it slow and easy and use a good brand. We used Poly service epoxy and West system. We liked Poly service far better, we had severe problems with West and won't use it again.
Always start with making little amounts of epoxy (100-200 gram). In addition to this we used a slow curing hardener. This gave enough time to squeeze out all the air from the glass, essential for strength. We did not wait for one layer to cure before we put on the next one. Only the PU paint needs a cured underground. Poly service epoxy does not require it. West epoxy gave problems no matter how long we waited or how much we cleaned between layers.

The first of two layers of 300 g/m glas and epoxy:


There is nothing special to be said about painting with two-part PU paint. We discovered the hard way that it realy does need a cured underground. We also learned the hard way that PU-paint doesn't fill or cover any voids in the epoxy. On the contrary, these get even more visible after painting. So making a smooth underground is essential.

The first of two layers of PU two part paint:

Turning over the boat

We turned the boat over by just lifting it up on one side with two persons and rolling it onto/against a couple of pieces of styropor foam. Once the boat is in the correct position it is possible to finally judge how ugly or beautiful the boat is going to be. As can be seen on the picture, we had left all the cutting of the top parts of all the bulkheads till after turning over the boat. Once we had done the cutting, she started looking like a boat.

The boat turned over:

The aftdeck

Before turning the boat over, we had put in some fillets to give some strength to the hull. These fillets can clearly be seen on the picture.

Aftdeck, no epoxy yet:

The next stage was to put fillets on all seams, put one layer of 300g.m glas on the bottom and start building the aftdeck.

Aftdeck one stage further:


After deck, plywood in place, construction of castles started:

The foredeck and tabernacle

I had one 'must have' for this boat. I wanted a mast without shrouds (i.e. free standing) in a tabernacle. Unfortunately below the tabernacle there is a big hatch into the area under the foredeck. On the picture the construction I devised to be able to get a strong enoug htabernacle AND a big hatch is visible in it's first stage. Basically the tabernacle is kept in place by a T-shaped construction of 22 mm ply.

Fore deck, first stage:

This T-shaped piece of ply was then strengthened by several other pieces of ply. These also give a strong hold to the cleat on the foredeck. The last integral piece was the actual deck which is glued to the T-shaped piece and so strengthens it all. Till now the tabernacle has survived several days sailing in force 5-6 with unreefed sails.

Fore deck, all strengthenings visible:

On the foredeck we have one central cleat (12 inch long) for anchoring and two teak handholds. We hardly ever have to go onto the foredeck as we can pull the Jib into the cockpit by releasing the jibstay (this can be done from the cockpit). So any change of sail or reefing can be done from the cockpit. This is important as the foredeck is pretty high and slopes forward making it very easy to fall off.

Foredeck, final result:

The first time

Any first launch of a boat is a nerve wrecking situation but if it is your first boat and you have changed the design of the construction of all major parts without any decent background or education in such area's than it is more than nerve-wrecking. But as can be seen on the picture, it floats!!

The first time...

For me the biggest disadvantage of a small boat is the movement. In force 5 the sailing is absolutely save but can be pretty uncomfortable. On the other hand, one gets used to everything. The picture proves this point. My wife takes a nap during a force 5. The movement, beating against the wind on the short steep waves of the IJsselmeer in Holland, was pretty wild but she managed to sleep anyhow.

My wife, sleeping during a force 5:

This picture sums it all up for me why we like sailing our dinghy. We took it after we successfully completed our first passage of about 15 nm. It had taken 6 hours to get across as our navigation was not that accurate. We ended up sailing much more than 15 nm. But as I have no log I have no clue how much more.

Our first passage, 15 miles across open water:

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This page last updated 18jun97