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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, and wrote about it's design and construction at

Access to the net comes and goes, so I'll be writing in fits and spurts.Please feel free to browse the archives, leave comments where you will and write... I'll respond as I can.

Fair winds!

Dave and Anke
triloboats swirly gmail daughter com

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Simply Does It

LADY KATE (ex Bolger AS29)
photographed from the SHIRLEY VALENTINE (ex Bolger
From Tim Fatchen's Square Boats pages

This reminds me of a guy I met years ago. We were both building small boats, under 30 feet. I was going at it hard and fast, he acted like he was building a clock. He kept coming around telling me how sloppy this was and how wasteful that was. Well, I launched and headed south. I never did see him again, but a year later, as I was getting ready to head west from Puerto Vallarta, I sent him a postcard that said, "Having a great time. Heading to the Islands tomorrow; see you there, Melon Farmer!" I wonder if he ever did finish.

-- 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)
It is the combined economies of these points that keep overall costs down, and often make the difference between got 'er did, and got 'er didn't

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)
And last, but not least:
  • 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’.

PS. Check out Bob Wise's VOLKSCRUISER blog for plenty more on this theme.


  1. Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!

    So there I was building my little 12 scow, an Ooze Goose. (modified: bigger rowing seat, longer cabin, and leeboards instead of a centerboard, heavier and tougher bottom.)

    Building under a tarp in the driveway is not the best of working conditions. My sander broke and the building season was at an end. Saying the heck with it, I painted it, screwed the oarlocks on and took it out on the lake.

    I'll be trailering it south from NH to FL this winter. The sailing rig isn't completed, so I'm throwing all the parts in the van and heading south. If I get a chance I'll finish the sailing rig at my dad's place in FL. I might be having too much fun with it to finish the sail rig right away. My lovely wife and I plan to do a lot of beach camping with this boat. We can both squeeze in the cabin or just pitch a tent on the beach. It floats on dew.

    Yeah, it would be nice if the finish was smoother, but I'm going to be using it, not putting it on display. Not doubt it'll get sanded and repainted a bunch of times before I'm done with it.

    1. Hi Sixbears,

      Love it... got 'er did! Here's to many happy hours aboard, stretching to years!

      That's a very good point:

      Rough, quick and dirty build followed by stepwise refinement over the years. Every paint job / spring cleaning sees another seam caulked, and another rough patch smoothed over. Ditto trim. Hardware (beyond the necessary) recommends itself with time. Or not!

      In fact, we don't even sand before the first round of paint, unless it's in an often cleaned or skin contact area. Fuzz and (minor) splinters, once painted, stiffen up an become much easier to remove on the second round.

      Lazy, lazy, lazy! 8)

      Dave Z

    2. They say necessity is the mother of invention. I say laziness is the father.

  2. Couldn't agree more. I have done both, and it takes too long for the beautiful boat. Too much work initially And later you feel you must protec your "investment" so more work and expense, not much living. As it is my square boat is taking long enough and enough money to put together! It's coming along though. Its a big boat and I build single handed but its going to be finished. And we'll be living on board, even if some of the rough sanding get stuck down with the paint!

    1. Hi Joel,

      Good point (re 'protecting the investment').

      We know of several, beautiful boats that won't risk sailing near shore, off chart or off 'season' ... in extreme cases, not sailing at ALL outside of a once-a-year, see-and-be-seen regatta... for fear of what amounts to cosmetic damage. That's a lot of not sailing!

      Another odd approach we've encountered is a simple, quick and dirty hull, completed in relative zippetty, then a couple years thrown into a spit n' polish interior. To each their own, but that fancy interior trebled the build time. If they ever sell it, the return interior investment will be held back by the non-flash exterior.

      I've been wondering how your project is coming along! If you get a chance, please drop me a line at triloboats dat gmail.

      Dave Z

    2. Hi dave! Been trying to email you but my email does not seem to like triloboats dot gmail,or triloboats at gmail! Or am I missing something?

    3. Oops... my fault for getting too sneaky (trying to evade the 'bots). The address is triloboats swirl gmail dotty com, with the punctuation substituted.

      Just so's you know, I'm about to lose steady internet for a couple of weeks, so responses may be slow.

      Dave Z

  3. Did not want to highjack your blog comments for a personal thought - hope you see this as supportive of your life style - you and Mark are doing things right - stay with it:

    Been an interesting week - I now know what is wrong with this country - decided I would do a little car shopping this week - try it to get your heart pumping - I go in and say what do you have in the mid $200 or less and 60 months or less - after the usual routine of setting at the little table and the salesperson getting up and running off to talk with the sales manager we come to the big moment - the deal is presented - $435+ for approx. 73 months - I look in disbelief - just wanted to get from A to B not live in the thing listening to my Bluetooth - I don't even know what Bluetooth is - when I finally get composed and say don't think so he looks at me in disbelief - why that is our average deal - in fact Chrysler has just come out with 82 month financing - what's wrong he says are we close what can we do to get your business - two things wrong to begin with -1 they don't make a car worth $435+ after 70 + months and 2 I could die of old age before the 70+ months was up - I admit I am getting old and don't live in the real world sometimes but this is nuts - if this is the average deal today then the average car buyer is nuts - sorry folks but this is what it is - needless to say the car buying thought is out of my system - have a good weekend

    1. Hi Linn,

      With that kind of money, you could buy (or build) a great boat, outfit it, move aboard and sail away.

      With that kind of time, you could save an even bigger bundle in rent/house payments, live the good life and (even if starting from scratch) end up with a sailor's skillset.

      While the deal you were offered seems outrageous, many swallow it, hook, line and sinker. So it must be easy enough, in a sense. It's not that the payments are out-of-sight as financing a lifestyle goes; just that the return is a mere automobile.

      Maybe it's a way of seeing how easy it is to break free?

      Dave Z