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By Shawn Payment - Charleston, SC - USA


After moving to Charleston, SC a few years back, my boat-building hobby had to be put on hiatus for a while I established myself in a new job, homestead, etc. Eventually, that old boat building bug started biting however and I started looking for a project. I eventually settled on Bolger's Tortoise design for several reasons:

• First, I already had the plans, or rather, the tiny but readable drawings in Harold Payson's book, "Build the New Instant Boats".
• Second, I had relatively little room to build or store a boat and at 6' 5" long, boats really don't get much smaller than this.
• Third, costs on such a tiny project would be minimal, providing my reasonably tolerant spouse with even less reason to complain that I was building "yet another boat".
• Finally, since I did not possess a convenient method for transporting a larger boat, I found it quite convenient that the beam of a Tortoise would just fit within the width of the cargo area in my similarly diminutive Honda Element.

The hull was constructed from 2 sheets of SurePly underlayment and a few clear, straight fir 2x4s ripped to various dimensions. A box of copper ring nails and bottle of Titebond II wood glue allowed for rapid assembly. Construction time amounted to about 12-15 hours spread over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Exterior latex paint from the bargain "Oops" bin at the big box store accounted for her somewhat odd color scheme. I christened her the "Atom" because she was obviously very small but also because she fit inside the "Element"! (Har. Har. My wife groaned when she heard it too!)

Simple oars with ripped 2x4 looms and ply blades had me quickly on the water for sea trials. The tiny hull actually rowed quite well and was extremely stable. A Tortoise will never be fast--not a "glider" by any stretch of the imagination--but if you just relaxed, let the oars do the work and didn't try to over-power the hull, it would row quite. The removable fore/aft bench seat proved to be very well thought, allowing easy fore/aft movement in order to trim the hull.

Satisfied with the basic hull, I proceeded to assemble the sail rig. The rudder and leeboard were cut from scrap ply that I had laying about and the mast and spars were made from a couple more ripped 2x4s. I opted to use Bolger's "hook on" leeboard design that could be mounted on either side and slid fore or aft along the gunnel as desired.

A simple tarp sail was my original plan but as a result a Christmas windfall and perhaps too much eggnog, I impulsively ordered a professionally made Dacron sail to Bolger's specifications from the Duckworks sail loft. A beautifully constructed little 38 sq. ft. lateen sail arrived in the mail about 2 weeks later.

While no discredit to the beautiful sail, the Tortoise's sailing performance never quite lived up to my undeniably unrealistic hopes. In a light but steady breeze and flat water, the Tortoise could sail along competently enough. It didn't point particularly high but this was rarely an issue since my course was more often dictated by personal comfort than high performance. As winds or sea state started to increase, the Tortoise's limitations quickly became evident. The flat bow slapped hard when heading into waves and easily stalled the hull's modest momentum. Although the Tortoise is undoubtedly the roomiest 6'5" boat in existence that still amounts to a very small amount of space for a full grown adult to move around in. Maneuvers in rising wind & seas required increased concentration since one could not afford to heel significantly with minimal freeboard and no internal floatation. Any capsize meant swimming the hull to shore for recovery and bail out.

Although the little Tortoise didn't live up to my every expectation, in hindsight, I must conclude that I am glad I built it. Most importantly, it got me back on track with my boat building hobby which I greatly enjoy. It also established the value of simple "box boats" in my mind which later led me to build a larger and more capable and much more successful PD racer hull. And finally, when I eventually concluded that the plucky little Tortoise really wasn't enough boat for me, a neighbor promptly purchased it for his two young boys who have been having a great time with it ever since!


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