Friday, January 4, 2013

Do you have the skills to build a boat?

This is my starting subject for this new blog because it is a question that comes often from people who are considering buying plans to build a boat for themselves. They have never built a boat and wonder if they will be wasting their time and money in even attempting a small boat.

Amateur boatbuilding is not for everyone. There are people who should not start a boatbuilding project because they have little to no chance of ever getting it done. It may be for lack of suitable skills but skill is not the only factor in building a boat for yourself.

You will probably have a reasonable feel for whether or not you are suitably skilled to do this. You don't need to be a skilled boatbuilder, you need only an innate ability to learn new skills and to take on and successfully complete projects of reasonable size and complexity.

Confidence in yourself is a good characteristic to have. Of course I can only talk from my own perspective and experience. I have confidence in my ability to tackle big and complicated projects. Friends ask me where I learned how to do something that they see me doing, whether it be building a deck or shed from scratch, or my current project of rebuilding a classic sports car. I have the confidence to know that I can do it and that I will learn the skills that I need en-route. I have not yet been wrong in that assessment of what I can do. Maybe my main recommendation should be to develop confidence in yourself, which actually comes from trying new things and proving to yourself that you really can do these new things.

What you need to know is that I failed woodwork at school. I didn't have the interest nor the drive needed to be successful making school woodworking projects. If they had asked me to build a boat I would probably have passed. Not many years after school I built a plywood 15ft catamaran that I designed first, with no knowledge of boat design. Two years later I was building a 36ft wooden offshore sailboat. The difference was that I had the interest and the desire to do it. With that came the drive and the inventiveness needed to see me through the length of the project and beyond.
My first real boatbuilding attempt
Any time that you step beyond your previous experience there will be new skills to learn and boatbuilding is no different. As long as you are not an all-thumbs person, you are probably capable of building a boat. That is not to say that you will be able to build a world cruiser with classic woodworking details as your first attempt, you should probably set your sights a bit lower and build a smaller and less complicated project first.

If you are an accomplished builder of quality timber furniture then you would undoubtedly be capable of building a boat using very complicated detailing but you will know that without asking the question of someone like me. For the rest of us, we should start with something a bit simpler.

That big boat that is in your sights for the future will probably need a tender to ferry crew between boat and shore. A suitably sized dinghy would be a good starter project to teach some of the simpler skills of boatbuilding. While you are about it, make that new tender a sailing dinghy so that it can fill the added purpose of a toy to keep you and the kids occupied when anchored in your favourite places.

Stitch and tape (stitch and glue) boats are a great place to start. They use about the simplest of building details that are within the capabilities of almost anyone. Even if you have never cut a piece of wood before, you should be able to build one of these very simple boats and to do a good job of it. It won't teach you classic boatbuilding details but it will teach you how to work with curved surfaces as well as cutting, clamping, gluing, screwing and planing timber and working with resins and fibreglass. After that you will probably have caught the boatbuilding bug and be ready to expand your skills into more complicated boats and different materials.

There are also plenty of bigger boatbuilding projects that are suitable for first time projects. Make sure that you choose a design that is intended for amateur builders with basic to a reasonable level of skill. If your end goal is a 36ft boat then there is no major advantage in building a smaller boat of similar concept first, as a learning step. If the details are similar, you will learn the procedures just as easily on a 36ft boat as on a 20ft boat, so save yourself the time and cost of building the smaller boat unless you want it to play with on the water while building the big boat.

So, don't be scared of diving into a boatbuilding project. What you should know before you start is that you will learn new skills along the way. You will also develop resilience and endurance as well as improving your problem solving skills. You will shape the character of each boat that you build and each boat will strengthen your character. Boatbuilding is also a wonderful character-building activity to prepare children for the future.

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