Custom Search
   boat plans
   gift certificates
Join Duckworks
Get free newsletter
on this site
by Tom Geary - Fremont, California - USA

My wife and kids go to the family cabin in Tahoe every year for about 6 weeks – all of July and half of August. I stay at home like a good husband and father, working during the day and cleaning the house from top to bottom in the evening. Really though, I drink beer and watch Top Gear, and the Bourne trilogy. I visit the family at the weekends, using staying for one of the weeks.

It was during the weeklong stay last year that I stumbled into boat building. I’ve told the story before, but I spent my teens sailing with my father and my brother in a beautiful old GP14 in England.  We took sailing lessons, but only really learned which rope to hold where. We did most of our learning on the job, so to speak. We capsized more times than there are stars in the sky. All good fun – especially in chilly England in early spring.  Basically – I know how to sail, I love it, but I couldn’t afford a boat. I built a PDR (number 910, now chopped up and recycled, I’m afraid, it was too poorly built to trust), then I built a Michalak Mixer, which turned out rather well.


So with a perfectly good boat already on the shore at Tahoe and a few weeks all by myself, what else is a man supposed to do except start building a new boat? As it happened I tried my hand at rowing, and found it immensely calming – much like I’ve heard cycling described by its fans – an introvert’s dream.  However the Mixer, at 12 feet and about 120 pounds, is a bit of hassle to get to the water. Worth it for sailing, but not for an impulse row.  I also have an Intex inflatable kayak – 80 bucks of Amazon (I know, I could have built a lovely Michalak Toto, I missed that trick). The Intex kayak gets more use than anything. I even use it after work sometimes to go for a paddle in the lagoon at Foster City, CA. I leave it in my car, I can blow it up in seconds, carry it to the water, hop in, and paddle my way to inner Zen. As it happens, I went for a paddle this evening, because the bridge across the bay was jammed up and I needed a Zen-recharge before getting my traffic-on.

So how about combining those things? A boat I could row, or sail, and would be light enough to carry, to put on the top of my SUV, or inside my wife’s minivan.  I do not want to deal with the DMV again this decade, so my vessel had to be small enough – less than 8 feet. So the choices: A plywood lapstrake tender, maybe an Oughtred design, a Michalak-designed dink (I already have the plans for Tween), a nuthatch pram. I also have the plans for Storer’s Mk2 and Oz RV.

Long story short: the PDR is too big to carry, its just too wide. The prams are a shade ugly – not really my cup of tea. Lapstraking looks far too complicated for my video-game-generation attention span and physical skill levels. But Michalak - one of my all-time favorite human beings, by the way, and you can tell him that – happened to mention in his sales pitch for the Weevee that – and I quote: “I can't help but think that WeeVee was not suitable for sailing by anyone except the skateboard crowd.”

Well now you’re talking my language, Jim Michalak, I consider myself a firm member of the skateboard crowd (actually more of a snowboarder, but same thing). Anyway, with such a description as that, I was sold. 

The hardest part about building a Michalak is waiting for unspeakably slow plan delivery mechanism – the mail carrier. Seriously, is this how everything used to happen? How did you cope without everything being digital? An 8 day wait is simply beyond my tolerance level. I used the Tween plans to start on the rudder and leeboard (both turned out to be a different size, never mind, they’ll work).

When the plans arrived, I started immediately. I got the plywood home on the top of my SUV, somewhat against relevant vehicle code. I had it marked out within the half hour, did a terrible job with the jigsaw holding the sheets on a thigh, at one point resting a lose end on my forehead. Skill – epoxy cures all – a few little wavy bits don’t matter (see why I didn’t tackle the lapstrake now?). Within the first evening I had all the major panels cut out and the framing on.

I’d already cut the gunnels out of two 10 foot 4x1s. Weevee has an awesome I-Beam gunnel which I love. Check out the duckworks page to see more. The next day, I put the pieces together – I wired in some parts, but mostly used up a roll of duct tape to hold it all together (nod to Storer for that tip – works well – I only used wire on two very highly-stressed parts).

I’d seen an episode of “How Its Made” about making CLC canoes, and I’d seen them apply a very neat bead of thickened epoxy straight onto a plywood joint – none of this “wetting out” nonsense. I copied them using a pastry bag (thanks wifey!) and very exceptionally happy with the results. The seams on my Mixer were a long, drawn out, incredibly messy affair taking a whole weekend. On the Weevee, about 1.5 hours. I used 1 inch fiberglass tape – because it was only 8 bucks a roll from Amazon – but I used two layers on all inside seams. Outside I used the fiberglass cloth leftover from the Mixer job (I had plenty left over because of a brain-fart in the whole yards-versus-feet affair).

Outside the hull I also didn’t wet out first – I put on the glass then drenched it in resin, smoothing it as best I could. It all turned out drippy and runny, but the glass was firmly on, the bits all attached together, and I was happy – only 4 evenings I think to this point. I think I had this goal of building it in less than 20 hours, to less than 100 dollars. The hull just squeaked in under that, the rig took a few hours longer (the rudder and leeboard took a day or so each, I think). However, I decided early on I wasn’t even going to bother trying to “fair” it. I spent about 35 hours on my Mixer purely on what I termed “sanding and fairing” in my log – time wasted in my opinion – it looks rough as hell close up – but the thing is, I don’t care in the slightest. I decided for this boat I wasn’t going to paint it, just varnish it, warts and all. It even has the pencil lines marking out the stations visible on the bottom. To me it just adds character.

I thought long and hard about adding bulkheads and decks. Michalak’s hand-wavy “use foam blocks when sailing to avoid swamping” gave me some mild nightmares. I just didn’t want to add all that extra weight, and void the whole point of the boat. Instead, I made some cleats out of excess gunnel material. I bought two very nice 55L dry bags. I bulk out the dry-bags with balloons, fasten them tight, and lash them into the bow and stern. I tried it in my backyard pool, it works well.

I took it out rowing, and found that I had forgotten to add the skeg. Every bodily movement, voluntary or otherwise, caused the boat to change direction. The leverage applied by the oars versus the drag on the water is laughable – the whole boat will pivot easily around a single powerful oar-stroke. I decided to push on to hanging the rudder, I couldn’t figure out an easy way of attaching the skeg straight, and having it on at an angle is basically a lifetime of regret in the waiting. I didn’t put a sink-weight on the rudder, since on the mixer it doesn’t always hold it down, instead I put a cleat on the side of the rudder and I’ll cleat it up or down with a single line.

The centerboard went on next – quite easy – except for the cut right through the gunnel. The leeboard can double as a rowing seat, but obviously not as a sailing seat. A wet bum is in my future. Although, I did buy a floating cushion to help.

I was originally going to use the old 12 foot mast from my Mixer with a 55 square foot leg-o-mutton sprit sail. But when I put the boat in my pool and slotted the mast in place, the weight of the mast pulled the whole boat over on its side. With my 60 pound eldest son acting as ballast, it balanced ok, so I was more or less ok with it. A recent capsize of my Mixer has knocked some sense into me though, so I switched strategy and I’m starting with a tiny 8 foot mast and 21 square foot leg-o-mutton sprit sail. Even the skateboard crowd have rudimentary learning capabilities when given adequate stimuli.

So there we are. It fits on my car, I can lift it up and carry it around easily – although when hoisted on my shoulder its just wide enough to clang on that bone on the outside of the ankle, which ruins my Zen somewhat. Due to its insane instability, coupled with the evil genius that it clearly is, as a pun on the design name and due to the fact that it looks like a giant bug, I’ve called it Doctor Weevil.

And now the screw-ups. I’m including this, because there are many folks like me who haven’t really got any discernible woodworking skills or training, but who could – and should – find the courage to give it a go anyway.  Store-bought boats are too damn expensive, and its killing – or already killed – sailing. We need to fight back against this corporate growth-oriented profit-at-all-costs non-sense and educate people that with some effort, some determination and a little bit of peace and quiet, a person (man or woman, black or white, terrestrial or alien) can build a boat and have a great time on the water.

  1. I didn’t put the spreaders in during construction – I don’t know why not, I think I forget then couldn’t be bothered to backtrack. I also took the temp form outa step too early. The excuse for this was to get the seams neater. Its about 2 inches narrower than it should be. On the positive side, I did the neatest saw-cuts of my whole life when trimming down the bottom to fit.
  2. The mast partner hole in the bow pad was cut exactly one half-inch too far to the right. I don’t know how I did it, but I only noticed when I was squaring up the epoxy-covered, fiberglass-tape-goopy mess that holds the mast step in place. I couldn’t be bothered to backtrack and fix it, so I gooped it upright where it sat and lamented my mistake with a beer. I rationalize: the boat is called Doctor Weevil, you have to expect weird stuff like that.
  3. The force of the gunnels pulling outwards on the sides, right at the ends of the hull, pulled the outer layer of ply away from the core. I only noticed when I was varnishing. I pumped as much thickened epoxy into the gaps as I could, and assume its fine.
  4. I got medium-large amounts of epoxy resin on my arms and legs, gluing my luscious thick body hair into what looked like giant nose-booger-wipes. I did this the day before a rather important management meeting at which I had to appear sensible and make deep and thoughtful contributions about the strategy and direction of the business unit that I co-run. I only noticed the epoxy at lunch time (this is California, I wear shorts and a polo short every day). It wouldn’t come off at all. Well it would, but only with my actual skin, and I didn’t feel that deal was worth it. I didn’t mention it and neither did the executives. One can only give so much of a fuss about ones appearance when there’s a boat half built at home.

To comment on Duckworks articles, please visit one of the following:

our Yahoo forum our Facebook page