-- From Buehler's Backyard Boatbuilding (now updated for the 21st Century) by George Buehler
Simply Does It
Early on, Anke and I spent a couple of instructive years in the boatyards of Port Townsend, Washington (aka PT).
In case you hadn't heard, PT is something of a west coast, wooden boat mecca. Home to a fleet of beautiful, classic, wooden yachts. The School of Wooden Boatbuilding. Edensaw, purveyor of fine boatbuilding woods. The PT Wooden Boat Show. And lately, the Small Craft Advisor.
There, we got to see a number of boat building projects in various stages of fruition. And like fruit, some were fresh and dewy in the first blush of springy optimism. Others were shriveled in a winter of their discontent.
What struck us most were projects - often by professional boatwrights, mind you - that spanned years. Years which spanned a decade. Or two. Or more. Projects in the course of which the builders had grown old.
Lemme tell ya... that impressed a pair of impressionable, young wannabes!
A few of these did get finished, eventually, and some owners lived to enjoy their works for many's the year. Others were completed, but their owners' strength was spent... the boat sold. Many were still under construction - or worse, abandoned - when we returned for a visit some 20 years later.
Beautiful boats, all. Works of Art. The kind of thing you see in a maritime museum.
There was another kind of boat in the yard... usually plywood or worked-over fiberglass. Not exactly ship-shape nor Bristol fashion. These came and went pretty quickly. Their owners generally (but not always) young; generally (but not always) handy after a rough fashion; generally (no... always) passionate.
They came, patched a vessel up or together... and left!
Off they went, in the teeth of well-meant admonitions from land-locked sailor/builders. That won't work! That'll never go to windward! You're risking your very lives! Off they went, nevertheless; over the horizon, under full press of sail.
We hear from them, occasionally. From New Zealand. From Thailand. From Chile. From the Caribbean. From Nova Scotia. From the Med. Or from their home town dock, if that floats their boat.
In short, from wherever they wanted to sail.
These boats were one and all flagships of the KISS concept (Keep It Simple Sailor). They did the necessary with a minimum of extravagance, and a maximum of efficiency. With tools, materials and skills at hand, their owners put together a working vessel.
If you choose build over buy, I propose this list of general KISS attributes, distilled from all those sail-away vessels:
- Tolerably small (small is beautiful! - E.F.Schumacher)
- Simple hull shape (easily lofted, easily built)
- Simple construction (straightforward build from common materials)
- Simple interior (avoid complicated spaces, joinery or detail)
- Simple, durable finish (wipe-down, if possible; avoid varnish)
- Simple, basic systems (avoid unnecessary, complex, unrepairable)
- Simple, robust gear (good quality, fix-it-yourself)
- Simple, robust rig (low stress, fail-safer)
Clearly, there's a lot of room, here, for interpretation. Saving here, one might lavish a bit, there. But the more one simplifies, the better the odds of completion, sail-away and keep-on-a-going.
To these, I would add my own (opinionated) ultra-KISS advice, accumulated over 25 years of loafing about:
- Flat bottom (easiest build, greatest volume/displacement on given dimensions)
- Square sections (easiest build, highest form stability / volume / displacement, reduces ballast)
- Ultra shoal draft (offers a hundred harbors to every deep draft one)
- Outboard rudder (external, inexpensive, easy maintenance)
- Leeboards (external, inexpensive, easy maintenance... prevented, they needn’t be tended)
- Free standing, junk rig (inexpensive, simple to use, maintainable with DIY materials, fail-safer)
- Copper plating (long lived, non-toxic anti-fouling, mechanical protection... works particularly well with flat bottoms and ply construction)
- Move aboard (If you don’t, let’s face it; your vessel is an expensive toy)
Moving aboard converts expenditures on the boat into investment in your home. Even a modest home on modest land costs more than boats up to their high middle end. That lower cost means less wasted on debt service.
The work of maintaining a liveaboard is less than a shoreside home-owner's (Mow the lawn? Reroof the house? Dig up the septic system? Puh-leeze!). Vacation means a voyage (low transportation cost, no hotels, all the comforts and economies of home!). And property taxes? Low to none.
Putting all your eggs into one basket concentrates one’s risk, but it’s certainly an economical way to go. If it means the difference between doing it and not...
I’m just sayin’.