By: Doug Day

Build the boat! I don’t care what size, shape, or material – Build the Boat! Don’t put it off, don’t procrastinate, just do it! If I can do it, anyone can. You will never regret it.

First sail

It took a major life change for me to decide to actually get up and build a boat. I’ve had Build the New Instant Boats by Dynamite Payson around for years but had never gotten around to buying materials and laying out panels. On September 8, 2001 after losing 20 pounds in two weeks and feeling terrible I was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia. Never one to do things halfway, I had chosen to have one of the worst forms possible with treatment not likely to succeed and things looking pretty grim. I was admitted to MD Anderson Hospital here in Houston immediately and spent the next 60 days in a radical treatment. I was kept in complete isolation for 42 of those days and basically had my immune system destroyed and rebuilt in the process. The only way I could see my wife was through a glass window and then only when I was aware enough of what was going on to be able to see that she was there. I missed two of my kids birthdays and untold other events. But finally they released me and I went home to be with my wife and three young sons.

When I was released, I had lost a total of 55 pounds from my pre leukemia weight and was so weak I could barely stand, much less walk. Not a diet plan I would recommend! I spent the next 8 months recovering and receiving monthly treatments to re-enforce the initial treatment. I was declared in remission as of February 2002 and remain so at this time. Things are looking up! With the slow return to health, I began to do things around the house again and plan on getting on with my life.

Going through some boxes (everybody should decide to throw 90% of their junk away – you find the neatest stuff) I came across the Instant Boats book. As I looked through it, I remembered a desire that I had had at one point to actually build a boat. But I had always put it off – work, or kids, or honey do’s, or whatever always seemed more important. There’s always tomorrow, right? Let me explain something – you just never know!

After declaring “I WILL BUILD IT!” (and then getting wife’s permission, of course), I choose to build the Nymph. Reasoning is as follows:

1. It's little – how much can I actually tie up in a boat that small (you’d be amazed!)
2. It's little – it will fit in the back of my truck which means no trailer.
3. It's little – this means I can build it quickly, like a couple of weekends (I still haven’t stopped laughing about this one)

Off I went to the lumberyard and so began the journey.

I just went out and got a digital camera and unfortunately did not get any pictures during the actual construction. But my moaning chair saw plenty of use. Like the time….

….I had the side panels in place and was putting the bottom on. I was using the little nails recommended to hold everything together. I had the bottom all tacked in except for the stem panel. Started the first nail and three taps later…BAM!!!!!! All of the interior frames shot straight out the bottom. Go back, look at the book, Hmmmm…. Now I see why Dynamite had sawhorses where he did. Note to self – there is a reason for everything in those pictures. Second note to self – no more wimpy nails – real men use drywall screws.

….I pulled all of the weights and clamps off my first mast attempt just to watch it twist and warp about six inches out of alignment. I had used two of the straightest 2x4’s I could find from Loew’s down the street but fate conspired against me yet again! After another attempt and much time in the chair I finally found a real lumber yard and made a mast out of real wood with no knots. It actually came out nice enough that I decided to varnish it instead of paint.

Anyhow, the list goes on. But as with the time in the hospital – I survived and improved as the days marched on. I finally finished it (mostly anyhow – is a boat ever finished or do you just keep tinkering forever?) and now it was time to go!

Is this supposed to come off?

Let me explain another thing – I haven’t been sailing since I was about six years old – this was really just a wild idea that I had always wanted to do. I decided that it would probably be a good idea to get out when no one else could be seriously endangered by my 8-foot vehicle of destruction. I took a day off and my 8 year old son and I (the only one who would get up) loaded up and off we went.

There’s a 200 acre lake about 45 minutes from my house that seemed perfect. We arrived and unloaded. Did I mention that I chose this boat because it’s little? Ten minutes and it was in the water and ready to go. Most of that time was parking the truck and walking back to the ramp!

The first surprise was IT FLOATS! Yes, I had faith but…. Sometimes you just gotta keep your fingers crossed. Not only did it float, but it floated right side up! And level even! And no little geysers in the bottom. HAH! If only my wife could see this. Her most positive thought about it was that it would look nice after painting – in the back yard, full of flowers. Actually she was very supportive and I can’t say enough about what she went through as well.

I took the boat out first claiming captains rights and I’m way bigger than you so you take the pictures. Hey, whats this? The homemade polytarp sail is filling with wind – I’m going forwards, I’M SAILING! What a rush – I know it wasn’t fast but it was forward progress in something I had built. I was vindicated! I wandered around the lake for about 15 minutes and headed back to the dock and picked up the first mate.

IT SAILS!!!!!!

My son Zachary climbed in and off we went again. “Hey, Dad, this is cool! We're sailing.” I can’t explain how it made me feel. All the time in the hospital not being able to spend time with my family. The months when I was so weak I couldn’t do even some of the simplest things around the house. The time spent with my kids filling, sanding, refilling, sanding some more, and finally painting. It had finally crystallized in the sailing of this itty bitty boat. No matter what happens in this life, you can overcome it, life will go on and you can do anything you put your mind to!


Needless to say, it was a great morning. The first mate decided he wanted to steer, so next stop we switched places. After about 10 minutes he said, “you know, I think I can do this by myself”. “OK, but only if you can get us back to the dock, by yourself, and no wetter than I am now”. Famous last words - I didn’t know the boat could go that fast!

First mate in charge

"Is this supposed to bend?"

Five minutes later Cap’n Bligh was stranded ashore and the Bounty set sail for points east. He maneuvered around the lake and it was as much fun to take pictures and watch him go as it was to sail it myself.


I would like to thank Chuck and all of the other people out there who freely gave advice and support during the building process. Your help was invaluable and kept me going through the trials of the Nymph. Now, what to build next……….

I will say it again. Build it! BUILD IT NOW! You never know what tomorrow will bring.