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By Roger Jewell - Barahona - The Dominican Republic

My experience building and sailing the DUET - A compact portable, designed by Ken Simpson

If you are reading this, then you are probably a boating enthusiast. I have owned several boats before moving to the Dominican Republic for my work, but I never thought about building my own boat. I began searching the internet looking for just the right boat for us. I came across the plans for the DUET on Ken was offering the plans for his new DUET for free as a Summer Special.

I immediately requested the plans. They quickly showed up in my email as a pdf file. I was amazed with how complete the build guide was that came with the plans. After looking everything over, it was apparent that this little boat could be just what I was looking for. family fun, cruising and fishing.

The pic below is the cover page to the plans. As you can see, for its size (105" long by 44" wide) it has good interior volume. And, it should be easy to transport.

Did I mention that the plans were very complete, and the build guide was full of tips and illustrations to inform and encourage the builder? At this point I decided to go ahead and build this boat.

The next few pages will describe, in pictures and words, just how easy it was to build, and how enjoyable the finished boat has become to my entire family. What follows is a working account of the DUET building progress, or not!


We live on the southern coast of the Dominican Republic, in the city of Barahona. There is very little tourism in this part of the country, and it is extremely rare to see any "pleasure" boats. There are sailboat clubs in other parts of the island, but the boats in our city are mostly small, heavy, 14 foot dory rowboats that are used by the local fishermen. This little DUET will be very different from anything else the people around here have ever seen. Who knows what will happen after they see one of Ken's boats out on the water.

We have five children between the ages of 10 and 19. There are no diversions for them here, like we had when we lived in the states. We have a lot of water, though, and want to get a couple of small boats to go out for some fun on the water. A couple of us love to fish, others love to snorkel, and it is just nice to get out on the water, away from the noise of the city. For me, the idea of a nesting, portable boat is both unique and very ingenuitive.

Bulkhead and Side Panel Assembly

Rear Base Panel Assembly

I have purchased several boat plans, and Ken's plans of the DUET are the most simple I have seen. I thought, "Anyone could build this boat." I am looking forward to getting this jewel of a boat built, and out on the water.

I decided that Ken knows a lot more about these boats than I do, and that I had better build exactly according to the plans. I am planning to power the boat with my 55lb thrust salt water trolling motor, but am looking forward to see what my 3.5hp 4 stroke outboard will do. I don't think it would be wise to open up the throttle of the outboard on a boat this small, but we'll see how the testing goes.

Transom and Inner Forward Module Bow Alignment Bulkhead Assembly.

I was thinking that I might want some stringers at the gumwale position, but was determined to stick to the plans. Ken then wrote and said he was adding them, and forwarded the drawing. I will put them on today. I have to put the decks on both modules, and then seal everything up. I am hoping to be finished soon.

I have been taking pictures, and will send them to Ken as package of pictures after the maiden voyage. This would probably make a good, little sailing boat too. Has Ken considered putting a small sail on it?

Now I only have to seal the interior and paint the boat at this point. I have not been able to touch it this past week. Things have just gotten in the way. It sits on my work table, and I walk by it each day hoping to be able to get at it. Each day has just been filled with work (and family). I am making a special 6©x2©x3© cage for a 6 foot snake we rescued from certain death. I really need to get the cage finished so I can get the snake out of the small plastic tote he is currently in. I expect to finish it tomorrow, then I©ll get back to DUET. I do have a full schedule this week, but I am hoping to get the painting done of Friday afternoon. The boat goes together nicely. I am very happy with it at this point.

Well, I messed something up on my DUET today. While getting it ready for paint, I sanded off too much wood on the outside of the center bulkheads. It created a gap on the bottom when the two halves were joined together with the bolts. I wrote Ken about it, and he told me that it wouldn't affect the boat's performance. I didn't like my sanding error on the bulkheads, and I knew that I was bound to get in some rough water eventually since I am planning on using this on our coast in the Caribbean Sea. I decided that the best thing for me was to glue and screw the two modules together permanently. I know it takes away from its modular status, but I still won't have any trouble transporting it. This isn't a deviation from the plans since Ken mentioned that the two halves could be built together rather than as a modular boat.

I'm going to glue the two halves together today, and will put a strip of fiberglass tape all the way around the outside of it tomorrow to further reinforce it and to cover up my sanding error. The I'll paint it all up nice and pretty, and no one will know about my mistake. The boat will then be finished. I'll take the final pictures and send them to Ken.

Gluing the Gunwal Stringers

Decks Installed and Hull Modules Connected

Well, it's done! I finished my DUET. I still have some oarlocks to put on, and it needs one more coat of white paint, but other than that, she is ready to hit the water. I am hoping to take her out on Monday morning (my day off) for her maiden voyage.

Unfortunately, I cannot find a deep cycle 12 volt battery in the city I live in. I have seen them in Santo Domingo (the country's capitol), but that is three hours away. I will maiden her with the oars that I made myself (found here), and possibly try out my 3.5hp Tohatsu 4 stroke motor. I'll get some pictures, and maybe some video of the maiden voyage.

Hull Finished and Painted Movable Seats Installed

One of the reasons that I decided to permanently connect the two halves of DUET was because of the waves we have here. I probably would not have done it if I was going to use it in lakes or ponds. By the way, I think this is the perfect boat for someone looking for a one or two man, easy and fast boat to build to use on a lake or pond. I am not too worried about using it in the sea since we have a long reef that runs almost our entire coastline that breaks most of the big waves. I'll stay between those reefs and the shoreline.

I have two sets of oarlocks on (forward and rear), and have also placed oar supports, toward the rear of the boat, so I don't have to put them on the back deck. I think it looks pretty good with the oars on.

I had a friend pick me up a battery in the capitol so I can use my trolling motor. The problem is, I wasn't there to pick out the battery, and he got me a very large, 81 pound, heavy duty, marine deep cycle battery. That's not quite what I had in mind. The upside is that I should get several hours of runtime on that battery. I think I'll put it in the forward module. I also have a fish finder that I want to put on it, to help me when I get out to do some fishing. As a matter of fact, I am having a small trailer made that will allow me to take it down to the sea with my 125cc scooter. I'm sure that will be a sight to behold!

I was able to maiden the boat today. The 3.5hp motor works well on the boat, and it rows like a dream. I have rowed a lot of boats over the years, but this is probably the most effortless boat I have ever rowed. I haven't weighed the boat, but it is light, portable, and just the right size for my 250lb frame.

Maiden Voyage, with Children My Wiife Enjoying the Ride

I took it out with one of my daughters today. We motored into an area where there were some 2 foot swells (the big rolling waves), and we never felt like we were in trouble. I can get this boat to, in, and out of the water very easily. I will be using this when I want to do some solo fishing or just get away for a bit. Now I just need to figure out where I want to attach some rod holders and my fish finder monitor.

Powering ahead with the 3.5 hp outboard Works great with the 55 pound thrust trolling motor.

We got to test the trolling motor again. I think it works great. It will push us faster than we can row, but not as fast as the outboard. The thing I noticed with the outboard is that once we hit a certain speed, more power only makes the back dig in a little deeper, and creates a larger wake. I think the trolling motor is the perfect fit (or maybe something up to 1.5hp).

I look over the boat within about 24 hours of having it out. I wash the boat, and all of my equipment, with fresh water at that time. I also check the hull for any wear. Salt is very damaging to everything, and I am a firm believer in getting it off my equipment as soon as possible. I also keep the boat under a tarp and off of the ground at all times.

I think this is a great boat as designed by Ken Simpson. There may be one thing I would change if I could. I would like to have two layers of plywood on the floor of the front module (like the rear module has). I went out to a small island that has a lot of coral and sharp rocks in the water before you get to the shore. I was concerned about putting a hole in the forward module. It wouldn't add much weight to add an extra layer of ¼" plywood to that part of the boat, and would be a simple thing to do. I won't change mine now since my floor is varnished, but I will do it on the next one. I do expect this boat to last me several years. It has already brought my family a lot of joy!

Tranquillity! The end of a perfect day.


We do not have spar varnish here in the Dominican Republic (at least not where I live). I did find an oil base marine varnish that I used on the interior of the boat, and inside the front and rear bulkheads
(sealed air compartments). I put three coats on to protect the boat. It took several days to cure hard, but I am very happy with the result. I painted the outside with oil paint. I also put three coats of paint on all of the outside surfaces.

One other thing that may be a help to someone building DUET deals with the internal support rails on the front module. The bow has a pretty strong curve to it, so I cut the support rails in half which allowed them to bend more easily to the curvature of the bow. I glued them in place, and laminated them together at the same time. I did the same thing with the seat support in the bow section.

One suggestion I have concerns something found on page 9 of the build plans (step 4). Ken gives the option to put top supports on the transom in case you are planning on using a larger outboard (like I did). I put them on, but would suggest that everyone do it, since it is just a matter of two small pieces of wood, and is simple to do. With those supports, I have been able to run my 3.5hp outboard on this little boat, with no sign of stress to the rear transom or motor mount. It is solid.

I will use my DUET exclusively in salt water since my closest place to get on the water is the Caribbean Sea. The largest lake in the country is very close to my home, and even it is a salt water lake.

My daughter and I are planning to take DUET to this lake to try to get close to the flamingos, iguanas, and crocodiles that inhabit it. We'll be sure to get some pictures for the family back home to see.

My first 'catch' in the DUET!

Overall, I am very pleased with the DUET. The plans were clear and detailed, and Ken has been very responsive. The best part, however, is that my family enjoys the boat as much as I do. They were helpful and supportive during the building process, and now we can all get away on the water in a boat we built ourselves.

Happy and safe boating to all.

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