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By Jackie Monies - Eufaula, Oklahoma - USA
 

Where Do You Build?
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When Noah built the Ark he set the curve for all subsequent backyard boat builders as to size and crew carried in a wooden home built boat. But then Noah didn’t have to worry about launching - his Ark was self-launching and even self-beaching after the deluge. While Noah had a lot of build problems, like a really serious deadline, I keep thinking he didn’t have the headaches today’s home builders face from trying to build their boats with some truly restrictive constraints. Constraints like landlords, deed restrictions, home owner’s associations, city ordinances, noise abatement restrictions, and unreasonable spouses. Actually, Noah probably had a spouse who told him to keep the tools out of the house and definitely keep those animals of his out in the yard. The weather, which affects all home boat builders, was probably his greatest concern. Maybe not much has changed in a few millennium although I suspect Noah would have really appreciated a few power tools.

Why would I have been thinking about Noah and where people build their boats? Well, reading builders’ accounts in Duckworks I was struck by how totally determined home builders are to build despite all reasonable odds being against doing so. I mean, how determined are you? Would you build a boat in the living room of your rented apartment and then shove the whole thing in a closet so the landlord wouldn’t see it when they came in to fix the heat? Would you carry all your supplies in and out of an apartment to a tiny concrete patio with no way to get the boat out after it was finished except through the patio door and the apartment? And wait until your wife was out to do any of the above? Duckworks readers did.

And then there is that classic photo in Payson’s New Instant Boats of the boat with its’ stern sticking out of the second floor apartment window in New York City. It doesn’t say, but I always wondered if he was married.

Payson's Instant Boats...anyone can build anywhere.

When Mike and I married I came from a decidedly non-boatbuilding family. I am not sure we actually owned a boat, although there was usually a battered jon boat pulled up on the riverbank, full of dents, dings and muddy water, along with abandoned bait and other debris. It was aluminum. And motorized if the motor ran.

My father-in-law was a wooden boat builder. There was always a large classic wooden fishing boat out in the backyard being built or restored under an oak tree for a boatshed. There was one there the day I first met him and one there the day he died. So, I came to know backyard boat builders and those obsessed by wood in particular. He never worked in a boatshed or shop. The boats were a permanent fixture in a city residential area. My father-in-law was a home builder by profession, but a home boat builder by obsession.

Obsession seems to be a common denominator among boat builders. Mike graduated from building in our garage, where he laid out and lofted his first larger wooden boat, a 21 foot sharpie, to building in our slip behind the house. Then he went back to building in a garage and on the driveway, to building in our yard here in Oklahoma under trees. It was obsession that drove him to build the Boat Palace single-handed, a two story boat builder’s dream. She sits in our backyard housing the tools, the current boats being built, the boat being restored. But he built her alone, just like the boats, building against all reasonable odds. In his late fifties, he hoisted and framed rafters, roofed her, sided her and eventually painted her. It took two years.

The Boat Palace takes shape. One man builder obsession, a boat shed 24 feet wide, 26 feet deep, with a second story loft l0 feet by 26 feet. A boat port came later, 16 feet by 30 feet on south side.

The Boat Palace’s concept was to be a all-purpose shop and garage against Oklahoma’s often violent weather. She was to house lawn mowers, tools, my gardening supplies, include a lean-to greenhouse, sinks, and yes, additional parking for trucks and maybe a boat. Today she houses the Bolger Cartopper waiting to be remasted and two Puddle duck Racers under construction, along with a contingency of tools and boat supplies. The lawn mowers are back outside, the greenhouse migrated to the side of the house (still under construction), the trucks are still under a carport, and all my gardening supplies are relegated to one small counter. They too will be moving out no doubt if the greenhouse gets finished.

Mike Monies, builder, on ship's style ladder to loft. Above ground tornado shelter takes form behind him on southeast corner of Boat Palace.

And it still isn’t large enough. The Toto has been exiled to beneath the “big” boat being restored, the fishing boat awaiting restoration is languishing under a tarp, the canoe and the pirogue out in the rafters of the carport. Another boatshed is needed and the time to build one.

Oh yes, about that violent weather here in Oklahoma. I got my above ground tornado shelter, built into the southeast corner of the Boat Palace. She’s built to the Texas Tech specifications and a seaworthy craft. She has been sea trialed and withstood some winds . Like all Mike’s builds, sturdy, following the designer’s plans. Am I the only woman in America with a tornado shelter in a boatshed?

Reading builders’ accounts I find boats being built under trees, in back yards, on patios, inside houses, and in garages. Lots and lots of garages. So many garages that boat designers take that into consideration when drawing their plans. One designer I read last week admitted his boat had been deliberately scaled to allow it to be built in a typical garage since he knew that was where most amateur builders were working.

Gordo Barcomb is currently building Laguna Uno, the first of the Laguna series designed by Jim Michalak for next year’s Texas 200. Gordo builds in a 19 foot apartment garage and its driveway in Lake Jackson, Texas. The Laguna is 23 feet long. He has to drag everything in and out of the garage as he builds. His solution? He cut the Laguna into three pieces and reconnected them with bolts similar to the Bolger Folding Schooner so that he could store the Laguna in that garage every night. Oh, and did I mention that Gordo is a full-time nursing student? Oh, and did I mention that he not only has a wife, but three children?

Laguna Uno, built by Gordo Barcomb and family, a 23 foot boat emerges from a 19 foot single apartment garage.

Obsession. Dedication. Overcoming obstacles. All part of a boat builder’s tool inventory.

Garages and the Bolger Folding Schooner? Did you admire Chris Breaux’s beautiful schooner in this year’s Texas 200? At 31 feet she was the largest boat in the fleet and certainly one of the fastest. Would you have attempted to build her in a 20 foot suburban garage in Houston, Texas? Moving her in and out of the driveway and garage nightly? Chris not only did, but built her beautifully.

Not to be outdone in large boat from small garage category, Chris Breaux pulls the Elsa B. 31 foot folding schooner out of a 23 foot garage.

Chris said, “I build in a 20 foot garage. This was easy for the first three boats I built, a Flying Mouse by Gavin Atkins, an eight foot scow with sails. The next was a “Snorky”, a 16 foot scow, then another Atkins’ boat, a Light Trow, a 16 foot boat I shortened down to an eight foot length and used as a sailboat. The garage became a struggle when building the Folding Schooner. My solution was to use saw horses to stack each half during the build. My car won’t fit in the garage, but my wife’s will. I would drag the boat onto the driveway during the day (and sometimes late into the night) and then drag the halves back into the garage when through. I have no idea what possessed me to build this boat. It makes no sense. Then I found out the reason I built the boat: the Texas 200. This boat with its’ split sail plan was perfect.”

Another garage builder, Kevin Nicolin, of Oklahoma, weighed in on the parking problem. Kevin built an Arch Davis designed Laughing Gull in his garage a few years back. “Of all the boats I’ve built, it’s my favorite, because it was my first…and last. I created the space I needed to build in my garage by moving my wife’s car into the driveway, which she barely tolerated while I was building my boat. Now I have two sailboats in my garage, and the pressure’s on to get rid of one (I’m keeping the Core Sound) so she can get her car back in. Shesh, some people are so unreasonable!”

Kevin’s present love, a Core Sound 17, designed by B & B Yachts, was built by Charlie Jones of South Texas, in Charlie’s boat shop in Magnolia Beach, a shop that also produced “Pilgrim”, the regal Princess 22 from B & B, built for Travis Votaw, of Oklahoma. Charlie built ten boats and restored three in a 24 by 24 foot shop, with an 8 x 24 foot lean to on the side for lumber storage and his compressor. A lot of the restoration work, including Charlie and Laura’s restoration of their own boat, the Tehani, a Rhodes Meridian 25 was done outside in the Texas heat under tarpaulin sheds. Boat building in Texas has a major heat factor, even if you are near the water.

Charlie and Laura Jones performed sweat equity labor on restoration of their cruiser in an 8 x 24 foot lean-to outside their Victoria, TX shop, using tarps for sun protection.

Heat certainly impacts Gerard Mittlestaedt, McAllen, Texas. Located at the very tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley is excessively hot. It’s where our grapefruit comes from and other tropical treats. Not the best place to deal with fiberglass, epoxy and boats. Gerard said, “Well, I finally lost it. Whatever common sense I ever had. It is 107+ degrees F outside in the shade. The boat and oars that need paint are not in the shade. I went out, gave the transom and oars a little buffing with some sandpaper and then a coat of paint. Sweat drips on the inside of the glasses, stinging the eyes and clouding the glasses. At least this time it is not dripping into the work as it did when I varnished last week.”

Tarps form sun and rain shelter for Gerard Mittlestaedt in his Rio Grande Valley boat building projects.

Gerard builds outside in his backyard, using tarpaulins for shade and rain protection. He has built a number of boats while dealing with heat, blistering sun and monsoon rains, should tropical depressions or hurricanes move into the Valley.

There are Texan builders who build in more commodious, cooler surroundings. Chuck Leinweber, editor and founder of Duckworks, builds in what is the most spacious shop I have found. However, he claims to have not cleaned it in months and says, “It is a huge mess, especially after I swept one half-built boat aside, (Walkabout) to build three kayaks for Lake Powell next month.”

Chuck Leinweber builds in largest boat shed in survey. Great building, but location, location, location. How far to the ocean?

Chuck’s shop is a 50 by 50 foot metal building, repurposed, not built as a shop. Duckworks inventory occupies a third and Chuck’s boat building took over the rest. “I used one of the thirds for a pattern shop for about 20 years and built boats in the back. Now I use the pattern shop with the stationary tools for components and the back for assembly.” Questioned about the Texas heat, Chuck said his shop had only natural ventilation but fans, lots of big fans. “In the Texas Hill Country our nights usually dip into the 60’s and the days are dry to the point that a little shade and moving air will usually keep one comfortable.”

In addition to the four boats under construction, Chuck has built about two dozen assorted boats, from PDRS to a 30 foot power boat. His Michalak designed Caprice led the Texas 200 both years, both figuratively and literally. A fast coastal cruiser, Chuck and his wife Sandra’s Caprice is both lovely to look at and a pleasure to sail. Chuck plans to begin the build on his Michalak Laguna which he commissioned specifically for the Texas 200 in 2010 this fall. It’s not the Texas heat that has delayed the Laguna but the three kayaks for Lake Powell.

Not all Texans build in luxurious accommodations. John H. Wright of Bastrop, Texas is a garage builder. Those familiar with John’s many boat building projects such as the self-designed U-14 he sailed in this year’s Texas 200 will not be surprised to hear he works in a crowded workshop. “Selling tools is just against my nature. I am a collector. I have a 6,000# Bobcat tractor with forklifts on the front parked alongside my cars. When I am feeling weak or need to rearrange my collection of boats, I crank it up.”

John Wright's creations emerge from a suburban garage converted to boat shed and building center for his many projects.

Bobby Chilek of LaGrange, Texas built a Bolger Bobcat a couple of year’s ago which he sailed in the Texas 200 in 2008 as a single hander. His account of building the Bobcat while his wife cooked on a hot plate in an unremodeled kitchen made me laugh because I had been hauling laundry to a laundromat for six months while Mike built the Bolger Cartopper. Bobby said, “My workspace is a fairly small shop about twenty feet by twenty-four. This space has had many different incarnations over the years. I had just finished pouring a cement slab right before I decided to build a boat, so it was fairly open. Since that time my Bobcat has come to live in that space. She lived out in the yard under a tarp for awhile but after suffering some water damage from an unnoticed tarp failure, I put her back in the shop. When I hopefully do start a new boat soon she will have to go back outside.”

"Bob's Cat", built by Bobby Chilek, LaGrange, TX, on a concrete slab for an improvised workshop.

Bobby would like to note that his wife has a fully functional kitchen, including a wonderful electric range to cook with now.

Houston, Texas builder Skip Johnson builds incredible beautiful canoes and kayaks. His work has often been featured in Duckworks . “I work under the house in a flood plain environment where on random occasions there may be two or three feet of Little Cypress Creek flowing through my work area. My stationary tools are the radial arm saw, a drill press and a large belt driven floor fan that can be turned up with the motor on the high side. All other tools are hand held that can go up on a high shelf.”

Canoe and multi-hull builder Skip Johnson of Houston, TX, faces the constant threat of three feet of water surging through his boat shop with little notice of floods approaching.

Skip is not kidding about the water flowing through his shop. South Texas is prone to frequent flash floods and Houston area residents live and build boats accordingly. Homes are required to be built higher than the levels of the flood waters in the past. Use of areas below homes cannot be residential or permanent. Would you have the determination to build boats knowing your shop might flood three feet deep at any time? My comparison to Noah may not have been far off base!

Utah is a far piece from Texas, but Kellan Hatch is a familiar sailor to readers of Duckworks and followers of the Texas 200. His inflatable trimaran in which he completed the Texas 200 in 2008, having brought it in a suitcase by air, is still my favorite “finish through determination alone” story. Kellan does a lot of his sailing on Lake Powell and Jackson Lake, at the base of the Tetons. It is hard to believe an area of more incredible beauty in which to sail inland. Having built nine boats including a Bolger Cartopper of his own, Kellan is an experienced builder. He just completed a XCR trimaran designed by Chris Ostlind who worked with Kellan in its’ construction. Yet Kellan, like most home builders, works in a garage.

Utah builder Kellan Hatch has built numerous boats- kayak, monohull, multi-hull in a garage masterfully organized to allow building in miniscule space.

“We have a three car garage. I use the third stall for my shop. I share it with two scooters and sometimes a snow blower or lawnmower, depending on the season. I walled off my shop stall from the rest of the garage and covered the entire wall with pegboard to hang tools on. I also made large shelves that run the entire length of the opposite wall. I’ve had to do a lot of creative space making.” Kellan admits to having two partially finished boats hanging from the ceiling.

“I also built a ceiling hanger to store 2 x 4’s, tubing, spare masts and stuff like that. I use ladder hangers to hold a bundle of paddles, oars, tillers and the like. My fasteners and other odds and ends are organized in bins from Harbor Freight. On the rare occasion that I clean my shop I’m surprised to find that it’s pretty well organized. I’m working on a master plan to take it up a notch- so I can get more tools!”

In the determination category, John Turpin of Oklahoma City belongs. Those familiar with the Texas 200 stories know that John sailed in 2008 and 2009 in the Tetra, his Wright Potter 15. Tetra was lost on Ayres Reef in this year’s sailing but John soldiers on. He is already building a new boat of his own construction, a lapstrake B & B beauty, the Lapwing 16, in his garage. John has a spare two car garage in his suburban home that he uses for woodworking and boat building. Those who have followed John’s website will not be surprised to learn it is meticulous and organized.

John Turpin, Edmond, Ok, builds in an almost surgically clean and orderly space in a converted home garage. Precise and organized, he has begun his Lapwing 16 build here.

Phillip Lea of Russellville, Arkansas, sails on beautiful Lake Dardanelle, an impoundment of the Arkansas River, halfway between Little Rock and the Oklahoma border. There he has built four boats, a Bolger Light Dory, his own rendition of the Bolger June Bug and a CLC Mill Creek 13. The fourth boat was an 18 foot open boat loosely based on the hull lines of Michalak’s Toon 2. “I built the first three boats in a garage. I built the last one in a two-sided shed which didn’t throw so much dust on the stuff my wife wants to store in the garage. The shed has a heavily sloped concrete floor, so I made some saw horses that gave me a level building frame.”

Sawhorses of varied heighths solve the unequal flooring levels in Phil Lea's Russellville, Arkansas lean-to boat shop. Cleanup is simple, swept out the side.

There is no way anyone could write anything about small boat builders and use the word ”determination“ and not mention Puddle Duck Racers. I think determination is what makes the PDRS sail-both the boats and the builders. If there was a beauty contest for boats, they probably wouldn’t win many prizes, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder. As of today, over 350 determined souls have built and registered PDRS. One of them was my husband, currently building two OZ racers out in the Boat Palace.

Someone asked on the Duck Forum “Do you have to be crazy to build a Duck?” Maybe. Definitely obsessed and determined. A topic too large for today, so look for a separate discussion of Duckers and where they build and how and maybe why?

Determination in building and sailing are a given for any Puddle Duck builder. The original Three Ducksterteers of the Texas 200, John Wright, Andrew Linn and Jason Nabors pose jubilantly after completing the 2008 sail, setting a 200 mile record in sailing PDRs.

Yves Nerisson, a transplanted Frenchman living in Houston, builder of Kerness, a North Umbrian coble, said it best. “Wherever I go, wherever I live, I never feel right without a boat to think about.” Frenchmen move to America and build boats, Americans move to France and build boats. We are an international community linked by a common obsession that drives us to build and boat, whether sail, oar, paddle or motor.

Frenchmen come to America and build boats.....Yves Nerisson sails his Northubrian Coble in the 2009 Texas 200, built in his Houston, Tx garage.

We will build no matter where we are. We will find a way.

Which brings me to a final thought. Reading forums I found a recent post from a “newbie” who identified himself as “Wardof thestate”. “Can’t be….he’s building a boat in prison? How luxurious are these new white collar institutions of our states?” Asked Chuck, who said he didn’t know of any built in prison, but he did get inquiries sometimes. So, if you have built or are building one…….

Jackie Monies “Boat Widow”


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