Preview: A McIntosh Tender at Brookwoods School

June 21, 2016

Maynard Bray

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Here is a pair of videos from the Brookwoods Middle School of Manchester, MA, showing 4th and 5th graders building, from scratch, one of the Ned McIntosh-designed canvas dinghies—with a little help from their instructors, especially from Sven Holch whose idea it was to pursue the project. In an endeavor like this, the kids learned how to do all kinds of things, using both their hands and their heads, as they created a boat they can use afterwards.

Our congratulations to Sven and his students!

*****

About the Boats

These are boats that are cool and easy to build and row. They’re also useful as tenders for larger craft. They weigh only about 35 pounds and, as you can see from the attached photo, they even do well on the end of a towline.

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With Ned’s and the owner's OK, I measured a completed boat and prepared the drawing below. You can build directly from it, but if you want a full-scale copy, I'd be glad to furnish it. Just send me a $35 check at PO Box 52, Brooklin, ME 04616.

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I also prepared a materials list and building procedure, which you can click here to see.

For more background and guidance in building, here's the text of an article I wrote for the 2014 issue of Small Boats magazine:

McIntosh Canvas Boat
These 9’ x 3’3” symmetrical double-enders have been around for many years. Oddly, they were born in Panama while Ned and his wife Alice were there in 1942 in their cutter STAR CREST and Ned was working in a local boat shop on the Panama side of the isthmus. Although he first built himself a sharpie, there was a need for a lighter-weight boat to get back and forth from STAR CREST’s mooring, so Ned first tried a folding canvas dinghy. But it didn’t work out so was never used. Then came this fixed-frame, canvas dinghy that did work and soon became so popular (after Ned devised a sailing rig with leeboards and a small single sail) that he and friends built about twenty of them. They had a great time, racing them backwards as well as forwards, and this same group of owner/sailors eventually formed the Panama Yacht Club. (To sail in reverse, Ned tells me that you have to hold out the boom to catch the wind, then steer backwards.)

After returning home to his New Hampshire, Ned continued to turn out many, more of these useful little craft. And after he ceased building them, one or two other local builders began turning them out.

My first exposure came after sighting STAR CREST steaming into York Harbor early one evening about 50 years ago while Anne, daughter Kathy and I were there, living aboard our R-boat PENOBSCOT. We met Ned and Alice after they docked, and among all the neat features they showed us was their little canvas tender nestled nice as you please on this 35’ Atkin cutter’s deck. It could carry two people yet one person could lift it out of the water and load it onboard. I never forgot our first viewing and, later on, noticed that other sailing yachts, most of them somehow connected to the McIntoshes, were also using Ned’s canvas boats as tenders. Conversations with their owners brought forth nothing but compliments.

After seeing so many of these cute little boats here and there, and hearing only good reports about them—including a story Waldo Howland once told me of Ned building some of them right in the living room for the Howland children—I longed to build one for us. As I understand it, there are no plans for the boat itself, although Ned sent me a drawing for the sailing rig. So it came down to finding a boat that I could measure. When Karl Webster offered his, I jumped at the chance and created a drawing that included a building jig I thought would work.

Except for the three frames, the pieces of which can be sawn out from common white pine boards, a set of stringers form the skeleton around which the canvas is draped, glued and stapled. There are five stringers: the keel stringer that bends at its ends to form the two stems, the two chine stringers, and a pair of sheer stringers. These stringers have to be stiff enough to remain fair between the supporting framework. Pine is too springy, so I used Douglas-fir because I had some on hand. But I think spruce, mahogany, oak, or ash would also work well. There’s considerable curve in these stringers as they spring around the hull, so they need softening by hot water or steam. The sharper curve of the stems bend easier if kerfed and glued back together, or they too can be steamed.

Over this skeleton of inner stringers goes the canvas. Heavy 10-oz stuff (number 2 is what Ned calls it) is what you need, and if it comes in the usual 60” width, a single piece just makes it across the boat at the maximum beam—just as Ned advised me it would. Another of his suggestions was that you staple first along the sheer, only just pulling out the wrinkles. (Don’t pull too tight or, when shrunk, it will distort the stringers.) Then mark along the chine with a pencil and make a cut toward the middle from each end. Then, he says, staple the sides to the chine stringers, trim them, and spread a bead of 3M-5200 and staple on the bottom panels. Trim off the excess. Staples should be an inch or so apart along chine and sheer stringers.

Although perhaps a mistake, I felt more comfortable covering the bottom first, then completely cutting away the port and starboard overhangs and using them separately afterwards for the sides. (This called for a continuous overlap along the chines, and amidships I found that my overlap was a little scant.)

In any event, my bottom piece draped nicely over the keel for most of its length but had to be cut along the centerline and overlapped at the stems, where a bead of 3M-5200 was spread. Close-spaced Monel staples holds the canvas to the skeleton while the adhesive makes the joints watertight.

After the bottom pieces were fitted, stapled, and where necessary, glued, I stapled on the sides, doing the sheer first then pulling out the wrinkles as I worked along the chines, over a bead of 3M-5200 and driving in plenty of staples close together and hammering them flush afterwards. You want these areas smooth for later installation of the outside stringers—the outer keel, outer chines and the guardrails. A putty knife, pressed down hard and run along the overlap, helps squeeze out the excess sealant.

Natural canvas was a pleasure to work with and goes on, if you’re careful, without much wrinkling. Later boats, Ned tells me, were covered with a heavy synthetic material called Herculite which makes for a more rugged hull that better resists puncturing, but doesn’t have the “give” of canvas, so doesn’t go on as smoothly.
At this point, after the adhesive has cured, it’s probably a good idea to spread on a coat of paint in order to seal the canvas against moisture. Either oil-based paint or latex will work, and you’ll find that both do a good job of shrinking and errant wrinkles out of the canvas.

Now comes the outer stringers which, in order to bend around the hull, need to be softened with steam or hot water, or else slit lengthwise and glued into place in two layers. I chose the latter to prove the method since I’d already used hot water for the inner stringers, and so the surfaces stay dry for gluing. For attaching these outer stringers, I used thickened epoxy instead of 3M-5200 because of the easier cleanup and faster cure, and used drywall screws with fender washers to hold things together until the epoxy kicked off.

For good looks, it pays to plane a little taper near the ends of the chines and guardrails and nose them off a little. I also hollowed out their contact surfaces a little for a tight fit. Sinking screws permanently into their very ends always makes sense—just in case the epoxy lets go someday.

For finish, I ended up using a couple of coats of Latex paint inside and out. The cedar plank used as a floorboard and seat (there’s no standing up in this boat) was to be left bare, so it went in after painting, held with oval head screws so it could be removed for access to the bilge.

Oarlocks and breasthooks finished the boat. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a log of hours spent, but I can tell you that the work goes fast. Using this design, not much time passes before you have a useable boat.

Because of their relatively high freeboard and double-ended symmetry, they’re surprisingly seaworthy for their size. Being so very light and with a single person aboard, they rise quickly to the oncoming waves. But, like almost any 9-footer, two persons is about the limit for capacity, and you always have to be careful where you place your feet so as not to push against the canvas. There’s only a single set of oarlocks and you sit right down on the floorboard to row. To keep the boat trimmed right, you row in one direction if you’re alone, and get on the other side of the oars to row the opposite way if you have a passenger. Without a backrest, rowing is a little uncomfortable, but I suppose this could be and probably has been improved upon in other boats.

Improvement, however, comes with more clutter and weight. It’s not an ideal “all-day” boat anyhow, so for short distances I think it’s fine like it is.

I can’t recall ever having rowed one of these boats previously and was amazed at how easily she picks up speed from a standstill, how quickly you can turn her, and how effortlessly she moves along. Six-foot oars are about the right length. We towed her behind either a powerboat or a sailboat most of last summer and she bounced along happily at a variety of speeds. I got over zealous in pulling her alongside once while we still had headway and were leaving a wake, and she flipped upside down. Quite a surprise, and I should have known better, but recovery was almost as rapid as the capsize. At only 35 pounds, I could grab her rail and raise her up so she shed the water, then set her back again right side up.

New boats take getting used to, and all boats including those you think you know, are always able to teach you a lesson. This little double-ender, I’m sure, has more in store for me.

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