Monday, December 24, 2012

Benefits of Building your own Boat

I have built numerous boats over the years, always as an amateur, not a professional boatbuilder. Each time I have launched my boat at a considerable monetary saving when compared with an equivalent production-built boat. My boats have generally cost me about 45% of the equivalent production boat, so a saving of about 55%. This was with my boats fully equipped for ocean sailing and the production boats being to basic sail-away level. Similar savings apply to smaller boats as well.

When I launched my 36ft boat in 1978, I was asked by a professional in the boating industry what it had cost me. I told him R23,000, which was the total of what we had carefully recorded throughout the project. He told me that I had got my figures wrong because it was impossible to build a boat of that size for less than R50,000. In the 2 years and 9 months that we took to build the boat, my wife and I had only earned $32,000 and had paid our apartment rent, food, transport etc in addition to what we had paid out for the boat. We didn't go to movies, eat at restaurants nor go on holiday but we did build a boat that was equipped for trans-ocean sailing. And it did not cost the R55K or more that a production boat would have cost.

"Tai-Neam", the 36ft boat that we built in our 20s.

Of course, amateur boatbuilding is not for everyone. Some people are all thumbs and almost guaranteed to mess up whatever project they tackle. If you are one of those people, successful amateur boatbuilding is probably not in your future. There are exceptions, or ways to turn this failure tendency around though. I failed woodwork at school because I was totally disinterested, yet I have been able to build wooden boats to a good standard.

For anyone who has reasonable woodworking skills, able to build kitchen cupboards to a reasonable standard, it is not a big step to building your own wooden boat. Whether for a small family boat for fishing on the local lake or a big boat for ocean cruising, our designs have been used successfully by first-time boatbuilders. If you work carefully and apply yourself well, you can do it. The main requirement is that you take pride in your handiwork, then you will do as good a job as you are able.

An argument often used against owner boatbuilding is that there is no saving when the cost of your own labour is added onto the material cost. That certainly applies if you are a professional boatbuilder who is building a boat for himself. For the rest, boatbuilding becomes a very productive hobby and a time for release from pressures of professional life in whatever profession you happen to be. Sure, you can make enough money spending the same number of hours at your job to pay a professional to do the work. In the process you deny yourself the satisfaction of building your own boat and the relaxation that comes from having such a great hobby. You also deny yourself the satisfaction and sense of pride that inevitable comes form creating this living thing of beauty, even if the beauty is only in your own eyes.

A big plus that comes out of building your own boat is that you know every nook and cranny of that boat; you know it intimately and can very quickly figure what has to be done when something goes wrong. You will understand all of the electrical and mechanical systems, without having to pore over manuals showing wiring diagrams, switch panel layouts, plumbing pipe runs, location of skin fittings etc and be able to remedy most problems at a moments notice. I still remember much of the structure, electrical, plumbing etc from the first big boat that I built in the 1970s.

A benefit that must not be underrated is the pride that one feels when launching and sailing this beautiful thing that you have created with your own hands. The builder moulds the character of the boat and, in the process, the boat expands the character of the builder and teaches him new skills that can be used elsewhere in life.

The boat that started it all, my 15ft catamaran.

One warning though, this bug bites hard and often results in an incurable affliction. I built the 15ft plywood catamaran shown above in the early 1970s. The bug bit me and led to a 36ft offshore yacht as my next project. That led me to start my yacht design studies and proceed to a career in boat design. So be warned, if you build your own boat you may end up doing something that you really enjoy for a living.

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