Apartment boatbuilding
by Derek Waters
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A few winters back saw me working away from home, living in a one room rented apartment. Perhaps it was cabin fever, but I decided to build a boat. I'd been reading Dynamite Payson's "Build the New Instant Boats"; Bolger's Nymph looked ideal - all those curves from sheet goods. Living on the ground floor meant that I could avoid any tiresome block and tackle work. Some quick measurement confirmed that the patio sliding door would open far enough to permit a finished boat to pass through on its side.

A Plan Takes shape.

Plywood could be cut into panels in the parking garage of the building where I was working and smuggled into the apartment at night, passing in via the same patio door through which the finished hull would later emerge. Epoxy and glass were obtained, the furniture (rudimentary in any case) was pushed back against the walls, and the carpeted floor was covered in a sandwich of polytarp and newsprint. A couple of sawhorses were knocked together and construction began.

Since this was my first attempt at building a full sized boat it would be an exaggeration to say that everything went smoothly. After trailing a few sleeves in wet goop I realised that a system was needed. Carefully blended hardener gave epoxy which could be applied first thing in the morning by a semi-naked builder with a reasonable expectation of having it set up by the same evening. Accidental skin contact could be remedied with vinegar prior to the morning shower. (You may be glad to learn that there are no photographs of this part of the building operation). Leaving the extractor fan on was enough to clear the air in the apartment by evening. Gradually a boat began to appear from the growing pile of sawdust, shavings and used mixing cups.

The Manager calls.

Winter in Vancouver isn't really cold the way, say, a prairie winter is cold. It does get too cold to set epoxy outdoors. It also gets cold enough that if the heating in one's apartment fails one tends to notice, so when I stuck my nose out from under the covers one morning I could tell that there would be no epoxy work done that day.

By now the hull was taped, the exterior was glassed and gunwales had been fitted. A day later, the heat had still not come back on and I called the building manager from work to ask when heat was due to be restored. "The heating should be working fine" came the surprised reply, "I'll need to check in your apartment".

'Lunch Hour' that day was spent in a frenzy of cleaning, tidying and vacuuming. At the end of the process I had three big black garbage bags stuffed full of glass and epoxy debris, shavings and sanding scrap - all the detritus of a little bedroom boatyard. The tarps were folded and packed, the sawhorses knocked down and stowed away. All that was left was a large and obviously boat shaped object in the middle of the carpet. Only one thing for it. I can confirm from practical experience that a complete Bolger Nymph can be squeezed into an improbably small walk-in closet. Stored standing on its transom , those athwartships bulkheads can be used as shelves. One can in fact stand in front of the closet door looking slightly guilty without an apartment manager appearing to notice.

A sharp rap from the building manager's screwdriver loosened some vital component in the heating system and warmth began to return to the room. Perhaps that was what caused the slight flush in my cheeks. Time to roll out the tarps again.

A month later the Nymph was finished; Thwart and partner installed, everything painted and varnished inside and out. All the mess had been finally removed and the shiny new boat sat in the middle of the carpet. Apartment boatbuilding can be a practical proposition.

The last tarp was scarcely folded when a knock came at the door. Once again, the building manager. Once again, a requirement to check inside the apartment, this time chasing a plumbing problem. Lacking the energy to go through the whole 'squeeze boat into closet' pantomime, I opened the door and let them in. Apartment managers must see some very strange things on their rounds. No comment on the presence of a boat in the middle of the apartment was ever made.

The total absence of reaction was very encouraging. So much so that when I decided last year to build a boat with enough floatation to allow re-entry after capsize, the apartment seemed the natural place to put it together. At about 11 feet by 4 feet Jim Michalak's Piccup Pram was a tighter fit inside the room.

Even on it's side the hull would barely pass through the gap formed by the patio door, the balcony rail and the balcony above. Once the gunwales were fitted it was only possible to perform the extraction by taking the door off its runners and doing a lot of turning and twisting back and forth. The three practice runs made at progressive stages during the construction paid off. When the time came, the boat finally left the apartment without a scrape in the paintwork, and without its upper leeboard guard - things were that tight.

No heating or plumbing problems occurred during the building process, but I would be interested to know what went through the minds of the burglars who visited the apartment part way through the construction process.

All the lessons learnt from building the Nymph were applied to Piccup. Sawhorses were dispensed with, replaced at need by large cardboard cartons. Almost all the glassing of the exterior surface of the ply was done prior to assembly, avoiding the messy process of draping and scraping on the completed hull. Assembled, the hull was too large to be walked round in the available space and had to be dealt with one side at a time. Cable ties were used instead of the copper wire ties used on the Nymph (I can confirm for the gentle hearted that planes and chisels will cut a surprisingly heavy gauge of copper wire without complaint). Piccup was built largely to plan with the only significant deviation being the framing of the hatch apertures below the surface of the decks.

Both of my 'apartment boats' have given a good deal of pleasure, building, rowing and sailing. What's more, there's no better way to make a cramped living space feel roomy than to remove an eleven foot boat from the middle of the floor.

Derek Waters