Friday, November 11, 2022


 Wow, long time no post, but we've been frankly exhausting ourselves with this project.  Lemmessee, where did we leave off?

We finally got done with the damned Epoxy.

After a lot of trial and error and cursing and everything we own either being sticky or ossified, we finally completed epoxy on the hull.  The seams, as aforesaid, are done in 6 oz tape, which is doubled on the leading edges to help protect them.  The whole hull up the to gunwale is covered in 4 1/2 oz biaxial cloth, and then two coats of epoxy over the whole surface.

The squeegee proved a much better tool for applying epoxy than a roller or brush.

While still slightly tacky, we applied the bottom paint (Interlux ablative) to make a chemical bond.

So glad to see the bottom paint go on.

AAAAAAND we messed up.  By the time we finished the hull, some parts had fully cured and the bottom paint crazed off.  We were forced to do a bit of scraping and sanding on those parts that didn't fully adhere and then to recoat.

Finally, though, we got a double coat of decent antifouling paint, and then gave it a couple of days to cure.

Now we come to the scary part:  Turning over the boat hull.  I frankly had no idea how this would go, I just knew we would need a lot of hands.  Kyle at the Marina floated using the sling lift or fork lift, but at this stage the boat had no internal structure, so I was more than a bit leery of that.   We managed to assemble five people and tried to lift the thing.  We did, but it was far to heavy to be safe (I'm figuring that, by this point, the hull is around 8-900 lbs).  We sent out scouts and managed to get our number of helpers to nine, picked up the beast, moved it over ten feet, then set it on it's starboard side, and gingerly walked the thing down onto some 2x4s.

I wish I had more pix of that, but all hands were . . .well. . .more than somewhat occupied.  Many, many thanks, though to those who pitched in.

The hull was surprisingly solid when we turned it, no creaks or groans.  It didn't seem to flex at all.

Then we covered the thing and hid from the rain for two days.  The cover leaked.  The thing was a swimming pool, but at least it held water.  We used a wet/dry vac to suck the water out, swabbed the inside, and let the sun dry her out.

Sole going in.
We now began putting in the sole, inslulating between it and the hull with Reflectrix (it's a kind of silvered bubble wrap), and putting spacers along the chine to support the flooring.
Foiled again.
Having gotten all that done, we began contemplating getting the walls up.

I would be more badass if everything didn't hurt by this point.

The walls are 2" foam, framed in 2x3, caulked and screwed into place, and will be coated on the outside with an elastomeric coating and inside with an exterior latex.  The foam sheets are spendy (about $52 each) but when you combine the light weight and insulative properties, they actually are a bit of a bargain.

Foam sweet foam.

Meanwhile, gail started insulating the side walls.

One of the problems with building like this (that being, in an open field with no strongback) aside from rain and wind is that it's really hard to keep things squared.  As I said with the original Floating Empire, "Welcome to the Temple of Accumulated Error" (with apologies to Domebook II, if memory serves).

The framed foam walls are light and surprisingly strong.

Roughed (and I mean roughed) into place.

The framed walls (4' 3") will give us 6' 4" over the sole of headroom.

Closing in.  As we're using membrane foor the roof like the original Floating Empire, the roof structure is just simple sheathing.

With doors and everything.  Things coming together more quickly now.

Wave, Gail.

Excuse the blurry fisheye, but once the interior is enclosed, we now have a place to store tools and materials that isn't the back of my freaking car.  As a live-abord, our cars already look like a homeless person lives in them.  White box to the left is the water tank, ready to go under the stern deck.

And here we are thus far, ready for paint and for the roof to go on.  

So here we are thus far.  It's raining off and on all day, but tomorrow we'll finish the forward hatch and get the actual roofing on, then it's on to finish the interior, the galley, and the paint work.

We both agree that this project has been good for the both of us, both physically and emotionally.  During the building of the original Floating Empire, I lost nearly 35 pounds just from the effort, and that seems to be happening again, so if you want a great excuse to build a boat, just convince your spouse that you need to lose weight.

More shortly, stay tuned.


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Freakin' Epoxy


I really hate this stuff
We had a few days of decent weather and decent temperatures so we knocked out more of the glass work.  May I say again parenthetically that I despise fiberglassing things.  I debated doing it on this project and was finally convinced to, but I'm not at all sure of the decision.  We finished the entire bottom of the hull, covering it with 4.5 oz cloth and epoxy and also covering the bow and stern.  Tomorrow we'll do the sides, then sand--which will be miserable and prickly--then do an overall epoxy coat prior to painting.


Still, the boat proceeds, if a bit set back by six days of rain and wind.  I'm hoping to get the beast painted and turned by midweek next week and then knock out the enclosure as quickly as possible.

After beating ourselves up sticking down fiberglass cloth yesterday, we went up to Carson's Creek for a libation and come calimari.  I kinda figured we needed a break.  So tomorrow we'll dig into it as quickly as we can (I'm trying to wait till the temperature tops 61F to work with the epoxy).  Rain Thursday, and apparently rather heavy, so at least we'll get an enforced day off this week.

Stay tuned.


Friday, September 30, 2022

aaaaaand, there's a hurricane.

 So here we sit in the rain, with Hurricane Ian having just clobbered Florida and the rain headed our way.  We've covered up everything we can cover and will just have to sit tight for the next three or so days until the rain passes.


Ah well, ten years ago when we built Floating Empire (Go back to the very beginning of this blog if you wanna see that.) we went through the same thing, stymied by rain and wind until we finally got the boat closed in and could work inside.

It's the process.

Fortunately, there is wine.


Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The discrete charm of fiberglassing

 . . .or:  Why is everything sticky?

Yesterday we started--finally--fiberglassing the seams on the hull.  It actually went pretty well.

This was tiring, but actually went pretty well.

We're using a marine epoxy from the Epoxy Resin Store on Amazon, available here.  We chose this particular one because it's UV stable, reasonably priced, and doesn't produce and amine blush when setting.  So far, so good.  It gives a reasonable amount of working time before kicking, and the surface when cured is really hard.  

While I'm on the subject, do you know this thingie:

You need this.

This little watzis is for rolling out bubbles in the fiberglass/epoxy without sticking to it.  I asked a slipmate who does a lot of epoxy work if I really needed it.  "Trust me" he said, and he was right.  Makes things a whole lot easier.

So we're steaming along with the build.  Unfortunately we're gonna get an enforced break this weekend due to fallout from Hurricane Ian, but I'll use the time to put together the second wood order for after we turn the hull.

The sand and fill stuff took waaaaay longer than I wanted.  Be careful in your carpentry folks.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Scary day

 I really wish I had gotten you guys pictures, but I was too busy having a heart attack.  In the midst of the build, the Marina--which has been lovely with us btw--comes to us and says "we're shifting boats around and we need to move your hull."  My face must've dropped, because that was followed up with "Is that a problem?"

See, here's the thing.  The hull is, of course, currently inverted getting prepped for fiberglass.  There is virtually no internal bracing at this point, and won't be until we flip her.  So the idea of putting the hull in a sling is kinda scary.  I had all sorts of images in my mind of the sides simply collapsing.

At this point, it's just a big box.

So with me gnawing my fingers, they put the hull in the sling and moved the thing a dozen yards or so to a new location.  It flexed.  I could see it flexing.  But in the end everything was fine, and the new location is frankly easier to work with.

So today is more sanding and filling, and hopefully tomorrow we'll be able to tape the seams, then fiberglass the entire hull the day after.

We make progress.

Stay tuned


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Fill and Sand and Tabbycat.

 It always amazes me how inconstant these builds are.  Some days, you're handling large pieces of wood and they go together into large structures and you go "Wow, we got a lot done today."  Other days your working your ass off on the little niggly bits and you end the day wondering if you've done anything at all.  Both of course, are work that needs to be done.  One of them is just hard to see except for your splinters, the other can be seen from space.  Carry on.

Today we began sanding and filling in the gaps in preparation for what we hope will be fiberglassing this weekend (Wednesday at the moment).  I've tried Six10 from West Systems for the first time.  It's a two part epoxy fill and adhesive in a single cauking gun tube with a mixing nib.  It works rather well, fills stuff easily and looks handy, but as a colleague warned me, it doesn't cover a huge amount of stuff and the pressure needed to squeeze the stuff out is substantial.  Still, it's great for small cracks and crevasses and has the lovely addition that you don't freaking have to mix ANYTHING.

Gail basically wore her hands numb running a sanding disk to correct from my lousy carpentry, some lousy wood, and stuff.  I remember a wonderful line in "Domebook II" many decades ago in which a geodesic dome builder greeted his friends with "Welcome to the temple of accumulated error."

Yeah, it's like that.  Fortunately I'm GREAT at fudging.

Using West System Six10 epoxy filler.  Takes some doing but works well.

Sand, sand, sand. . .you're not done until you can no longer feel your hands.

Tabbycat. . . Ob Cit
So tomorrow we're taking off.  It's supposed to rain off and on all day, laundry is becoming a desperate need, and, to be honest, my screaming back muscles are demanding a break.  The next day, Friday, we hope to get the hull prepped for fiberglass.  I've never really done fiberglass.  Stay tuned for comedy of errors.


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Sheathed in

 Well, today at long last we finished sheathing in the hull with plywood.  Due to a combination of lousy wood, warpage, and my generally horrible carpentry, it was a bit of a fight.  We wound up using a spanish windlass to ameliorate a spiral warp that developed in the gunnel 2X4, but we made it work.  (great little improvized tool, by the way, if you don't know it.)

Finally closed in, and LOTS more stable.

So tomorrow we begin sanding and filling in the gaps with epoxy resin and thickener.  Thursday, there is supposed to be rain.  On the weekend, though, we should get to applying the epoxy and glass.  Wish us luck.


Monday, September 19, 2022

By the way. . .

 The boat has told us her name.  Her name is "Dragonfly," because she'll flit lightly across the water.  Just thought you'd like to know.


Missed it by that much. . .

 Well, I almost called the initial wood order right.  I forgot that I had to use some of the 2X4's as cribbing, so today I'm back off to Lowes for more wood. . .also more screws, didn't count that right either apparently.

Ah well, it's scheduled to be beastly hot here today, and frankly we got a bit overcooked yesterday, so a bit of a short work day isn't out of order.  

We're doing this build in two segments:  The first is the hull itself, through fiberglass and paint, and then, after we flip her over, the topsides.  I could have done a single wood and foam order, but I frankly didn't want all my supplies sitting exposed here in the marina while I finished the hull.

We're watching the weather closely, but it looks like we can have the fiberglass work done by the end of the coming weekend.

More pix shortly, so stay tuned.


Sunday, September 18, 2022


 We began sheathing the hull today, using tightbond III glue and decking screws.

A whole LOT of decking screws.  Guess who's going to Lowes tomorrow to get some more.

Everything takes longer than you think.

We're countersinking the screws and will be filling all of them in prior to fiberglassing.

More shortly.


Saturday, September 17, 2022

The hull truth and nothing but the truth

 Today with a lot of cursing and sweating, we got the sides upright and got the stringers--most of them, anyway--screwed and glued into position.

framing the side

Levelling the beast was amazingly simpler than I'd anticipated.  A couple of plywood scraps under the blocks and we were home free.

Beginning to look quite a bit more boat-like.

With any of these structures there's this weird point where your wanky carpentry suddenly goes from wobbly to rock solid.  I can never anticipate where that moment is, but I'm always gratified to see it.  In this build, it was about the fifth stringer in when the boat stopped swaying while we were working on it.

I was also pleased to discover that--the gods knoweth how--the thing is a uniform 8 feet all the way down the hull.  I knew sacrificing that chicken was a good idea.  Ha!  And you all laughed!

Tomorrow, naproxin willing, we will begin to actually sheath the hull.  That will be immensely satisfying.

More later.  I've a chilled bottle of Verdejo awaiting me.


Friday, September 16, 2022

framing in the sides

 Spent the morning yesterday finishing in the framing of the pieces which will become the sides of the boat, that and correcting some of my more lamentable carpentry.

I'm honestly NOT forcing my wife to do all the work, I'm just the only one that carries a cell phone.

We'll finish screwing in the blocks and braces today and tidy up the work site so we have some room to actually assemble the hull.

When we built 'Floating Empire' we would work ourselves sick, and we're trying to be a bit more sensible about that this time.  The rule is: once you get tired enough to start making stupid mistakes, it's time to knock it off.

Progress will look a lot more boatlike from here on in so stay tuned.


Tuesday, September 13, 2022


 Today we finished notching the chines (24' or 2"x8") and sistered the beasts.

The plywood under is just to provide us with some semblence of a level work surface.

This is the sister/butt block joining the two halves of the chine.  No, no, that's the wife, the sister is the wood thing.

It amazes me how the boat always goes from small to huge to small as you build the thing.

Tomorrow the joined chines will be attached to the ply siding and the sides framed in, getting ready to add the bottom, at which point this will look a whole lot more boatlike.....or in this case, barge like.

Everything hurts.

Stay tuned.


Sunday, September 11, 2022


 We actually began construction on the new shantyboat yesterday, measuring and notching the chine logs only to have my jigsaw die on us.

This is $800 bucks worth of wood?  At least the marina is providing us a nice space to build.

Marking the chines for notching.  Hull is, of course, being built upside down.

and then my 10 year old jigaw died.

Now, of course, it's pouring down rain.  Seems to me we had he same weather problems building 'Floating Empire' ten years ago. . . 

. . . .has it been that long?  Jeez.

So as soon as the weather clears, we're back at it.  Progress is always so slow at first, but I'm hoping this will come together pretty quickly.

Stay Tuned.


Saturday, August 13, 2022

The Process

 It's odd how things repeat themselves.  In 2013 when we started gearing up to build the original Floating Empire, we began acquiring the things we thought we'd need for the boat, slowly filling up a little unused office space in our apartment with sinks, batteries, solar panels. . .all manner of things to go on the new vessel.

A room full of stuff destined for Floating Empire in '13

Now history is repeating itself.  We're gradually acquiring all the things we think we'll need for this new build, so into the storage locker are going tarps and solar panels, solar generators and fiberglass cloth, and a half ton of epoxy resin, house paint, bottom paint, windows. . . 

Ecoflow Lithium Battery system that will be the heart of our new electrical system.

Of course, living aboard, there's no spare room to put stuff. . .there is, of course, our storage locker. . .and the car. . .and the bilge.

All that being said, we can't wait to get this thing under construction.

Seriously, stay tuned.


Monday, August 1, 2022

Building Floating Empire II


Alright, so it's time

So we've decided to actually bite the bullet and build a new vessel.  We've spent the last month going over and over photos, plans, sketches, and a host of construction videos and we've finally distilled down what we think we want to build.

Floating Empire II--which will tell us her real name eventually-- will be a 24 foot shantyboat, a riverboat designed for thinwater exploring and comfortable living.

Simple designs like this EcoCat shantyboat most appeal to us.

The result will be a barge-hull box on a raft, drawing only about six inches of water and requiring almost nothing to move her.  We hope to begin construction in September and be in the water some six weeks later, weather permitting.

Wish us luck.


Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Things they Don't tell you

 Ah the things that no one told us about becoming livaboards.  I was musing on this while driving back from our storage locker the other day.  Don't get me wrong, we love our life aboard.  It's just that there are a few things it might've been nice if someone had mentioned, like, for example:

1)  No, you're never getting rid of all the stuff you put in storage.  A lot of that is going to wind up being memorabilia, family stuff with no one to give it to, and things that are "too nice to get rid of" even though you have absolutely no way to use them right now.  That's why you got the storage locker, right?

2)  Your car is a closet.  It's an accessory wing on your boat, home to stuff you use occasionally but not often enough to be willing to trip over on a daily basis.  For this reason, the cars of most liveaboards look like homeless people are living in them, or that you just got kicked out of your apartment.

3)  If you can't find something, it's generally because of one of two reasons. A. It's such a large space that it could be anywhere or, B. Its under/over/behind something else.  Virtually everything on your boat falls into the "B" category.  All of the storage lockers on any boat are weirdly shaped.  Absolutely nothing is square.  The thing you're looking for is the thing that's behind those other two things that are currently wedged into that trapezoidal storage space. 

4)  Yes, it's going to get damp.  Wrap it in plastic.  Then you will have a damp thing wrapped in damp plastic.  It's just the way of things.

5)  Anything with "marine" in the name will cost 200% more than the same thing without "marine" in the name.  Hence:  brass bolt $.50, brass marine bolt $1.50.  This becomes more pronounced the more expensive items become.

6)  Yeah, that's damp too.

7)  You have plenty of room in the freezer/fridge/cooler for all the foods that you just don't feel like eating tonight, guaranteeing that they'll go bad by the time you do feel like eating them.

8)  There is, however, no room for the roast that you got on a bargain that you wanted to cook this weekend.

9)  Yes, it's damp in the cooler too.  Sensing a trend here?

10)  The night you desperately needed to sleep, the wind will kick up and slam you into the dock every six seconds for the next five hours.

11)  The boat will leak.  Not from the bottom.  Boats almost never leak from the bottom.  No, it will leak from the top.  Every rainstorm, the hatches, the deadlights, the place where the grabrail is bolted in. . .all of them will suddenly decide to leak.  You will never find where the water is actually coming from.  Slathering it with caulk is ugly and will work until it decides not to, usually on the hatch that's directly over where you're trying to sleep.

12). . . .which is now damp.

13)  The outside of boats get dirty, especially if near highways or cities.  They get dirty for no damn reason at all.  They get dirty just sitting there.  They get dirty and then they get algae growing on them.  That's because they're . . .well. . .damp.

14)  There is no way to avoid having to get up an move every time anyone else needs to get up and move.  It's a kind of weird ballet everytime anyone needs to get up in the galley to use the head.  The only one who won't get up on a bet to get out of the way is the cat.  We like to refer to him as "ballast".

15)  Look under the mattress.  For some reason, it's damp down there too.

All that being said, there is no place else we'd rather be living.  At least I don't have to cut the grass.


Friday, April 8, 2022

Ride 'Em Cowboy


Ride Em Cowboy

We've all spent those evenings at the dock or at anchor, when the weather, the wind and water, conspire to slam the boat in a whole host of interesting directions. The lines creak and then slam tight. The boat rebounds and bounces off the fenders. Wind howls through the rigging. It does NOT, you may remember, make for a peaceful, sleep filled night.

These happen occasionally to all of us, but of late, they've almost been more the rule than the exception here on the Chesapeake. I've looked over our logs for the last eight months or so and I'm hard pressed to find a single freaking week where there wasn't at the very least a small craft warning, and the number of Gale warnings has been truly epic.

Why is this? We've been at the same dockage for eight years now, and have seen the weather become steadily warmer, more erratic, and occasionally more violent. And, yes, it's climate change and yes, for all our denials, it's global warming. There's just too damn much heat energy in the weather systems and it's not going away any time soon. In fact, it's likely to get more pronounced and more in your face. Bearing all that in mind, I thought I'd do a bit of a review of how we deal with weather here at dock.

Here's the thing, every boater spends quite a bit of time tweaking the dock lines until they're just right, until the boat will ride true under most if not all conditions of tide, wind, and weather. Once we get them adjusted, most of us are loath to mess with them again. The trouble is, of course, that no tying of dock lines, however well conceived and executed, will ever do for every conceivable condition.

There are, of course, a few things you can do to make the lines more forgiving. Snubbers of various sorts can really help soften the blow when the boat suddenly hits the end of her tether, and banked fenders can help allow for wide tidal variations. Criss-crossing the lines at stern and bow will help keep the boat centered in the slip (though it can make exiting off the swim platform a bit of an adventure) regardless of tide conditions.

Ultimately, though, we have to get over the idea that there is a one-tie-fits-all solution for you and your boat. This will, of course, inevitably mean that there will be those inventive, leisurely, 3AM its-pouring-rain-and-we're-hitting-the-dock lurches on deck in your skivvies out of a sound sleep evenings.

So how to make that less than awful?

First things first. Find out—now--which lines are the most likely to need emergency alteration when the tides and the wind cease to play nice. It's likely that it'll be the same damn cleat you're addressing every time, so plan on that. Tape marks or loops tied in that line can help you let the line out or pull it in a predictable amount, regardless of the foul conditions, which can save you another trip. Putting in an additional spring line that can be easily manipulated from the cockpit is also helpful and can keep you from having to do a full-scale remake of how your vessel is moored.

Also, just for safety's sake, remember that these scenarios and a bunch of others may entail you charging onto a dark deck in the middle of the night in foul weather. The wise expedient of having decent deck shoes, rain gear, a working light, and a marlinspike easily available in a place that you'll remember without having to search for them can save you a lot of cursing, and, possibly, danger.

So, yes, the weather is getting worse, it's not your imagination, and, yes, we're all going to have to deal with it. Take some decent precautions and you'll find you'll sleep a lot better.

Don and Gail Elwell

And first Cat Magellan

aboard the MV TARDIS

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Winter into Spring. . . at last

Winter in to Spring. . . At last.

I'll be honest, these last two winters as a live-aboard have been, well, difficult. Winters are always somewhat of a challenge: Going anywhere can be a problem, and the weather isn't condusive to the usual sitting out on the docks and watching the world go by. These last two winters, though, have been a challenge. First of all, there was the virus. Usually in winter we can count on going out to our favorite pub to have a libation or a meal, do a bit of conversation and people watching, and then stagger home to the marina. It was almost a weekly ritual in the dark months. These last two years, though. . .

The Drinking Trees await

The virus closed most of the public spaces, places we took for granted, places we went to meet neighbors, to get a bit of exercise, to just get the hell off the boat for a bit. Those places.

Then there was politics. Places we loved before, places we always considered a home away from home, were suddenly hostile territory. We felt unwelcome. We felt unable to speak, to share, to even be there for fear of conflict, and who goes to a neighborhood dive looking for conflict?

I think these last wnters for most of us—regardless of our stripes—were a rather lonely and isolating time.

But this year, for all the international turmoil, feels different somehow. This year, the trees are budding out early. Our usual hikes through Marshy Point are already quietly met with the murmuring of frog song, the weather is warming fast ( a little TOO fast, but that's another issue ) and friends and fellow live-aboards are already talking BBQ, talking game night, talking road trips.

This year feels different.

We live for that first couple of days of spring, when we can sit in the cockpit, or up on the hard beneath what has been dubbed the “drinking trees”, with a glass of decent wine, watching the birds come and go and feeling the warm sun on our faces. It's coming, and I've already made my reservation.

There's always so much to do in spring, boat travel notwithstanding. Tarps come off and maintenance you've been putting off suddenly wanders to the front of the cue. The boat can finally get a good airing, paintwork gets done, and the cat discovers the dock again.

And we discover one another again as well. Our dock is a particularly convivial one, with live-aboards and boaters all of which have become good friends. Only now, we will begin to see each other on a daily basis, rather than just noting someone in a coat going by. Now there will be music and movies and games and . . .well. . .alcohol, and the warmth of community and friends as close as family.

Now there will be spring.

And we can't wait.