Boat Building: Bridging Generations with Boats – The Journey of Polly Robinson
Meet Polly Robinson. From a young age, she developed a strong passion for boats, influenced by her sailing enthusiast family, who were also skilled boat builders. Her childhood was filled with thrilling boat adventures, in the scenic south of England and the serene Lake District.
One particularly fond memory revolves around her Grandad’s pram dinghy, a meticulously crafted boat made of plywood and WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy. This vessel played a pivotal role in her family’s sailing journey, as her Dad and Aunt both learnt to sail on it. As the years passed, she and her sisters also took the helm, creating countless unforgettable moments on the water.
What’s truly remarkable is that this same boat remains resilient to this day, a testament to her Grandad’s exceptional boat building skills and unwavering dedication. It carries a treasure trove of cherished memories and family history, strengthening the bond that spans generations. The enduring presence of this boat symbolises the lasting passion for sailing and the profound connections formed through shared experiences at sea.
When I was 9 years old, my Grandad, Dad, and I had an amazing experience building a ‘Selway Fisher Baby Wren’ open canoe using plywood and WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy. It took us a couple of weeks to complete and we cherished the canoe for many years, enjoying it on the lake.
Years later, when I returned to Cumbria, fate had an interesting twist in store. I stumbled upon boat plans while casually browsing, which unexpectedly led me to a job opportunity at a boat kit company. For a little over 2 years, I dove headfirst into this role, helping enthusiastic customers bring their boat-building dreams to life.
During my time at the company, I had the chance to take part in two more exciting projects. First, I carefully crafted a hollow wooden Cedar surfboard, based on a design by the creative folks at Grain Surfboards. After that, I lent my skills to the construction of a plywood/epoxy Paddleboard, a brainchild of the team at Chesapeake Light Craft Boats.
What project have you been working on/when is the completion date?
I’m presently in the process of constructing a stitch and glue tender, based on the Selway Fisher design. This unique vessel follows a lapstrake style, utilising plywood and epoxy for its construction. Despite its modest size, the boat comprises numerous intricately interconnected panels, resulting in a rather sophisticated design. My goal is to have this project completed by the end of August, just in time for our excursion to the Norfolk Broads, where we intend to utilise it.
What materials and tools did you use to create your project and why did you choose them?
I’ve been using WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy for a long time and wouldn’t use anything else! The products are so user friendly and do the job perfectly.
I employed a combination of 105 Epoxy Resin® along with the 205 Fast Hardener® and the 403 Microfibres for the tack welding between the wires. Thanks to the rapid curing time, I was able to accomplish all the tack welding within a single day, allowing me to swiftly remove the wires and significantly expedite the overall construction process.
In the creation of fillets, I once again relied on the combination of 105 Epoxy Resin® paired with the 205 Fast Hardener®, this time incorporating the 405 Filleting Blend. The swift hardening properties allowed me to complete all internal filleting, facilitating the curing process before flipping the boat. This meant that I could execute the external fillets within a single day. Further enhancing the pace of the construction process.
To apply the fillets, I opted for reusable mixing sticks, the rounded ends possess the perfect diameter for achieving flawless fillet formations.
During the glassing phase, my choice consisted of 105 Epoxy Resin® in conjunction with the 206 Slow Hardener®. This deliberate pairing granted me an extended working timeframe. I used the dispensing pumps for both the resin and hardener, simplifying the process of achieving the accurate resin-to-hardener ratio.
Were there any unexpected challenges or setbacks during the making process? If so, how did you overcome them?
The plywood kit I’m working with had been pieced together by the previous owner and left untouched for a few years. As a result, the plywood required time to naturally take shape. We could then begin tightening it over the course of several days. Thankfully, we managed to offset the time delay by employing a fast activator, allowing us to remain on schedule.
The 6mm plywood presented a significant bow curvature over a short distance, making the task of bending it into shape quite a challenge. The process was accompanied by rather unsettling creaking noises, adding to the tension of the situation. However, once the tack welds were in place, we immediately felt relief, eliminating any concern of the plywood unexpectedly springing back to its original state.
Do you have any other exciting upcoming projects you are planning to work on in the future or have worked on in the past?
I’ve designed a wooden surfboard that’s both functional and visually appealing. Constructed with a plywood frame, complemented by cedar bead and cove rails, and featuring a cedar and paulownia top and bottom, the board is skilfully glassed to ensure durability and optimal performance. I would love to build another! So that may be a project for this winter.
My Grandad built a Pete Culler beach boat using a mixture of both solid wood and plywood, along with WEST SYSTEM® epoxy. It’s a beautiful boat and I would love to build something similar, perhaps the ‘Ness Yawl’ by Ian Oughtred.
The plan is to take both boats on a journey together. The prospect of witnessing two similar boats, built around 50 years apart, sailing side by side is a spinetingling thought.
What advice would you give to anyone else looking to build/restore a boat?
Absolutely, go for it! I genuinely believe that following your passions is key. The immense joy of crafting something on your own path is accompanied by a wealth of learning opportunities. If uncertainty arises, remember that there’s a wealth of information available, much like the assistance you can get from West System tech support. Additionally, there are groups of individuals who have a genuine passion for boats, all who are eager to contribute their assistance. I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be a member of the Women in Boat Building community, a super supportive group! Boats provide us with a significant sense of freedom, whether it’s a compact canoe perfect for weekend paddling or a spacious liveaboard designed for sailing across the globe. Being able to get outside and connect to nature is so important. As the old cliché goes – we only regret the things we didn’t do!
To stay tuned with Polly’s boat building process, check out her social media channel below: