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
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
||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
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
||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
||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,
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
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
||John Wright's creations emerge from a suburban
garage converted to boat shed and building center for his
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”