“We need another boat,” I said to my wife. With rolling eyes she asked the most obvious but pointless of questions: “Why?” Story by Scott Gavin.

Our very nice 14ft Paper Tiger had served us well for about 15 years, but it wasn’t getting enough use. Besides, I wanted a jib and a big, scary downwind sail.

I check TradeMe regularly for boats (it’s a sickness) and in January 2019 I saw the perfect candidate – a 16ft Ross 490 – good for two to four people depending on the wind strength. It had a big roachy main, jib and gennaker – complete with a launch tube. But the floor was rotten. Of course I bought it – and for only the second time in 10 years I tidied the garage to create room to begin the project.

Murray Ross designed the 4.9m Ross 490 while competing in the Jolly boats – he found the ‘more generously-proportioned gentlemen’ tended to end up on the trapeze/rails while the daintier crew members did the fun stuff. He envisaged a class where us fatties could be competitive. So designed a big boat and offered it – complete with class rules – to the Maraetai Yacht Club.

Several were built – this one is #11 – it may have been Murray’s personal boat for a while. It was in a ‘pick-n-mix’ of conditions – the fibreglass hull was good, the foredeck had already been re-built by a previous owner. The rig was also in good condition. The sails were ‘original’ (25-plus years old but OK). But the genny was stuffed and the false floor and supporting frames were rotten and required replacement.



Even at the best of times wood and I don’t agree – you can’t weld it, it splits, has a grain to consider and doesn’t do curves or corners that well. Worst of all it rots. The obvious alternative was composite – but what combination of carbon/foam/fibreglass to use?

I’m sure there’s a formula or two for this, and while I do actually have a physics degree I chose not to use it. I went with ‘gut instinct’ – a 4mm foam carbon sandwich would be the perfect floor.

A TradeMe purchase delivered some 38mm of foam that was perfect for the new frames. An Auckland supplier sold me some carbon fibre. The original floor was concave and sloped aft to drain water through the aft scuppers.

Getting the new floor in the correct position was a complex procedure. After days of cutting, adjusting, measuring, swearing, throwing away, recutting and more swearing, the new frames were finally glassed in.

Next came the floor. Using the smooth side of two melamine-coated MDF sheets I made a 1.5 x 3m ‘mould’ and spent many hours on hands and knees applying mould release wax. I placed my precious carbon over the MDF and using slow-cure epoxy I was able to wet-out the entire carbon fibre floor. I then placed the 4mm foam on the wet carbon/epoxy and crossed my fingers.


I dug out the foam in the high load points, such as the hiking strap attachments, and transom bracing areas – and filled the voids with solid glass. The other side of the foam was sealed with a layer of fibreglass.

Around 24 hours later I lifted off a smooth, carbon/foam floor! I was very pleased – now I just had to fit it without screwing it up. This was achieved by building a dummy floor from ply and hot glue, cutting, trimming, adding as required until I had a nice fit. It became the template for the carbon floor.

I needed all hands for gluing the floor in. Even the kids were helping to mix epoxy, my wife was spreading it on, while I was ‘supervising’. Racing the curing epoxy, the floor was fitted, held in position with heaps of temporary screws.


The boat’s original aft floatation section had been removed, and the rudder and traveller were causing the hull to flex ‘inappropriately’. How to brace it? I didn’t want to replace the aft flotation tank and I refused to use wood – what would look more awesome than carbon? Nothing.

So carbon it was. A quick Google search got me to Steve’s Marine in Tauranga. It sells carbon tube seconds – $85 secured me enough tube for my bracing and a new rudder tiller. The tubes were cut and glued from the hull sides to the floor, providing awesome support, and make it look a litt le like a racy skiff, which is a bonus.


With parts of the boat being replaced, it was time to think on how to put the boat back together in just the way I wanted it. Originally the boat’s sailing hardware was screwed to the floor and gunnels – there were signs of rot and leaks at all these points, and I would avoid these mistakes.

For hiking strap and pulley mounting points, I made several carbon/Dyneema pads. These were epoxied in place and hold a huge load (again, I’m sure there is a formula for this somewhere?).

I made carbon brackets to mount cleats and other fittings. The original chainplates were bolted through the gunnels. To replace these, I made a carbon plate that fitted the angles of the hull, and added a lowfriction ring, held in place with a truckload of unidirectional carbon.

This entire assembly was epoxied and glassed into the sides of the hull. Again, all structural engineering was done by gut feel. But it seems a very tidy, practical solution with a 100% success rate so far.


After much sanding, filling and fairing the hull was ready for paint. I chose a simple off-white, two pot for the decks and cockpit – it looks great and is not as harsh on the eyes as pure white.

Having spent hours making a nice smooth carbon floor panel, I was loathe to cover it in paint. But there were too many imperfections to leave it entirely exposed. What to do?

After shouting at the kids for leaving muddy footprints on the carpet, it came to me. Using my vinyl cutter, I made several cartoon-style cut-outs to act as a ‘mask’ to leave a sneaky trail of footprints in the paint across the back of the boat. Of course, the footprints reveal the carbon fibre floor, so the boat name Carbon Footprint was obvious.


The original rudder was a fibreglass cassette with a wooden stock and tiller. The tiller was a length of aluminium with some bare fibreglass over wood – functional but no longer up to the standard of the rest of the boat.

So I kept the fibreglass cassette and replaced the wood and aluminium with – well, carbon fibre of course! Luckily, I had a left-over length of tube for a tiller, with a corresponding section of larger, fibreglass tube. This became the basis for my new rudder stock. It was assembled with some carbon plate (left over from the floor), with embedded slip rings for ropes to lift the rudder up/down.

The finishing touch was a fitted bicycle ‘quick release’ seat clamp – which holds the tiller in, and of course another footprint!


She performs well in a range of conditions and is a pretty dry boat – though a bit of a handful on gusty days. As I’d hoped, she’s able to carry heaps of weight (four people and some gear) – and there’s even room in the front for a BBQ and camping equipment.

Setting and gybing the gennaker can be a bit of an issue, but it’s definitely worth it once you get it right! The kids love the basic trapeze lines I’ve added. She likes to sail flat, and is very light on the tiller.

We took the Footprint to the Bay of Islands for our summer holiday. She lived on a beach and we took her out whenever we could – the highlight would have to be a fast, planing genny ride with my mother-in-law at the helm. I did promise not to put the genny up but couldn’t resist it – judging by her smile I don’t think I lost brownie


After a few months of sailing I noticed a few things that would enhance Footprint – if only I had a couple of weeks at home to work on it. Lockdown provided the opportunity.

The original gel coat was never going to polish up (despite trying for hours), so I thought I’d try to wrap the boat in vinyl. This proved a huge learning curve (OK I completely stuffed it up the first time). Second time worked well though and I’m very happy with the result. Not bad for only $60 of vinyl. Once the kids and I had mastered the intricacies of DIY wrapping, it was back to my vinyl cutter for the fun stuff – the name.


The issues with setting and gybing the genny, I reckoned, could be solved with a big prod (made from carbon of course). Coincidentally, I had a donor windsurfer mast available. I took to the tube with a grinder and shoved it in front of the bow.

Again, I’m sure there’s a formula I should remember from Uni for the size and shape of the required prod – but I was limited by materials and cost (as usual). Some expert on the internet hypothesised that you should be able to lift the boat off the trailer with the end of the prod. It does bend a bit (as Windsurfer masts are supposed to do) but the boat can be lifted from the prod. Also, my gut feel said it would be strong enough!

I wanted to keep the front tank sealed from water, so I made a larger fibreglass tube, moulded around an 80mm down-pipe. This became a snug-fit carbon tube for the pole and a smaller carbon tube for the pole out-haul mechanism. It was all glassed together and glassed into the hull.

Fitting the tube was an interesting procedure – as a tallish chap I had to squeeze myself into the foredeck compartment – very uncomfortable. Apparently sending kids into such spaces with toxic materials and fumes is frowned upon.

In the end I’m very pleased with the boat. My wife accepts it and the kids enjoy it. There’s a heap of space for camping gear and adventures, and she’s the right size for racing trailer boats or dinghies.

See you on the water.


Having owned and DIY’d several boats over the years, there are a few things I’ve learnt the hard way that may be of use for anyone considering such a project:

• Sometimes it’s worth trying to achieve a perfect finish – you will see all the imperfections

• Sometimes it’s not worth trying to achieve a perfect finish – only you will see all the imperfections

• If you make something out of fibreglass and it looks strong enough – it probably is

• If you make something out of carbon and it looks strong enough – it’s probably overbuilt

• Pick a ‘theme’ for your boat with a logo that’s easy to replicate (a footprint). You can make cute stickers to cover any ‘artistic finishes’ like paint runs or scratches • A $20 airbrush from TradeMe is a great way to apply paint in a difficult, tiny area

• Never underestimate the amazing distances overspray will travel to perfectly painted surfaces

• Nylon chopping boards from the Warehouse are amazing – chop them up and use them everywhere! (I used one for the centreboard casing)

• Be sure to buy ‘fast’ and ‘slow’ epoxy hardener – think about which one you need for the task at hand

• Buy enough vinyl wrap to do some test runs!

• Next lockdown – don’t worry about toilet paper – stock up on boat bits!