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by Roy Schreyer - Wasaga Beach, Ontario - Canada

Our "Tiny" Houseboat featured in Duckworks and in many other boating magazines, some even from overseas, is a hit! But long before I built her, there was a little dinghy at its roots that I'd like to tell you more about. It was my very first design/build, completed so long ago that I mistakenly credited Dianne's Rose as being the first. It's just a dinghy after all! But I was unfair to have overlooked it. "Petals" brought great fun to our family, especially to my son, Travis!

Originally it was built to test a construction method that I felt would simplify boat building. This method worked so well for me that I used it to construct our Dianne's Rose and I hope to use it again in my other designs. Recently, giving credit due, I revisited Petals (the original dinghy) and deciding to build another of its type, a brother this time. After tweaking just a few details in the process, the new and improved sibling, THORN, is now complete and I've also drawn plans in case others like it. This dinghy design is very versatile, the boat can row, sail and motor! The design so easily adapts to meet our needs these boats get used more often as a direct result! Not taking long to build is another plus. Both made great part time winter projects that were easily finished in time for summer's fun!

A friend asked me "why build boats"? He has a fair point as I could get on the water with any used tin or plastic boat bought off whatever bay is handy, web or water! But building a boat from scratch adds immensely to the fun and satisfaction was my reply in a nut shell. This build was a great stepping stone to get me started, building both confidence and skills.

Risking a dip into politics, it is my observation that there are fewer people using their imaginations, building "stuff" in our consumer oriented society! So many cheap plastic options are available these days, it makes it hard to justify the time and effort put into DIY projects! Add to this people's shaky confidence in their own skill level (from the lack of practice) and it is natural to shy away from the challenge. I frankly feel we're losing key values as a result! A dinghy is a perfect project to start gaining these lost skills! There are thankfully people still bucking this perceived trend and I'm proud to say the wooden boatbuilding crowd is among them!

Years ago I was determined to build a large cruising sailboat. At the time it was not 100% clear to me that I lacked the needed experience, I was ready to jump right in regardless! While I encourage you to build, I also caution not to take too big a bite in the beginning! Baby steps! Fortunately I read somewhere that if planning to build a big boat, and it is your first time doing so, you should consider starting with the humble dinghy. I don't recall the author (thank you whomever you are!) but I do recall that the point of doing so was that if you can succeed on this smaller scale, you will have gained skills and confidence in the process. As a bonus you end up with your future big boats tender! If failing, on the other hand, you are not out too much money or time and have learned valuable lessons regardless! At this point forget my politics and buy the plastic or tin! I took this advice to heart but went one step farther and designed the boat as well. The experiment for me was a success and I discovered that I like boat building and designing! The bonus was that my young family ended up with a fun boat.

After this build, my plan was to get right to the "big boat" construction but life happened and it was years before I was able to. An old modified beach cruising sailboat, Whisper and our dinghy, Petals, helped satisfy the urge to adventure over this extended time. Both had a positive impact! I gained an appreciation for our small boats, discovering that in spite of their size, they still offered big adventure! Small is also more intimate with nature! I soon bought into the catch phrase "bigger is not better"!

When the "big" boat was finally built it was not so big after all. My wants had changed, so it was not a big sail boat but Dianne's Rose our Shanty/Camp/Houseboat! I even get away with calling her a "Tiny" Houseboat! Considering my wife's wishes more prominently over the years was also a factor that we are now on the water more frequently together (good plan Roy)! As the anonymous author, mentioned earlier had promised our dinghy continues its usefulness. "Petals" is still in great shape, stored easily against my shop's wall when not in use!

Fifteen years ago, when I first built her, my son, Travis was only four but he enthusiastically helped where he could! He enjoyed sanding and painting. He picked the color. He still considers the original boat, his boat!

These two dinghies are very comfortable for their size. In use we straddle a central bench or sit to one side of it. This full length bench is a major feature of the dinghy design! Confidence in our "new", now 15 years old Petals was easily gained with our weight centered in this way making for a very stable boat. When Travis was a bit older, he would invite a friend and four could easily fit, even with all our gear aboard! The center bench, which also has flotation in the ends for safety, swallows up loads of stuff leaving most of the boat clear of clutter. As for having four in such a small boat, consider that a motorcycle that can fit two straddling a 24" long seat. Our bench seat is nearly 8' long so only weight sets the limit on numbers. In practice we find three adults or a young family of four fit well. That's up to 600 lbs on an eight foot boat! I will caution that the same amount of good judgement is required when operating any boat, regardless of the small size! When fully loaded we do stick to sheltered waters! We still manage to find many suitable cruising grounds!

At 8' 3" X 4' 2" beam, this dinghy sports a pram bow! Another key feature! While some people have disparaging remarks for this type it is why this boat design has such good load carrying abilities. I'm a fan of this detail even in larger boats and my design ideas often incorporate a pram or scow bow, look up our Dianne's Rose as an example!

Older still, our son was able to head out with friends, fishing and exploring independently. These boats are "cartoppers" and will be easily transported (no trailer needed)! We took them to our friend's cottages over the years, where they became a favorite play toy. Dianne and I occasionally had to send out search parties as the boys would forget the time (no street lights up north and the northern lights don't count)! With the sailing rig, getting to that deserted island was part of the fun! Dianne and I also scheduled time aboard, enjoying fishing or finding our own private beach!

Here's some video links:

One friend managed the "big boat of their dreams" and we joined them on a couple of cruises. Petals fit right in as a tender. She towed very well so I am confident Thorn will too. At anchor the kids and adults took turns out fishing and exploring. The Dinghy easily ferries occupants to and from sandy beaches.

I mentioned construction is fairly simple and it is. Unique to many ply built boats, this is not a boxy design but has attractive curved panels, utilizing "stitch and glue" construction with some framing. The key, again, is the central bench. The two bench sides act as full length frames that along with a centrally located full width frame (solid wood), make up the basic "form" so no other forms are needed! There is no complicated lofting either. Parts are drawn directly on the three 4 X 8' ply sheets. This is all that is needed for the build! A simple grid system maps out the parts. Ok, that is a bit like lofting but did I mention simple? The bow and stern ply are attached to the bench frames. Next comes the sides, bent into place and "stitched" to the bow and stern. The bottom is a full 4' X 8' sheet having just a few cut outs on the forward half but still remaining one piece from the middle to the back. The front of this panel is fastened first then the aft half of the ply sheet is "tortured" into position creating an arched bottom in both width and length. This is another reason the boats move so well through the water! The basic hull is quickly assembled! After fiberglass, trim and finishing, you can use it! The needed sailing rig is then made along with the rudder and dagger board. Build times of the boat should run about 80 - 100 hrs, depending on the builder's skills. Add a bit more time for the sail rig, rudder and dagger board.

When sailing, Petals used a lee board but THORN, the "evolved" design, was upgraded to a dagger board and is better for it. This was the main improvement over the first edition. The rig is a simple sprit sail about 45 sq. ft. (cruising size). I re-sewed it from an old sail I had and do give an overview in the plans so you can make your own. A balanced lug rig is another option that I'd consider after I had a thrilling sail with this rig at last year's Sail Oklahoma. The advantage of the sprit sail is it is easier to duck under in a tack, especially with two aboard! How bad can a homemade sail be to not sail at all!? So risk it and try making your own! The dagger board and rudder's foil shape also helps performance. The rudder can kick up for use in shallow waters, while the dagger board has positive buoyancy and pops up just by slacking a line.

THORN rows so well, you may not want to bother with a motor. "He" (I had to man up after designing such a ladies boat as our Dianne's Rose!) is slightly narrower mid-ships and wider at the bow when compared to Petals. The center bow section rising farther out of the water and the outside corners are fuller as well. These changes also contributed to his better performance when the two are compared.

When a crowd is aboard (we once pushed our luck with four large adults), an electric motor is ideal for touring! I modified a basic trolling motor (simple to do and mentioned in the plans) by shortening the shaft and setting the controller on a 45 degree angle. This way the handle is not in the small of your back but stays comfortably to one side. With a single deep celled battery, stored under the bench, we can cruise all day without needing a charge!

Since I built our comfortable "Tiny" Houseboat, I found I still like sailing and miss it! Dianne, not so much (if you've been following our story)! So I will take Thorn along as a tender when cruising. Once settled, Dianne comfortable with a good book, I plan to take Thorn out to play! I also will do some small boat trips using my THORN. I'll miss some of the comfort of our Rose, sure but a sailing adventure on a small boat goes a long way to scratch that adventure itch! Travis, by the way, is now 19! He is more focussed on his girlfriend these days than sailing, but given time maybe he can join me with Petals!? A bit of father and son time is always a good time!

For plan information on THORN or DIANNE'S ROSE email or visit

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