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Thread: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

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    Default Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Hi all. I have been taken with the Catboat Madigan and am planning to build a similar design. This may be very familiar water for this forum, I’ve been doing research and still have some questions. There are the plans available for Atkins’ Cupid (I greatly admired Erwan’s build), and the Mystic Museum sells plans for the Great South Bay Catboat (Which are not intended to be complete enough for construction).

    I am a professional woodworker, have sailing experience, and have restored an old fiberglass sailboat replacing all the wood parts that it had. I am confident in my woodworking, will need to learn lofting and many other esoteric nautical curiosities, and many other things I’ve no doubt.

    Would it be reasonable to purchase the above sets of plans and build the lines of the Gil Smith GSB Catboat, using the construction notes for the Atkins boat? There are offsets for the GSB Catboat for lofting, and I can scale the deck layout and such. I would need to find out the proper displacement for the boat. Maybe a trip to the LIMM is in the cards?

    What do you think?

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    A trip to the Long Island Maritime Museum would be a fun day. Their small craft building is stuffed with well displayed Gil Smith catboats. Take a ton of photos and notes and measurements. From those notes, along with the offsets from Mystic, you should be able to figure everything out for the Gil Smith boat.
    I'm suggest Bud MacIntosh's book "How to build a Wooden Boat". It was my Bible when I built a 20' gaff rigged sloop decades ago. From lofting to launch, it's all there in an understandable form.
    There is a guy from England building a Gil Smith boat. Go to 'search' and enter Gil Smith catboat Lorelei. I'd link it, but believe it or not, I don't know how.
    What will be your sailing ground?
    I was born on a wooden boat that I built myself.

  3. #3
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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Definitely go and study the boats carefully before you begin. These are not boats for a first time builder.

    Couple of things.

    We have a certain amount of received knowledge about how boats used to be made, but there are a lot of holes. There is a codified method nowadays of designing, lofting, making molds for each station, and so on, that usually results in the boat being made close to the design. Gil Smith and others like him did not necessarily build in this manner. He built from half models, which, by the way, are in the Suffolk County Museum in Riverhead, New York, He most likely dispensed with lofting altogether as a waste of time. He probably only used a few molds, old builders used as few as they could get away with. The molds are work and they get in the way of putting in the frames.

    Another important thing is that these boats were built with sawn frames, skinny little Hackmatack frames. There must have been at the time a regular source of hackmatack roots for builders to buy, because there were many builders here, not only Smith, who built in this manner. What this means in terms of building is that you could use a much more flimsy mold to set up the boat, because the moldwork didn't have to stand up to the stress of holding steam bent frames in place. The ribbands could be very light.

    What I'm getting at is that trying to force the lines taken off a Smith boat into a rigid mold and use steam bent frames somehow misses the mark. Sort of like a paint-by-numbers Mona Lisa.

    "Nother thing, that signature tumblehome aft, where the sheer plank just rolls into the deck. That's a real bitch to get right. Even looking at the boat, standing right there, it's just not possible to see how that might have been done. And even if you knew, then building it yourself is far from being a sure thing.

    Not to be discouraging, but these boats require a tremendous amount of study beforehand, if only to get in the proper mindset and grasp the complexities involved. It's a worthwhile project, but far from simple.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Thanks Jim and Rich. You are the two guys whose advice I was hoping for. What a resource. I will take your advice to heart. This is a long term project in its early days.

    Is hackamatack the same as hop hornbeam? I was going to laminate locust or white oak for frames. I also am not sure if I can make a heavy keep and frame structure (similar to Jim's Brewer boat) to gain displacement without ballast. I suspect it would affect the ability to shift ballast for better performance. Is there a danger in disregarding the original construction method as designed and building a GSB Catboat-looking boat? I don't like the idea of cold molding on molds then scribing in a keel and frames. I like better to build a right and solid backbone with the centerboard slot built into it, rather than cut ou later. Am I in the ballpark here or should I get the plans, books, and start reading before thinking about all this. The only rush is that I want to get some locust sawn soon, I have some cherry logs as well to saw. There is no hurry it seems.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Hackmatack is larch, a conifer in the pine family. A cold weather tree that grows up north.

    -Dan

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    The keel structure on a Smith boat has little in common to my Brewer catboat. The only similarity between the two boats is the type of rig.

    Smith, and a lot of other local builders used a thick plank laid flat for a keel, planed at the edge to match the thickness of the planking. I believe Cypress was the preferred material. This was bent over a few horses to the required rocker. There was no back rabbet along the keel, the edge of the keel being planed to meet the edge of the garboard strake to form a caulking seam.

    I believe these boats were build right-side-up, so the keel would be sprung down in the middle. Right-side-up is the way to go if you're winging it with with a lot of eyeball, especially when it comes to getting the delicate sheer just right and working in the tumblehome.

    There was no ballast involved, and no shifting ballast. These were light boats.

    Many of these designs were quite extreme, racing boats, lightly built with large rigs, and as such require a keen understanding of the forces at play to get the structure right.

    My advice would be to make a half model, if you have a set of lines, followed by a construction model of big enough size to work out all the details. It's the easiest way to come to grips with what's involved. Much heartbreak can be saved by working the details out in miniature.

    Jim

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    If you have the time, you could go to the Woodenboat Svool and participate in the building of a Smith catboat.
    I can hardly think of a trickier build, even for an experienced boatwright

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Excellent. Thanks Jim. I was getting the figure of 2000 lbs displacement from the Atkins boat. That may be wrong, or it may be what you consider light? My vintage racing dinghy weighs 300 lbs without the requisite meat ballast.

    Rich, I'll spend most of my time on either Lake Champlain or Lake Memphremagog.

    Dan, in VT we have Tamarack which is also called larch. I use it for porch decking (at my house, not paying work). It is pretty good for weather resistance, as long as it is painted and kept out of the sun. Must be the same thing.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by John Husky View Post
    Dan, in VT we have Tamarack which is also called larch. I use it for porch decking (at my house, not paying work). It is pretty good for weather resistance, as long as it is painted and kept out of the sun. Must be the same thing.
    Check carefully, Hemlock is also called larch. The larch we use for boat skinning may be different again. Larch, tamarack and hackmatack are the deciduous fir tree that you need.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    You may have this already: https://mafiadoc.com/gilbert-m-smith...06adab9eb.html .


    If you can't download I have a copy of the pdf I could email to you.
    Steamboat

    I get by with the judicious use of serendipity.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Donn Costanzo is pretty much the most up-to-date resource/builder/restorer of Gil Smith catboats: http://woodenboatworks.com/


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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Thanks Nick. My neck of the woods is rife with hemlock. It is sawn at the local sawmills into framing lumber, though I avoid it as a rule. When green it is heavy as hell, it holds water such that you get sprayed when driving nails into it. When it dries it becomes hard, twists and warps, and splits so much that any nail or screw must be predrilled. Some timber framers love it, one even claimed it was the strongest wood by weight (he is wrong). They can have it.

    The local Tamarack/Larch is easily identified as it tends to grow in wetter locations, and in the fall after the deciduous leaves have turned magical colors and fallen off, the tamarack needles turn golden and fall off. A second fall foliage display.

    Niether species is known for producing clear lumber of any reasonable size, at least in my immediate area, Central Vermont.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by Steamboat View Post
    You may have this already: https://mafiadoc.com/gilbert-m-smith...06adab9eb.html .


    If you can't download I have a copy of the pdf I could email to you.
    Thanks for posting this link. If anyone has even a trace of interest in Long Island catboats and Gil Smith, this is a must read.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Indeed Dusty. Thanks to all who chimed in here. It is a pleasure to have the guidance and the new reading material. I hope to have some progress to report in the semi-near future.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Hello John,

    I am the 'guy in England' mentioned by Rich Jones in a post (above). I am quite well on with my build and just about to take the wraps off "Lorelei" for another season as the weather gets a little warmer. Jim Ledger gave me the same good advice about building a model before tackling the full size boat and it worked out well. The build that you have your mind set on is considerably larger than the 17' catboat that I am building but you will surely benefit by all the information contained in my thread. Much of it comes from personal study and interpretation but most from the invaluable help received from others as you will note by visiting my thread which I will bump to the top of page one for you to gain instant access...it has sunk down a good few pages during the dormant winter period.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by John Husky View Post

    The local Tamarack/Larch is easily identified as it tends to grow in wetter locations, and in the fall after the deciduous leaves have turned magical colors and fallen off, the tamarack needles turn golden and fall off. A second fall foliage display.

    Niether species is known for producing clear lumber of any reasonable size, at least in my immediate area, Central Vermont.

    That's the right tree, it loses its needles every winter.

    It was not the straight lumber that was sought after by early boatbuilders, it was knees cut at the junction of the trunk and a major root. The roots of Larch spread out at an almost ninety degree angle from the trunk, often breaking through the surface of the surrounding soil. Knees were cut from the stump in the ground, by digging the root clear and then siding the knee with an axe. I would imagine this was often done after lumbering operations. The procuring of larch knees in this manner to fill the demands of boat and ship builders kept many men employed full time. A busy builder like Smith would no doubt buy knees by the load rather than dig his own. He would have probably kept a good supply on hand in order to be able to pick and choose for each particular frame. Knees, were often resawn to provide a matching set of frames from a single crook.

  17. #17
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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Ledger View Post
    That's the right tree, it loses its needles every winter.

    It was not the straight lumber that was sought after by early boatbuilders, it was knees cut at the junction of the trunk and a major root. The roots of Larch spread out at an almost ninety degree angle from the trunk, often breaking through the surface of the surrounding soil. Knees were cut from the stump in the ground, by digging the root clear and then siding the knee with an axe. I would imagine this was often done after lumbering operations. The procuring of larch knees in this manner to fill the demands of boat and ship builders kept many men employed full time. A busy builder like Smith would no doubt buy knees by the load rather than dig his own. He would have probably kept a good supply on hand in order to be able to pick and choose for each particular frame. Knees, were often resawn to provide a matching set of frames from a single crook.
    I read that the trees were felled with snow on the ground, and the stumps and knees were then harvested after the ground thawed. Depending on the snow, the stumps could be 6 foot high. Trees from marshy ground were preferred as there was less/no risk of hitting a rock.
    It really is quite difficult to build an ugly wooden boat.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by Peerie Maa View Post
    Trees from marshy ground were preferred as there was less/no risk of hitting a rock.
    You've never been to New England, I take it.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Ledger View Post
    You've never been to New England, I take it.

    What, you mean that place where your garden regurgitates rocks every spring???
    Steamboat

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Logging in the winter is necessary in wet locations just for the sake of travel, and dragging logs out.

    I will certainly be laminating most any curved frames. I've got plenty of practice doing that. Not so much with digging out stumps to harvest crooks. I was sort of hoping that hackamatack was synonymous with hop hornbeam, known in these parts as hard hack, as finding curved branches would be a breeze. That stuff rots very fast though.

    And thanks Don, I have a bookmark on your thread. I've given it a scan only. I'm up to 2017 finally on Jim's thread. That and working in the shop full time is all consuming. I am for sure going to build at least one model while I continue research.

    Thanks again to all you folks.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Quote Originally Posted by Steamboat View Post
    What, you mean that place where your garden regurgitates rocks every spring???
    Ayup, two rocks for every dirt.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    John- if you like Madigan, LIMM has the original Sinead on display. One of Smith’s earlier boats it was a workboat, not a nimble racer. Good luck in your search.
    Last edited by Tokamecotom; 03-19-2018 at 07:23 AM.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Tom, Another question. On my plans from the Mystic Museum, drawn by E.I. Schock, called South Bay Cat, and designed by Smith, there’s some weirdness. The deadwood tapers down to 2” wide as you go aft to the rudder. The rudder is labeled as being “3-3/8” forward tapered to 7/8” at after edge”. There is a 4”x5” post that runs from the deadwood keel to the deck and is what the rudder is hung on. I could shape the post to match the keel shape, but that would make the rudder and the 3-1/2” rudder post quite proud of the deadwood where it ends. Does this make any sense? Is the rudder wider than the deadwood keel on one of these boats? Thanks. I would endeavor to take a couple pictures of the bits of the plan I’m trying to describe if needed, but I am unlikely to succeed.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    The problem with using Tamarack is getting the stump out and cutting the roots. The tree has to be pretty big to get a root big enough for frames or knees. Digging stumps is hard work without a big machine.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    I was just at the LIMM last week. The Gill Smith catboats are beautiful, but before starting one go have a look. Jim ain’t kidding about that tumblehome.
    Fight Entropy, build a wooden boat!

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    John, it to difficult to describe but the “post” and Rudder post go together almost like a “ bead “ and “cove” joint. The rudder post being round and mating to the post with it’s concave Cove. So the rudder post is slightly narrower than the that post and the rudder is tapered from the rudder post back.

    I was not around then but the story as I know it was that a Catboat was “loaned” to the Seaport on the condition that they take measurements and develop a table of offsets and a drawing for the boat with a copy going to LIMM. Back in 2003-2004 LIMM constructed a Catboat from the plans. It is on display although it still has it’s winter canvas on it. I’ve taken it out and it’s a joy to sail.
    EA9F34F3-2D6E-4802-B6E8-5406E8A2D3CA.jpg

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    79658AF3-DB02-4872-A7A2-C3189141CF69.jpg
    Sailing past LIMM in “that” cat, me at the helm.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Thanks Tom. On the plan it does show the concave/convex mating of the rudder post and deadwood post as you describe. It does look in your picture like the deadwood post (for lack of the proper term) is tapered down from the hull to the rudder bearing surface. According to how I am understanding the plan (which at this point is highly dubious) that would be tapering from almost 4” down to 2”. That would mean that the rudder tapers from forward to aft, and top to bottom. The picture also shows enough of a space in the hole through the hull for the rudder to lift off the gudgeon. I wondered how that would work. Thanks again Tom. It is invaluable to have you and all the other forum denizens as resources for this project.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    The rudder trunk was usually tapered top to bottom to allow the rudder stock clearance when removing the rudder. Rudder trunks were made in the same manner as centerboard trunks, the rudder post being the forward vertical timber. There was another vertical timber aft of the post that ran through the keel and up to the deck. This was the piece that created the taper. The sides of the trunk were planked with cedar or cypress.

    Here's the rudder trunk on my old catboat, Sea Rover. Not the best picture, but you can see the side planking on the rudder trunk. There are still two pieces left to fit on the bottom. A couple of the side planks go back and fasten to the center timber of the transom, which is sized the same width as the trunk.

    Last edited by Jim Ledger; 03-29-2018 at 11:51 AM.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Thanks Jim, I see that now2E99FF19-DE9D-4963-B8C7-C2DEFBC6E18F.jpg
    It’s a little hard to see if it’s planked up all the way to the deck, or just above the water line. The trapezoid pieces in the drawing give me pause. Seems like going up to the deck is wise. I have seen where some other guys have put in a tube for the rudder post. I’ll go with the plan if I can properly sort it. Would the strap retaining the rudder be made from bronze?

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    I'm not sure what I'm looking at there as far as a rudder trunk goes, but that does look like a pair of planks either side of the rudderpost extending aft to the transom, similar to my boat above. Those trapezoidal pieces are supporting the deck beams.

    Tom would know better than anybody.

    Jim

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    The strapping and bolts are bronze and the rudder trunks on the boats were “boxed” all the way up to the deck. I think this photo of Lorelei.

    E5D1D26C-F87A-446A-B4BF-CF2D9B81E5E3.jpg7728E937-1847-4721-BB94-68282232FBD3.jpg

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Here’s a shot of the stern and how the hull meets the deck.
    11EBC70E-465C-4A4E-BE18-37E8EDA428C3.jpg

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    John- in one of the posts Jim referenced sawn frames, in the photo of the rudder trunk shows a larger sawn frame and the alternating steam bent frames. It seems the hull was built on sawn frames then the steam bent ones were added later after the hull was complete.

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    Default Re: Advice on building a Gil Smith Catboat

    Thanks again Tom and Jim.

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