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by Bruce Swabb - Palm City, Florida - USA

After several years of dreaming and studying various small boat plans, all the variables finally fell into place this past Fall of 2013. High on my build list were Arch Davis' Sand Dollar, Clint Chase's DeBlois Street Dory, and Michael Storer's Goat Island Skiff. The design that rose to the top of the list surprised even me, but all things considered, Jim Michalak's Woobo seemed to be the best first boat build for our family.

The Choice

It was actually an article in Small Craft Advisor about Chuck Pierce's Mayfly 14 that redirected me back to Michalak's designs. One of my itches to be scratched is to join the RAID type sailing/rowing rallies. Jim Michalak's boats are well represented at these adventures, such as the Texas 200. His designs have proven their toughness, ability to carry all the needed gear, seem surprisingly fast, and they may even be the most economical to build.

Possibly my biggest selection criteria was that the design must be geared toward a total woodworking beginner. All of the designers noted above do an exemplary job of this, but I felt that Michalak's approach fit best for my first build. I purchased Jim's book Boatbuilding for Beginners and consumed every detail.

Here in Stuart, Florida, the channels of the inland waters tend to be narrow, with large expanses of wide open water, but too shallow to enjoy in our deeper draft 37 foot sailboat. What a shame! It is impossible for us to explore the Indian River in our bigger boat. Woobo would enable us to zip all over the area, and even run our stone crab pots. Two other criteria were great rowing capability, as I knew my wife would enjoy rowing for exercise, and a boat we could tow behind our sailboat on our Bahamas trips. Anchor the big boat and play all day on the skiff!

The Build I purchased a fairly decent used table saw for $85 and a Ryobi drill press (always wanted a drill press) and found the lumber I needed at Home Depot. Following Jim's advice from the book, he noted that the clearest lumber yard wood was usually found in 2x10's. I would concur! I ripped everything I needed for chines, stem, masts and spars from this lumber. We used four sheets of 1/4 inch Luan underlayment plywood. I knew I'd have to slather the heck out of it with epoxy to protect from delamination. We shall see! I am fairly certain that one spends more than the cost difference on epoxy for cheap plywood than if they'd bought high dollar marine plywood.

I got my boys involved laying out the patterns on the plywood and with the cutting of the wood. I was surprised how much we could cut with the circular saw. A bandsaw would be great for the next boat.

I was least enthused about the amount of epoxy work needed for the boat, but let's face it, I didn't have the skills to attempt a lapstrake boat. I'm also glad I had the boys help me with the goo, as it will come in handy when they start slapping boats together with their buddies. The filling, taping and epoxying is definitely the most time consuming part of this build. I was not particularly careful, so upon inspection, she's a tad rough. This all disappears when under sail!

Lacking a decent hand plane and the proper way to sharpen it, I relied heavily on a belt sander. Sorry all you great boat builders out there! I promise I will learn the joys of a hand plane, I just needed to get this puppy in the water. I most definitely got sick and tired of using that belt sander, but it was very effective.

The build consumed about two gallons of low viscosity, slow hardening epoxy, which was the biggest materials cost (beside the trailer and sail). I have covered all surfaces with at least a light coating of epoxy, and the bottom is sheathed in 6oz glass cloth. She is painted with latex primer and porch paint. I used Titebond III in several places including the mast and spars. Anywhere likely to stay wet was thoroughly sealed with epoxy, some leftover CPES and 5200.

The Splurge Rather than making my own sail, I decided to get a fine sail made by a sailmaker who knows Jim's designs, thus I ordered an Egyptian Cotton colored lug sail from Duckworks. The sail has two reef points so I can blast away in nasty conditions. I believe the sail ended up costing just under $500, but I can assure you it was the best money spent on the boat.

The Cost

The final tally for the project was just over $1,700, most of which was for the Harbor Freight trailer ($400) and the lugsail ($500).

The Reality

We finished her in six months of easy going. During the build, there were certain parts and stages that I dreaded a bit, but when the time came to dive in to that particular task, they all turned out to be well within my capabilities, and left me with great satisfaction. I tried to think of anyway possible to avoid melting lead for the rudder blade, but I finally just dove in and used my charcoal grill and a steel coffee can. The 1.25 lbs. of lead melted in about 3 minutes and before I knew it, the process was behind me.

The Final Bits

The rudder and leeboard and rigging the lugsail proceeded much more smoothly than expected. Mr. Michalak's rudder is a work of art in my opinion.

We named her Black Crow, and she moves effortlessly in the water. Her acceleration is amazing, and honestly seems quicker than my old laser, but with about 300% more stability. The cockpit is huge and very ample for two adults. I'm not so sure I'll be trying to shoehorn my wife and two boys in at the same time. The leeboard really opens up the human space and I think there is plenty of room for two to overnight in the cockpit.

On our first sail, we zipped across the flats, the leeboard and rudder performing perfectly when we bumped the sandbars. With the downhaul mercilessly tensioned (per Michael Storer's lug sail advice), we pointed very high into the wind. We were surprised at the attention from other boaters as we scooted along. They acted like they'd never seen such an interesting craft.

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