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Building the Glen-L Saboteer

On June 15, 2020, in Builder Blogs, by Gayle Brantuk

The Construction of

Hull 001 for my Girls

By Erik Palin

Pandemics and the resultant quarantines applied are good for more than protecting your health… they give you a chance to reboot and do things you have not previously “had time” to do before. This is one such short(ish) story…

I fondly recall the summer of 1985 on the Outer Cape of Massachusetts like it was yesterday, hot and humid, an afternoon thunderstorm and a summer of hard work on my Father’s fishing boat, scraping barnacles, painting, working on engines, and my favorite – digging soft shelled steamer clams, all of it lay in wait, and all was well in the world for a young lad.

The Cape is well known for its rather more frugal “locals” as we were, and the well-heeled “out-a-towners” from the cities of Boston, Hartford and New York amongst others. Every summer the traffic jams would start, and the prices would skyrocket as thousands of vacationers supported the local economy, and enjoyed the charms of salty air, the delights of the National Seashore and other waterfront activities while gorging on fried clams, lobster, “chowder” and other seafood delicacies.

As a young man, I had never really met or dealt with the “out-a-towners” in person, but unbeknownst to me, that was about to change. My Mother, knowing I had an interest in sailing which would not be met at home (as my Father was a dedicated Knight in the Order of the Internal Combustion Engine), had secretly enrolled me in a rather pricy little yacht club summer school packed with rich kids from NY/NJ and other places. I was to be the only “local,” but all of us being 14-16 yrs in age it didn’t really matter a bit. There was also a red-head named Justine in the club that summer with a lovely smile, but this is not that type of article… 😊

Above: A view of Big Pleasant Bay from shore with boats riding on their moorings.
Above: The lovely sailing grounds of Little (Foreground) & Big (Mid-Background) Pleasant Bay, Cape Cod, MA.

After many days (it felt like weeks) of learning the ropes, learning basic sailing theory and other similar things, we finally got ferried out in the Boston Whaler to several little Beetle Cat sailboats lying on moorings at the head of Frostfish Cove an idyllic little cove just off Little Pleasant Bay. The excitement was infectious, several teams of boys and girls, three to four in total were dropped off at each boat and a few instructors would bark directions and assist for those totally lost.

Slowly, fumbling, we started on our way, moorings released, sails up, near misses and a few gentle collisions were the order of the day that first week, but soon, amongst our 7-8 boats strong fleet, we became more able, and with the wind in our hair, sun on our faces… grew in our skills and became friends rather than strangers. It was a wonderful summer, such fun, and at the very end of it a regatta on the “Big” Pleasant Bay was held with over 50 boats competing, with the undersigned coming in 2nd place amongst many who had been sailing much, much longer…

To this day, that small, tin trophy with a tarnished plate and flaking fake gold paint falling off onto the floor showing this win that summer remains one of my prized possessions of childhood.

Above: A view of Beetle Cat sailboats in a Regatta.
Above: A beetle Cat sailboat sits with dagger-board up in the shallows off a sandy beach.

However, as with all Good Things in Life, they eventually come to an end. The summer of 85’ came to a close, and life returned to normal, I bade farewell to my friends from the big cities to the South… and once again I was a local clam digger, and fisherman, and a damn good one too! But this was not to be my path in life, as I was also a top student, and a few years later I would head “off Cape” to NY myself for University, never to return back to my beloved Cape Cod.

In the usual way that life evolves, the next 30 years involved University education in Engineering & Business across three Continents, Global Travels and Plenty of Hard Work, and all the usual pursuits of life including corporate ladder climbing and finding the right spouse to share one’s life with, and start a family. But no sailing was ever done again sadly.

Being a Father now myself, with two older daughters approaching an age to learn sailing I started to look for a small used sailboat in early 2015 which I could tow behind my car and launch on a weekend to teach them the basics and have some fun, rekindling my youth while sharing joy with my family… but, oh if it were so simple… for I was living at the time in South Korea based on the Southeastern industrial island of Geoje involved in the construction of the World’s largest Floating LNG Facility (FLNG.)

Korea is well known for being one of the World’s largest commercial shipbuilders after China, however there are few if any small craft available for the common man to use for R&R, so after a year of trying in vain, and looking into the option of even importing small sailboats used or new from Europe or the USA (all extortionate in cost and difficult in terms of logistics & bureaucracy) it came to me one night, that the only way I would be able to obtain a small sailboat to teach my girls how to sail, would be if I built my own. After searching the internet, and speaking with my Father for inspiration (we had built a Carolina Dory in the 80’s from a set of Glen-L plans he reminded me) he said “why not find a set of plans on Glen-L, and try that,” and so that is exactly what I did.  My Father is a very wise man!

However, as anyone reading this forum knows well, a good set of boat plans are but the beginning to building a boat, be it large or small… After deciding that the lovely “Saboteer” model would be the boat to build, I would need to find a place to build it since I lived in a high rise apartment block without a garage, garden or barely a balcony as do most in Korea. I would also have to source material, fittings, sails, and tools of all sorts and also have a helping hand to get it done, and obtain some encouragement along the way.

Above: A screen grab from the Glen-L website showing the Saboteer design.

When I posed the idea to many in the office, speaking with men I had worked with on site for years, I found that there were over 15 folks interested to build upwards of 10 boats. So, I setup a defacto Boatbuilding & Sailing Club in the Autumn of 2015, and with the help of a good Korean friend started to look for a suitable workshop for the task.

After a few failed attempts, one evening after work my friend and I drove to an apartment block tower, met a superintendent who walked us over a basketball court to a set of steel double doors. Upon opening, a strong smell of sewerage mixed with mildew ruptured forth as we took a breath and entered into the dark with flashlights.

Ahead of us lay a large open berth, dark, without suitable ventilation nor power, but with suitable space to store supplies, and suitable space to build boats, so we decided to take it. Over the coming weeks lights would be added, ventilation fans, extra cables run and power points added, and tarps lay upon the floor in anticipation of the “main event.”

On a rather dreary day, after weeks of ordering and negotiation, 8 tons of varied lumber was banded in an industrial estate near Incheon and trucked straight to Geoje to be unloaded on the basketball court. Two hours later the team had moved and stored all of the material, and it lied secured behind those two steel doors with a padlock on it in the basement of the apartment block.

Now we were “armed and dangerous” as one of my Australian team mates mentioned, and indeed we were! I soon set-up a series of evenings after our long days in the shipyard, where we would gather in the shop, build some workbenches, get used to handling the power tools, distribute materials and hang-up a large printout of the Saboteer drawings on the wall for all to see.

Soon, the tentative steps of manufacturing jigs began, with a total of eight to be built, with two to be reused for hulls 9 & 10 later as we only had space to build for eight boats at a time given the floor area. Hull “001” would become the guinea pig with all unknowns and mistakes to befall her, and eventually be made right. (Note: Hull 001 is the Author’s Boat, a tad heavier than the others, but still a beauty!)

Construction began in earnest in December of 2015 and continued on through August of 2016 for completion of Hull 008. In the end, boats 009 & 010 would not be built, and much material would go to other pursuits and components both on and off the boats, but never to waste, thankfully. The team made up of Americans, Australians, Brits and a Korean would gather many nights a week, exhausted from long days spent in the shipyard at work, and then into the boat-shop for long evenings of “play.”

We were blessed to have one of the team from Australia having previously been a wooden boat building apprentice, and many fine craftsmen handy around tools as well. So, all in all, we had the right team, at the right place, with the right attitude, and it showed. Many fine evenings came and went, some with progress, many with a ponder as we would hit something we were unsure on how best to tackle… but in the end we encouraged each other, and joked even more!

Above: Club flyer explaining key events and showing team progress against Gantt chart scheduled targets in lower right corner.

We had several milestone evening events, when we first setup our “chine bending steamer apparatus” which consisted of a de-icing steamer for gutters and downspouts stuck into a composite tube a foot in diameter and stuffed with rags at both ends… it worked! Shelling out the hulls was another night, fiber-glassing “tutorial(s)” several more. As the team progressed, the boats began to take shape and soon individual owners began to take care to focus a bit more on their own hulls once all were glassed.

Amongst the team activities many brought their kids to show them the shop, and let them pitch in holding wood, measuring out and marking up and even (with very close supervision) using a saber saw or electric drill. The kids loved it and my daughters had a lot of fun while spending some quality time with their Father, a win-win situation for everybody. Later they would appreciate sailing in the boats even more as they had truly been involved in their construction.

Soon, the team was building sets of identical rudders, dagger-boards, dagger-board trunks and various other boat components. Our sails arrived from the sailmaker in Hong Kong, and plenty of hardware kits from Glen-L with similar stainless-steel fittings from Taiwan. Not to be forgotten, our Korean fiberglass and paints with our Russian Plywood made these little sailing prams quite the international little boats!

Above: After a few weeks of slumber over the Christmas & New Year’s holidays, the team hits the shop with gusto and boat production takes off as bows and transoms are prefabricated for all boats.

A schism of sorts occurred when we reached time for masts and booms however, with some of the team opting for aluminum masts/booms fabricated locally on Geoje, and others (including the author) making them of wood and then laboriously fiber-glassing them in a spiral wound design for extra strength… late (very late) into the evening and early morning hours many a night.

Above: The team pulls together to carefully fit the side shell in way of Hull 005 with epoxy glue, clamps, and stainless screws.
Above: Many long nights were spent in the workshop by the club members, dutifully building each other’s boats with the care and attention paid as if they were their own.

After all of the good nights of jibes and encouragement, the boats quickly took on their owners’ personalities, mine was called the “Yank Tank” as it had an extra layer of fiberglass and was painted bright red outside and battleship gray on the inside, not fancy, but robust and extra heavy! The original design of the Saboteer allowed for two men to lift the boat up and move it around the shop, however Hull 001 would always need 3-4 men, and moved a little slower in the water!

Above: Many boats take their form by early May 2016 and finishing work on internals is well underway.

By mid-June, the time had finally arrived to taste the salty sea and hulls 001 & 002 were loaded up atop the owner’s cars on platforms especially fabricated for the job.  

Sea trials, finally had arrived! After we arrived at a small cove with mild winds and a sandy beach, we gingerly unloaded the boats and carried them safely to the beach with apprehension. Masts were set in the step, booms and sails rigged and all running gear made ready. All the while, we wondered both aloud and silently… will it leak, will it work, what is Plan B, C, D if it doesn’t?

Each scratch and bump from the stony beach strewn with seaweed sent a little shiver down our spine, after so much hard work, so many nights… to damage the paint, the glass, really?!  Then, without further ado they slipped into the water and just sat there, many hands holding, eyes open, and smiles wide and plenty… they floated, and they weren’t leaking. Each was boarded, carefully, and those remaining ashore pushed them out deeper, the dagger-boards placed into the trunk and the wind caught the sails, filling them for the first time… and away we went!

We were sailing, and never have you seen so many grown men smile so broadly and feel so happy as that moment!

Above: The Author (Left) and good friend MW Kim prepare to set off for sea trials with Hull 001 solidly lashed down atop a Hyundai SantaFe SUV. Note the basketball court in the background adjacent to the workshop/apartment building.

After a good hour of tacking and jibing, luffing and attacking all sectors of the wind, we returned to shore, salty brine drying on the new paint, bilges full of sand and a bit of water spilt over by the crew… We were beyond happy, 100% Success!!

Over the remaining summer the remaining six boats were completed and each had her chance to taste the salty sea, some alone, but most together in mini regattas and family fun days where sailing became fun for not only the owners and club, but friends, family and colleagues. Most importantly, my daughters and I did have a chance to sail together, and enjoy the “Yank Tank” many a time, and that made it all worth the effort, Mission Accomplished!

Above: Club flyer with a view of Hulls 001 & 002 on sea trials, 16th of June, 2016. The team has wide smiles and happy faces!

Sadly, as in the summer of 85’ over three decades before, the following year saw the completion of the FLNG Project and the disbanding of this great club and team. Each owner took his boat home, so full of memories and much blood, sweat and tears in their “home shipment” 20Ft container.

Today, one boat remains at home in Korea, two have found their way home to America (you may see them one day if you’re lucky on the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York or in the warm waters of Eastern Florida along the ICW) and five have found their way to Australia, on both the East and West Coasts. Most recently, one was seen sailing on the Swan river near Perth, Western Australia.

In Closing, although it was far from easy, and we had delays and many cost overruns, struggles to maintain manpower, and a few disappointed wives and girlfriends from time to time… in the end, building and sailing the Saboteer with my girls was amongst one of the happiest achievements of my life.

Above: A flyer showing the activities of the Sailing Club on a family fun weekend of sailing, rowing, and beach camping. Note the boats stacked upon one another in the back of a Korean pick-up truck.
Above/Below: Club flyers showing final Hulls 007 & 008 nearing completion; and a Sailing Club event with a drone taking photos of the boats under sail off the beach.
Above/Below: Club Flyers for a Sailing Club event with Racing and a Beach BBQ.
Above: The Author sailing off Gujora Beach, Geoje Island, Korea in August of 2016 aboard Hull 001 with his daughters and a friend from England.

The End

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