August 24, 2014

Amateur boatbuilders can do better

I LIKE TO THINK that most amateur boatbuilders underestimate their capabilities. Lacking the practical knowledge of the professional boatbuilders, they tend to choose boat designs that are specifically intended for those people who consider themselves boatbuilding dummies. And there are plenty of them.
The trouble with this arrangement is that a whole host of plans intended for the amateur builder produce boats that are overly simple, overly boxy and overly under-performing.

Simple, crude boats may be fine for minds hobbled by the notion that they are ill equipped to build fancy boats, but I believe too many amateurs are selling themselves short. You can indeed build a fancier boat — a boat to compare with a professional boat — if you are prepared to pay in time instead of skill.  It may take you longer to make that perfect scarf in the keelson or that delicate  joinery down below, but the finished product will be as good as anything that comes out of a boatbuilder’s shed, where time equals money.  And, what’s more, you will learn the skills and get faster as you gain your own practical experience.

Naval architect Ted Brewer agrees with this premise. “Provided the plans contain sufficient detail and the designer is willing to provide telephone consultation, and even special sketches if necessary to explain some part of the vessel, the amateur can produce professional results from professional plans,” he maintains.

Although there are literally thousands of stock plans available for boats, many were drawn up decades ago, so that the materials, engines, and hardware are often outdated. “Some of the plans still sold to amateurs were drawn back in the days when boats were built like icebreakers,” says Brewer. “Not only is this a waste of material and money, but such boats tend to sail like slugs. One stock design for a famous doubled-ended ketch requires such heavy timbers that you would have to own on oak forest to afford to build it at today’s prices. A modern laminated version could be built for 75 percent of the original design’s cost, and it would be easier to maintain, live longer, and perform better.”

If you have the itch to build a boat of your own you might like to consider that it takes as long to build a good design as it does a bad design. Furthermore, the resale value of the good design will be much higher.

Brewer has produced hundreds of boat plans in his long career, ranging from America’s Cup racers and singlehanded round-the-worlders to small mom-and-pop cruisers, but his single most popular stock plan has been his chine version of the Cape Cod Catboat, a 22-footer with a 10-foot beam and a draft of 2 feet 3 inches with the centerboard raised.  More than 300 boats have been built to this plan. “There is nothing in this design that cannot be handled by a competent amateur builder,” Brewer notes.

Today’s Thought
Great Estates may venture more,
But little Boats must keep near Shore.
— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard, 1751

“What did you get your girl friend for her birthday?”
“I gave her a bikini.”
“Why a bikini?”
“I’m hoping to see her beam with delight.”
Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I've built fancier boats in a year or more, and simple boats in a season. Simple doesn't have to meat poorly-performing. One important question is: does it matter to you how long it takes you to get on the water?