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The Merrimack Belle
Short photo essay of our 2000 entry into the Merrimack Library Cardboard boat Race..


Jimmy and Ken, sitting in a tree,
C - U - T - T - I - N - G
First comes glue, then comes paint
My Word! She floats!  I'm gonna faint!

The Merrimack Belle.  A name that brings to mind elegance, style and grace.  When Ken and I started this project I'm sure we both had different visions of what the final product was going to look like.  I think we were both surprised when the actuality was far more beautiful than what we imagined.

This boat took a lot of time and hard work.   Cardboard boats can be assembled in a day.  Some take longer.  Then there is the Merrimack Belle.  14 feet of heavy duty, reinforced, decorated cardboard.   Yep, she took more than a day.  More than a score of days.  Heck, she took a summer full of days!  But worth the effort, if only to be able to marvel at her and see the looks she attracted when launched that beautiful September day.

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Enjoy!

Hull Construction

Thumbnail Description
P7200004.jpg (8921 bytes) The hull was constructed using double thick corrugated cardboard.  We had access to large sheets, simplifying construction.  Using these large sheets of cardboard, we made 1/2 of the hull, with thick, double lapped seams along the corners.
P7200006.jpg (31816 bytes) Here is the main hull with the second (other half) half hull attached to the first with about 8-10 inches of overlap.   Before completing this section of the hull, we repeated the same steps with ANOTHER 2 half sections that just fit into these, making the hull a total of 4 layers thick.
P7200008.jpg (20755 bytes) Ken applies one of many coats of paint to the interior of the main hull
P8060014.jpg (29214 bytes) Ken reinforces the seam between halves with a strip of wood (later removed after the adhesive dried) as I glue small plugs into holes created during the construction phase.
P8180019.jpg (18613 bytes) Along the entire base of the main hull we laid a series of 4 inch thick corrugated cardboard strips (8 feet long) spanning the full length and width of the hull.  Over this, we placed a "floor".   The duct tape is in place to force the sides into the adhesive sealing the floor.   The blocks of wood were in place to prevent the tape from deforming the cardboard sides.
P8200041.jpg (29061 bytes) About this time, the hull was becoming too heavy to be easily moved around the driveway, so I designed and constructed this wheelbarrow that would act as a mobile construction lift for the remainder of the project.
P8220065.jpg (30218 bytes) The main hull is complete.   Here I am using a power saw to cut off the top 2 inches of the hull wall.  The hull was, by design, several inches taller than desired.  This way we could construct this hull without concern for how the top edge looked, knowing that we would be cutting a smooth edge in the finishing process
P8220066.jpg (27877 bytes) Adding a final bead of glue to the critical center seam.
P8180020.jpg (21880 bytes) This is one of two wings designed to give the Belle her length and upswept bow and stern.  This was kept to a single sheet of double layer cardboard as these would contribute less than 10% of the overall buoancy, the added strength of a second layer was not needed.
P8270027.jpg (26089 bytes) Here you can see how the glue tabs on the wing is used to attached it to the main hull.  If you look inside the main hull, you can see we've already added our bench seats.
P8270026.jpg (25365 bytes) Here she is with one of two wings attached
P8270028.jpg (23910 bytes) The second wing is attached.   You can still see the clamps we have in place as the adhesive dries
P8280005.jpg (26355 bytes) The wings will have a "roof" on them (flat sheet of cardboard) which will be used to support the "crew cabins".  We put in this sheet of angled cardboard to provide support to this 'roof' as well as to provide strength to the wing in general.
P8310001.jpg (22851 bytes) Now, THIS was a tricky job... get the completed hull off of the wheel barrow onto sheets of waste cardboard, for painting.   Getting it BACK onto the wheel barrow was the *real* trick...
P8310002.jpg (21860 bytes) Here is the hull with several coats of primer, waiting for a few finish coats of white.

 

Crew Cabin Construction

P8220001.jpg (27471 bytes) As the hull was being constructed, we began doing some of the decorative sections in parallel.  This is the beginning of the two crew cabins that sat atop the wings of the hull.  Here you can see one of three semi-circles cut out that will be used to form the general shape of the cabin.   The small squares of cardboard are glued in place, marking the location and curvature of the inner wall.  The flat sheet that it is sitting on will become the outer wall.
P8220003.jpg (27797 bytes) Getting double thick corrugated cardboard to have a gentle roll to its shape is no easy task.  I discovered that the sheet would just fit between the slats in one of my picnic table benches and it functioned as a break for these sheets making this job go much quicker.
P8180016.jpg (24733 bytes) Here I have two of the semi-circles attached with the inner wall, using concrete blocks to hold everything to shape as the adhesive dries
P8190023.jpg (18917 bytes) After the adhesive is dry, I apply several coats of white.  This step needs to be finished at this time as it will be difficult to reach this area after a few more steps
P8180017.jpg (29629 bytes) This is a shot from behind the cabin during the gluing process.
P8190025.jpg (21923 bytes) After painting the inner wall I apply decals that I printed on my computer after laying them out with a graphic editing tool.  These were applied using a glue stick...  Well, glue sticks...  A lotta glue sticks...
P8200037.jpg (25826 bytes) After that is all set, I apply the outer wall (using the outer curvature of the semi-circles to shape it, cutting out "peep" holes so that I can line things up.  If you look closely, you can see pencil marks locating the columns that I will be cutting out shortly
P8200039.jpg (25752 bytes) This photo shows the back of this assembly, showing the third semi-circle at the bottom.  This will actually be the TOP of the cabin when complete.
P8200040.jpg (27095 bytes) After this step has dried, I can cut out the waste material between the columns.  This picture gives you a good view of the shape of the columns
P8210049.jpg (23153 bytes) A little bit more paint and she's nearly done.
P8270023.jpg (30952 bytes) A few more decals and markings and we're done!
P8270022.jpg (33298 bytes) A lot of work, but worth it.   This cabin will really set off the appearance of the Belle.  Wait a minute...   OH MAN! I need to make TWO of these things!... back to work, I guess!

 

Paddle Wheel Construction

P8220063.jpg (24184 bytes) More than just decorative (like the cabins), these paddlewheels are the motive power of the Belle.  Here is a photo of the sections of lumber that make up one half of one wheel.  To answer the question that you may be asking...  The use of wood on this part of the Belle does NOT violate the rules of the cardboard boat race, as determined by the judges.  The rules clearly state that wood can not be used in any structural part of the boat but that wood can be used for decoration and FOR PADDLES.  To require this boat to use cardboard paddles would mean that all other boats (including canoe type boats) would have to use cardboard paddles.  Clearly unreasonable
P8220064.jpg (33846 bytes) Here we have the spokes and paddles in place.  You can clearly see the two hubs (from above) but with the addition of the paddles themselves.  The paddles slide into the groves routed into the spokes (as seen in the previous picture)
P8250001.jpg (40831 bytes) Here, the INSIDE of the paddle wheel is reinforced with strips of wood.  If you look at the far hub you can see the PVC cup that was used to lock in the axial
P8250007.jpg (37148 bytes) Here, the OUTSIDE of the paddle wheel is reinforced with strips of wood, like the inside.  The difference here is that these will be the most visible so we added a touch of class by making a nice pattern in the wood.
P8270020.jpg (26016 bytes) Two layers of primer later, the wheels are ready for paint
P8270021.jpg (30736 bytes) Fist two coats of white.
P9010008.jpg (30863 bytes) Bright blue trim to be followed by bright red paddles
P7280020.jpg (23247 bytes) Close up detail of the hub with the Merrimack Belle decal
P7280021.jpg (17378 bytes) Close up of the markings at the end of the spokes
P7280022.jpg (27301 bytes) Here is the finished wheel (1 of 2) with the red paddles clearly visible

 

Smoke Stack Construction

P8250008.jpg (32160 bytes) The two smoke stacks were constructed using long carpet tubes.  Using some tricks I've learned from model rocketry, I was able to construct a larger diameter tube with shroud adapters (made from old campaign signs).
P8250009.jpg (34292 bytes) Here we've shaped a crown from a sheet of plexy glass and attached it to the stack
P8250010.jpg (34734 bytes) Finally, the beads (wood) to accent the crown.  Only thing left is a couple of cans of stovepipe flat black paint!

 

Rudder Construction

P8310003.jpg (21413 bytes) Ken begins the tedious task of cutting out many rudder patterns for constructing the laminated rudder that needed to be strong enough to support the mass of this boat in a turn
P9010009.jpg (30763 bytes) Here the sections are laminated and attached to the rudder rod
P9020017.jpg (14502 bytes) Covered in a layer of cardboard, it's sealed up tight
P9040014.jpg (11085 bytes) Then painted to match the boat and ready for installation.

 

 

Putting it all together

P8140001.jpg (22958 bytes) A lot of parts, a big boat and time is running out!  Here we have 3 axial supports fabricated from several (up to 10 for the center support) of double thick cardboard.  The "L" shaped lip at the bottom of them provide a good gluing surface to attach them to the inside floor of the main hull.
P9020016.jpg (23215 bytes) Here they are attached with a length of PVC used to hold them in proper position as the glue dries.
P9030025.jpg (22653 bytes) Here we see the rear of one of the cabins with a hole cut in it (as well as in the top of the wing) for passing the tube that will house the rudder assembly.
P9030002.jpg (24227 bytes) Here you can see the cabin glued in place with the tube in place waiting for the rudder.
P9070005.jpg (16615 bytes) Here we have the rudder in place.   The rudder support tube runs up, into the tube from the previous assembly and out into the cabin above.  A large cardboard wheel will be glued to the top of this support tube so that we can steer the Belle
P9070006.jpg (16522 bytes) One of two peddle assembly's that will allow Ken and I to move the paddle wheels
P9070003.jpg (15128 bytes) Here, we've attached the peddles without glue to test for fit.  You can see the axial supports in place and painted.   We've also added a semi-circular shield to reduce the amount of water that the paddles will throw into the boat.
P9040006.jpg (21675 bytes) Here we're gluing a short section of PVC tubing inside the cardboard holes made for the axial.  The axial section will fit inside these, using them as bearings.
P9070011.jpg (22619 bytes) With the axial/peddles in place, we loosely attach one of the wheels for a quick test of the unit.  You can see some blur in the wheel, that's because it's moving...
P9060002.jpg (24067 bytes) An overall view at this stage of construction.  you can see both cabins in place, as well as the flag pole atop the near cabin.  Some of the flag decorations have also been applied.
P9070004.jpg (9480 bytes) The supports were put in place at the last minute when we realized that we would not be able to store the boat with the smoke stacks in place.  This way we would be able to quickly install and remove them as necessary.
P9080006.jpg (26975 bytes) The U.S. flag and bell in place, most of the decoration and Belle flags attached, we prepare for the final attachment of the paddle wheels.
P9080007.jpg (25416 bytes) Ken drills a pass hole through which we put a pin to lock the wheel to the axial.
P9080008.jpg (29463 bytes) And there she is.  a BEAUTIFUL sight and a proud moment after months of planning, designing and building.   And with only one day to spare...
P9080009.jpg (27575 bytes) A face on view as we inspect the Belle for any defects or problems that need attention.
P9080016.jpg (14355 bytes) Here you can see the smoke stacks dropped inside the main hull for transportation.
P9090004.jpg (33231 bytes) And we're OFF! on our way to the boat races.  The wheel barrow will be put in the back of my truck so that we have it at lake side for moving the Belle in and out of the water.

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