In 1964 I built an 18' pontoon boat from Science and Mechanics plans, put a small cabin on it, loaded it with 100 pounds of books and an alcohol stove, and tried to circumnavigate the East Coast.
I was one year out of high school. I had tried and left both the seminary and college, a half year in each, disappointed and haunted by a feeling that there must be something bigger out there and that I had to find it before it was too late. A storm on the Potomac, and the wrong prop, ended the trip after 2 days, and a lot of my wistful, vague imaginings of great things seemed to end too.
The Exact Moment
36 years later, in the office of the local hardware and garden shop, I was asking about grubs. The manager searched in a file cabinet for pest control information, and I picked up an odd looking magazine from a pile on the desk, and flipped it open to the drawing of Phil Bolger's "Bantam 16-20". I think I became almost dizzy, the similarity to my early boat project was so close, and the drawings so appealing. The store manager said to go ahead and take the magazine, someone just drops it by every once in a while. For two days I read and reread the copy that accompanied the drawings, hooked by it, by the romance of it, the idea of wandering pleasantly around the country on the water, snug in your little boat with a view of the world. Of course the magazine was "Messing About in Boats". I ordered plans.
They came a week later. I had never built a boat from plans, and the complications daunted me. I wrote to Phil Bolger and Friends, asking if there was another simpler catamaran type boat in his catalog, explaining that I did not think I was capable of building Bantam. A few days later I got a call from a woman who introduced herself as Suzanne and without preamble said "Why can't you build this boat?" Taken aback, I explained that it seemed too complicated, and besides, my shop doors were not big enough to get the hull out. "Just cut it in half" she said, suggesting it could be rejoined out of doors. She also said if I built it, it would be the first one. The call ended somehow, and in shock, I decided to look at the plans again to see if I could make sense of them. I liked the idea that I would be the first to build "Bantam". For two weeks I studied the plans in the early morning before work, and slowly began to understand the construction details. If I built the hulls in the shop, and put up one of the "Cover-It" temporary shelters in the back yard as a protected place to join all the pieces, maybe it was possible. "Bantam" went into the water a year and a half later, and after four more years of changes to the boat, my wife and I traveled the whole of the Erie Canal, from Troy, New York to Lake Erie and back. It was the adventure of our lifetimes.
The next year we cruised the Champlain Canal on Bantam, and in October of 2010 did a week long trip on the Hudson on our second boat, a modified Bolger design called "Grinder".
We took "Grinder" out of the water last week, cleaned it up, winterized the engine, and put it in the backyard tent. I'll spend the winter dreaming about places to go, about improvements to "Grinder", about possible other boats to build. It's another life I lead now. Thanks Phil, thanks Bob.