Points East Pram: time to start building!

We started Wednesday morning with a stack of precut parts and plans. By Friday afternoon we had completed assembly. L to R: Joanne Burke, Ross Spencer, Ali Wisch Fabre, John Gold, Joe Burke and Clint Chase.

June 2022

By John Gold

Our moment had arrived. After months of surveying our readers for feedback, and then directing that feedback to boat designer Clint Chase, of Chase Small Boat Works, in Saco, Maine, we had a plan for the Points East Pram.

And by we, I mean Chase, who came up with the plan.

This eight-foot-long, pram-style dinghy is designed to be a lightweight, stable, easy to row, and an affordable tender for cruisers. And, since it would be offered as a build-it-yourself kit, it should also be easy to build.

On a Wednesday morning in April, the Points East team arrived at Chase’s shop on Route 1 to test that last requirement. Could we build it ourselves? We (Points East Publisher Joe Burke, his wife, Joanne, Editor Ali Wisch Fabre and myself) were there to build Hull No. 1. The building of the Points East Pram was underway.

Click to see the slideshow of the build process

After introducing us to his employees, Ross Spencer and Kate Grimes, Chase gave us a tour of the shop, pointing out the locations of tools and equipment we would be using. The boat, he explained, would be assembled mainly using hand tools, a power drill and a power screwdriver. We would also be incorporating several types of glues and epoxies. And although it was a “kit,” there would still be a fair amount of woodworking involved, including sanding, planing parts to specific angles, measuring … and measuring some more.

On one workbench, Chase had laid out the plans for the boat. Nearby, on sawhorses, lay the raw materials for the boat itself: Three sheets of 6mm Okoume marine plywood, from which the boat’s components had been precut on Chase’s CNC machine, and several pieces of lumber designed for trim.

Our task: Turn this pile of wood into an eight-foot rowing craft.

We have three days.

Clint and Ross would guide us throughout the process, advising us on tool usage and methodology, but ultimately, it would be our project.

Day 1, Wednesday: Our first task is to free the components from their plywood base. Chase leaves most of the smaller components partially attached to the full sheet to make it easier to ship his kits. Once done, the components are organized, and their edges sanded smooth.

Some components required laminating multiple copies together to create a stronger piece. We do this by brushing Titebond III glue onto matching surfaces of the components, then clamping them together. Pro-tip: you can never use too many clamps. Once the laminated components dried, we sanded and beveled their edges according to the plan and began assembly.

Our first task was to assemble the midship frame – two sidearms and a brace that connects the sidearms at the base and also supports the bottom of the boat. A temporary brace at the top (a “cross-spall”) helps keep the component true throughout the build process. This particular piece had to be assembled with precision, as the rest of the boat would be built around it.

With the frame completed, we attached the garboard planks using Chase’s Tab-N-Lock system (introduced in “Designing a new pram for Points East cruisers,” December 2021), which allows a quick and precise alignment of different components. Tabs built into one component align with slots cut in a matching component, then held together temporarily with a wedge. Using this method, we also attached the fore-and-aft bulkheads.

With the boat beginning to take shape, we fit the bow and stern transoms. The edges were beveled to join precisely with the garboard plank as it made a final curve and twist.

We worked in teams – one person holding the component, another forcing the plank into position and a third drilling pilot holes before fastening stainless steel screws. This was the dry fit to ensure everything came together correctly and precisely.

Once we determined this was the case, we disassembled the components and coated the mating edges with epoxy before reassembling.

By the end of Day 1, we’d assembled the midship frame, fore-and-aft bulkheads, transom, and bow to the garboard planks with screws and epoxy.

If you squinted, you could see the beginnings of a boat.

Day 2, Thursday: On the second day, we faced a challenge. Chase’s original plans called for a chine log, a structural timber that runs along the bottom of the garboard plank, to serve as a fastening point between the plank and the hull bottom. We discovered, however, that the curve of the boat’s hull was too sharp to bend the timber without steaming.

Rather than incorporate that technique into the “kit build” process, Chase opted to join the bottom and garboard plank using a traditional “stitch-and-glue” method. Parallel holes are drilled in each component. After the edges of each are epoxied, they are “stitched” together using copper wire. The stitching creates a temporary support while the epoxy cures and is removed afterward. Once that happens, the joint is strengthened further using a fillet, or thick bead of epoxy, followed by a strip of fiberglass cloth.

With the hull bottom in place, we turned the boat upright (it was turned upside-down and all around throughout various stages of the build) and attached the sheer strake. This required beveling the top of the garboard plank with hand planes, then using screws and epoxy to fasten this member to the bow, transom and midship frame.

We attached curved quarter knees to the inside corners, where the sheer strake meets the bow and transom. These will provide additional support to the craft and serve as handholds when carrying the boat. The knees were a little challenging because they required multiple bevels along both edges in order to fit correctly.

At the end of Day 2, we left with the boat upright on sawhorses, looking like an actual boat. No squinting required.

Day 3, Friday: We began our third day with another challenge: The red grandis rub rail was too stiff to make the curve along the boat and actually cracked when we tried to fit it. We substituted a more flexible and slightly thinner piece of spruce, which would later be laminated with a thin piece of ash.

Then, we turned our attention to the rest of the interior components. We installed seat risers on which the center seat will rest. We also cut openings and installed watertight four-inch deck plates in the fore-and-aft bulkheads to provide access to the interior of the flotation tanks. After epoxying the interior of the tanks, we fastened the tops – but not before signing the bottom of the aft cover. Someday, someone may see the names of those who built this vessel, like finding a message in a bottle, only in a pram.

With the interior construction complete, we turned the boat upside down again and installed the skeg, which fit into place nicely, its two tabs fitting precisely into matching slots in the bottom. We also attached two parallel keel runners on either side of the bottom. These will help stiffen the bottom and provide protection when the boat is dragged along the ground.

Our final task was to smooth the edges where all of the components joined using planes and sandpaper, and we trimmed all assembly tabs as they were no longer needed. Then we applied a two-inch wide strip of fiberglass cloth along the garboard-plank/hull-bottom seam.

Now it was Friday afternoon, and the boat was nearly complete. There was still plenty of finish work: Some putty work, sanding, lots of sanding, applying a clear epoxy coat and then painting. Not to mention the installation of oarlocks and a towing eye. But we left for the weekend, knowing we had accomplished our task.

Because this was the first build for this kit, we were able to identify several areas in which the build process and kit construction would be modified. The chine log will be removed in the final version, and instead, the stitch and glue method will be incorporated for the bottom hull attachment. Chase will also pre-cut the bulkhead access holes, as these proved very difficult to cut with the bulkhead in place. Lastly, the rub rail will be a spruce and ash laminate construction for the kit, although Chase said he would incorporate steamed and bent red grandis for boats constructed in one of his workshops.

We would like to thank all our readers for their suggestions and input. It takes a village, and our village built a pretty cool pram. Follow our progress online at pointseast.com/pram for more details including a full slideshow of the build process.