Tossed relentlessly by towering waves, radio communication
down, rogue ice flows suddenly appear from nowhere, dogging
the valiant skipper and his home built cruiser, "The
||"The Indomitable" goes down and the
duct tape with her.
Struggling frantically to pump the flooding cabin as waves
crash over bow and rails, a thundering crash reveals evidence
of collision and a sperm whale surfaces alongside. Cracked
and leaking, the doomed craft struggles on. Waves
thirty feet high make navigational fixes impossible in the dark
night, position unknown.
Morning light dawns at last and the sodden vessel in now in uncharted
territory. Pale light reveals a faint shadow on the horizon
- saved! Without warning, a great white suddenly strikes
taking off the bow of the craft, along with the bowsprit and the
storm jib. Will he make it? Can anyone continue under
such harrowing conditions? Ripping the tattered main from
the mast and executing a hasty repair, a jury rigged vessel
struggles on with a patch of sail and duct tape.
What is that, the sound of breakers? The grinding sound
of hull meeting hidden reefs below means only one thing
and those breakers are going to carry the craft over the rocks
and ashore! Grabbing a few essential tools from the cabin,
the skipper flings them into the inflatable and abandons ship.
Just in time, as she breaks into a thousand splinters of
ply and epoxy, cast upon the white sands. Thrown end over
end, the inflatable and its captain lie breathing their last upon
the island's empty shore. And the duct tape is at
the bottom of the sea!
||Thrown onto the white sands of the deserted
island to survive by wits and a few saved tools.
Ok, this is the stuff that sailing disaster stories are made
of. They have sold countless thousands of magazines and kept wives
from going out sailing with you. I mean, is it fun and an adventure,
if nothing bad happens?
Stories like this have fascinated me for years, along with the
self-rescue, survival and finally found finales. Which caused
me to wonder, if lost like the Minnow, Gilligan and those ill-fated
passengers, would today's boat building sailors be able to get
off that island? Just using their skills and a few tools?
Could they actually build something that would float, sail, paddle
or row? So, having picked a few known builders of many boats in
many categories, I asked could you get off that island?
Maybe or maybe not.
The iconic boat burner, Andrew Linn, replied: The only tool I
would want to save from the sinking boat would be my acetylene
torch. My plan would be to start setting everything on the
island on fire and just keep burning until someone noticed and
rescued me. Of course, that is my rescue plan under all
||Andrew Linn of boat burning notoriety practices
for survivalist rescue setting fires.
Not all builders leaned to fire. Mik Storer, Australian
boat designer, might actually be able to get himself and the passengers
off that island. I mean, Mik sails in waters like these
in his home country. He does admit: I think that I would
have to change my boat building thinking a lot. My building
approach depends on materials from out of a factory in terms of
both materials and tools. Can I include a Honda four stroke
generator and a fifty gallon drum of fuel?”
Mik added, If I could not, then my tools would become something
like an adze, broad axe, draw knife, a bit and brace with a nice
bunch of hardwood and softwood bits, acres of rope, and lots of
packages of matches. Looking at that list, you can just
see Mik felling trees, lashing them together, maybe burning out
tree trunks for an outrigger canoe. I think he would get
off and probably figure out a sail plan as well.
||The Goat Island Skiff, designed by Mik Storer,
a sturdy craft showing Mik's building abilities for strong
winds and waves.
Canoe builder Skip Johnson when asked what tools he would want
to have saved, replied: first choice would be a satellite phone
and a SPOT. For actual tools, probably a large sharp
knife, with whetstone along with a good multitool and a pull saw.
||Canoe builder Skip Johnson's first save from
the boat would be his SPOT.
Chuck Leinweber is of the same mind as Skip. I'd want a knife,
an axe, a hand drill of some kind and a saw.”
Polysail's Dave Gray has a similar wish list. A good hand saw,
an axe, a few hundred feet of ¼ inch double braided
polyester line, and a big polytarp might be enough for a serviceable
raft.” As a creator of polytarp sails, Dave would probably
successfully fold and tie that tarp into a sail that would carry
him across open seas.
||A knife, an axe, a hand drill, a saw, hand saw,
hand plane, hammer, brace and bit, sharpening stone- simple
tools to build any boat.
If I were stuck on a deserted island and wanted to build a boat
to get off, I think a chain saw is what I would want, said Bobby
Chilek. I could use it to cut down trees and then with a little
finesse, carve what parts I needed to build something. Since Bobby
is a native Texan, this not an unusual choice. Texans have
been known to do unusual things with chainsaws, both good
and bad. Remember the Texas Chainsaw Massacre?
||"I could use it to cut down trees and then
with a little finese, carve what I need to build."
Not all Texans resort to chainsaw finesse. Chris
Breaux responded:“OK, this is a tricky one. This is
where I ask, what kind of island? What is the predominant
species of wood? Is this a deserted island with 110 and
Wifi? If I can't have that, then I would need a hammer and
nails, big ones. Big bolts and nuts and I would settle for
a crescent wrench with these. I would want rope, lots of
Chris added, and a #%$@#$^ plane.
The plane is the one tool Chris acknowledges he cannot master,
yet is one he feels he would need to build a rescue boat. Maybe
it's because I can't get the thing to shave the right amount.
Maybe it is because I do not keep it sharp enough.”
Puddle Duck Racer builders tend to be a minimalist, survivalist
and just plain improvisational group. Somehow I feel those
Ducks would get off that island. Jason Nabors of Tenacious
Turtle fame is certainly all of that. Jason said, I would
want to have saved my shingle hammer. It has a hammer on
one side and an axe on the other, where a normal hammer could
have a claw for pulling nails. I took one with me on the
TX200 and it was used almost every day. That is the best
piece of sailing equipment you will ever own. Well, that
and a real rigging knife. The one with the marlin spike and the
||Jason Nabors using his axe on the TX200. If
lost on a deserted island, it might best to be with a Duck.
Tim Cleary of North Carolina hosted this year's PDR World Championship
races. He is equally minimalist in tools to build a rescue
craft. All Tim wished for was a sharp axe, a knife, a sledge
hammer and a wedge.
Seeing photos of the Duckers carving rudders, lee boards and other
boat parts from drift wood scraps, rigging sails with axes, you
somehow have the feeling that if lost on a deserted island, you
just might want it to be with a Ducker. After all, until
the Ducks I had never known a sailor who routinely carried an
axe. I am not sure most of the sailors I knew previously
even owned an axe!
||Somehow I feel those Ducks would get off that
In the far north, Tom Pamperin had similar but expanded wish
lists for survival. Tom listed an axe, a plane, a spoke
shave and then added:“A few gallons of epoxy, some mixing
pumps and a good sharpening stone might do it. And line, lots
of line. Shipwreck victims always seem to end up
lashing a bunch of stuff together. A hand drill would be
nice and could double as a coconut opener when you get thirsty.
||Carving with a spoke shave, an item wished for
by Tom Pamperin to survive, difficult for some to master.
Paddlers often think along different lines, as does Kellan Hatch
of Utah. If I had a large enough log I'd go for a dugout
boat. Alberto Torroba sailed thousands of miles in one.
My tools for that would be matches, an adze, a pocket knife and
a cold can of Pepsi. Matches to build a fire to burn away
as much wood as possible. The adze for the shaping of the
hull. The knife for whittling paddles and other parts and
the Pepsi to reward myself for a job well done.
||Alberto Torroba sailed thousands of miles in
a dugout canoe, proof it can be done as it was centuries ago.
Deserted island?, asks Phil Lea of Arkansas. A handsaw, hammer,
brace and bit and hand plane. Scoop of vanilla and a scoop
of chocolate. Don't waste my time. Borrowed from City Slickers.”
Simple tools make up Kevin Nicolin's list as well. I guess
I'd want to salvage a saw, a plane, hammer and nails, and, if
available, some epoxy. Oh yeah, I'd also like to salvage
||Builder Charlie Jones would salvage a Japanese
pull saw, several planes and chisels and a sharpening stone.
Charlie responded that if thrown onto an uninhabited unknown
island, he would wish for salvaging a Japanese pull saw, several
planes and a couple of good chisels. Plus a sharpening stone as
that makes the chisels and planes work. No stone, no good
on the chisels or planes.”Charlie Jones is someone
I would expect would not only get a rescue craft built, but it
would look like a boat.
Now, what is the relevance of thinking about how to build a boat
with limited tools and no power or no convenience speed building
methods we have all come to rely on? It was reading about
instant boats, stitch and glue methods and other time saving techniques.
I am not that old, yet I realized the entire boat building world
had been changed by these very methods within my lifetime. Our
ancestors built boats for centuries with only a few hand tools,
no power, no epoxy. Those boats successfully sailed and
may or may not have been beautiful or finely crafted, although
I suspect many were. Could today's builders of home built
crafts duplicate anything similar?
There is something to be said for planing, scraping, cutting
and fitting wood. It is a satisfying activity, hypnotic
and soothing, whether done on a deserted island or your home garage.
Yet many builders seem to avoid it, reaching for the power tools
and eschewing hand work.
So, I started thinking of our ancestors, who tied together bundles
of reeds, grasses and whatever wood they had available, to create
craft that plied the waters of America, Europe and Africa. As
well as, the Polynesians of the Pacific, the boats of the East,
including China, and the Indian Oceans.
The Norsemen came across the Atlantic to America, even
reaching my home state of Oklahoma far inland. They did
this in boats they built with hand tools, axes, adzes, chisels,
yet these boats survive today as legacies to a tradition of hand
building centuries old.
||The Vikings reach Oklahoma, leaving Rune Stones
Discussion often arises in boating circles of building Norse
boats or other similar reproduction craft. I wonder about
the skills of the hand tools used to create them - almost gone
and lost. Would today's builder make his Norse boat of
ply and epoxy? Would he build it the way of the originals?
It can be done and they can sail again. Yet, these skills
are today largely relegated to maritime museums and their
||Archeologists prepare to begin build of a Bronze
Age replica logboat using both modern and bronze age tools.
So, like the castaways in all those survival after
the disaster stories I have read that made me swear we are NOT
crossing a body of water that large in a boat this size, I find
myself thinking of survival and skills needed.
||Simple hand tools for boat building, inherited
by a Wooden Boat reader.
But it is actually the skills necessary to build that
I think about. Our forefathers took these as a given, there
was no other way. Today's builder has other ways, but keeping
the old along with the new brings a survival of a legacy of boat
building going back forever to the beginning of recorded time.
This seems precious to me.
||Louisiana boat builder Mr. Courvillier built
this cypress rowing skiff by hand. He used only lumber, not
plywood. As a native Louisianian I had to include this, an
example of the boat building skills being lost.
Ask yourself my question. Could I get off that island?”