Zephyr is a 10’ Tenderfoot sailing dinghy designed and built as part of the 2017 Edensaw Challenge in Port Townsend WA. She is built of western red cedar and covered with two coats of clear fiberglass inside and out. The challenge is to build a boat in 2 1/2 days. That doesn’t include design time, time spent building the forms and the strong-back, or time spent milling the cedar strips.
The name Tenderfoot pays homage to the builders after 14 hours on their feet non stop during the Edensaw Challenge. But it also refers to the fact that she is a yacht tender, and she’s 10’ long. Hence, Tenderfoot. She was designed with a fine entry and a long waterline to make her quick and fun to row. She has a high freeboard for dryness and a flat bottom in the stern for stability. And the stern skeg ensures that she tracks straight.
John carved a quarter scale half-hull model of Zephyr to refine her shape in the old-school fashion. Modern boat designers would simply use 3 dimensional CAD, but John preferred the tangible model that he could touch and look at from every angle. There’s a great satisfaction in shaping a boat by eye and feel rather than cold computer lines. The shapes of the forms were taken directly off the half-hull model. And in the end, it all fit together exactly as designed. Next time John designs a boat using this technique, he will use a prettier wood than just pine so the model can be varnished and mounted.
Zephyr was built by Fran and John Thompson, Barbara Emmonds and Craig Persons. Eric Egge lent his considerable expertise and was the source of the cedar, all of which was salvaged from an abandoned log found on a beach. The forms were all built and aligned on the strong back before the challenge. At the start of the challenge, we simply had to start stapling cedar strips to the forms, edge-gluing them to their neighbor. Simple, right? Not so. The first 9” of strips went on without a fuss. Then came the hard part. As we covered the round chines, each strip had to be twisted 90 degrees as it was also bent around the forms. There was significant resistance in each strip to complying with our wishes. So we brought along a steamer to soften up the wood, and break down the resistance. Problem is, the steamer didn’t work very well. We had to force each and every strip into shape using all four team members on each strip. It ended up taking us a day and a half to get the forms completely covered with the cedar strips, and that didn’t leave us enough time to fiberglass the boat before time expired. The team was out of the competition. Excellent try, though, and with a working steamer and a few tweaks to the process, we could easily have accomplished the impossible task. We were the main focus of the competition as we were building the only boat that was truly a marketable design. And cedar strip boats are eye candy. Before withdrawing, we got her completely stripped, all the staples pulled out and sanded smooth ready for fiberglass.
The unfinished Zephyr came home and was put away for a few months, taking backseat to a kitchen remodel job. Every evening, John would come home and check to make sure all the cedar strips didn’t just go “Sproing!!” And end up in a heap on the floor. It’s the fiberglass that holds it all together. It took about a month to finish her up, working from time to time in the evenings and weekends. But eventually, she was finished with two layers of 6 oz fiberglass inside and out. Launching was delayed due a death in the family until May. While she languished, John decided that she really looked like a sailboat, so he designed a sailing rig for her and ordered a brand new sail.
Building the rudder and daggerboard was a fun challenge as they feature true foil shapes rather than just a piece of plywood with rounded edges like most tenders. It took a bit of research, but the answers are all out there on line. Thank you, Google and You Tube! The mast was are fun project, except that it was rushed due to a pending move into our RV which meant loss of the shop. The mast is hollow, made up of 8 staves of Sitka Spruce in an octagon cross section. After the glue dries, the corners of the octagon are planed off into a circular cross section. It’s called a “bird-mouth mast” due to the way the staves interlock with each other. John used AutoCAD LT to do all the design work. And as a result all the parts fit together exactly with no wasted effort or materials.
She was christened Zephyr because she is the tender for Summer Breeze, our Nonsuch 30 sailboat that we are using to cruise the Inside Passage in the summers. Zephyr means a tiny breeze, a whisper of wind. John feels that every boat should have a name as it provides a spirit, a soul to the otherwise inanimate object.
Zephyr is a success on so many different levels. She is beautiful, and draws appreciative comments every where we go. She sails extremely well in the lightest of breezes (Zephyrs). After trying to row our original very heavy Livingston dinghy, Zephyr is a pure joy to row. At 75 pounds, she is 50 pounds lighter than the Livingstone and 3’ longer. We mounted davits on the stern of Summer Breeze to make her easy to launch and retrieve. No need for the electric winch, which was required for the Livingston.
Zephyr fulfilled several bucket list items for John. He had always wanted to build a boat from scratch. He had always wanted to design his own boat. He had always wanted to build a cedar strip boat, and a birds-mouth mast. And since 2013, had wanted to participate in the Edensaw Challenge. All are now checked off, though the desire to design and build boats remains strong.
Plans are available at a nominal fee from John Thompson. Contact him at email@example.com. If you are interested in trying to build this boat in the Edensaw Challenge in the future, please include John on your team. The fire is still lit. It can be done in 2 1/2 days!