WEST SYSTEM: An unexpected journey: landing the project of a life-time
When Dan Mill first came to Galway, Ireland, from New Zealand on a six month visa, he couldn’t have imagined what was in store for him. Before he knew it, Dan was working on one of the biggest boatbuilding projects of his life: building Nimmo, the 68ft cruiser. Four years and plenty of epoxy later, Nimmo was on the water – against all the odds. Dan tells his story for the first time.
After working as a contract boatbuilder in New Zealand on superyacht new builds and refits, I was looking forward to a break with a trip to Ireland. Shortly after arriving, however, I met a yacht owner with a vision.
He had in his possession the lines plan for an early 1990s open 60’ Generali Concorde design, which he then suggested I build. I viewed the work shed the very next day and emptied it of its various machinery and the flock of starlings that had set up residence.
Starting from scratch
In terms of designs to work from, all we had was a CD with a set of station spacings and some printed full-sized half breadths for each station. I had no body plan or buttock lines and no stem profile – there wasn’t even enough information to loft out properly on the floor. What’s more, in the process of extracting the files, the boat became leaner and stretched out to a whopping 68ft.
Progress was slow with just me and an ever-changing labourer. The enormity of the task ahead became apparent so, in desperate need of some clearer direction, JLS Design in Kinsale, Cork, produced some drawings from which High Modulus engineered the whole structure. This put us firmly back on track and in a position ready to glass the hull.
Calling in the epoxy experts
“You haven’t built a boat properly until you’ve longboarded!”
For this we needed additional help so we drafted in a team from the UK who laminated the whole outside using PRO-SET® laminating epoxy in 13 hours. It then took six weeks to complete the long-boarding; the lad who helped me claimed it was the hardest work he’d ever done. I told him you haven’t built a boat properly until you’ve longboarded!
One consolation was the work kept the cold at bay. We were deep into winter and in the absence of heating in the shed, we used large gas-fired infrared heaters in order to heat up the epoxy – and ourselves.
“WEST SYSTEM epoxy [is] by far the most pleasant for you to work with.”
We used WEST SYSTEM 105 Epoxy Resin® and a variety of WEST SYSTEM® hardeners for all the planking and bonding throughout the construction of the boat. WEST SYSTEM epoxy isn’t just the best epoxy to use for holding your boat together; in my opinion, it’s also by far the most pleasant for you to work with.
With the hull exterior faired and painted to undercoat stage, we lifted and rolled it inside the shed using three teleporters with just inches to spare. Once the hull was braced and the frames removed, the UK team was called in again for another long day of glassing with PRO-SET epoxy, this time inside the hull.
We then set about the task of lofting out the bulkheads, constructing them from 4mm plywood with 30mm of foam sandwiched in between. With all the bulkheads in place and two D50 Volvo saildrives installed, the flat panel of the cockpit floor was vacuum bagged and lifted onto the boat.
Next, we lofted the foredeck and the side decks back to the main bulkhead, installing temporary deck beams to take the first skin of 4mm plywood. The first skin of the cabin coamings was also installed to give us a decent sealing edge for our vacuum bag. After installing margin and compression blocks for the deck fittings, we filled the gaps with 25mm of foam and vacuum bagged the top skin of plywood.
A Christmas tale
I remember we were ready to break up for Christmas and under pressure to complete the last bit of the foredeck. We went home and arrived the next morning to a scene of destruction.
The boat had a watertight bulkhead forward but unbeknown to us, there was a tiny pinhole between the gunwale and the first skin of plywood. This had caused the forward compartment to come under a vacuum and subsequently the forward crash bulkhead had imploded. This was bonded to a centreline bulkhead and had created a domino of carnage.
It could all have easily been averted with one drill hole through the watertight bulkhead. You live and learn!
Boatbuilder Dan Mill continues his tale of how he took on the challenge of building a 68ft cruiser in a shed in Galway. As Dan demonstrates, once you’ve got the tools, all you need is a little help from some friends.
After clearing up the pre-Christmas catastrophe, I turned my attention to completing the main deck. This involved a few more tasks, starting with the water ballast tanks, two on each side.
These had to be fully waterproofed to avoid rot and we also had to glass-in titanium plates for the deck fittings. We had to allow access for fastenings and hydraulic pipes which meant doubling-up on the vent tubes to get the full capacity in the tanks.
For water transfer we moulded 200mm pipes with hydraulic gate valves between each tank. The tanks were filled from a fire pump clutched off the port engine and a combination of electric valves, operated from the helm, enabled up to four tanks to be filled or drained simultaneously.
The water tank lids were then pre-glassed and bonded with WEST SYSTEM Epoxy® onto prefabricated flanges. The main deck was now complete.
All hands on deck
By this time I had employed a fellow Kiwi, by the name of Jason Forrester, who had been painting and fairing on superyacht refits for a company in Auckland. We gave him the thankless task of doing the same for us. Still, with the help of four men the hard work paid off handsomely.
Work was ready to begin on the interior. We decided on pear wood for the fixtures and fittings and teak for the flooring. We were joined partway through the fit-out by a South African, Chris Collins. He proved himself to be a very competent joiner and a great help to me as I was constantly problem-solving and planning the next steps.
Then a good friend of mine – also from New Zealand – Terry Taylor, joined us. He had been working in Italy on some restoration work but leant himself to us for a couple of months to concentrate on laying the teak decking. It was a job that required full commitment and I was relieved to have him whilst I oversaw the final stages of the whole project.
There were always possible complications to foresee and avoid. Work continued around the clock, with people working through the night. The owner and his electrician friend ran all the wiring and hydraulic piping in the evenings so that we weren’t tripping over each other.
The final push
I oversaw the installation of three vacuum-flush toilets and showers and the steering system, opting for a Lewmar/Whitlock twin wheel system. We sourced parts locally and afar. The stainless-steel lifting keel fin was manufactured by a local engineering firm whilst a UK firm produced the 30 metre carbon mast and boom and we shipped the rudder and bearings from France.
“By using WEST SYSTEM products we were able to finish the boat to a high professional standard without expensive equipment.”
The finished boat weighed in at approximately 24 tonnes – not bad considering the low-tech construction. By using WEST SYSTEM products we were able to finish the boat to a high professional standard without expensive equipment. Nimmo has attracted attention wherever it goes and it remains humbly well ahead of its time for this type of fast cruising boat.
With a total build time of four years, it’s safe to say that Nimmo was a challenging project. We fought against the weather, lack of skilled labour and lack of support. But it was worth the wait and I’m mighty proud of what we achieved. Would I do it again? Maybe…
Dan Mill is the founder of Galway Boatbuilding and Marine Services Ltd, Galway, Ireland. He now undertakes a variety of restoration and repair work but is yet to do anything close to the same scale as Nimmo.
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