Go Build a Boat

Go Build a Boat

What is it about building boats? Why do so many of us have a need, or maybe even an obsession to build boats? They look great for one thing. A nice dory, sailboat or kayak with a beautiful sheer line... poetry. Plus, if you like to be on the water, or just like to messabout in boats, a boat that you have built yourself adds much to the pleasure. Building a boat can give a great feeling of accomplishment, and not just because you have a completed boat.


For me, laying out fair lines on plywood, building nicely shaped forms that the boat will be built around, or cutting, shaping and joining interesting pieces of wood cause good feelings themselves. When I shape a piece that doesn't have any edges that are square, and maybe all sides are curved, and it fits right where it's supposed to... not ecstasy but close.


I started building boats over 20 years ago (at the age of 60). My first one was a plywood lapstrake rowing dory. I did an OK job of it. Even though all of my non-builder friends thought it was wonderful, I saw all of the imperfections, of course. But the most interesting thing about building that boat is how much I became obsessed with working on it. I had worked with wood before, built cabinets, made a garage into a bedroom and bath, remodeled a bathroom, etc., but no building project made me feel as good as working on that boat.


As it started to come together, when the lines of the finished boat started to emerge, wow, what a feeling! I would wake up in the middle of the night, go out to the garage to see my boat and run my hands over it. My wife teased me about it, but I noticed that she liked how it was turning out as well, and she understood how I felt about building it. It was August in Texas, hot, humid, steamy, but did it bother me? Not a bit. A little sweat mixed with the epoxy didn't seem to make any difference. When the dory was finished it was nice to row and would draw a crowd on the launch ramp, but the best part, building it, was over so I sold it.


A Bolger/Payson Bobcat was my next boat. What a sweet boat! Mr. Payson's book, Build the Instant Catboat, was my constant companion. It took awhile to build, even with my boat building obsession. I got to learn how to make a mast round and how to fiberglass plywood, and it was my introduction to tack and tape (stitch and glue) type of boat construction. The end result was well worth the effort.


My wife came up with a great name, Jaguarundi, which is a rare Texas cat (feline type). Catboat, rare in Texas, get it? Jaguarundi looked great, beautiful sheer, unstayed mast, gaff rigged, and what a joy to sail. I had owned six or seven other sailboats in the past, including a Hobie 16 and a couple of small cruising boats, and Jaguarundi was up there with the best for handling and downright enjoyment. It sailed well even with three adults and up to four or five kids. The kids loved to crawl around on the big deck and washboards while we were under way (wearing PFDs of course). But I got interested in paddling and sold Jaguarundi.


I've built 18 more boats since then. Some I've kept, some I've sold and some I've given to friends. How many boats can a person use anyway? Paddling is fun, but building them...I don't think I have to say much more about that.


Nine of the boats are kayaks. Some were built with the stitch and glue method. That’s a good way to get a decent boat on the water in a relatively short time, fun and easy to do as well. Cut out the pieces, stitch them together, add a little epoxy and fiberglass tape and you have a boat.


I think that the best kayaks are strip built. I’ve built five of them, all designed by Nick Schade of Guillemont Kayaks.

They were an absolute joy to build, laying the cedar strips to make a pleasing design, smoothing, sanding and fiberglassing. And they handle so much better than any of my stitch and glue kayaks. There may be some stitch and glue designs that track and turn as well as the “strippers,” but I haven't paddled one yet. And talk about drawing a crowd... I hear, "Drop dead beautiful," and they are not talking about that big metalflake trihull.


I hope that these words communicate some sense of how I feel about building boats, and how it could be for you. I know that many people have the same obsession as me.


There are plenty of good books available about how to build wooden boats, what kind of boat to build and pitfalls to avoid. I won't get into that. Go build a boat, you'll love it.