My First Boat Build
Updated: Dec 27, 2019
The first boat I built was a Bolger Bobcat, which is a modern construction version of the Beetlecat. Construction started in 2005 and the boat was completed in 2006. I have copied here an article that was published on Duckworksmagazine.com at the time
It all began on a Sunday afternoon about 11 years ago (1995). I was in a local grocery store and my wife was doing the shopping. I was doing what all good husbands did at that time and I was killing time at the magazine racks when I spotted a Wooden Boat magazine. Inside was an article on James Wharram and the Tiki 21, a cruising catamaran. I had been a sailor for a few years at this point, and had recently left the wonderful sailing grounds of Lake Travis near Austin Texas. I was now living in a small town in Texas away from deep water and involved in building my own house. I had adapted by buying a Hobie 16 to survive the deep water withdrawal I was feeling. So with a strong desire to get back to sailing and cruising in my new habitat, (mostly Texas bays) and a developing new love for things made of wood, I bought the magazine. My wife gave me a funny look as I put the magazine in the shopping cart, all she said was “Finish the house first”. I read the magazine from cover to cover and then subscribed to it. I ordered the information packet for the Tiki 21, but it seemed like too big of a project for the near future. A little ad in the back of the magazine however, for “Build The Instant Catboat” book sure kept dragging my eye back to that page. So….. I ordered it too.
I read the book, sort of. Okay, I mostly ogled the pictures. I decided that I could build this boat and announced this to my wife. “Finish the house first” was again her response, I complied but only because at that point I didn’t have a place to build a boat. I eventually got the house done, well done enough that we could live in it. My friends all say that I have the best wife in the world for putting up with me when they hear that my wife has been cooking on a two burner electric hot plate for thirteen years. I just tell them that you gotta be choosy when wife shopping. Beautiful, laughs at my corny jokes and puts up with my stupid ideas were the top three things on my list when I was wife shopping.
About ten years passed by, and I got caught up with other projects, career, running a business, going out of business, children, financial woes…etc, etc. When one day in October 2004 I had just finished pouring a slab in my little shack of a shed and shazam, I had a workshop!!!! The first thing that crossed my mind as I walked across the freshly poured, almost dry concrete was, “I can build a boat now”. My wife didn’t even say to finish the house when I mentioned it to her. I went to my bookshelf, found my “Build the Instant Catboat” book , blew off the dust and started to ACTUALLY read it.
In December of that year I built a scale model of the boat to the actual plan specs and not the way Payson recommends in the book. It turned out so good that most people guessed it was a boat the first time!!!
In January I started looking for wood. Ouch!!! I had been planning to use Marine grade plywood, but I wasn’t sufficiently over the aforementioned financial woes and going out of business to afford that. I recalled that Payson said that exterior grade plywood used the same glue as Marine. I thought long and hard and finally realized that this was actually a no brainer, at least for me right now. The price of marine grade plywood was a deal breaker at this point in the game. I started looking at exterior grade wood and finally ran across a really nice looking fir at the local lumber yard. I bought ten sheets, went home and started plotting dots on them, which eventually became lines that would hopefully closely resemble the parts of a boat when cut out. I tried to not think about or hope too hard that the pieces would all match up properly when assembled for fear of jinxing myself.
It crossed my mind early on that I could be spending a lot of time cutting out pieces of wood that would never fit together. You see, even though I had built a house, with a house you can measure a straight line and determine that you need a board cut to such and such length to fit. Then you can cut it out, measure it again and say “Yeah, that’s close enough”. With a boat you are dealing with all of these fancy curves and have no way, that I am aware of, to determine if that shape resembles the desired shape until you bring them all together and attempt to assemble. I was afraid that I would make a simple mistake in calculating these “dots” on the sheet and ruin a whole bunch of wood. The only thing I knew to do was suck it up and keep on cutting.
In March of 2005 I finally had all the pieces cut out, well enough to make a hull I hoped. On a Saturday morning I went out to my little shack/shed and began dragging the pieces I needed to the center of the shed. I quickly threw together some scrap wood for the stands and began converting the pile in to a reasonable facsimile of a boat. I was impressed at how the Spanish windlass actually worked to bring the bow together and spread the hull at the beam (wonders never cease).
Now came the dreaded bilge panels……..gasp…….will they actually fit? Can I get it bent into place? I had read by this time in some forums that this boat was as close to torturing plywood as one could get without fear of jail time. I began placing the first piece in at the transom and slowly worked my way forward. I tried Payson's idea of using a saw to remove excess wood and get the seams to close, but I found that the belt sander worked better for me. When I got the curve of the panel that brings it to the stem at the bow I began to understand the part about torturing plywood. The only exception to that concept was that I felt like it was torturing me more! I used a wet cloth and worked the panel over and finally got it to meet the stem, then set the screws quickly. I think it took me all day Saturday to get the bulkheads, transom, bottom and two side panels assembled. The next weekend it took all day Saturday to get one bilge panel on and then all day Sunday to get the other, but I now had a closed in hull. Guess what ….all the panels fit within a sixteenth of an inch! I was very amazed….maybe a little shocked even.
A friend came by and looked at my progress, he oohed and ahhed at my handiwork, but later admitted that when he left he was thinking what a shame that I was wasting all that perfectly good plywood to be burned in pile behind the shed someday when I gave up on the project.
I hesitate to discuss the next step - TAPING THE SEAMS……….aaarghhhh!!!!! This is plain and simple TORTURE for the boat builder, it reminds me of taping and floating sheet-rock. You work and work and work, then you step back to admire your work. Sure enough you worked for hours and it looks the same. I thought I was never going to get through with this stage and what a mess I made. Resin dripped all over the place like a kindergartener’s art class. You can bet that was fun to clean up. Looking at my project one afternoon I was convinced it would never be anything more than an ugly duckling. One that only it’s mother (or father????) could love.
After about what seemed like ten or fifteen years of hard, tedious, and painful labor I got most of the @#$&@$#@&*!!! seams taped! (Sorry for that burst of vulgarity, but the memories flooding my mind took over the keyboard.) Around this time I was beginning to think of how to finish out the boat. When I built my model I had merely varnished the deck. I really wanted this beautiful wooden boat look for my REAL boat. I also wanted to stick to the plans which called for glassing over the hull and deck. I began to peruse the various different forums and inquire about using a stain under a polyester resin to achieve a rich wood appearance. Boy…..let’s skip that painful memory. I did however run into another discussion about exterior plywood. Someone pointed out that before you started construction with anything less than marine grade you should do a boil test. YIKES….. that rang a bell. Payson had said the same thing. Did I remember to do that??? Of course not. I began to panic, some of the descriptions seemed to resemble the plywood I was using. Delaminating plywood, warped, and checking panels filled my dreams that night. Before I went to work the next day I went out to the shed and retrieved a couple scraps, I took them into the house and asked my faithful and wonderful wife to boil them for three hours. The look on her face was priceless, she was convinced that I had finely gone over the edge. After a bit of explaining she agreed to do it, I told her I would call in three hours for the results. The wood passed with flying colors and my breathing returned to normal.
I stopped construction in about April of 2005 due to beginning a new job, my schedule was a mess. I was now doing shift work and it took a while for my body and brain to become synchronized again. In the fall of that year I began a training program at work that had me home every day at 3:30 pm. I began to make use of that time on my boat.
Construction after the SEAM TAPING went pretty smoothly. It became quite pleasant in fact. Every day when I got home I would go out to the shed and work for two or three hours, it was my new way of relaxing. Progress began to show on the boat. I decided to not stain the deck, to just glass it and if it looked okay to varnish the fiberglassed deck and not to paint it. The hull I painted with Ace brand, solvent based, porch and deck paint. The samples I had tried finished out real nice and turned VERY hard after a fairly long cure time of a few weeks, (surely if you have read this far you don’t expect me to be more precise than that). Of course the paint would not go on as smoothly on the boat as it did on the test piece…..oh no….no way. It went on very nicely, laid down real nice with no brush strokes whatsoever and then sagged like a sixty year old stripper……yeow…… ugly mental image, but you get the idea. I had to sand and scrape almost all of that coat off and start over. Fifteen (maybe less) coats later I decided that it was good enough ( I was tired of painting) and went to work on the deck.
The deck after fiberglassing looked good enough and I decided to use a plain spar varnish on it. I had considered using a stain and varnish first but it wasn’t necessary. The wood had taken on a nice glow with just the addition of the polyester resin.
In February of 2006 I read on this website (Duckworksmagazine.com) about the Gulf Coast Messabout at Magnolia Beach. I decided then and there that I would finish my boat and launch there for the first time. Magnolia Beach is where my family have been going to do most of our sailing and fishing for years, I was quite surprised to realize that all of ya’ll knew about the place as well. This is a small boat sailors heaven. I busted my tail on the boat from then right up until the three days before the Messabout to have her ready for the event. We made it, and that story will be in the next post
As a side note I would like to point out that after this article was published on Duckworksmagazine, my friends shamed me into finishing the kitchen and my wife has enjoyed the luxury of a fully functional electric range since then.