Why build ?

Blog time : it’s late May 2021 and what a stunning morning it is as i sit and catch up with my admin and blog posts – as i look outside the sky is almost black despite it being mid morning and no, it’s not raining, rather it’s a full on hail storm out there. I just had to run down to the workshop to shut the door and throw a tarp over the workpiece on my outside bench as even under the shelter i was being smacked around the head by wind driven hail stones……and it’s late may FFS !. Today i’m having a bit of a ‘moment’ in that iv’e just done the first dry assembly of several pieces of boat that all go together to make a complete sub-assembly and i was more than surprised when my parts lined up pretty well with a small amount of fettling and the slightly modified first frame slipped into place over the bow ‘spine’ web. This of course will form the base of a project post because it represents a significant step forward – not only in having something that looks like the beginning of a boat but also some small amount of self confidence and a feeling that i might just pull this whole thing off.

Why build though ?

In this post i’d like to pose the question ‘why build a boat’, and the context of that is that building a boat , any boat, is a long and expensive project which detracts from time out there spent actually sailing and secondly that the market is flooded with small (and large) secondhand boats that could be had for a song and put on the water with little work.  To put that into hard numbers – this project, a 17 foot cruising dinghy will come in somewhere between £6-8,000 depending on the level of outfit and expensive things like engine and trailer and where right now i could drive down to Falmouth and pick up one of the boats i always wanted, trailer included , for £2,500.  This one, by the way, is the little Poacher 6.5 m cat-ketch that iv’e often talked about.

Now, maybe it wouldn’t go on the drive but iv’e got a mate who’s now got a patch of land that he’s renting from a local farmer and i’m sure he, rather than the local boatyard would appreciate a contribution towards that….near to a launching slip too.  Oh man….was i ever tempted ?


Against (building).

It’s not exactly obvious that me building a boat is a great idea, especially if you knew just how much of a bodger i am and how unskilled a woodworker. There’s no guarantee that i can do this well enough to complete the project , not just due to the budget but that i’m an unskilled and under confident ‘maker’ and highly likely to make serious errors – even when i’m really trying no to. I probably have the right temperament to keep something like an old and cheap GRP boat, like the Poacher, afloat and functional because just about anyone who can paint can repair GRP and the rest of it is usually a matter of putting other people’s mistakes right : usually things like fittings that haven’t been bedded properly or bits that are just wearing out over time. In a way an old GRP boat just doesn’t matter that much compared to something that needs a lot of time and materials put into it.

In my case the budget isn’t that important and to be honest isn’t much of an issue because even a small amount invested in tools and materials gives me plenty to do and my monthly disposable income used well will cover most of that. For most people, especially those building bigger boats the greater ‘cost’ is the investment in time required – that doesn’t come free in any way and we all only have a finite amount of the stuff : take 5 years or more to build the perfect cruising boat and that’s 5 years when you could have been out there in a cheap boat just cruising and living the life. My small project i know will take all of this summer (did someone say summer and laugh ?) just to build the hull and it’s blades – if everything goes well i might be able to build the spars over the winter if it’s dry enough but it will most likely be 2022 before i’m back on the water and even then with a barely fitted out boat. The counter argument to that though is ‘what else am i going to do with my time’ ? given that i’m basically a retired 63 year old with a lot of time, some space and a small disposable income.

So, why build then ?

If you were to say that the only good reason to build a boat is because you want to then i wouldn’t disagree too much with that ; but there are , in my opinion, a few valid reasons why it might be a good, even great thing to do. In my case i do want to build a boat from start to finish if only once so that’s a reasonable start but i’d also like to run through some of my own reasons for doing so and then in a follow-on post i want to thrash around a bit in the psychology of why it might be a good thing to do.

As i said earlier i’m 63 and retired and to be honest what else am i going to do with my time once iv’e done my ‘work’ of writing and blogging, done what needs doing out in the veggie patch, cooked and cleaned and maybe had some exercise ?. None of that is enough to fill a working day and i’m used to long working days especially as my main exercise that absorbs time is off the menu right now ( walking/hiking and badly split heels). I can’t blog and write all day – iv’e tried to do long sessions at the keyboard and even i can tell that i’m losing concentration after 2 or 3 thousand words and mostly what i do then is idly surf the internet.

We do have a moderately large garden and that takes up a lot of time in the spring and then again in the autumn, right now though it maybe takes me half an hour a day just to wander around and do what needs doing – mainly lightweight weeding unless iv’e got a bigger project on the go. Even with a basic go at the housekeeping and cooking, which i enjoy, there’s a lot of time left over ; i do study by the way and most days i try to sit at the computer and watch/listen to a lecture….right now for example i’m going through Jordan Peterson’s bible lecture series but even so….

We don’t have TV at all, in fact we haven’t had a television between us for 15 years or more and frankly my dears i don’t give a damn about TV , the few things i want to watch will pop up in good time on DVD or Youtube . I used to spend/waste a lot of time playing either one or two video wargames (world of warships was one), and even quite enjoyed it except that it’s essentially the same game every time in slightly different ways and luckily our old computer is now too old and feeble to accept the download and game requirements.

Things i that i don’t do and time wasting aside what are the other reasons that building a boat might be a good option ?….and i don’t think that mere finance is one of them as unless the ‘maker’ is a skilled boatbuilder it is generally much more time and cost efficient to get someone who is skilled and does have the tools and space and just pay them to do it. That isn’t as crazy an option as it sounds and i almost went down that route myself just before i bought my Frances 26 and started refitting it. For less than the cost of buying that boat i could have bought all the materials for the boat i really wanted to build, including some of the complex stuff such as the lifting keel, and then put my disposable income into paying mainly someone else to build and far more quickly than i could myself. It doesn’t have to be a one man operation either – my plan at the time having been to also work on the build and learn as i went along.

A better argument to build is the case of building exactly what you want to build especially if what you want isn’t commonly available on the market. In my case i wanted a cruising dinghy and settled on John Welsford’s Pathfinder design with some modifications that will suit the way i want to sail and cruise in her. Iv’e never seen one on the market although i do know of an owner who bought his boat (Anenome) from it’s builder ; i most likely wouldn’t have been able to afford that beautifully built boat but there again that specific boat wasn’t quite what i wanted and i certainly wouldn’t buy something that will built and start hacking it about !

I for one mostly don’t like the standard same-y same cruising boats and dinghy’s that have been popped out of a mold maybe 40 or more years ago….most of them are that old now. Neither do i like many of the younger and popular brands especially when one looks just like another ; a nightmare of mine was a marina on the south coast where one pontoon was full of identical white plastic cruising boats…..all the same down to lines and fenders and the only way to tell one from another was the name……in the same size and font on every one….that’s some version of boating hell to me.

The argument for satisfying manual work.

I happen to think that the main benefit of hard physical exercise as for example weight training, is it’s positive effect on mental health and brain function…..lifting heavy weights hard makes your brain work better and not a lot people know that. I also happen to think that creative physical/manual work is even better for our mental well being than is hard exercise and one reason i would put forward for that is that i might do a hard weighs session of say an hour, and have a good glow after that, but when it comes to my maker projects i can be absorbed in them for hours at a time given a few breaks.

That is the theme i want to develop in a second post and iv’e already rattled on for far too long today but you get the simple points ; build because you want to, build to create something that fits you and is unique and build because it’s creative and engaging work , that is all.

Whatever….it’s the end of a working day and i’m happy this evening because i successfully made a quite complex thing over the last 2 days, for the first time i’m pleased with my work and the problems i had to solve in getting there ; that and the fact that the sun has briefly reappeared just in time to set again.


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