For nearly as long as I can remember, I have been interested in boats.
At the age of nine I had the good fortune of having our family move into a
house on the shore of a lake. We soon constructed a raft out of found materials,
and used it both as a swimming platform and a conveyance. We poled it around our
waterfront, and even made a primitive sail for it (an old sheet held up by
Not long after, our family acquired a boat; a lapstrake utility rowboat that
had been converted for sailing with the addition of a cuddy, a stubby mast and
bowsprit, and a Gunter rig. By age eleven or twelve I was sailing this boat all
over our lake (about 3km by 20km in size), and thoroughly enjoying it.
By my late teens, I was completely enamoured of old sailing ships. I wanted
my own Mayflower, which was featured in two of the 1957 issues of
the National Geographic (I looked up the back issues, which of course were still
on the shelves). I knew she cost about a quarter of a million US dollars in
1957, so I ruminated on what that would be in 1970's dollars, and how could I
make that kind of money? And of course there would be ongoing expenses.
Time goes by, situations change, and goals are adjusted to match reality.
Living nearer to salt water, it was time to consider a boat I could actually
own. I "learned" that wooden boats were obsolete, and not a good idea, so I
started checking out fibreglass sailboats. Somehow I made it through this time
without buying one.
Change of Focus
Then I stumbled upon an issue of WoodenBoat Magazine. This opened my eyes to the vitality of
the wooden boat scene, and the romance returned. I started checking out books of
boat plans, and attempting to visualize the boats. At first, the idea was to
find a boatbuilder who could make one of these for me, but over time, the focus
shifted: I wanted to build a boat myself.
With any new venture, it is best to start small. Without really making a plan to
do so, I ended up building a Bolger/Payson Nymph; you can see the results
For myself, it was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment to set her into the
water, and no boat ever looked better to me.
The Nymph was of course a preliminary to the next boat, but what would the next
boat be? A sailboat, for sure. It was time to consult the boat design books
again, in earnest.
I was already familiar with Phil Bolger's name from the design of a 16-foot
Tancook whaler named Yarrow; a beautiful round-bottomed wineglass-shaped
double-ender with a tall sloop rig. In fact, I had gone so far as to buy the
plans from him. This was too much boat for my present skill level and shop
arrangement, but it inspired me to seek out his book "Boats with an Open Mind:
Seventy-Five Unconventional Designs and Concepts".
Choosing a Design
This book is woth buying for the wisdom it contains, even if you don't want to
build a boat. After several readings, I settled on two designs: Cartopper, and
Bobcat. More time passed, and I wanted to order plans to get started; so finally
I had to choose. Cartopper could be rowed, which was important, but Bobcat was
more boat; Bobcat won, and plans were ordered.
My Bobcat is presently under construction. As I complete things that I think are
interesting or that vary from what the plans or the book indicate, I will post
On christening day I will announce her name; until then, she must not know it.
If you have ever been interested in boats and have even rudimentary woodworking
skills, I encourage you to go out and build Nymph. I especially encourage you to
do this if you sit behind a desk all day and turn out nothing that you can stand
back and look at, nothing that you can point to and say, "I built that."
As Dynamite says, "Go build your own boat!"