"Let's Build Good Boats"

The instant boatbuilding workshop

By Wojtek Baginski - Warsaw - Poland

Instant boat means a boat which has been built with no jigs and lofting. It takes the shape simply because of joining the panels. So an instant boatbuilding workshop means no need for special place to build boats. It runs simply because a couple of guys met together and decided to go ahead. Even on the street. Such thing has happened to me this summer.

But first let’s get back a bit. Last winter a group of friends started a foundation called “Na Dobre” here in Warsaw. Here is a brief description of the mission:

The Dobre village is located in the area still forgotten by mass tourism, people use to work hard on their hop and raspberry plants (and to ignore their river of course). I’ve been invited to be a member of the council board, because of few adventures I had thanks to Jim Michalak designed boats. I appreciated it because I've got a good opportunity to share my experience and joy of boating and instant boats with more people. I decided to run the boatbuilding class, to try to get local kids interested in boating on local rivers. On the other hand, our goal was to get city people interested to come there and spend some time in this forgotten area not harming local balance.

I started to prepare the concept, made a choice of boats, wrote the schedule and budget. My obvious focus was on Jim Michalak designs, because I’m familiar with them, and – what’s more important – I’m sure they offer perfect characteristics for their purpose. Primarily the workshop formula was wide open including families with kids etc, every evening lectures, and a 9 day course, but once we finished the draft with 3 young guys, I decided to change it into really extensive job to check how quick one can row his boat once he started the construction. To be honest I was happy of that because it might make my Warsaw preparations for my Raid Finland 2009 trip 1-2 days longer than planned, what was 2-3 days anyway. It’s an advantage in my workplace to get summer holiday time as long as possible, thus two events one directly after another.

What was original in the workshop formula I believe – a possibility to keep a boat at the place after the workshop. I think the most typical reason which stops city people from building own boats is lack of space to store a boat in a city life reality. So the foundation offered a room to store built boats in the beautiful boating area, located not so far from few big and middle cities, all year round.

As the foundation public image is based on association with the Good village name, I called the project ”LET’S BUILD GOOD BOATS!”

The place for the class was finally Zmijowiska village, close to Dobre village, because the village volunteer-firefighter section offered their garage for the event. We were really happy with that: there was a big room inside (usually used as a dancing hall for weddings or as a conference hall for village meetings) for clean works and the actual garage (usually used to keep the firefighters car in) for dirty works. There was a nice public space on the street in front of the building to relax too. There was a little food and drink store on the corner so local people were frequent guests there.

The place for the class was finally Zmijowiska village, close to Dobre village, because the village volunteer-firefighter section offered their garage for the event.

Finally the students were Tomek and Jacek, 2 Warsaw guys, and Kamil, a local farmer, hired by the foundation to build a piragua. Of course anybody else was welcome to come, see, touch, discuss and everything. Every student had to bring his own lifejacket, a pair of oars and 5 meters of a mooring rope. The foundation collected 600 zlotys (about 200 USD) per boat for materials. The tools were just personal, mine and Tomek’s. Not many tools in fact: 2 jigsaws, 2 electric drills/screwdrivers, and 1 table saw.

The final choice were 2 Robotes (by Tomek and Jacek) and 1 Piragua (by Kamil). I decided to build another Piragua for the Foundation myself.

So we ‘ve bought 10 sheets of 6 mm plywood, 100 meters of pine 4x2 cm sticks, 6 kg of epoxy, so called “winter hardener” according to epoxy amount, glass tapes, screws and packed it all onto my trailer, put my Robote type “Flaneuse” on and set off from Warsaw to Zmijowiska (120 km) on the Friday afternoon. Tomek was supporting me taking small stuff by his car.

Saturday morning Jacek – our “last minute” guy - arrived, and we started. The job went really quick. You can just observe it in the Flickr report linked here:

Thus, I’ll give only few comments. So, we faced two critical moments during that project. First – we didn't have enough clamps. 80 of them were in use permanently, and because Robote boats were build by future owners, they had the priority. Piraguas had to stay on the second line so I decided to concentrate efforts on Kamil’s piragua – mine was at the end. So she hasn’t been finished with the impregnation and did not touch the water together with other boats. Second – not enough epoxy. I had to drive to Warsaw to get more. The reason was that winter hardener was curing very fast, and less skilled students were not fast enough to use all the prepared portion. On the other hand, we did make very quick step by step progress.

Late afternoons, trying to catch last daylight, we used to carry piraguas outside and work on the street.

It turned out that taking a finished boat there was very useful, because students were able to check immediately what any part is made for, how it sits in the real boat and so on. Finally, it turned out that 200 USD in Polish in reality is enough to get perfectly designed hull made of plywood. A lifejacket, and ready made oars bought in a marine store oars make another 200 USD.

We have finished 1 a.m. on Thursday, packed our stuff to the cars, and set out into a foggy night ride back to Warsaw. The boats, wet of epoxy lacquer, were left till Saturday under Kamil’s care.

After lunch they all launched their boats.

The end of the project – most exciting I think– played out without me. Thinking on the workshop in the wintertime, I decided that ready boats should be launched and tested by owners – but a brief river practice will be necessary. I asked my friend Pawel who is an experienced yacht skipper to run such little but important event for the foundation. He’d agreed and prepared his own project: 4 hour long lecture on river phenomenas, river navigation, safety and knotting practice. So the Warsaw students came back to Zmijowska on Friday afternoon and painted their Robotes with quick dry paint. After Saturday breakfast they met their new instructor – Pawel - and listened to his lecture, and after lunch they all launched their boats (my Flaneuse became the new instructor’s ship). Then they had a very nice trip down the small river Chodelka, next entered the big and beautiful Wisla river and finished in Kazimierz on the Wisla, leaving about 15 km behind. They told me they had a really GOOD time!

That time I was on my 1000 km long way to Finland, screwing cleats, blocks etc. to my sailboat hull during very few short stops...

Best regards from Poland.

Wojtek Baginski

Photos by Wojtek Holnicki, Rafal Szambelan, Tomek Ziembinski, and author.

Related links:

Flaneuse, crossing the Wisla delta 2007:

Flaneuse, crossing the Warsaw city 2009:



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