Building the Uncle John Skiff
by Bill Rose 

Our boat, as yet unnamed by my daughters, is a ten foot skiff kit by Uncle John of Uncle John's General Store in Louisiana. The Lake Charles Yacht Club started a project last summer, led by Ken Abrahams, of a boat-building class. The class was designed to produce a boat hull in one weekend of work, with the finishing to follow. Ken had done some preliminary work on each kit with the help of several local businesses, and scarfed the plywood sides and bottom to ten feet. He also put together the necessary parts, screws, nut and bolts and cut out rudder and centerboard parts; this made the kit very easy to make.

Our family was in the throes of finishing an addition to our home last summer, and the weekend scheduled for the class I was out of town on business. So, Ken delivered the kit parts to my house, where they rested until February, 2001. Mardi Gras weekend (a holiday at the college where I teach in Louisiana!) I finally got started. I put together the sides of the hull, put in the seats and fitted the bottom; then the boat sat under a tarp in my back yard until summer vacation.

This is the first boat that I have put together -- although I enjoy building and doing finishing work. It was also the first experience with fiberglass; I spent a fair amount of time on the 'Net looking at websites, and gleaning some great information about working on "stitch and glue" boats. I started the fiberglassing process in the summer months, working a couple hours a day and learning how to do seams and work with fillers to make the epoxy putty. I ended up doing several seams over, sanding them off because of large air bubbles. I also ended up using about twice as much epoxy resin as I should have, between the spots I did over and giving the entire boat two coat of epoxy to seal the wood.

Finally by the beginning of August I started the painting process. Our Stine's Lumber Yard (one of the sponsors of the class) has a great sign in the paint department: " No men are allowed to pick out paint colors without a written note from their wife." After being incredibly patient with a partially completed boat in the back yard, taking up the picnic table and several sawhorse under the trees in the back yard for six months, my wife exercised the color prerogatives, and picked out the paint colors for the boat. They are: hull (emerald green), rubrails (bright orange) and interior (gray). I followed the directions from Uncle John on producing a thirty-six square foot polytarp sail in a sprit rig design, using duck tape (blue to match the tarp); the sail went together easily and seems to work well. It is yet to be seen how well it lasts. The mast is a piece of one-and-quarter inch chainlink fence tubing, and the sprit pole is conduit.

The skiff was primed, and then painted with two coats of color inside and out. After waiting 48 hours for the last coat of paint to dry, a date was made with my 13-year-old daughter Emily to "wet down" the boat, and try the sails. The skiff is set up with both sail and oars, as I know that the wind will occasionally fail me, and that there are places I will try in the marshes around Lake Charles that will be easier with oars.

On Sunday, August 12, we went down to the Lake Charles Yacht Club with the skiff in the back of my Plymouth Voyager van. No problems transporting it, and it weighs about a hundred pounds -- easy for two people to handle. We left the house in bright sunshine; by the time we got to the club twenty minutes later, storm clouds had blown in from the west. We got the boat out, and set it up on the beach. We waited about twenty more minutes for the storm clouds to blow through, then launched from the beach. I was very happy to see Ken Abrahams there at the club. He has been a great support and a wonderful friend through the process of building, and he brought his digital camera to take pictures of the boat and the launch!

There were no visible leaks - I guess that my first time fiberglassing seams actually worked OK. We tried the oars to get far enough from shore, and the skiff worked very well. Dropped the centerboard and rudder, pulled in the mainsheet, and off the boat went. We ended up sailing up and down the beach for about twenty-five minutes, then sailed to shore, avoiding another rain shower. The most noticeable issue was learning the balance of the boat -- with two people sailing it worked better to sit on the bottom of the boat fore and aft of the center seat.

It has been an exciting experience building my first boat, and finally getting in the water. As it will live down at the Lake Charles Yacht Club, I now have an easy way to get onto the water quickly, as well as a boat that will work for my daughters to take out. I can't wait to start the next one!

Bill Rose
Member, Lake Charles Yacht Club
Lake Charles, LA 


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