Model Yachting

Building of the Pond Yacht "Keep Clam"

Long, long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, a young lad got interested in making and sailing what were called "pond yachts", i.e. model boats crafted to race or just sail on ponds. This was such a popular activity from the late 1800's into the 1950's that cities built ponds specifically for the purpose and in many areas crowds gathered for key races featuring models representing different countries. The international competition was keen, with boats designed by famous marine architects who normally worked on things like the Amerca's Cup races.

The young lad (Have you guessed who it might be?) never got too far with it. Researching boat design and such was not as easy in the early 1950's as it is today on the internet. However, boats were built, more or less properly designed, with pointy front ends and blunt sterns and a stick in the middle with pieces of cloth hung above the deck. They only had two outstanding points to recommend them: 1. They did get across the pond, and 2. a few years after he started sailing them, they provided a successful basis for the first few dates the young lad had with the girl who has been his wife for 56 years. I guess an afternoon at Forest Hills Park Pond was more appealing than the usual local movie date of the time.

When I gave up bow making last year and was digging around for interesting things to do, I discovered that there was a current revival of interest in pond yachts and that Seattle, with the sponsorship of The Center for Wooden Boats, had built a wonderful new model yacht pond in South Lake Union Park. (You can google "Lake Union Park Boat Pond" and see wonderful pix.)

Thus inspired, I decided to try my hand at this again. I gathered books, You Tube videos and boat plans for some months and finally, on June 27, 2014, reached the point of launching my career as a boat builder. :^) As always, I documented my progress for those intrepid souls who wished to follow along and a few intrepid folks did, even though the building took something over a month and the reporting built up to 25 pages of web presentation with over 90 pictures. This record was in great (if not exhausting) detail and included every mistake and subsequent correction I made. It was of interest to a few folks who might try the project themselves, but for a condensed and edited review of the whole thing I put together this page with 25 photos of the key points. This presentation will lead you though the entire process of building an old time model pond yacht from a paper plan and two boards to a lovely day's sailing on the Seattle pond. I hope you enjoy learning a bit about pond yachts and my adventure in making one.

You might wonder about the name, "Keep Clam". The story here is that one of Seattle's real characters was an entertainer/enterpreneur named Ivar Haglund. He was a folk singer and story teller who opened a seafood restaurant named "Acres of Clams". It became a noted chain here and Ivar went on to become a public figure who served on city boards and was a major promoter of Seattle tourism. He was famous for crazy advertising stunts, one of which was annually dressing up a bunch of college kids to look like clams with legs and staging "The Running of the Clams". This became an annual event until his death and is still fondly remembered by folks in Seattle. Anyway, Ivar was a well known Seattle character whose catch phrase and motto was "Keep clam!" The color scheme of his restaurants is blues and white. so this boat was planned to be blue with white trim and named "Keep Clam". In the event, white turned out to be too stark, but I like variations of blue, so I went with dark blue and shades of lighter blue for both the deck and sails.

Dick Wightman



You start with a plan. This is the plan for a boat called the "Detroit 24" because it is 24" long based on a scale of 1" = 1'. The plan was part of a book written by two Detroit high school shop teachers. Actually, boats of this type, in various sizes, were built in school shops all over the US from the early 1900's to the 1960's. There was actually a government sponsored program to promote it as there was concern for moving the skills of youth from an agricultural to a manufacturing economy and this project involved working with wood, metal and fabric using a wide variety of tools. I varied the plan somewhat to accomodate my own tools and skills, primarily by substituting a metal and lead keel for the wood and lead one intended. This caused some fairly major difficulties but my knowledge of sailing and boats, based on sailing for 45 years, living aboard for 10 and having a wife who has been working in the marine field for 35 helped me work around them.



Having a plan, the next need is a place to work. I used the cutting table in my sewing shop. Rulers, dividers and compasses are used to transfer the lines of the boat, as shown in the plan, to the pine boards used to build it.


Various identifiable points from the plans are transfered to a grid on the board. Pins and a flexible guide then establish the curved lines so they can be drawn.


One set of lines is called a "lift" and a stack of lifts makes up the basis for the boat. On the plan, the solid lines establish the outside edges of a lift. Dotted lines establish the inside that will be sawed out. There were six lifts on this plan, but I didn't use the bottom one because of the change I planned in how I would make the keel.



Smaller lifts from lower down on the hull can sometimes be cut out from the inside "waste" of the larger lifts. Here you can see a large lift (actually the lift just below the deck level) drawn out with a lift from three levels down drawn within its waste area.



When all of the lifts are cut out, they are stacked up and glued together, resulting in this stack. The stacking and smearing on of glue has resulting in this being termed the "bread and butter" method of model boat building. It is long obsolete in this age of plastics and fiberglass, but I am a traditionalist and wanted to do it the way I would have as a youngster.



Forward view of the stack.



This is what the inside of the stack looks like. Obviously, everything is still square edged.


Now the real work begins... making square edges rounded. This is old fashioned woodworking with a chisel and mallet.


The outside edges are a bit easier since you can use a plane there. However, they are also more critical since they establish the shape that will go through the water. The planes, and/or rasps, establish the rough shape. After that, it's sandpaper time.

The plans, in addition to supplying the lines that form the lifts, supply lines showing the shape of the hull at regular points along its length, but as if the hull were sliced through at that point. By making templates of those shapes, you can sand till the template fits the hull. The template points are called "stations". There were 9 stations on this boat.

With six lifts and nine stations, you have 15 sets of reference points to help you end up with a smooth, symetrical hull.
















Hopefully about like this...


In the last picture, the deck is still flat. A nicely designed sailboat has a gently curved deck. This curve is called the "sheer" and in this instance I sanded in a nice sheer line, which you can see in the form of the gap between the hull and the table.


Progress continued with the installation of deck supports and a set of skids on what would be the lower deck. These are to hold a platform that may or may not get installed to hold radio conrol gear.

Modern models use radio control, a huge advance over various mechanical steering systems of old. My own plan was to keep this a "free sailing" model, i.e. one that had to control itself once it was placed in the water. This was the type of model of my youth. Various mechanical systems could do this. I chose an early one called the Braine system, after its devoper. These systems are no longer available, so I would have to build that as well as the boat.



The deck was sawn out of 1/8" plywood on a large scroll saw. An opening had to be made available in case in future I did decide in favor of radio control.



The sides of a bread and butter built boat are thicker than a modern plastic molded one, so there is less room to install radio gear. I got around this by adding a deck house to the plan to accomodate the height of radio servos. The house will be sealed up until or unless I decide on going to RC.



My metal keel proved to be a real problem. Here you see Mark I. The concept was sound... a aluminum keel with a bolted on weight. However, for whatever reasons the keel weight shown in the book was 3.5 lbs, which turned out to be hugely heavy for the boat. I ended upbuilding a Mark II that was still too heavy and finally a Mark III, weighing 2.25 lbs, which fortunately turned out about perfect. The keel weight and depth have to estabiish an acceptable balance tween a boat that floats too low in the water and one that is so easily tilted (heeled) by the wind that it both loses driving power and takes water over its downside rail.



Here is the start of m mechanical Braine steering system, the control quadrant. As noted previously, I had to make this and much of the other brass mechanics and fittings for the boat. This will connect direct to the rudder and by lines to the mainsail boom. It will also have a high tech tension system (a rubber band :^) rigged so that once you set a course, using the quadrant, and the boat takes off, if there is a wind gust that would make it tend to head into the wind more than the course you set, the boom will pull on the quadrant, which will move the rudder and counter the force of the wind until it lessons, then the rubber band will return to the origiinal setting. Quite ingenious, really.



Priming and sealing of the wood has been done at various earlier stages. Now that the shaping work is all done the hull has been painted a rich and a light blue.


The rudder has been installed and connected to the quadrant. You can also see some of the other brass fittings starting to show up.


All of the deck fittings have been installed. Most models use a gimmick called a "bowsie" to control lines. Essentially, it's like a tent rope tensioner. I wanted my boat to be more like real ones, so all of my running rigging actually works exactly as on a real sailboat... halyards to raise the sails and sheets to control them and all fastened off to little brass cleats I made myself.


Here you are looking at a couple of the cleats on the mast, with halyards coiled on them, the traveler for the jib boom and the brass "gooseneck" assembly for the main boom. The long "jacks" full of holes are actually excessive in length for this boat. However, while it will start out as a sloop (two sails) I also plan to build an old time gaff rigged cutter rig (three sails) for it. This will require moving the mast aft and having more space forward to accomodate two working headsails.



My final at home chore was to lay out and sew the sails. Sails actually have a shape if they are to work well. They need to form an "airfoil", just as an airplane's wing does. Therefore, they are not actually the simple triangle they appear to be. The corners also have to reinforced and the main needs to have "battens" to keep its after edge or "luff" flat so that the wind can flow smoothly off of it. A badly cut sail is wrinkled, flutters and is not efficient.



My goal when I started was to be in the water by the 4th of July. Yesterday, July 3, saw Keep Clam actually floated on the Lake Union Boat Pond. I was very pleased. She floated at an excellent depth, sailed smoothly and proved to not be tender, i.e. she didn't heel excessively in the small gusts that we had. Here she is "beating", heading into the wind. I am very pleased with my sails.



Wind is dieing but she is still footing along nicely on a beam reach.





Even when the wind is almost gone, she can create a beautiful picture with her reflection on the smooth water, setting off the view of Seattle's Space Needle.



I hope you've enjoyed this presentation of the making of an old time bread and butter pond yacht.

Dick Wightman


Direct comments/questions to: