First time? Try a Nymph  
By Stacy Smith - College Grove, Tennessee - USA

Choosing a first boat building project was for me a long struggle, weighing the cost, time, difficulty and learning benefits of a particular design. I wanted something small, to keep the cost down and make it easier to store when I couldn’t work on it. This was to be a learning experience not only for myself, but also my son Cary, who was designing a hull for his high school senior project, and we wanted enough bending and structural elements to prepare us for more involved designs. After studying many possibilities, I settled on Phil Bolger’s Nymph, as found in Harold (Dynamite) Payson’s classic book, Build the New Instant Boats. Plenty of curves, taping and bending, just two sheets of plywood and the book says you can build one in a few days. He-he.

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Talk about stable

One year later, after a year of fitting in between business trips and Cary’s project, which had now turned into a full size hull, we finally got her wet one hot July afternoon. Squeezing past the gasping white fiberglass whales at the boat ramp and trying not to get sucked into their prop wash, Cary and I caught a slight breeze, or perhaps it was exhaust, cast off and dropped the dagger board, which immediately popped back up out of the trunk. Hmmm, wood floats. Casually nudging it back into place with an elbow, I made a mental note to rig a hold-down. Funny how one modification leads to another? The design actually calls for a lee board…

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Cary at the helm

Handy turnaround formula for modifications made by a rookie: Total additional days are equal to number of changes multiplied by the number of rookies, squared.

I had faithfully followed the author’s instruction, lofting from the book, assembling the hull over bulkheads on a couple of sawhorses and taping the seams with poly-resin-wood-butter. At that point, most likely under the influence of resin fumes, I decided to start customizing, which is probably not advisable for first-timers. Any sane person would wait until their second project.

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Under construction

The first change was to quit using that smelly fast-setting resin which was a bear to sand, and switch to a medium setting marine epoxy, after reading John Harris’ construction notes on the CLC site. I wasn’t in that much of a hurry, and the thought of getting the fast kicking resin down smooth on the cloth had me worried. In the summer heat, it tended to boil and clump up like instant grits. I never did get the inside seams smooth, so now I just call them “non-skid”.

Helpful tip for cooking grits (not instant): just when grits are about done, quickly stir in a couple of scrambled eggs. Keep stirring as they cook into the grits. They’ll fluff up like a soufflé and have more flavor. Cheese is good on them too, but back to the boat…

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The new daggerboard case (the cleat was an afterthought)

Another change was adding a dagger board case at the edge of the lengthwise seat, sort of like a holster. The case is epoxy sealed maranti and goes through the hull, flush to the bottom (I trusted the sealed marine ply edge much more than the AC plywood). In this off-center location, any water that burps up through the case doesn’t get under your shorts while rowing. The hull and the case top act as a clamp to give the case strength.

About this time in the project, I answered an ad in the Duckworks Classified for an Opti Pram sailing rig, and met ‘Captain’ Ron Thweatt, who also treated me to a box full of teak and mahogany scraps, which have since turned into pads, handles, cleats, mini half-hulls, oar-tips and various what-nots. Some of these have made their way onto the boat, most evident adjacent to the mast “thwart” in the bow…

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Captain Ron on a run

The original design called for a permanent piece here, but it blocked the bow area, where someone might want to kick back after rowing. Studying the problem and the scrap pile, I cut two mahogany blocks, glued and screwed to the sides, two teak “handles” screwed from beneath the rails for lateral and vertical strength, and bought some belaying pins to hold the thwart snug after sliding it into place. When not sailing, the pins make a great tie-off point, and can also be used at the stern knees.

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Thwart block and pin

The plan called for a leg-o-mutton sail, which would keep the sprit above your head, but the Optimist rig has a boom. For this reason, I decided to cut out the 2nd section of the seat so I could stretch out in the wide bottom of the boat and not loose my hat when coming about.

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Changes to seat

Serious note: As the seat I removed is part of the structure, I lengthened the yellow pine skeg to about even with the front of the dagger board case, forming a keel which bridges ¾ of the bottom and two bulkheads. I wouldn’t recommend changing the structure without adding reinforcement.

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View of extended skeg

The plywood rudder was part of another trade with my good friend Captain Ron, who inspired me further by showing me his Nutshell Pram tiller, which just hooks onto the rudder, so I looked through some 2x2 spruce sticks, found the only 2 feet of clear grain and shaped a tiller using a curved rasp, glued and screwed with SS fasteners, teak scrap and some reshaped brass elbow brackets to prevent wood-to-wood wear. Not quite Joel White quality, but pretty nice for a dinghy.

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Nymph tiller

One afterthought I’m happy with was to cut a slot just under the seat that the dagger board slides into. The rudder can stow on top of it. If you slide it out a few inches, it makes a dandy “galley” for a thermos of coffee and a Moon Pie.

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The daggerboard case

Moon Pie Etiquette: If after noon, Moon Pies are generally served with RC Cola.

The oars were made from two nicely cured 8 ft. 2x6’s from Home Depot. Sorry, I got the only 2 clear ones. Loosely following an old David Shaw article in Wooden Boat, I shaped the oars using a table saw to eight-side the handles, then a Japanese pull saw, the curved rasp and a chisel to shape the loom. A band saw would have made it all much easier. Teak tips were added to get just a bit more curve and strength. The back of the spoon blades are glassed to keep the pine from checking. The brown paint covers a stray saw cut, but looks almost planned. The rope ‘leathers’ are epoxied, then varnished along with the rest of the oar (if you do this, take a course sponge sander to the ropes; this gives them a soft velvety surface so they won’t scratch the rail). The grips are unfinished and rubbed down with Brilliantine, a mineral oil hair tonic which smells like lavender. The 2x6’s were less than the rope at $3.50 each.

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Rope 'leathers'

There were a couple of other changes to the stem and stern rails to help continue the visual curves around the ends. I used 4 coats of Behr exterior latex which actually took two weeks to fully cure without scratching off, 5 coats of thinned Epifanes marine varnish on the wood, then added the oarlocks and bought PFDs. My only regret is not spending a few more dollars on marine plywood for such a nice design. In my opinion, the lower price isn’t worth the time and effort spent filling and sanding voids in the AC Plywood, not to mention the extra weight of fir.

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Wet paint

Our first trial sail was more than we hoped for. Heat, rain, waves, calm; we experienced them all, taking turns at the tiller and oars. Nymph moved well under sail, the fat little hull sticking to the water like it was attached. She also will fit neatly in the bed of a small pickup with the tailgate down. Nymph is fun to build and sail, well worth the effort and the small cash outlay, and will definitely prepare you for a larger project. Now to find a nice cove to put into where there are no whales about…

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After studying many possibilities, I settled on Phil Bolger’s Nymph

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My use of the words “gasping white fiberglass whales” is a reference to over-built, over-powered, plastic noise-producing behemoths that leave films of fuel, exhaust and 4 foot seas behind them. My apologies to those quiet and beautiful mammals of the oceans.

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Sunset breeze

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