INTRODUCTION TO THE GUIDE TO COMPOSITE YACHT CONSTRUCTION

We produced the initial versions of the Guide to Composite Construction as an A4 size booklet in the late 1980's, a time when multihull construction was typically transitioning from stringer frame construction to cedar strip plank and foam cored fibreglass. Established boat builders and amateurs who had experience on the water and a feel for boat boatbuilding took to the building technologies with great enthusiasm and stringer frame construction quickly became something of the past.  

 

The design, engineering and building of sailing yachts is a technology, or a combination of technologies that is to some extent determined by standards and rules, by the analysis of structures and the properties of materials.

But even in today's world our understanding of marine structures has its limitations. Some of the standards are open to interpretation, and in some areas, particularly for multihulls, the rules are absent or lacking in detail. 

How much payload can the boat carry, for how long, in what size waves, and under how much sail? What windspeed and what size of waves determines the need to reef to avoid capsize? What is the maximum load  load on the mainsheet under full sail in fresh conditions? How much fibreglass does it take to reliably tab a bulkhead to the inner hull skin? 

 

Questions like these are difficult to answer with formulas, regulations and rules, and so in order to ensure we have a reliable and seaworthy vessel we have to rely to some extent on experience, diligence, common sense and "feel" in the disciplines of design, engineering and boat building. 

 

The Guide does not set out to be a comprehensive and authoritative resource for all you need to know about composite boat building. Meade Gougeon wrote the seminal book on composite boat building and I recommend it today as essential reading for anyone stepping out on a boat building journey. However the Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction is specifically about wood composite construction and it has become clear to me that there is a need for some more comprehensive information on sandwich construction using PVC foam and other synthetic core materials. 

I have personally built three trimarans, a dory skiff and a good number of surfboards, and I've had more than three decades of experience working with builders and engineers. I'm neither a boat builder nor a composites engineer. It was with some hesitation that I set out on the journey of putting this guide together. Who is going to read it? How much technical information should it include? Is there a risk we are going to be stating the obvious and talking down to many of our readers? 

 

The answer to the last question is yes. But what some of us regard as obvious is not obvious to everyone and some of the worst mistakes I've seen might have been avoided with better information, more attention to detail and better oversight of the build process.

 

Our role is not to train boat builders in the multiple technologies of their craft. This is done in universities and technical colleges, and by serving apprenticeships with established builders. The experience I've had working builders and engineers doesn't make me an expert in the field of composite boat building, but it has given me the opportunity to learn and to make connections with some of the people who I hope will contribute to this guide on an ongoing basis so that over time it will become a comprehensive resource for those starting out on the boat building journey.

 

This edition of the Guide Composite Yacht Construction is presented on line as a living publication. We'll be able to respond to comments and answer your questions if they make a good contribution to the topic, and update the information as new technologies come into play.

 

 

 

Tony Grainger Dec. 2018



About Asking Questions

If at the end of my life I'm asked to name just one regret I think it would be that I didn't ask enough questions. 

The designer's work includes providing the information, the means, the instructions and the trajectories to build the object of his or her design endeavors. So if it's something the designer is creating, like an image, some computer code or some editorial material, then the design and the finished product come as one. If it is something that is beyond the designer's own resources like a roadway, a building or a yacht, then the design work is not finished until those instructional trajectories are in place. 

 

If the designer is conscientious then he or she will want you to refer questions if the information is not clear or if it looks as though something is in error or has been omitted. Just as the designer must be clear about his or her intentions, so must the builder be clear about the question because the quality of the response you get to the question will only be as valuable as the directness and the clarity of the question. 

There have been occasions when I've been asked about something that I hadn't thought of, and once addressed is helpful in improving the design or improving the instructions for the build process. On those occasions I am always grateful that the question was asked or the suggestion was made.

 

 

If in doubt it's best to err on the side of asking too many questions rather than not enough. It is just possible that one additional question asked and responded to could save a good deal of grief at some point in the future, and you just might be helping the designer to become a better designer.