My Backyard Boats:

The Harmonica Log, Part One


Part One: From before the beginning (of the log) to the flipping of the hull.

  • Part Two: From the outfitting of the interior to the loading onto the trailer.
  • Part Three: From initial launching to present day -- continued fine-tuning.


  • It took four of us to flip the boat. Polytarps minimized damage to paint job.


    Spring 2002: Jim Michalak designed Harmonica, a 13-foot jonboat with 5-foot constant beam and a birdwatcher-style cabin on top. I also call it a shantyboat or a canalboat. He also has an 8-foot version and a 16-foot version. The 8-footer is too small, and the 16-footer is too big, so Harmonica is just right. The first boat that I built was a sailboat, The Weekend Skiff. The Harmonica has no sails or spars to worry about, so I'm pretty far along after a few weeks of work that I put in around Sept. 11. I have the hull finished except for three 1x4 runners on the bottom.

It's glassed on the bottom and ends, which lapped up two gallons of epoxy. It was only the second time that I've fiberglassed such a large area, and it went well.

    The plan is to finish this boat by July 4, 2002. I'm building Harmonica with the Erie Canal in mind, because Harmonica is described as a small shantyboat, and because  Harmonica is not meant for open waters. This design is perfect for the canal We plan to use an electric trolling motor instead of gasoline motor (my wife won't budge on this) Harmonica is designed to sleep two persons in the 5-by-7-foot cabin space (4-foot headroom). That area is just about the same size as our bed, so I have a constant reference as I dream about the space and how to fit it out. Michalak leaves all the details of windows and cabin fittings to the builder. The guy who built the prototype picked a Victorian motif. He has written a funny and informative article about his experience with building the first Harmonica. I started building Harmonica during fall 2001. Now it's spring 2002, and I've picked up the project again.
  • 26 April 02: The bottom of the boat is like a washboard at the forward end because the fiberglass rippled when I laid on the epoxy. After using the belt sander, a scuffle sander with 10 grit paper left over from a floor stripping job, and the trusty orbital sander, I found that the orbital sander did the job best. So far, I've put in about 12 hours on the sanding, but I want it to be fairly smooth, because there are three 1x4 skids of pine that go on the bottom. I bought the boards (not cheap because I opted for Select grade; they should bend without breaking). I need to add another layer of fiberglass tape to the chines, because the first layer didn't adhere in some places on the starboard side.
  • Another gallon of epoxy later, the three skids are in place, a second layer of glass tape is on the chines, and another coat on the bottom in general.


    03 May 02: I dry-fitted the three 1x4 pine skids, then epoxyed both surfaces and joined them again. I used a chalk line to establish a center line, then used spacer blocks to set up the two outer skids. This go-round with more epoxy raised the general level of the quality of the work a few notches above workboat quality. I fought the glass tape for a long time to get rid of air pockets. I hope I did. The next step will be to fair up this work, paint the bottom and chines, and flip the boat onto a trailer. The weather has been cold and variable as to rain. Yesterday was cloudy/foggy; today was colder but clear. There will be a hard frost tonight. This gave me a lot of time to work the epoxy, and the work kept me warm. This is one of those years when we will probably get summer on a Wednesday. Tomorrow's forecast is for sun, low humidity, and high in the 60s, which around here is a nearly perfect day.
  • 08 May 02: Add 12 hours to the time I've spent getting the bottom ready for paint. I still have to do a final sanding, and the epoxy is curing slowly because of temperatures in the 50s and 60s, with a drizzle every evening this week. Got Interlux paint for the bottom and sides -- a quart of primer and a quart of burgundy red. Also put a deposit on a Yacht Club trailer with Obersheimer's. Still on track for a Fourth of July launch.
  • 16 May 02: I've been sanding and sanding -- about another 16 hours' worth -- and I still have more sanding to do. The bottom is ready, and I'm half-done with the sides. On the trailer front, I've gotten a hitch (U-Haul) and work done on the truck's brakes. Trailer due soon. I drive by Obersheimer's several times a week, so I'll know when the shipment arrives. Hope to begin painting in a few days.

Self-portrait with safety glasses, face mask, and heavy-duty ear protectors.


Primer is gray. The covering color will be burgundy red. One coat covered nicely.


  • 18 May 02: Finally, after two weeks of sanding (about 40 hours and 25 sheets of 60-grit sandpaper for the orbital sander), I was able to apply the primer paint, an Interlux product. Interlux Brightside will go over the primer after sanding with fine-grit paper. I washed down the bottom and sides with acetone before applying the primer. The temperature was 45 degrees F, with cloudy waterbag sky. Just to be sporting, in Buffalo, we call this spring.
Looks like plum to me. Boat is not level because garage floor is slanted toward a drain.
  • 20 May 02: Put the first and second coats of Interlux Brightside burgundy red paint on the hull; it looks more like plum than burgundy red, but it did cover well. Two coats knocked the crap out of two quarts of paint at about $25 per quart. Flipping the hull is set for the weekend. Daytime temps still in the 40s.




    Boat ready for flipping.


    All's right.


  • May 02: With the help of our friends Mary and Mike, we flipped the boat on Memorial Day. The job was a lot easier that I thought that it would be, and I was excited to finally see it upright.
  • Part Two: From the outfitting of the interior to the loading onto the trailer.
  • Part Three: From initial launching to present day -- continued fine-tuning.

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