Friday, December 12, 2008

A Few Photos from the Boat Show

I spent four days last week working at the St. Petersburg Strictly Sail Boat Show, as mentioned in my previous post. Practically all of that time was spent on board the Boatsmith Tiki 30, Abaco, as David and I were busy each day from open to close answering questions and showing folks around on the only Wharram catamaran in the show. I did manage to take a few quick walks around and see some of the other boats on display that caught my interest. First, the photo below is a look into the cockpit of Abaco. I took many more photos of the details of various parts of this boat. For those who are interested in seeing more, I've posted them in an online gallery here:

Below is a Com-Pac Yachts Sun Cat. I've always liked the high quality trailerable pocket cruisers offered by Com-Pac.

Below is an Aere' Inflatable Catamaran developed and marketed by Dan Kunz, a long-time Wharram cat enthusiast based in the Keys who currently owns a Tangaroa. The Aere' catamaran stores in three bags and can be taken anywhere. More info is available at:

This unusual catamaran looks like it would be more at home in space than on the sea. It looks like it would be fun to sail. It's called a Spydra Cat 21. More info and photos at:

The Sea Pearl 21, of course, is one of the better known trailerable beach cruisers built in Florida. These boats have a huge following and many have been used for long distance expeditions.

On the upper end of seaworthy trailerable monohulls, the Seaward 26 is a good-looking and well-found shallow draft yacht that can be taken most anywhere.

The Rhodes 22 is another highly-regarded pocket cruiser that has a devoted following.

Among the prettiest boats at the show were the Norse Boat trailer sailors with their lapstrake hulls and traditional wood trim. Custom cockpit tents turn these small boats into camp cruisers.

There were many others, of course, mostly the larger models offered by Catalina, Hunter, Beneteau, Island Packet and other production builders. The trend among these builders is as always to maximize the accomodations for a given length and isolate the crew from the elements of sea, wind and sun. Despite the popularity of these concepts, our open deck Tiki 30 with its low freeboard and rakish lines attracted a lot of attention from folks who could just sense that it was a good seaworthy boat at first glance.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Strictly Sail Boat Show in St. Petersburg, FL

I'm heading to the Tampa Bay area tomorrow so I can work with my friend, David Halladay, of Boatsmith at the Strictly Sail Boat Show in St. Petersburg. The show begins on Thursday at noon and goes through Sunday. David will be exhibiting Abaco, his Wharram Tiki 30 that is documented in Pro-Built Tiki 30. I'm quite sure his Tiki 30 will be the only Wharram catamaran present among many factory-built, fiberglass sailing vessels. I'm not sure what kind of reaction we will get among the general boating public, but I expect we will be quite busy answering questions for the 4-day duration of the show.

David has done a lot of work and added many refining touches to the boat since taking it to the Mystic Wooden Boat show this past summer. All systems are now installed, as well as many cruising necessities such as the bimini. I can't wait to spend some time hanging out on board. David and I are also looking forward to visiting with Reuel Parker again, as he plans to attend as well. For anyone close enough to make the trip, this is a good chance to have a look at a Tiki 30, as well as many other boat designs that will be on display.


Take Interstate 275 into St. Petersburg. Exit on Interstate 175-
Exit 22 and continue to its end at the traffic light. Proceed
forward four traffic lights. The fourth light is First Street.
Turn left on First Street. The Mahaffey Theater and the show
grounds will be on your right-hand side. Plenty of on-site
parking is available at the municipal parking garages and
airport surrounding show grounds. The parking fee is $5.

Thurs. Dec 4 — 12 noon-6 p.m.
Fri. Dec 5 — 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sat. Dec 6 — 10 a.m.-7 p.m.
Sun. Dec 7 — 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Adults $10
Children (6-15) $5
Under 6 FREE
$2 off each ticket purchased online


This year, the St. Petersburg Boat show and Strictly Sail
merged to create one large show for all power and sailboats
in downtown St. Petersburg. Show Management puts on
this show and has been doing so for many years—along
with many other boat shows throughout the South. There
will be docks dedicated to sailboats only, and Latitudes and
Attitudes magazine will be putting on their traditional
Cruisers Bash on Saturday evening after the show at 7 p.m.

In-the-water sailboat displays will have dockage for 50-
plus boats. Brokerage sailboats will also be on display. This
is besides the many on-land sailboat displays. Along with
these boats will be over 200 in-water powerboats and more
on land.

For more info check out the event website:

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Interview on Furled Sails Podcast

A few months ago I posted this article about the Furled Sails podcasts that I enjoy listening to so much on long road trips. While putting together the article, I corresponded with the hosts, Christy and Noel Davis, to ask them about the program and how they came up with the idea to start this series of interviews with sailors, boat designers, boat builders, kayakers and other nautically obsessed individuals.

When I wrote this piece about listening to some of my heroes of small boat voyaging and boat design, I had no idea that Christy and Noel would want to interview me for the program. But my interest in their podcasts led them to take a look at these pages and to read my book, On Island Time, and shortly after I was answering their questions and talking about my kayak trips and other boating adventures in a telephone interview.

The interview is currently posted as the most recent one at the top of the Furled Sails website, accompanied by the photo below of me and my Tiki 26 project. The direct link is at for those readers who want to check it out. I was talking on my cell phone and the sound quality on my end is rather poor compared to the interviewers, but hopefully you can understand it. Like all the Furled Sails podcasts, this interview can be downloaded in MP3 format or you can stream it directly from the page on the site.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Working on Pangaea at Bay Ship and Yacht

As most of the readers of these pages know, my boating interests are focused on simple, obtainable vessels within the reach of almost anyone who cares to find their way to the water. My approach has always been to select the smallest, least complicated craft available to do a particular job, whether that job is to cross a protected bay, descend a wilderness river, or complete a bluewater passage.

My work, however, has often introduced me to the other extreme in pleasure boating, and as a marine carpenter I've worked on many multi-million dollar vessels from Palm Beach, Florida, to Sitka, Alaska. I recently had the opportunity to spend a few days working on one that tops them all when my friend and sometimes employer, David Halladay invited me to help him out on a job in Alameda, California.

Below is a photo of the Pangaea, a 192-foot steel megayacht that David had contracted to add some new teak decks and covering boards to while she was hauled out at Bay Ship and Yacht for repairs and refit.

The Pangaea is an expedition yacht, used for long-distance voyaging to the South Pacific. She has a range of 12,000 nautical miles at a speed of 11 knots, thanks to her generous fuel capacity of 65,000 U.S. gallons. Top speed is 14.5 knots, cruising speed 12.5 knots, and she accommodates 12 guests in 6 staterooms and 12 crew in 6 cabins. Her beam is 36' and she draws 10'.

I was surprised to learn that this huge vessel was built in my own home state, at the former Halter-Marine yard in Gulfport, now owned by Trinity Yachts. Here is link to more details about the Pangaea on the Trinity Yachts website:

The discrepancy in LOA from 184-feet at time of delivery to 192-feet now is due to the swim platform that the present owner recently added. This change was one of the reasons David and his Boatsmith crew went to California to work on the yacht. The new swim platform, with it's enclosed rails, looks more like the cockpit on a smaller sportfishing yacht. This entire area needed teak decks and covering boards on the rails and doors.

Below is one of David's photos, taken from about the middle of the swim platform and showing the new covering boards they installed. After he and his crew returned to Florida, there were some checking issues with the teak in the curved inside corners of the coamings. This was caused by the extremely low humidity of the California climate, and had never been an issue on similar corners David had done in south Florida. When David asked for my help in changing out the corners, I jumped on the opportunity to work a few days at Bay Ship and Yacht and to get to the West Coast for a change of scenery.

Here, you can see a close-up of one of the corners. The problem pieces were the vertical parts of the coaming right inside the 90-degree curve. David finally solved the checking problem by extending the straight adjoining parts and making the curved parts shorter.

While we were working, we lost a half day while the engineers conducted a sea trial try to determine the source of a harmonic vibration in one of the prop shafts. I took this shot of Pangaea in the ship channel as she returned to the yard.

Cruising on big boats like this does not interest me, but working on them is another matter, and there is always a lot to learn on such a project. Big yachts mean big budgets, so no expenses are spared in fitting them out. This makes for a great opportunity for a marine carpenter to work on projects that just wouldn't happen on smaller, more reasonable vessels. More about the teak decks and other jobs David and his crew did on the Pangaea can be found on his Boatsmith Shaving's blog here:

Monday, October 13, 2008

Submersible Hand-held VHF Radios

Tonight I reluctantly boxed up the half dozen new submersible hand-held VHF radios I've been testing over the summer to send them back to the editors at Sea Kayaker magazine. It would have been nice if they had just "forgotten" about them, but at least by doing this test I know exactly what I'll be looking for when I get ready to shop for a new hand-held sometime next year.

The models tested are shown below. From left to right: Uniden MHS 550, West Marine VHF 150, Cobra MR HH 425 LI VP, Standard Horizon HX75OS, Humminbird VHF 55 S, and ICOM IC-M34.

These radios are all rated as submersible to one meter for a half hour. I dunked them underwater to find out and compared features, ease of use and ergonomics with the focus on use by sea kayakers. The results will be published soon in an upcoming issue of Sea Kayaker, and I'll also publish the full article here after the print version is released.

Update 1-10-2009: The full article is now available here

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Testing the Astral Buoyancy V-Eight PFD

I've been asked on occasion to do equipment reviews for Sea Kayaker magazine. One of the more useful items the editors ever sent me to test was the Astral Buoyancy V-Eight PFD I received from them back at the beginning of summer. I hate wearing any kind of PFD when I'm paddling in hot weather, unless the conditions are so dangerous I just can't justify taking the risk. Usually, you'll see me kayaking with my PFD stuffed under the bungie cords on my stern or foredeck, and most of the time I don't feel I need it unless I'm paddling a surf zone or the wind has picked up enough offshore to build seas large enough to require occasional bracing. On rivers, I don't put one one unless I'm about to run a tricky section of rapids where capsize is a possibility.

This new PFD designed for hot weather paddling may change my mind, though. I tested it in the most miserable conditions imaginable - on a dead still lake in south Mississippi on a typical hot and humid summer afternoon. Here is my assessment of it as published in the current issue of Sea Kayaker magazine, which is on the newstands now:

Astral Buoyancy V-Eight PFD
Reviewed by Scott B. Williams
Sea Kayaker, October 2008

Heat and high humidity are the norm most of the year where I live and do most of my paddling:. the Gulf of Mexico and the slow-moving, swampy rivers that empty into it. Living in the Deep South, I actually prefer hot weather paddling to cooler climates and waters, so when I look elsewhere to travel for kayak touring it’s usually even farther south in the tropics.

Hot weather paddling offers challenges of its own, not the least of which is how to stay comfortable sitting in the cockpit all day under the scorching sun. In cold weather, you can always add more clothing. When temperatures are 90 degrees-plus in the shade and not a breeze is stirring, excess clothing is the last thing you’ll want, and shedding the PFD is also a strong temptation. Paddlers in this kind of heat can often be seen with their PFDs stuffed under the shock cords on their stern or foredecks, and I admit that I’m as guilty as any. Much of the time, the warm and somewhat protected waters I paddle do not merit constant wearing of a PFD, but if it were comfortable enough, I would keep one on anyway.

Most PFDs trap body heat as you paddle, adding greatly to hot weather discomfort. They also chafe bare skin, more of which is exposed when it’s hot as paddlers will likely be shirtless or in a T-shirt or bikini top rather than fully clothed under the PFD. Astral Buoyancy has addressed the need for a comfortable hot-weather PFD with the introduction of their new V-Eight. Billed as “the world’s first breathable lifejacket,” the V-Eight has special contoured foam, which reduces body-to-PFD contact by 70% and has vents ports to allow hot air to escape and fresh air to enter.

I tested the Astral Buoyancy V-Eight by spending a hot June day paddling on Lake Okhissa in the Homochitto National Forest of south Mississippi. This inland lake is surrounded by dense pine and hardwood forests and not a breeze was stirring to bring relief in the 92-degree heat as I paddled for miles over stagnant brown water. This was certainly a day when I would not be wearing my old PFD, as the chances of capsize were slim to none and the water was warm, but I found the Astral Buoyancy V-Eight surprisingly comfortable.

The design places the buoyancy panels high and to the center of the body in the upper back and chest, getting them completely out of the way of the paddle stroke and clear of the rear cockpit coaming. The soft mesh liner on the inside is comfortable against the skin and allows the vent ports to function well. These ports consist of a large rectangular opening in the middle of the back panel and two smaller, oval-shaped openings in each chest panel. The PVC free foam buoyancy panels are dense, but quite flexible and able to contour to the body. The inside surfaces of these foam panels utilize “Airescape technology.” This surface consists of ridges with space between to create air passages and minimize the amount of foam surface in contact with the body. The inside surface of each panel is also specifically contoured to fit the part of the body it will be in contact with. The foam is dense enough to retain its shape after compression, but flexible enough to allow it to contour to the wearer. All the foam throughout each panel is the same material, but glue lines visible in the vent ports indicate that the larger panels, such as the center back one, is laminated from more than one layer.

I found that paddling for hours with this PFD was no nuisance at all and did not feel that it contributed to my discomfort in the heat. The only time I noticed any chafe at all was when the sides of the front panels rubbed against my inner arms while using an extended power stroke, as in sprinting. If additional ventilation is needed, the zipper can be undone completely and the PFD will stay in place with just the front quick-release buckle secured.

When I got into the water to test the V-Eight PFD for buoyancy it easily kept my entire head and face completely clear of the water. With the straps adjusted properly the PFD stayed in place, shifting upward only about an inch while supporting my full weight in deep water. Swimming with the PFD on was natural and unrestricted.

An expandable mesh pocket on the front of the right chest panel provides space for emergency gear such as signaling devices. This pocket is located low on the panel and to the outside of the vent ports in the foam. There is room for a compact VHF radio as well as basic emergency gear. An identical pocket on the other side would allow better distribution of this gear. The placement of the pocket away from the vent ports should not interfere with the venting function. There is a single attachment point for a rescue knife on the right side as well, located above the vent ports. I would prefer to have one of these on each side as well to provide more options for carrying the knife as it may be easier to reach from across the chest rather than on the same side as the drawing hand.

Conclusion: As a hot weather paddler who normally leaves my PFD strapped to the deck, I’m happy to have found a PFD that is specifically designed for my kind of climate. Wearing a PFD at all times is smart, even when it’s hot, and I’m glad the need for a one that is comfortable enough to tolerate in the heat was finally recognized. An additional pocket and attachment point would make Astral Buoyancy V-Eight everything I need in a PFD.

The Astral Buoyancy V-8 PFD comes in red or blue, and is offered in three sizes, measured at widest torso circumference: Small/Medium 31-37”, Medium/Large 38-44”, and Large/Extra Large 45-51”. The buoyancy is rated at minimum 15.5 lbs. at time of manufacture. Shell fabric is 420x210 denier Ripstop Nylon. Liner fabric is Polyester Mesh. Hardware is Acetal Plastic and zippers are self-locking Vislon teeth from YKK. The MSRP is $108.95. Astral Buoyancy Company, 2002 Riverside Drive, Suite 42-A, Asheville, NC 28804. Website:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Canoeing On Location in the Swamps of Mississippi

I spent the day Monday working as a swamp guide, taking a group of Hollywood filmmakers on a scouting trip to check out possible shooting locations for an upcoming major motion picture that will be shot here in Mississippi next year. This was not the first time I worked on this project. Two years ago when the film was in the early planning stages, my friend Travis Easley and I guided the director and some of his associates on an overnight canoe camping trip along the Leaf River. They came back shortly after that wanting to see some more typical Southern swamp scenery, so Ernest Herndon and I took them to the Pascagoula River. Both trips went exceptionally well, and writer/director Gary Ross was impressed with what he saw and assured me they would be returning to film The Free State of Jones here on location.

That was a little over two years ago, and I didn't hear another word about it until Sunday, when they called wanting to know if I could provide two canoes and take them back to the Pascagoula swamp to for a couple hours on Monday. It was a scramble to get ready on such short notice, but we managed and once again the crew was impressed with what they saw here in the Magnolia State. If things go as planned, some of the scenery in the photos below may be coming to the big screen someday in the not too distant future. I can't disclose the location here, but this will likely be one of many spots in the area that will serve as potential backdrops in this story of Newt Knight and his band of deserters who refused to fight for the South during the American Civil War.

Below: Gary Ross, the writer and director, is well known for his work on such films as Sea Biscuit and Pleasantville. He's a real adventurer who loves getting into the backwoods and has really taken a liking to the remote swamps of Mississippi.

Some of these scenes are undoubtedly little changed from the time this story took place.

Newt Knight and his small army of followers eluded the Confederate troops sent to find them by disappearing into the swamps along the Leaf River in Jones County. It would still be easy to hide out in the wetlands along south Mississippi's rivers and streams.

We saw several small 'gators in just a short stretch of paddling along a dead oxbow lake. Where there are young ones, there have to be some big adults as well. The alligator population has really been on the rise here in recent years.

I'm looking forward to more of this kind of location scouting work in the coming weeks and months as this film comes closer to reality. It will be quite an experience to see how a production crew works in such a difficult environment, and it will be awesome to go to the movies and see the woods and waters I have loved all my life on the big screen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Boatsmith's Tiki 30 Launched at the Mystic Wooden Boat Show

Below: David Halladay aboard his Pro-Built Tiki 30 at the Mystic Wooden Boat Show this past weekend. Click on the image for a larger view:

(photo from the Wooden Boat Forum)

My friend David Halladay has completed his first Wharram catamaran project, the Tiki 30 that I've mentioned here before and that I have written about in his Pro-Built Tiki 30 blog. I've also taken part in some of the construction of this boat on two separate trips to his shop in Jupiter, Florida, building the mast on my last trip in April. I was not able to help in the final two weeks, as I could not get away to go back to Florida, but with a final push of working 12 and 14 hour days, 7 days per week, David and his crew just managed to put all the final pieces together in time to attend the Mystic Wooden Boat Show.

One reason they worked so hard at it is that James Wharram himself, along with co-designer Hanneke Boone, was present at this year's show. James was an honored guest and speaker as one of several multihull pioneers featured this year. David called me Friday night to tell me that James and Hanneke had been aboard the Tiki 30 for a long visit. Our new acquaintance, designer Reuel Parker, also showed up on Friday, and needing a place to crash, spent the night on David's Tiki 30. He was gone the next morning, so I wonder what he thought of the accommodations. Maybe David will fill me in later when I hear from him again. I'm sure he's on the road today, making the long trip back to south Florida with the Tiki 30 in tow. I regret that I missed the opportunity to make it to the show and meet James Wharram, but hopefully there will be other chances. I spent the time over the weekend working on my own Tiki 26, and progress has been good in the long days of early summer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Dream Destroyed: Charlie's Resolution Shipwrecked

Below: Charle's Whipple's self-built Resolution - a sturdy little offshore cruiser built to handle the conditions of the Southern Ocean. The boat was just launched in April of this year, and now sadly, has been wrecked on the rocky coast of New Zealand in the first leg of a planned voyage around the world.

I've been checking in on Charlie Whipple's blog about the building of Resolution for more than two years now, since I first read an article in Small Craft Advisor about his plans to build the John Welsford Sundowner design and sail it around the world. It caught my attention because it was an interesting design: a small, but heavily-built displacement cruiser designed to handle a circumnavigation by way of the southern capes. Charlie Whipple's planned solo voyage around the world was an ambitious undertaking, but with dogged resolution he completed the first stage: building the stout little boat in two and a half years under the guidance of the designer at his shop in New Zealand.

Though only 21-feet long, this is one big pocket cruiser, and no small construction project to undertake, as you can see below in this photo of Charlie working in the cockpit before the decks were on.

John Welsford is known for designing beautiful small boats, and even many of his open boats have undertaken impressive offshore voyages. The Sundowner design was specifically drawn for Charlie's requirements as an evolution of Welsford's tiny offshore cruiser design he called Swaggie. Simplicity of systems were a priority in these requirements, but no compromises were to be made in the area of strength. The result was one stout and good-looking little voyager. Below you can see Charlie at the dock with Resolution shortly after the launching.

I learned of Resolution's tragic end just this morning as I browsed through the latest threads on the forum. (The thread can be found at this link). There are also links from this thread to some video footage of the boat awash in the surf off a rocky shore. Charlie was rescued unhurt by a search and rescue helicopter after setting off a distress signal from his EPIRB.

Though his boat could have probably survived anything he would have likely encountered out at sea, what did him in was the rocks of land as he apparently got off course near shore while sleeping or extremely fatigued. This is always a danger of singlehanded sailing and illustrates again how boats are safer far at sea than anywhere near land. This same scenario has been repeated over and over and could happen to anyone who pushes themselves to exhaustion on a singlehanded or shorthanded voyage where getting enough rest is difficult. Even the great singlehanding legend, Bernard Moitessier lost his boat Marie-Therese II in the same manner in the West Indies. Having experienced hallucinations myself while trying to stay awake at the helm for more than 36 hours, I know all too well how disoriented one can become.

I really hate to hear about the loss of such a fine little boat after so much hard work was put into building her. I was really looking forward to reading Charlie's voyage reports as he made his way around the world, and I wish him the best now in whatever he does, whether it means starting over or moving on to a different dream. Having lost a cruising boat to a hurricane myself, I can relate in some way to pain he must feel.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Furled Sails Podcast On the Road

In the past few months I've been spending a lot of time on the road, including several 14-hour one way trips to south Florida to work in the Boatsmith shop with my friend David Halladay. I like time on the road to think, and often drive with no music or other distractions, but there's no doubt that the time can pass faster when you have something interesting to listen to. Last summer I purchased my first Ipod and uploaded all of my music library, clearing up space in my small truck by eliminating the need for carrying all those CDs around. But even though I love music, I get tired of it after a few hours and want to hear something else.

What could be better for a sailor, boatbuilder, and kayaker than a series of interesting podcasts featuring interviews with some of the leading small boat adventurers and designers in the world? When I discovered Furled Sails, billed as "the world's first sailng podcast," I knew I had found something to help those long hours on the road fly by.

Furled Sails is hosted by Noel and Christy Davis, who are based in the Florida panhandle and are active small boat sailors and adventurers themselves. They had the excellent idea of creating this podcast by conducting telephone interviews with noteworthy individuals in the world of small boat sailing, building and design, and now the site contains well over 100 archived interviews that you can download and listen to for free. Noel and Christy have managed to land interviews with some of the biggest names in boating, and their list of guests includes the likes of John Guzzwell, Lin and Larry Pardey, Webb Chiles, Ted Brewer, George Buehler, Jimmy Cornell, and Reese Palley, to name just a few. Their boating interests seem to lie closely in line with my own, in that most of the designers and adventurers profiled are proponents of small, simple vessels, both wind-driven and human powered with paddles or oars.

It was really interesting to hear some of my favorite boating authors describing the adventures they wrote about in their books that I had read many years previously. I especially enjoyed the two-part series featuring John Guzzwell as he shared many interesting tidbits about his solo circumnavigation in a 20-foot homebuilt boat that were not included in his book:Trekka Round the World The Webb Chiles series was great as well; hearing him describing his ocean crossings in an 18-foot open boat (Chidiock Tichborne) and the intentional sinking of his perfectly seaworthy cruising boat: Resurgam.

If you are a sailor, boatbuilder, kayaker, canoeist or just an armchair adventurer, you are certain to find something of interest among the archived podcasts on Furled Sails. Here are are some of the most recent shows, in chronological order:

Serge Testa

Floating Fox

Fine Tolerance 1

Fine Tolerance 2

Mississippi voyage

Lugnut 1

Lugnut 2

Robby Smith 1

Robby Smith 2

Sailing Grace

Jimmy Cornell

Webb Chiles 1

Webb Chiles 2

John Wellsford 1

John Wellsford 2


Shane St. Clair 1

Shane St. Clair 2

You can download and listen to these and all the other podcasts directly on the Furled Sails website, or if you have iTunes installed in your computer you can go to the iTunes store and search under the "podcasts" category for "Furled Sails." You can then upload as many of the individual shows as you like for free into your iTunes library and sync it to your iPod. This is what I do each time I am anticipating a road trip and I look forward to hearing four or five new interviews each time I head to Florida. Since most of the interviews are more than 45 minutes long, the miles slip away as I get inspired by the words of people doing the things I am most interested in. This is way better than anything I could find on the radio - and best of all - there are no commercials. Christy and Noel are providing a great service and it's obviously a labor of love. Check it out. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Boatbuilding with Non-Marine Materials

Below: Joubert Marine Plywood - an example of some of the finest boatbuilding plywood you can buy. This is 6mm Okoume plywood manufactured in France to the BS 1088 standard. Each sheet has the Lloyd's of London stamp of approval.

I was recently involved in a discussion on the Wharram catamaran forum regarding the cost of building a boat and the question of whether or not it is necessary to use "marine" grade materials in the construction. (View discussion here)

This is something I've been meaning to address here anyway, as the cost of most boatbuilding materials are going up and probably will continue to do so. In the often long and difficult decision making process that proceeds the beginning of a new boat construction project or the refitting of an old one, cost is certainly an issue for most of us. Although we would like to be able to nail down a number before ordering the first piece of wood or gallon of epoxy, accurately estimating the cost of a project is difficult, even for professionals, as there are so many variables. This is especially true for boat projects larger than canoes, kayaks or the simplest of skiffs. Cruising boats with interior accommodations, auxiliary power and sailing rigs can vary widely in cost depending on the care and thought taken in the selection of each and every component.

Since the hull (or hulls in the case of catamarans and trimarans) is usually the first part built in a new boat construction project, many builders are tempted right from the beginning to save money on hull materials. Plywood and epoxy composite is perhaps the most common type of wooden boat construction chosen by first time builders, especially since there are so many intriguing designs available for all types of vessels using some form of this construction. Many new builders incorrectly see the plywood as a major component of the boat, (after all, it is a plywood boat, right?) but the reality of it is that in most modern designs that rely heavily on epoxy for the assembly, sheathing and fairing of the hull, the plywood cost is a small percentage in relation to other materials. In fact on a boat like the Tiki 26 catamaran that I am building, the plywood cost is in the range of 10 to 12-percent of the the complete boat, in sailaway condition. And this percentage is based on using the good stuff - BS-1088 Okoume marine ply from Joubert, as pictured above.

The temptation to save money by purchasing non-marine plywood can be quite strong, especially when a new builder prices marine plywood for the first time. But the cheaper alternatives are, unfortunately, miserably inadequate in most cases, depending on the design being built. The Tiki 26 is a good example, as it is a cruising size boat, but being a catamaran, depends on strong but lightweight materials for good performance. The hulls, decks and cabins are all built of just 6mm (or 1/4-inch) thick plywood to keep the total boat weight in the range of 1500 lbs. Yet, this is a sailboat designed to go offshore and cope with the conditions that can be expected in that environment. The design is well proven for its intended use, and of course, the thin plywood is reinforced with well-engineered interior stringers and the epoxy joinery and sheathing methods employed in its construction, but still, 6 millimeters is a thin skin. It would not do to have core voids or cores with lots of knots or partial panels of a lesser grade wood in the interior of a plywood hull skin that thin. To get the full strength required by the design, a quality marine plywood with cores as good as the face veneers is clearly the best choice.

Although one can occasionally find good-looking exterior plywood at Home Depot or the local independent building supply vendor, the quality is never consistent from bundle to bundle and even varies a lot with individual sheets. Cut into most of this plywood and you will find even greater inconsistencies in the cores. Having built many cabinets and other residential carpentry projects over a period of years, I have seen the quality of almost all commonly available plywood decrease - from cabinet grade birch to exterior BC yellow pine. It's hard to find plywood that is adequate for even the roughest construction these days, much less any that would be good for a boat hull.

But having said this, there are exceptions and there are types of boats that are designed to allow for a margin of poorer quality materials. A type that comes to mind are the shallow draft cruising designs of Reuel Parker. His cold-molded construction method is designed to allow layers of lesser grade exterior plywood to build up the hull to the required thickness. There is a margin for these poorer grade laminates in such hulls because of the much greater overall thickness of the hull skin, particularly on the bottom.

This drawing below, scanned from Parker's book, The New Cold-Molded Boatbuilding: From Lofting to Launching, illustrates the layers used to build up these heavy hulls. In this case two opposing diagonal layers of 3/4-inch thick plywood strips are laminated over a longitudinal layer of 5/8-inch solid tongue-and-groove planking. Used this way, good quality exterior construction grade plywood of Doug fir or Southern Yellow Pine can be perfectly adequate, as the hull is not depending on one thin sheet for all it's strength. Cutting the plywood into the 9 1/2-inch wide strips as shown here also allows you to easily see if there are any huge voids in the core and allows you to discard the worst parts of a given 4 x 8-foot sheet.

The other case for non-marine plywood is in the construction of small, simple skiffs that are inexpensive in terms of both time and money invested, and can be viewed as somewhat disposable after a few years of use. In this case you might want to save some money by using a good exterior grade plywood, sealed well with epoxy. If the boat is maintained and kept out of the weather when not in use, it could last a very long time. I've built two Phil Bolger dinghies this way, using exterior grade 1/4" Luan plywood, the type sold as "underlayment" for flooring in my local building supply. At about $10 per sheet, it's cheap and can sometimes be of surprisingly good quality.

Here's one of the dinghies - the Bolger "Nymph" design - which makes an excellent rowing tender for a cruising boat. I built this one with cheap Luan right from the plans given in Dynamite Payson's Build the New Instant Boats. This particular one, built for a friend to use in his fishing pond, has not seen much hard use. My other one spent several years stored upside down on the deck of my Grampian 26 and was used extensively as a dinghy the entire time I owned the boat. It's a little beaten up and rough, but still sound and seaworthy.

What it comes down to in choosing construction materials for a boat is the intended use of the vessel and also the size of your investment in time and materials. For a dinghy like the one shown above, it's optional as to whether you want to use BS-1088 Okoume at more than $60 per sheet or exterior Luan for about $10-15 per sheet. The time to build the dinghy is only a relatively small investment of evenings and maybe a couple of weekends. If you get a few years of service out of it, your time and money will be well spent.

If you are considering building a cruising-sized vessel from wood composite construction, however, especially a lightweight multihull, the time and hard labor required will more than offset the difference in plywood costs. Not many people can look at such a boat as "disposable," so consideration must be given to insuring the vessel has a long life and retains a decent resale value throughout that life. The best way to do this is to use high quality materials throughout and to document this use for a possible future buyer. The ease of working with top quality marine plywood is another factor that makes the whole project more pleasant and saves a lot of labor on fitting and finishing plywood parts. A well-built and properly maintained wooden boat built this way of excellent materials can be expected to last a lifetime and beyond. Anyone willing to put a couple thousand hours of their life into the construction of a cruising boat should expect nothing less.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Montgomery 17 Trailer Sailor Crosses the Pacific

This is Strawanza, a custom-built Montgomery 17 trailor sailor that has crossed most of the Pacific and is enroute to the West coast of Africa.

How big does your sailboat have to be to cross an ocean? If you believe what most of the writers in the yachting press would have you believe, you need at least a 40-footer. At least that was the case until recently. In the current issue of Sail, the typical advertising-driven sailing rag with glossy full page ads for yachts costing a half a million dollars or more, the "new boat roundup" cover story attempts to explain why 50' is the new 40'. The article, entitled: Life Begins at 50, profiles 38 production sailboat designs ranging in size from 50 to 60 feet.

It seems that for some reason most boat owners are always craving a larger boat, no matter what size they currently sail. According to the article, average boat size has been on the rise for years, and the author claims this is a logical progression from the days when most boats in any given harbor were under 40 feet. Logical? Please tell me why? The sea hasn't changed since the 1950's, 60's and 70's when all kinds of adventurers like John Guzzwell, Robin Lee Graham, Tania Abei, Lin and Larry Pardey and countless others were circumnavigating the globe in boats under 30 feet. What has changed is that navigation equipment, communications technology, safety gear, and boat construction methods have gotten much better. So you would think that small boat voyaging would be more popular and more doable than ever before and with a greater margin of safety.

The truth is, there are still a lot of adventurous sailors out there making incredible voyages in small boats. Just after flipping through this latest issue of Sail magazine, I came across a link on the forum about a Montgomery 17 trailer sailor making landfall in Vanuatu. That may not sound all that extraordinary until you read further and see that this single-handed voyager departed from the coast of California.

Willi, an experienced solo sailor from Austria, commissioned a custom crafted Montgomery 17 from Montgomery Boats in Dana Point, California. He had read about the Montgomery 17's racing record, the strength of its construction, and proven seaworthiness of the Lyle Hess designed pocket cruiser. Montgomery 17's have cruised the Caribbean, sailed from California to Hawaii and from Cape Hatteras to San Diego via the Panama Canal, and sailed the length of the Mississippi. Many others have crossed the Sea of Cortez and have made countless trips to Catalina and the Channel Islands.

Willi's voyage is perhaps the most ambitious of them all, however. His homeport and yacht club is in Namibia, on the West coast of Africa. He will sail his custom Montgomery 17, which he christened Strawanza down the coast of California from San Diego, across the Pacific, then cross the Indian Ocean, to round the Cape of Good Hope and up the West coast of Africa to home. Planned time enroute, including stopovers is around 15 months.

The photo below gives you an idea just how small a Montgomery 17 is, but despite appearances, this is a boat that can go to weather, is self-righting and can carry food, water, supplies and safety gear for 100 days at sea.

The Norvane Self Steering gear bolted on the transom is not something you see every day on a trailer sailor. Many more photos and descriptions of the modifications done to Strawanza can be found here.

There's no question that crossing oceans in a 17-foot sailboat is not for everyone, but then again, neither is owning a 50 to 60-foot luxury yacht. There are a lot of happy mediums and lots of boats in the 20-32 foot range that can do the job in safety, a degree of comfort, and for a reasonable outlay in purchase price or refitting of a tired, old example. Voyages like Strawanza, serve as inspiration and reassurance for those of us who want to go to sea but don't want to grow old being melon farmers while trying to earn enough to pay for the boats magazines like Sail tell us we should be sailing.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Another Backwoods Drifter Finished

The Mississippi Backwoods Drifter that I've been working on in my spare time is now complete and has been picked up by the owner, who will use it around the creeks and bayous of Mandeville, Louisiana. I hope he will send some photos of the boat in the water when he launches it. Here are some shots I took in the backyard just before he arrived to get it on Tuesday.

This particular boat is modified slightly from the original Drifter I designed for Ernest Herndon, which is double-ended and identical bow and stern. The modification here is a partial transom above the waterline, allowing for the use of an electric trolling motor. The hull shape is the same below the waterline, so the easy paddling characteristics of the design have been retained.

Here is a close-up of the modified stern, showing the teak motor mount that was left unfinished. The rest of the solid trim is ash; epoxy coated and varnished.

Here's a view of the interior from the stern showing the varnished Okoume plywood and ash trim. The mid-ships seat can be adjusted fore and aft to properly distribute weight depending on if the boat is used solo or with two paddlers.

I really like this modified version of the Backwoods Drifter, and wish I had the time to build one for my own use. Maybe someday, but that will have to wait until my Tiki 26 project is done.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wharram Tiki 21 For Sale in Colorado

If anyone is looking for a Wharram Tiki 21 in the U.S. that literally needs nothing and is ready to go, you could scarcely find a better one than Element, the example I restored for my own use in 2006 and sold last year to Bill Cotton, of Fort Collins, Colorado. The restoration and refitting of Element is well documented on my blog at:

The sailing season is short on the high mountain lakes of Colorado, so Element has not been heavily used since Bill bought her last summer, and should still be in the excellent condition she was in when I sold her.

Here is a short video clip I took while sailing in the Mississippi Sound last year just before the boat was sold. In this video I'm steering from the leeward hull, averaging 9-10 knots on a reach near the north coast of Horn Island. This was taken during a great 4-day beachcruising trip in May, 2007.

The Tiki 21 can be easily beached and draws only 14 inches, which is quite handy in areas like the north coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Element comes with a custom road trailer, opening up lots of sailing possibilities from inland lakes to any coast you care to drive to.

Below is a photo of Element with her current owner, Bill Cotton, the day he bought the boat from me. Below the photo is his description of the boat and his contact information.

This boat was beautifully restored by Scott Williams. It comes with main, jib, and spinnaker, a 5HP Nissan 4-cycle OB, a deck tent, trailer, ground handling equipment including two hull dollies and tow bar. It is a great sailing boat; goes well to weather, ideal for shallow water sailing as no center board or dagger board, no deep extending rudder. I have had it up to 15kts. It is very stable. It handled well with no hull raising in 50kt+ downburst. Located in Colorado. “Some assembly required!”; cell: 970-222-6812. $9000.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Priming and Painting a Backwoods Drifter

This week I've been in the process of prepping the Backwoods Drifter I've been building in my spare time for paint and varnish. This boat, which I'm building for a customer, was originally going to be delivered unfinished, but since he was not in a particular hurry for it, the owner decided to have me go ahead and do the painting and varnishing.

I had the first coat of primer on it a couple of weeks ago, before I went to south Florida to work on another boat. When I got back to it this week the primer was sanded and another fill layer of fairing epoxy applied to smooth out various minor imperfections in the fiberglass sheathing. I use a compound of about 50/50 phenolic microballoons and silica for this fairing mix. This makes a relatively easy to sand filler that is still hard enough to make a good substrate for paint.

After sanding this final filling coat down to 80 grit, I then cleaned the surface of dust and wiped with denatured alcohol before applying another coat of primer. The primer used here is Interlux Pre-Coat, a product designed to be used with the one-part polyurethane paint I'm using for the project - Interlux Brightsides. This primer comes in white or gray. I used the gray for this hull as it will get dark green topcoat. Below is a view of the primed hull. The interior at this stage coated with 2-3 coats of pure epoxy, and has yet to be sanded smooth for varnishing.

Yesterday I applied the first coat of finish paint, the Interlux Brigthsides in Sea Green. It was put on with a brush after first sanding the primer to 120 grit. This first coat is just a build coat to get a good base color. It will be sanded with 220 and overcoated at least 2 and probably 3 more times, using a foam roller for application. I was not worried so much about dust on the first coat, so it was done in the garage. For the final coats, the boat will be moved outside and painted early in the mornings when there is no dust in the air. The process takes time, as you must wait until the next day to sand and recoat. Instead of sanding this coat today, I turned the hull back over to work on the interior.

Sanding and varnishing the interior will take several days as well, as only one coat per day can be applied. The epoxy coatings must first be sanded smooth to 120 grit and since it is a clear finish, no fairing compounds can be used. It takes much longer than fairing the painted exterior. Because of the bright interior, all the fillets and glue joints are made with epoxy thickened with wood flour and silica, a mixture that is quite hard to sand when cured.

A high-build varnish does a lot to smooth out the surfaces over the epoxy as well, provided enough coats are applied. I use Z-Spar Flagship varnish for surfaces such as this that will be exposed to a lot of U.V. light. On a boat like this that will likely be stored inside or under some sort of shelter, 3 or 4 coats of this varnish will last for years. By the time the 3rd or 4th coat of varnish is done, the first coat of paint on the hull will be well cured for sanding and I can proceed with the final exterior coats.

Although it's dusty here, you can get some sense of how the hull will look with the dark green topside paint and varnished ash rubrails. The plywood is all BS 1088 Okoume, which also finishes out on the interior to a pleasing mahogany color. With any luck with the weather, I'll have all the necessary coats inside and out within the next couple of weeks.

More on the Backwoods Drifter design here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Update on Reuel Parker's Latest Build

Back in February, I posted here about how I had the privilege to meet one of my favorite boat designers - Reuel Parker, while I was in Florida working with David Halladay on the beginning of his Tiki 30 project. Well, I've just returned from another work trip to south Florida last week, and this time David and I had the opportunity to visit with Mr. Parker two more times. These visits led to lengthy conversations with the designer about his latest project and boatbuilding and sailing in general.

As when we met him in February, Reuel Parker is working 7 days per week on his latest boatbuilding project - the 45-foot sharpie schooner, Ibis. Ibis is coming along nicely and much progress has been made since I saw the boat the first time. When we arrived one evening at 6:00, thinking maybe Reuel was ready to quit for the day, he was in the process of fitting the starboard bulwark/toerail and was not planning to stop for at least another hour until we interrupted him with an offer of a cold bottle of ale. Remembering us from before and and realizing that we had a genuine interest in his boats and were not there just to bullshit and waste his time, Reuel opened up quite a bit more and really showed us around the boat, explaining how and why he was doing certain things.

The photo below shows Ibis at the stage of construction she was at on Monday, April 28. The interior is mostly done, the houses and decks are completed and sheathed with Xynole polyester cloth, and the bulwarks were being installed.

Reuel describes the new design as a longer version of a 36-foot double-ended sharpie schooner based on the Straits of Juan del Fuca mackeral-fishing sharpies of Washington State in the 1880's. The new sharpie is 45' on deck, 10' beam, 2'6" draft, 15,000 lbs displacement, with an unladen trailer weight of 12,000 lbs. She is a bald-headed gaff schooner, with self-tending sails. She has a new-design centerboard made of steel and lead-ballasted which is a foil-shaped fin when down. The boat sleeps four in two private cabins, has a hot-water-shower, solar-powered refrigeration, and carries an incredible 300 gallons of water and 80 gallons of fuel. Auxiliary power is an Isuzu 3LD2 diesel (40hp), which will propel her at speeds over 8 knots using less than .75 gallons per hour.

You may notice from the photos that the cabin houses appear a bit high in proportion to the hulls compared to some of Parker's designs, but he said this was a compromise to achieve standing headroom for him (5', 10") in a sharpie of 45-feet. The boat is designed for living aboard and extended cruising, and standing headroom is highly desirable for this purpose. Visually, the extra height of the cabins will not stand out too much with the lowering effect of the high bulwarks he is installing and the contrasting paint scheme of cabin sides.

This boat is coming together at an amazing pace for one man working alone, but Reuel Parker clearly knows what he is doing when it comes to boat construction, and he doesn't waste time during daylight hours. He has also perfected the art of building large, high quality vessels with mostly ordinary construction-grade materials, eliminating the need for exotic hardwoods and other materials with the "marine" designation that so dramatically increases the price of boatbuilding. Parker's methods and materials are described in great detail in his books: The New Cold-Molded Boatbuilding: From Lofting to Launching and The Sharpie Book

Below is another view of Ibis, from the port quarter, showing the foremast tabernacle. Both masts will be fitted in tabernacles, as the boat is designed as a "maxi-trailerable" vessel.

Parker's definition of a "maxi-trailerable" is: "These vessels are 46' and under in length, 10' beam, shallow-draft, and 15,000 lbs or less. The concept is to provide cruising boats that can be stored on 40' 3-axle trailers, eliminating the need for slips and boatyards, which are rapidly turning into condos all over the American waterfront. The boats can be towed by a tow truck without permits or escort vehicles, or can be towed privately with only a wide load banner (no escorts). "

I think he is right on target with this design concept, as I see this same thing happening close to home here on the Mississippi Gulf coast as well. Since Hurricane Katrina destroyed so much of the waterfront, taking away the grand old mansions and the boatyards and marinas that were already in short supply, the casino and condo developers are snatching up every bit of property they can buy. The dock space problem is not going to get better, and slip rental fees are bound to keep rising. This is why I chose the Tiki 26 as a design to build after I lost my deep draft cruiser, and this is also what appeals to me so much about Reuel Parker's shoal draft designs. It's a good thing to own a cruising boat, rather than letting a cruising boat own you, but if the boat has to be in the water it's entire life and has to be maintained in boatyards, you really don't own it.

David and I returned again to Reuel's building site on Wednesday morning, to deliver some teak that David promised to bring him in exchange for a copy of his book: The Voyages of Fishers Hornpipe.

Although Reuel doesn't normally use teak on his boats, he did mention that he would like some pieces to get out the hand rails for the cabin tops, and David has teak practically running out his ears in the Boatsmith shop.

This second visit last week was even more interesting than the first, as Reuel invited us into his design office where the walls are covered in boat drawings and photographs and nautical books are stacked high in every available space. Since I had sent him a copy of my book On Island Time after meeting him in February, and also a link to my website, Reuel knew about the web design work I do and the blogs I am doing for my Tiki 26 project and David's Tiki 30 and other projects. He said he would like to get the construction of Ibis on his website somehow, and so now we have agreed to work together to create a blog on the construction of this vessel. This should be good news to the many Reuel Parker fans out there who are hungry for more information on his designs but have found little available on the web.

The other good news for those interested in Reuel Parker designs is that he was considering signing up for PayPal so he could accept credit card sales through his website, and upon hearing from me that I had good experiences with the method of payment, he has done so since Wednesday. You can now go to his website at and purchase all of his catalogs, books, and boat plans using a credit card through PayPal. Reuel Parker is more than ever interested in making his designs more accessible to those who are interested, and I am looking forward to working with him on the new Ibis blog to bring photos and descriptions of his work to the web so that the world can watch as this sharpie schooner comes together. Look for more on this here on Scott's Boat Pages, and when the blog goes live I'll post the link, as well as create a link from

Friday, April 18, 2008

Wood is still the Best Material for Masts

I'm off to south Florida again tomorrow to build the mast for my friend David Halladay's new Tiki 30 that I've mentioned here before and am documenting on his blog: Pro-Built Tiki 30

Like the mast I recently built for my own Tiki 26 catamaran project, it will be a hollow wooden mast built up of laminated Douglas Fir, the wood with the best all-around properties for spar construction.

After this trip I plan to write a detailed account of the process here, as well as discuss the pros and cons of modern wooden spars vs. aluminum spars. This is a topic I've had an interest in for quite some time as it is often debated on various boatbuilding forums I frequent. Many sailors of production boats today do not even consider wooden masts as an option, as production boats are always equipped with low-cost, factory produced aluminum spars. But some of the most experienced and prolific designers like Reuel Parker, George Buehler, and James Wharram claim wood is the way to go. I'll look forward to exploring this topic in detail after this trip and I welcome reader comments and observations as well.

Below are a couple of photos from my own mast project, the 27' hollow spar I built for Element II, my Tiki 26. The first photo shows it at the 8-sided stage in the process of shaping from square to round, and the bottom photo shows the finished mast, epoxy coated, but yet to be primed and painted.

"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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