Building the Alma J. (Ken MacMahon)
I built three wooden boats as a teenager – a kayak, a 10’moulded plywood dinghy, and a sailfish. Then, for forty years, my attention was diverted into bushwalking, travel and family activities.
When I retired four years ago I built a nice, big shed and searched for a new boat building project. My main selection criteria were as follows: a construction method that suited my skill level, big enough to be stable and comfortable for an older person, able to be set up and sailed single-handed, easily trailerable, and it had to be a pretty boat.
I eventually settled on a Penny Fee, a five metre long glued lapstrake sailing dinghy designed by Ian Oughtred. I bought plans and a kit from Robert Ayliffe of Straydog Boatworks (South Australia). The kit includes moulds and plywood planking. These were laser cut in Melbourne, so I picked them up directly from the factory. As the planks are cut out of 2400 x 1200 sheets there is a bit of scarfing to be done. Small laser marks are aligned with a string line to ensure the finished planks are the correct shape.
I assembled a building frame and carefully laid the seven moulds. The stem, keelson and transom are then fabricated, attached to the frame. Steps on the moulds make gluing the planks a relatively precise and easy task. It does help to have a second pair of hands, but it can be done alone, and it doesn’t take long to complete the hull. Once it’s turned over the real time-consuming work of fitting out and applying finishes gets under way. I spent over two years building the Alma J, but a lot of time was spent, in my case, problem solving and being fussy.
I love working with beautiful timbers and used a wide variety, including: huon pine, celery-top pine, spruce, as well as recycled jarrah, red gum and merbau. I used Botecote Epoxy systems and finishes. I really like their water-based Aquacote paints and clear finish. It is so user-friendly once a few rules about viscosity and application are understood. It sets very hard and left-over quantities need not be wasted as the catalyst de-activates after four hours. What’s not to like about that!
Three sail configurations are possible. I chose the balanced lug with mizzen because I can stand the unstayed mast up and manage the sails on my own. I also attach a 2hp Honda, long shaft outboard, which can also be used. Even at low revs the little Honda pushes the Alma J along at her max speed of about 4 knots.
Christening and maiden voyage was at Albert Park Lake in May 2016. There was a light northerly blowing that inevitably found us at the rather narrow southern end. Here I learnt that the Alma J isn’t all that flash at beating into the wind, particularly when the run across the lake is no more than 100 metres or so. I had to resort to using the concrete path along the shore to haul her out of this tight spot.
I sailed her to Tassie in February (inside the belly of the Spirit of Tasmania) and showed her off at the Wooden Boat Festival. I had some nice sailing at Cygnet, Franklin, Bruny Island, as well as Lake St Clair.