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Make Things Happen

by Mike Green  mgreen@gdsys.net

This article features boat kits offered by Uncle John's General Store.
The kits are found at:  http://www.unclejohns.com/skiff/wooden_boat_kits.htm
Uncle John's Country Store is at:  http://www.unclejohns.com/


There's one of those cute and sometimes intimidating quips that goes, "Some folks make things happen.  Some folks watch what happens.  And some folks wonder, What happened?"   I belong to the first group,  I would rather do something than watch it be done by others.   I enjoy participating more than spectating.  I do it for the personal pleasure I get by accepting the challenge to do something new.
For years I have been contemplating building a boat.  Now you must understand, Iım not the handiest guy with a metal tape measure and pencil.  But I do enjoy puttering with wood, and saws and drills, and glue and paint.  I have managed to build a few things for use around the house and yard without losing any of my fingers in the process.  So, I consider myself a successful putterer.

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pirogue5.jpg (14148 bytes) But building a boat was a bit intimidating for me because it appeared to be too technical for my level of understanding and experience.  Yet the desire to do it continued to pester me for years.  And for years I kept promising myself, "One day Iım gonna build me a boat."  (One advantage of procrastination is that it keeps one from doing something poorly or wrong).  
Of course reading several boat, canoe, and kayak magazines every month did nothing to reduce the desire and in fact it fanned the inspirational flame. 

The more I read about "tack and tape" boat building, the more convinced I was that I could do it. The magazines are full of boat kits one can order from the designer.  I wanted to find the simplest kit for my first attempt.

  I looked at many and sent away for some of the plans.  I finally selected Uncle Johnıs Pirogue (unclejohns.com).   It was simple, inexpensive, and Uncle John supplied all the difficult parts.   I did not have to do any compound cutting.  Which was a relief because I have trouble measuring the same distance down two different sides of a sheet of plywood!

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I had a chance to meet John at a boat show in Biloxi.  After speaking with him and seeing a boat he had built I was convinced this was something I could do.  So I did.
pirogue3.jpg (16131 bytes)     With a minimum of money and a free week, I built and launched my first boat.   My heart swelled with quiet pride.  The first couple of days I kept thinking, "Im really sailing my own home built boat."  I felt the same exhileration I had felt as a kid when I sailed with a 6th grade friend on a boat he and his dad had built in their garage.  I had a ball building the pirogue!  But sailing it was even more fun.  It wasnıt designed for sail but I found a good and easy sail plan from a canoe web sight and made a sail from polytarp.  I have sinced sailed and paddled Lilly in all kinds of weather, during the day and far into the night. 
She is lightweight, easy to portage, and she slips across the water like a leaf in a breeze.  And for all her lightness and apparent fragility, she has held up well.  With her extremely shallow draft, she has carried me to some quiet spots up the creek accessable only to the shore birds.  I cannot think of a way to have more fun and relaxation with less expense.  (To see more of my adventures with Lilly, visit unclejohns.com/boat/mike.)
A funny thing happened to me by completing Lilly.  The desire to build a boat was both satisfied and intensified!    It was only a matter of time before I did it again.  Recently, I finished another one of Uncle Johnıs boat kits.  This time it was the Skiff.   Building the skiff is a bit more involved than the pirogue.  But it was by no means difficult.  I used epoxy and fiberglass to cover the bottom and to tape all the inside seams. building.jpg (11558 bytes)
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This was a much improved method over the polyester resin and glass I used on the pirogue.  Knowing nothing about epoxy, Uncle John put me in touch with Larry Steeves at raka.com in Delray Beach Florida.  Larry was very helpful.  He sent me materials and a fact sheet on epoxy, itıs benefits and the correct handling of it.  For me, the biggest advantage of epoxy over polyester resin is the lack of toxic fumes.  And the epoxy was easier to mix in correct proportions.  I used a two to one ratio.  That is, two parts of epoxy to one part hardener.  Pretty simple.  I only had one batch go off too quick.   But, Iıll never use polyester resin again!

When I launched the skiff (Guppie) she sat very daintily on the water.  She is primarily a rowing skiff.  But I have this addiction to sailing boats.  So, I made her to sail.  I simply followed Uncle Johns instructions for the rudder and daggerboard and used Lillyıs mast and sail.  Lillyıs sail rig is eighteen months old now and is holding up just fine.   Total cost of it was about ten dollars! sailing.jpg (11054 bytes)
pirogue1.jpg (12847 bytes) Guppie and I sailed across the lake and spent the afternoon getting acquainted.   She is a delight.Iım looking forward to spending more time with her.
Are you a spectator?  Would you like to join the ranks of participants?  Maybe thereıs an affordable boat in your near future.  If the thought of building a boat is intimidating, let me encourage you.  I believe by using the simple plans available from folks like Uncle John, you can.  Go slow, take your time, and enjoy the process.  Itı should be fun, so donıt take it too seriously. pirogue2.jpg (14015 bytes)
skiff.jpg (12982 bytes) I have no special tools, and no workshop.  I used common carpenter tools and built the pirogue on my upstairs apartment porch!  The skiff was built in my neighborıs carport.  And now I have two boats!  Itıs pretty incredible really.  And Iım already thinking of building a third boat.   Of course it will be bigger and more challenging. 
This boat building thing is addicting. Iım happy to be learning that the old saying isnıt true.   Old dogs can learn new tricks!  Cımon, you guys!

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