In my younger years I had been much more adventurous, selling
my house for a life on the ocean wave. After living in a caravan
while working for Dow Chemicals in Holland for 14 months, I decided
it was time to realize my childhood ambitions and buy a boat to
live on. So I bought a new 9 metre Catalac catamaran and, after
learning to sail and a few minor misadventures locally, sailed
it on the Atlantic down to the Mediterranean ending up in Mallorca.
It was a great life full of adventures, but unfortunately not
sustainable and I ended up selling the boat, sailing it back to
the UK through the French canals, for the new owner, and buying
another house with the proceeds.
It would have been great to have lived an alternative lifestyle,
but when you have a young family, mortgage and a business to run,
it is difficult to focus on dreams and flights of fancy as stability
and more practical matters (earning a living) take higher precedence.
When I finally reached the age of 54 and the children had left
home, mortgage was partly paid off and I had some financial backing,
I decided it was once again time to consider boats and adventures,
but which boat? I had originally chosen a catamaran for space
and stability. After some unpleasant weather on a monohull off
Cape Finistaire while crossing the Bay of Biscay, I was very much
of the opinion that a catamaran was the best choice. A ready made
boat didn’t appeal as I am into DIY and particularly woodwork,
not quite as good at it as my father who was a cabinet maker and
French polisher by trade, but I still get a lot of satisfaction
from making things myself – not to mention the saving in
Now I don’t know about marina costs where you are, but
here in the UK it can be very expensive to keep a boat, particularly
on the south coast, it would cost about £3,000 per year
for a 26 foot boat and possibly more for a catamaran as many places
tend to charge 1.5 times monohull rates for catamarans. This is
major expenditure and a big drain on resources when approaching
retirement. As an added disincentive the boat is parked two hours
from home and locked into a fixed cruising area, unless a major
logistics exercise is undertaken, and then you end up paying for
a home berth when not in use. The only way this could work financially
would be if the boat were towable and lived on a trailer in the
First thing to do would be to make a list of requirements:
2. Self build
If this approach looks too simplistic to you, then it must be
that you have had some experience and realise the devil is ALWAYS
in the detail, and three simple requirements don’t have
sufficient detail to expose the pitfalls. But in my state of eager
anticipation this seemed sufficient, so I set about finding a
catamaran to build. The design I eventually chose had an excellent
pedigree and was a really tough expedition boat. It was James
Wharram’s Tiki 26. So I duly set about preparing the garage
for the build and ordering materials.
Having no prior experience with epoxy resin or boat building
I acquainted myself with the books required and had a bit of a
practice. What I didn’t know until several years later is
that seemingly minor shortcuts can save major amounts of time,
1. Choosing the right epoxy so that it does not blush saves time
washing with ammonia and hot water
2. Timing the epoxy work so that a second coat goes on when the
first coat is still green, saves washing and sandpapering.
3. Making up two smaller batches rather than one large one saves
wasting epoxy when the large batch starts to exotherm and go hard.
4. Planning the work more carefully so that it can be completed
in the most efficient way.
5. Having sufficient space to work. The boat fitted diagonally
into a double garage with 1 inch to spare at the bow and 2 inches
at the stern, every time I needed to get tools I either had to
crawl underneath or climb over the top. Yes I had it on wheels
but could not move the wheels outside the garage.
6. My build took 750 hours over 3 years to make one hull including
preparing the garage, a 9 month gap when my father died and building
a 8 foot Aerolite Whitehall dinghy (Platt Montfort’s design).
Sometimes it was tough going and sometimes the work went easily.
I must say the jobs I put off because they seemed too difficult
to tackle always seemed to be a lot easier than anticipated once
you made a start on them.
My dream for the boat was for my wife and I to spend our retirement
holidays and weekends having fun at a seriously cut price cost
(no hotel expenses or airport fees). Now Elizabeth like many women
(hope I don’t offend too many folks here) doesn’t
have good ability to visualise a 3D space from 2D plans, so it
wasn’t until I had the first hull made she looked inside
with horror, commented on its similarity to a ‘coffin’,
and pointed out that it didn’t have a toilet. After searching
the plans for the missing toilet I had to agree that it didn’t.
She did very graciously agree to spend a half day sailing on the
It wasn’t until I had to move the boat into the garden
that I realised the weight of it and how difficult it was to move
up a slight slope or on uneven ground. As it was balanced on a
2 wheeled dolly it could be spun very easily but moving it was
a very different proposition and I begun to realise that single
handed would be very difficult if not impossible. A further nail
in the ‘coffin’ was that it took a serious amount
of time to assemble and disassemble, leaving less time for sailing.
Taking it sailing for a day was not possible, by the time it was
trailed to the coast and assembled it would be time to pack it
up and come home. It was a demountable boat rather than a trailer-sailor.
I now know the uncertain feeling a small wren must have, when
perched on the shoulder of an enormous cuckoo, while pushing huge
volumes of worms into its mouth. It is both a feeling of pride
in producing such a fine specimen and yet still a nagging uncertainty
that something is not quite right. A change of direction seemed
appropriate at this point rather than continuing, but how and
Fortunately the boat was not fully built as due to EU rules
I would have had to keep it for 5 years before being allowed to
sell it. Despite the predicament I must confess that I still am
drawn to the Wharram designs, and the plans he produces are second
to none for detail and attention to detail. I managed to retrieve
the cost of materials, have fun with the build and gain some experience
for the next build. Why yes, of course there would be a next build
as I was definitely infected with the boat building bug.
Next installment will be on how to choose the right boat.
Below is a picture of the finished hull.
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