Around a year or so ago, having decided I wanted a hard dinghy for the junk-rigged Benford Sailing Dory I plan on building, I began investigating my options. It turns out that new dinghies aren’t cheap. You can buy a reasonably decent secondhand car for less! So I began seriously considering building my own. After all, I intended on building my own yacht, what better way to gain some boatbuilding experience than by making my own dinghy?

Accordingly, I began trawling the ‘net in search of suitable designs. My Benford Dory would be made of plywood sheathed in epoxy & fibreglass, so it would only make sense to find a design that used the same materials. There was also the consideration that I wanted to reduce the deck-storage footprint of the dinghy as much as possible, so ideally, I wanted a “nesting” dinghy; one that comes apart into two or more separate pieces, which can be stored one inside the other.

A further consideration was that I wanted a dinghy that could be sailed, in addition to being powered by an outboard motor and/or oars. I drew up a shortlist of contenders, and began researching them in more depth, to see what their builder/owners thought of them, and how well they performed. Despite the fact that regardless of design, they all seemed to love their dinghies, one quickly stood out head & shoulders above the rest.

That was the Chameleon Nesting Dinghy, designed by Danny Greene.

I ordered a set of plans via the Duckworks website, and started checking out the precious few websites, blogs and YouTube channels where people had documented their Chameleon builds. Far and away the best of these was the YouTube channel of Ben Clardy, “Sailboat Story“. The 8 part video series of his build is simply excellent. It also doesn’t hurt that we have the same taste in music, and that he has a wicked sense of humour!

As I continued reading and watching, I decided that while the dinghy, as designed, weighed about 45kg, I really wanted to make mine lighter, if possible. I wanted something that even a small woman could easily handle on her own, if necessary. For a while I toyed with the idea of using a foam core, instead of plywood. This, however, would be very expensive and there was also the problem that suitable foam materials don’t bend much before breaking, so getting the compound curves the design requires would be difficult at best.

The design calls for 6mm plywood, so I wondered about using thinner plywood.. say, 4mm perhaps. I sought the opinion of other dinghy builders on this idea, and got answers ranging from “don’t do it, the designer knows what he’s doing!” all the way to “no problem, go for it!”, with everything in between as well.

So, after some thought and a careful look over the plans, I decided that the dinghy itself could be made from 4mm plywood, and only the extra parts needed for the sailing version (rudder, daggerboard, daggerboard trunk, etc) would be better off made from 6mm material. And so, I ordered 4 full sheets of marine ply, 3 of them 4mm, and 1 of 6mm. Uncharted, experimental territory, here we come!

While waiting for the plywood to arrive, I printed up the plans and instructions. Looking them over, I could see that, just as I’d been warned, there were a few (but only a few) errors in some of the dimensions. Realising that figuring out the correct dimensions would be easier if I printed them to correct scale instead of simply printed on A4 paper, I reprinted them at exact scale. Now I could just use a ruler to work out correct dimensions, if required!

Scale plan pages vs A4 pages
Correctly scaled plan sheets vs A4 sheets. Each scaled sheet (8 of them, all told) required 3 carefully trimmed & taped together A4 pages to create!

Total time spent printing and taping plans together: 2 hours.

Next: Lofting and cutting out the panels.

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