by Milton "Skip" Johnson

The first weekend of August, my wife, Susie and I went to Sea World of San Antonio with our son Mike and his family. It was the last free weekend before school starts (so early!) and Mike had gotten a ‘behind the scenes’ trip to swim with the beluga whales for his 38th birthday.

The weekend was spent watching the shows, riding the rides, standing inline, etc. The standard theme park trip. We all enjoyed the trip and I was impressed with the Orcas and am still pondering how much power is put into their tail flippers, what a vortex those tiny triangular tails must make.

This article has to do with the very end of the trip. Sunday afternoon found us at the Water Park area, big wave pool, smaller wading pools, water slides and the like. Having done all the stuff we were going to do I was one of the first to finish changing to dry clothes and was lounging around outside the changing/restroom area and noticed a little yellow dinghy leaning against the wall of the changing area, part of the decorations. For such a short, fat little boat it was pretty shapely and fair, I particularly admired the shape of the bow. With some time to kill, I walked over to take a closer look. As I got closer and saw the cross section of the gunnel, I thought, “ No, it can’t be”. Looking inside, yes it was, this was a boat I had designed and built 15 years ago. The give a way was the interior was still natural finish, with the tubular fore and aft seat/floatation chamber and laminated Spanish cedar transom. Truly a one of a kind boat.

I had traded the boat to a now defunct watersport shop in Kemah back in 1989 (I think) for some paddles and lifejackets. How and when the little minidingy made the trip halfway down the Gulf Coast I don’t have a clue, but would love to know. I’ve written Seaworld to ask them if they can shed any light on the journey, Time will tell if there’s more to be learned.

Seeing an old boat of mine in such unexpected circumstances certainly made it a memorable end to a pleasant trip.

Having started down memory lane, I finally drug out my stash of old 5 ¼” floppies and an old 5 ¼” drive that I had kept to finally determine how many boats littered my past. I had remembered when I saw the boat, its principal dimensions (88” LOA, 44” beam, and 22” o/a depth). I also remembered the hassles of building such a short, fat boat, but didn’t remember exactly why I had built a boat I didn’t have any use for. Looking back, minidinghy was Number 7 out of about 37 so far (I’ve only built about 14 or so, helped with some of the others). The problem was Number 6. Number 6 was a dinghy design I had done for a fellow who had grand plans to build dinghies from scrap Mahogany, sell them and make a lot of money. The idea was to build some prototypes and show them at the 1988 Houston Boat Show. Unfortunately, the prototypes were being built by day laborers, and it showed. I was more than a little embarrassed and decided to build as small a boat as reasonable for some use and fairly extreme in shape just to show that it could be done.

Minidinghy’s shape was a simple 1:2:4 ratio; the length (88”) derived from how far an 8-foot strip of cedar would go. In order to build the boat without staples, the strips were strapped to the form with monofilament fishing line instead of the rubberbands I usually use on canoes and kayaks. Since it eventually took about a mile of monofilament for a 7 foot long boat I mentally christened the boat (or maybe it was the effort) ‘monomania’.

Besides the absolute serendipity of coming across an old friend in unexpected circumstances, the experience led me to reflect on what I would do today to build such a boat. First, I don’t think such a boat is likely any time soon since I don’t have any need or use for such a boat. But if I did I would probably build it out of 12mm foam (klegecell) with biaxial cloth inside and out. The foam would go down over the formwork quick and easy and the finished boat would be a buoyant, shippy little boat ideal for one or two people. My first thought about another wood stripper was no, its too much work, unless maybe I used staples. But I’ve never used staples before and taking them out would be a pain. Then again, I’ve got miles of 8-foot mahogany bead and cove strips ( and if the strips were pre tapered the boat would go together pretty quickly and would be absolutely magnificent, for a 7-foot boat.

Enough, never mind. There are plenty of boats in the pipeline. I’m down to one paddle boat, the ‘Bionic Log’, now and really need (?) a replacement for the 14 foot solo canoe I recently sold after almost a dozen years of regular use. The log weighs in at about 37 pounds, not too heavy, but it’s a beast to carry, and a new 12 foot solo canoe would weigh in at about 20-24 pounds and be really easy to carry down to the creek, and more importantly, back up. Plus, it would serve as a test bed for playing around with sail rigs and maybe some pedal power (again). A tale for another day.