|I donít know exactly when it was that I got infected. It was some
time during the long winter of 1999-2000. I began to think of sailing,
something I hadnít done for thirty years. (Sailing, not thinking.) The
next thing I knew I was buying copies of WoodenBoat magazine and spending
all my time looking at the ads for plans. I began to seriously consider
building my own boat.
At this point I knew something weird was happening, although I still
didnít know I had been bitten by the boatbuilding bug. I should have
suspected something because the only power tool I owned was an electric
drill. Oh sure, Iíd done the odd project around the house, but just the
year before decided that building a canoe was beyond me. But somehow this
Since we have no shortage of lakes here in Minnesota, I wanted a
trailerable boat. (Never mind that I didnít have a trailer, or even a
trailer hitch.) It also had to be easy to build, with good instructions
and some sort of builder support program. Oh yes, it had to be beautiful,
My search quickly focused on the Weekender by Stevenson Projects (www.stevproj.com).
They offered a complete building manual and 3 hours of video taped
instructions. (I almost wore out the tape playing it over and over to see
exactly how they did some of the steps.) Equally important was the Back
Yard Yacht Builders website (http://byyb.org).
The builders who populate the BYYB answered all my questions (ďIf I can
only afford to buy one type of sander, what would you recommend?Ē) and
saved me lots of time and money by pointing me to some great resources for
both materials and info.
View over the transom
Only one thing bothered me about the Weekender. I liked the looks of
the cuddy cabin, but when I thought about how I would use the boat, it
didnít figure in. So I decided to build my boat without a cabin. Iíd just
extend the seats forward and have a roomy daysailer. I was greatly
encouraged in my decision when I was poking around the Stevenson Project
and ran across Bob Butlerís boat. There, right before my eyes, was the
cabinless Weekender I wanted. Bob had already built it. I printed the
pictures of his boat and used them as guides.
I started building on June 9, 2000. Every step of the building
process was a learning experience. Practically everything I did, I did for
the first time. Lofting, cutting curves in plywood with a circular saw,
mixing glue, working with glass cloth and resin, it was all new to me.
There were times Iíd dread taking the next step, because it was something
I hadnít done before, and if I screwed it upÖWhat I learned was that the
anticipation was always worse than the doing. (Bondo and resin cover a
multitude of sins.) In the end, I think building small boats is more about
problem solving and perseverance than woodworking.
...and from the stern
I also learned that you donít build a boat. You take one step after
another, build a spar here and glue panels together there, and one day you
step back, look at the whole thing and are overcome with amazement at the
boat in your garage.
Along the way, I came to appreciate the Stevensonís clever design.
Itís simple, light and strong, and takes full advantage of the properties
of plywood. (By the way, donít you love the way the sawdust smells?) I
also like the way most of the hardware can be purchased from the local
hardware store, instead of the big marine supply houses. The tabernacle,
for instance, consists of two large gate hinges. Thereís something about
that combination of ingenuity and anti-boat establishment thinking that
resonates with me.
From November through March, the fiberglassed hull rested on its
trailer under a brown tarp next to the garage. It was nice not having to
scrape the frost and the snow off of the cars each morning. But every
single time I drove up the driveway, I longingly eyeballed that snow
covered tarp. On April Fools Day we rolled her back into the garage, and I
began finishing her.
Masking tape is removed
Launching Surprise was an experience Iíll never forget. It was June
4, 2001. I chose a weekday and small lake. Since Iíd never trailered a
boat, and my sailing skills were rusty, I didnít want many onlookers. The
plan worked! The lake was nearly deserted. After a small ceremony of
pouring some champagne over the bowsprit and blessing the boat, we
launched her. My best friend Roger went with me as my wife, Nancy, took
pictures. (No sense orphaning our kids.) I raised the sails, the wind
caught us, and we were off. It worked!
It took awhile to figure out that the boat sailed better if I let
the jib out farther than I thought I should. With that behind us, we
sailed all afternoon. We picked up Nancy and the three of us reveled in
the marvel of sailing along in this beautiful, winged thing that had
cocooned in our garage for seven months. We laughed and cheered, and
sometimes just listened to the wind in the rigging and the water being
parted by the bow.
As the wind picked up I was surprised at how hard the main sheet
tugged at my hand. At one point we made a soft landing on the lee side of
an island in the middle of the lake, just to see if we could. By the end
of the day nothing had broken or fallen off. Everything had worked the way
it should. It was wonderful. I was hooked.
Nancy and I and our
We sailed all summer and into the autumn. Finally when the leaves
were all gone from the trees, and the docks were all pulled out of the
lakes, I surrendered to winter. But what a great season it had been!
Awhile back I ordered a book from Dynamite Payson, and he wrote on
the inside cover, ďHappiness is building your own boat.Ē How right he was!
I know now that I have been infected by the boatbuilding disease. My only
hope is that no one ever finds a cure.
Catching a Breeze