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Self-building is enjoying a renaissance, with more people than ever before buying plans or kits and bringing themselves closer to their dream of getting on the water. Dazcat offers a complete range of kit build options of the D995, D1195 and D1495 catamarans as well as the option to develop your own design.
For more information please send Darren an email or give him a call
( Darren muses on the pros and cons, and offers some advice to those contemplating their own projects )
Why? This is a pretty good starting point - why do you want to build a boat?
Maybe there is nothing on the market you really like or what there is is too expensive, or you want to design the boat yourself. Maybe this is something you simply want to do; there can be a lot of satisfaction from building your own boat, especially if you have done a few projects before, either doing up a second-hand boat or building one from a kit. We all have our ideas and it can be fun. I actually know some people that do it just for the project as they don’t even go to sea, but that’s taking it a bit far for me. It’s the dream that drives us, whether it’s sitting back with a G&T on the Cornish coast or sipping a long rum cocktail in the Caribbean, it’s being on your own boat, built with your own hands that gives satisfaction. But beware, it’s not all sunshine and cocktails; there’s a fair bit of work, some of which can be unpleasant, dusty and stinky.
So what are your options? What boat can you build? Is it a mono or multihull? I can only really speak for multihulls as this is what I like and their benefits are clear even to the uninitiated; the only downside of all that extra space for long distance cruising is there’s two of everything, plus the bit in the middle, so they generally cost a bit more.
Let’s look at some basic history. In my opinion James Wharram Designs pioneered and created the term self-build boat. You purchased a set of plans and - using plywood, epoxy and soft wood - you could build a cat in your back garden for very little money and sail it anywhere in the world - fantastic. The boats were elegant and reasonably simple to build and 1000s of sets of plans were sold worldwide; every creek you went to there was a Wharram. James and Hanneke are still designing catamarans and many are still being built around the world. Later versions use GRP but the spirit of the design lies in its original build materials. What method you use now will depend on your level of experience, geographic position and access to materials, but they can be built one way or another almost anywhere.
Meanwhile Derek Kelsall was developing his sandwich panel system - the Kelsall Swift Sure - a way of folding panels using GRP. Derek led the first GRP-built catamarans in the UK and created a range of different designs for self-building. He has since moved to New Zealand, where he still designs and builds power and sail catamarans using his KSS method.
Pat Patterson started the Multihull Centre in 1968, building early production catamarans and kits including the Heavenly Twins, Ocean Winds, Star and Summer Twins. Pat sailed his Ocean Winds around the world and enjoyed many adventures, including a trip up the Amazon. Now run by his son Pip and Pip’s wife Debbie, the Multihull Centre is still a beacon for the self-builder; a place where s/he can talk to like-minded people and build a dream boat.
Richard Woods was likewise building his designs in plywood and GRP, like the Banshee and Flica. Once a set of moulds was created many owners preferred to build from a kit to make the process faster, and various designs like the Sagitta were born.
Schionning, an Australian catamaran designer, has made some very nice designs using strip balsa and a build method called Duracore; very light, very fast if built right, they take a little longer to build over ply but create a good strong boat which is also very light. Grainger - likewise mostly Australia-based - is responsible for some interesting boats built down under, their sales assisted I think by location and a dedicated following as much as anything; the importing of European mainstream production boats is prohibitive due to exchange rates and shipping costs, so lots of cats have been built there, by both self- and professional boat builders. These are just a few and there are many more designers to look at if you’re shopping around; Erik Lerouge especially has done some fantastic cats in France. Here in the UK John Shuttleworth is known for his quick cats, then there are US multihull pioneers Dick Newick and Walter Greene. All these designers and builders, and too many others to mention, have inspired people’s dreams in some way. Each has a following, is united by a love of building boats, and loves multihulls; their distinctive look, their power and their comfort. I guess if you want to build yourself a boat you need that drive, that ambition, that dream. You also need enough space, and time - building a boat takes a while to get right - and preferably some help; it takes a loooong time to build a boat all by yourself and you want to be young enough to still enjoy it when it’s finished, not too creaky in the knees to get on board. Though once built every voyage comes with its risks.
I had the privilege of sailing with a man called Sam Nelson when I was 16. He had built a Tangaroa, one of James Wharram’s 35 foot designs. It took him two years to build and then he decided to tweak a few bits, which took him a further two years. This was Sam’s choice as it was his boat and the job he made of it was beautiful, with two-tone striped decking and amazing attention to detail. Sam had the time, though he wasn’t well, having retired from London Air Traffic Control with a medical condition related to stress.
So what does Sam do after he has launched? He had always wanted to sail back to Australia where he was born and so, only two months after launching Sam is on his way, and - while doing a noon sight on a hot sunny day with excellent visibility - his boat, with him on it, is run over by a massive supertanker, leaving him sitting on the back of his catamaran in total shock. Luckily the captain’s wife was leaning on the coaming of said supertanker, looking down, so she saw Sam and his boat Joel bashing down the side and rushed off to tell her husband. A few hours later the tanker had turned around and a harness appeared from the heavens and Sam was lifted on board; to the captain’s relief, until he realised Sam’s medication had gone to the deep. Sam was in deep shock. The captain offered him his own cabin, along with the contents of his rum collection and they diverted to port to drop him off. Sam returned home but still had a job to do. Not being able to bring himself to build another Wharram, as he’d loved his Tangaroa Joel so much, he commissioned a young Richard Woods to design him a cat and the first Windsong was born, a 30 footer that took a further two years to build. Sam then raced around Britain, completing the course. He never made it back to Australia but he enjoyed building and sailing the boats and was a remarkable man whom I was blessed to know.
So you need determination to build yourself a boat, and strength of character to cope with any disasters that befall before or after its launch, though the many positive pleasures will help with that. We have a lot of friends that have built from plans or kits and it’s clear that these days people need a little more hand holding. Tech support lines and email for instant answers to questions have meant home-build boats can be technically more complicated, using composite materials that offer benefits over plywood construction in that you can extend the life of your boat, adding value and better resale value long term. The down side is it is more costly and complicated. I would argue there is nothing wrong with good quality ply and epoxy construction done well, especially for a one-off as it doesn’t need tooling or moulds.
So where will you build your dream boat? What happened to all the old barns and quays where you could rent a cheap workshop? They have mostly gone, converted into housing; it’s more difficult to rent a barn for a fiver a week nowadays, as I did when I started. Which is why, I believe, self-builders are building smaller boats like trimarans - which are more manageable projects - allowing them to build and keep them inland and tow them to the sea. The larger builds tend now to be kits, where you can buy a container of parts, or sets of mouldings; helping with compliance to the never ending regulations modern society inflicts on itself. (The RCD (Recreational Craft Directive) put the heebie jeebies into the self builder when it was born - would they be able to insure the boat or even sell it? The rule on this is still five years’ ownership, at which point it you can sell it - presumably because you’ve sailed it and thus proved its seaworthiness.)
At Dazcat we are definitely finding that people are preferring a kit to build, bonded together with all structural items complete. We as the boat builder can RCD it for them, then survey the boat after the owner has fitted it out, and sign off the rest after is has been completed by the owner. There is no doubt in my mind that the RCD has undermined the self-building industry and stifled the creativity and innovation that came from hundreds of small boat builders and craftsmen. There are now far fewer small professional boat building outfits you can go to, leaving very little choice, which may be the reason self-building is taking off again.
We are talking to more and more people about self-building boats today, maybe looking for a life pod to escape the ridiculously increasing costs of society, and run away from economic doom and gloom. They would not be the first, and it can be a very rewarding thing to do - we all only have the one life after all and what better way to spend it than on a boat.
If you have to ask the reasons why you should build your own boat you probably shouldn’t build one! But seriously, these are reasons to consider it: it gives you a boat you simply can’t buy; a boat that is as beautiful in your eye; a boat that you can travel around the world on and make you proud knowing you built it. It isn’t the easy option - boat building is something you can love and hate at the same time. If you’re not practical start with something simple. If you have a busy job and can’t get much time off don’t go there, pay someone to help or get a kit. There are still odd individual boat builders lurking around those creative hot spots, especially in Cornwall. Talk to a friendly architect or designer and see what they can do for you. Or if your budget won’t stretch that far look at the second-hand market and start by restoring one. I’ve seen a few people restoring classic multihulls, trying to keep to the original design. Locally, the Newick-designed Acappella and an Irens-designed IT82 have both been restored to their former glory, which is very nice to see too.
So a few tips:
• Talk to designers and other self-builders - do your research and learn by other people’s experience and mistakes
• Plan your project and be realistic. Most designers and boatbuilders are inveterate optimists so add a bit more time than you think you need to do a good job, as you will not do it as fast as the professionals
• Make sure you set time aside. It’s hard to keep the momentum going if you’re always stopping and and starting, and it will cost you more in the long run in workshop overheads
• Start with some of the smaller parts first; you can reduce the workshop overhead by building them at home, creating a kit of parts
• Amass some of the kit you need from boat jumbles or discounted trade offers. Think about a second-hand rig. But make sure you’re not buying a load of old tat - talk to your designer
• Get someone to help - it’s so much easier working with two or three people than on your own
• If budgets are tight consider a second-hand boat or look at doing a boat share (but set out a contract before you start, to agree the time and funds needed, so you know where you stand if you fall out)
• Do a course or volunteer to do some boat building or maintenance to gain the skills you need
• Look at your project as an investment - second-hand resale value is important, especially if you are taking out a boat mortgage or spending hard-earned savings
• Remember the boat builder’s motto “Measure twice, cut once.” I like Matt Baker’s version “Measure 3 or 4 times, consider it and then cut it”
• Be resourceful and think laterally - don’t make a semi-circular mould when you can simply take a splash off a fender. There are also moulds available to rent, or mouldings you can buy, so go and look what’s about - do your research
• Enjoy it
• Make time for loved ones too - you want someone to come sailing with you!
• Have a pint at the end of the week and talk over your plans so you can refine them
Hope to see you on the water. If there’s anything Dazcat or Multimarine can do to help you get there, get in touch.