The Perfect Boat

Ah, the quest for the perfect boat. I’m assured that nearly everyone seems to fall into this trap, but despite these warnings, and thinking that I’m approaching the problem with great reason and with my eyes wide open, I walk right into the snare.

I tend to be perfectionist by nature… I fall into this trap creating web pages, writing computer code, organizing, etc. I don’t know why I thought it would be any different with boats. It wasn’t 🙂

If you read any of my background in this quest, you can see that I’ve run the gamut, and although much more educated and well read now, I haven’t begun to approach the expertise I really need. Not that something like that will hold me back… I’ve jumped right in and accomplished many other things in my life, learning by doing, or studying a book, or trial and error, or whatever. I’ll be safe about it, but I can do this to.

So, lets pick the boat…

But there ISN’T a perfect boat. As person after person points out, its all about tradeoffs. I don’t want tradeoffs, I want it "right" 🙂

Well, a few of the items to consider, and a few thoughts on them.

Buy vs. Build

Buy of course. Only thing that makes sense. Let professionals design and build something that they (and you) know will work. Get somthing that has a chance of resale.

Build does have a few things going for it… can be lower cost (as long as you don’t count your labor). Can get exactly what you want (provided you can manage to build it, and provided you can figure out what you want… now that seems to be the hard part).

But I want to build a boat. That’s about the only valid seeming reason to build a boat, as many have commented.

Decision: Build

Steel vs. Wood

Steel – tough, heavy, cheap or expensive. Finish is important. Will it rust away (probably not with reasonable care and modern coatings)?

Wood – I have the tools for this. I can build at least part of it here at home without the neighbors driving me away.

Decision: Still vacilating… I want a steel boat, but realities may make the other decision for me.

Kit vs. Scratchbuilt

A kit for my style of boat pretty much means having steel CNC cut. This is available from a variety of suppliers and really seems the way to go. If the plans have been created electronically and the CNC data already generated. Paying extra for this data to be created may not be worth it, but paying to have the steel pre-cut and ready to assemble I think would pay off in time and effort.

Is this cheating in saying I <span style="font-style: italic">built the boat? Maybe, but I think there is still enough to do to "count". 🙂

Decision: Kit if available

Coastal vs. Passagemaking

We all dream of the passage to the far lands. Now I’m different that I don’t dream of the South Sea Islands, but much more of Europe (U.K. and the mainland). Would I like to sail across the ocean on my own vessel’s bottom and see the land over the pond? Sure. Will I ever get to? Maybe, but probably not. WIll the first boat be "perfect" and the one I get to do this in? Nearly certainly not.

Can I cruise the extensive shores and inland waterways of the U.S. (Eastern Seaboard especially)? Yes. Will a Coastal vessal do for that? Yes. Shallow draft and geared toward a little less self sufficiency and seagoing ability seems a much better tradeoff. In the near-term I’ll still be working (either travelling to the boat and boating for a period of time here and there, or working from the boat if a couple of ventures work out). More space and less long-term live-aboard seems a better deal.

Even if I "make it" and can go to Europe, having a craft that will fit in the canals is probably more important to me than heavy sea-going ability.

Decision: Coastal


Bigger is always better, right? Not necessarily.

I don’t intend to (or be able to) have a crew. It will be me, my wife and my son (who currently isn’t old enough to help much, but that will change soon). Then he will run off to school, and it will be just the two of us. A craft small enough to easily handle for two is important.

Costs to berth, fuel, mainain, etc. all increase rapidly with size.

On the flip side, I’m a land dweller. I’m used to my space. Can I adjust to a small area for weeks at a time? Probably, but…

Decision: 32-42 ft.


Ah, the impossible question.

Decision: I’ll let you know. Over the next several posts, I’ll try to expand on this a bit…

Keel and stem

Got another couple of pieces cut out… not big deal… crammed it in between getting home and supper.

A few of points, though:

  1. The plans are great… quite detailed.
  2. Look at your tools… my speed square had metric and English markings, but I was so used to ignoring the metric side I wasn’t using it when I could have been.
  3. A new circular saw, even the cheapest thing Lowes had, is a BIG improvement over what I had, even though I thought it had been a good saw. I think it may have been dying for a while.
  4. Metric is both harder and easier to deal with for this type of stuff. I never thought about the handiness of millimeter accuracy in telling somebody how to cut something out.

And the biggest problem so far?

All the lumber is expected to be in metric sizes… I can only assume that standard lumber diminsions in the metric world are different than those here in the U.S. Having to cut boards down (rip width), etc. just to get a standard board to match is a bit of a pain.

If I build one of these again, I may try to re-work it to use standard U.S. diminsional lumber… might be a bit heavier in places, but I bet it would work.

Time: about 1 hour 

The European influence

Over my (now years) of research, I’ve gone through several phases of the type of boat I liked (wanted, drooled over, whatever). I’ve slowly become a bit (lot) more untraditional, if tradition is referring to the standard U.S. centric idea of cruising boats. I have never been greatly drawn toward the larger, go-fast boats… they are quite nice, just not "my thing".

My wife and I are both big fans of England and Europe, have traveled there several times, love the cultures and some of the "differences", and look forward to being able to go back. I would love to cruise the canals, both UK and mainland. A close friend has rented a narrowboat in England for a week and had a blast… we may get to do that someday.

Anyway, all of this has led me to researching the "dutch" or European designs more. Some of my current leanings come directly or indirectly from those areas.

I’m going to list a few links and some comments about them here, as a starting point. I’ll probably expand on this post and add some links from it to more detailed pages over time.


Euroship Services has some very interesting designs, from the small to the very large. They are fairly widely built, both professionally and by amatures. They have a large selection of "modernized" Dutch Barges. I have been particularly attracted to the Dutch Barge look/design. I feel that it could make an excellant coastal cruiser (maybe more than that if weather was watched closely). Not everyone agrees, but some do (check this thread).

Narrowboats (sized to fit the quite narrow U.K. canal system) are less interesting to me, but many of the ideas translate well from them to larger (wider) vessels. An interesting forum site is the Canal World Discussion Forums.

For kits, in addition to Euroship Services, Branson Boat Design Limited offers a smaller, but very interesting range of craft. I have exchanged email with them, and they are willing to work with me and a local steel supplier/CNC cutting house to have a "kit" produced locally to me, which seems more practical than shipping it across "the pond" (the Atlantic).

Lastly, for this article I’ll bring MacNaughton Design Group to light. Most of Mr. MacNaughton’s designs don’t fit in this arena, but he has one design, the Eventide, listed on his design page (scroll down). In correspondence with him, he has indicated it would cost a small amount (I don’t know that its a public figure… contact him through his web page for details) to finish this design. A very fair price for custom design work, I think.


The Elements of Boat Strength: For Builders, Designers, and Owners

Author: Dave Gerr

"This work is significant. It is the first to include a method of assessing structural strength in the context of the modern marine environment."–Commander M. C. Cruder, U.S. Coast Guard

Acclaimed author and naval architect Dave Gerr created this unique system of easy-to-use scantling rules and rules-of-thumb for calculating the necessary dimensions, or scantlings, of hulls, decks, and other boat parts, whether built of fiberglass, wood, wood-epoxy composite, steel, or aluminum. In addition to the rules themselves, The Elements of Boat Strength offers their context: an in-depth, plain-English discussion of boatbuilding materials, methods, and practices that will guide you through all aspects of boat construction.

Now you can avoid wading through dense technical engineering manuals or tackling advanced mathematics. The Elements of Boat Strength has all the formulas, tables, illustrations, and charts you need to judge how heavy each piece of your boat should be in order to last and be safe. With this book, an inexpensive scientific calculator, and a pad of paper, you’ll be able to design and specify all the components necessary to build a sound, long-lasting, rugged vessel.

What reviewers have said about Dave Gerr’s books: Propeller Handbook

"By far the best book available on the subject."– Sailing

"The best layman’s guide we’ve ever read."– Practical Sailor

"Dave Gerr and International Marine made a complicated topic understandable and put it into a handbook that is easy to use."– WoodenBoat

"Without doubt the definitive reference for selecting, installing, and understanding boat propellers."– Royal Navy Sailing Association Journal The Nature of Boats

"If you are not nautically obsessed before reading this book, you will most certainly be afterward."– Sailing

"Fascinating potpourri of information about today’s boats, modern and traditional."– WoodenBoat

Boatbuilding: A Complete Handbook of Wooden Boat Construction

Author: Howard I. Chapelle

Boatbuilding is a practical handbook and boatshop assistant, designed and written to meet the needs of the builder, covering the complete process of wooden boat construction. The text covers all types of craft from flat-bottom rowboats to ocean cruisers and commercial vessels, and aids the builder in overcoming difficulties and discouraging delays resulting from the lack of easily available information on the practical side of boatbuilding. Boatbuilding gives detailed instructions, with many illustrations, on all phases of boatbuilding written out of actual boatbuilding practice and aids the builder in planning each job in its proper sequence in relation to those that follow. After a chapter discussing the choice of plans suitable for amateur work there are chapters on lofting, the backbone and setting up, flat-bottom hull construction, V-bottom hull construction, round-bottom hull construction, deck framing and building, special construction (plywood, strip planking, lap-strake, diagonal, ribband carvel, canvas), heavy construction, joiner-work, iron-work, and spar making. Each chapter is organized for easy and quick reference, and the book is completely indexed. An added feature is the inclusion of building plans for nineteen boats designed for this book and suitable for amateur building.

Laying the keel

Keel, cut and laid Keel, cut and "laid"

Well, lay it on a sawhorse, anyhow.

As far was we’re counting, we have finished the first piece (got it all cut out and drilled, anyhow).

Given we mowed the lawns, cut off a fence, fixed a toilet and went saw shopping, its been a busy day. I’m glad we got a little "boat" in.

Time: 45min. 

We cut wood

Well, I guess we started.

Got part of the keel cut, and part of the lightening holes drilled out.

The skill saw died (I think the gearbox is shot)… got it to cut two last cuts.[img_assist|nid=72|title=Keel|desc=|link=popup|align=left|width=177|height=133]

Measured out for the notches… Dane (son) did great reading the instructions step by step on how far to measure which direction. Instructions are detailed and easy to follow.

Started drilling the 30 holes down the keel to make it lighter, but one plug got jammed in the hole saw and it was quitting time (bed time for little one, or past) so that was a good excuse to stop.

Not much progress, but every little bit.

Time: 1 hour