by Mike Machnicki - London - England

Think Long and Hard Before you Build


In my younger years I had been much more adventurous, selling my house for a life on the ocean wave. After living in a caravan while working for Dow Chemicals in Holland for 14 months, I decided it was time to realize my childhood ambitions and buy a boat to live on. So I bought a new 9 metre Catalac catamaran and, after learning to sail and a few minor misadventures locally, sailed it on the Atlantic down to the Mediterranean ending up in Mallorca. It was a great life full of adventures, but unfortunately not sustainable and I ended up selling the boat, sailing it back to the UK through the French canals, for the new owner, and buying another house with the proceeds.

It would have been great to have lived an alternative lifestyle, but when you have a young family, mortgage and a business to run, it is difficult to focus on dreams and flights of fancy as stability and more practical matters (earning a living) take higher precedence. When I finally reached the age of 54 and the children had left home, mortgage was partly paid off and I had some financial backing, I decided it was once again time to consider boats and adventures, but which boat? I had originally chosen a catamaran for space and stability. After some unpleasant weather on a monohull off Cape Finistaire while crossing the Bay of Biscay, I was very much of the opinion that a catamaran was the best choice. A ready made boat didn’t appeal as I am into DIY and particularly woodwork, not quite as good at it as my father who was a cabinet maker and French polisher by trade, but I still get a lot of satisfaction from making things myself – not to mention the saving in cost.

Now I don’t know about marina costs where you are, but here in the UK it can be very expensive to keep a boat, particularly on the south coast, it would cost about £3,000 per year for a 26 foot boat and possibly more for a catamaran as many places tend to charge 1.5 times monohull rates for catamarans. This is major expenditure and a big drain on resources when approaching retirement. As an added disincentive the boat is parked two hours from home and locked into a fixed cruising area, unless a major logistics exercise is undertaken, and then you end up paying for a home berth when not in use. The only way this could work financially would be if the boat were towable and lived on a trailer in the back yard.

First thing to do would be to make a list of requirements:

1. Catamaran
2. Self build
3. Towable

If this approach looks too simplistic to you, then it must be that you have had some experience and realise the devil is ALWAYS in the detail, and three simple requirements don’t have sufficient detail to expose the pitfalls. But in my state of eager anticipation this seemed sufficient, so I set about finding a catamaran to build. The design I eventually chose had an excellent pedigree and was a really tough expedition boat. It was James Wharram’s Tiki 26. So I duly set about preparing the garage for the build and ordering materials.

Having no prior experience with epoxy resin or boat building I acquainted myself with the books required and had a bit of a practice. What I didn’t know until several years later is that seemingly minor shortcuts can save major amounts of time, like:

1. Choosing the right epoxy so that it does not blush saves time washing with ammonia and hot water
2. Timing the epoxy work so that a second coat goes on when the first coat is still green, saves washing and sandpapering.
3. Making up two smaller batches rather than one large one saves wasting epoxy when the large batch starts to exotherm and go hard.
4. Planning the work more carefully so that it can be completed in the most efficient way.
5. Having sufficient space to work. The boat fitted diagonally into a double garage with 1 inch to spare at the bow and 2 inches at the stern, every time I needed to get tools I either had to crawl underneath or climb over the top. Yes I had it on wheels but could not move the wheels outside the garage.
6. My build took 750 hours over 3 years to make one hull including preparing the garage, a 9 month gap when my father died and building a 8 foot Aerolite Whitehall dinghy (Platt Montfort’s design). Sometimes it was tough going and sometimes the work went easily. I must say the jobs I put off because they seemed too difficult to tackle always seemed to be a lot easier than anticipated once you made a start on them.

My dream for the boat was for my wife and I to spend our retirement holidays and weekends having fun at a seriously cut price cost (no hotel expenses or airport fees). Now Elizabeth like many women (hope I don’t offend too many folks here) doesn’t have good ability to visualise a 3D space from 2D plans, so it wasn’t until I had the first hull made she looked inside with horror, commented on its similarity to a ‘coffin’, and pointed out that it didn’t have a toilet. After searching the plans for the missing toilet I had to agree that it didn’t. She did very graciously agree to spend a half day sailing on the boat.

It wasn’t until I had to move the boat into the garden that I realised the weight of it and how difficult it was to move up a slight slope or on uneven ground. As it was balanced on a 2 wheeled dolly it could be spun very easily but moving it was a very different proposition and I begun to realise that single handed would be very difficult if not impossible. A further nail in the ‘coffin’ was that it took a serious amount of time to assemble and disassemble, leaving less time for sailing. Taking it sailing for a day was not possible, by the time it was trailed to the coast and assembled it would be time to pack it up and come home. It was a demountable boat rather than a trailer-sailor.

I now know the uncertain feeling a small wren must have, when perched on the shoulder of an enormous cuckoo, while pushing huge volumes of worms into its mouth. It is both a feeling of pride in producing such a fine specimen and yet still a nagging uncertainty that something is not quite right. A change of direction seemed appropriate at this point rather than continuing, but how and what direction!

Fortunately the boat was not fully built as due to EU rules I would have had to keep it for 5 years before being allowed to sell it. Despite the predicament I must confess that I still am drawn to the Wharram designs, and the plans he produces are second to none for detail and attention to detail. I managed to retrieve the cost of materials, have fun with the build and gain some experience for the next build. Why yes, of course there would be a next build as I was definitely infected with the boat building bug.

Next installment will be on how to choose the right boat.

Below is a picture of the finished hull.

Finished Hull


Click Here for a list of articles by Mike Machnicki

To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit our forum