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by Thomas Dalzell - Eastern Canada

Back in the 60s and 70s, I spent a lot of time at our cottage enjoying the water and some copies of Popular Mechanics that had accumulated over the years. A number of these articles really impressed me, and have stuck with me over the years. A few years back I made a short list of some of the articles, and the inventions they covered, and decided to make a few of these dreams of my youth. A boatbuilder's bucket list.

First on the list was the Water Wagon, that appeared on the cover of PM back in Sept 1971. I was 12 at the time, though I probably didn't see it until at least the summer of '72. We had decent fishing but no easy way to reach the water other than from the tree choked banks. The Water Wagon filled me with desire, but it never would have made it up to Canada at the time, and if it did, we could not have justified it.

I started the build at the lake where I didn't have any fancy design software, and in any case I was mimicking a design that was mostly just a box. It still needs to be carefully considered for ergonomics, displacement, and trim. Structurally, plywood boats are not ideal for large decks, if you want to keep the weight in check. It seems that many of my recent builds, the Wagon, surfboards, and the solo skiff, have all had large plywood walking areas. Core is the best solution, but not as accessible as all-ply.

There have been other copies of the wagon over the years, mostly in Styrofoam. These tend to leak foam granules over their lifetime. An acquaintance built a foam surfboard and the neighbourhood was still digesting the granules from his build a year later. I lent him my wire hot saw, so it could have been a lot worse. And his boat was glassed, so eventually the foam was contained.

I spent about 25 bucks on the 2 sheets of plywood. I doubt it is waterproof ply, but in boats that are properly sheathed this is an acceptable compromise. I have 30 year old boats that are still trucking that were made this way. No question that exterior grade ply is to be preferred. And I have to confess that on some of the earlier projects that is what I thought I was building with. For tools I used a drill driver, jigsaw, sander, router, and table saw, though one could get by without quite a few of those.

Read this magazine.

The first step in the build was to cut out a kit of parts.
The building jig is the dining room table.

The main bulkheads and the side and deck panels were put in place.

I used strips to produce the radiused bows the WW had, but in wood. I could have left these off, but they are responsible for a lot of the WW look and make the boat a lot less boxy. I made the radiused sections a little wider than the boat. They get cut up into three sections to fair the bows, and the deck.

I used strips to produce the radiused bows the WW

I glassed the inside of the strips, and then glued them to the framework of the boat. Then I glassed the faired curve of the strips. I didn't like doing it, but I am building this boat all over the place and there is a strong possibility the parts would have lost tolerance if I hadn't got them under the control of the glass as early as possible. It is usually better to do all the glassing at one time, it makes it easier to flow it out nicely. Against that, I used up lots of scraps of glass on the project. It is hard to do a whole boat in small pieces, all at one time.

There was a lot of fiddly work at this point coving, and adding stiffeners to the seat/deck area. There were 80 feet of coves in the interior deck side of this boat! Enough to make something much bigger/better. At times like that one wishes one had some core to work with.

Behind the clamps you can see some of the little stringers that are supporting the deck.
The Strip fairing and interior is shown mostly finished and is ready for the bottom to be installed.
Bottom dry fit
I could study the fairness while having dinner
Bit of a surprise as I did the first of the glassing. I didn't have nearly the glass I thought I had. It was tight as to whether there was enough to finish the boat before the season was out, and I returned to the city for resupply.
Half and half, one underside pontoon glassed, another with the glass laid over it.

All the glassing is done, the next step is a water trial, and then it will get all faired and finished as I have product from other builds to use up the extra from.

I was so busy, I hadn't even got the thing in the water yet, which is an achievement given that the water is 30 yards one way and 150 the other! Time was closing in for the summer. I had found time in the evening to do more fairing, and build pockets for the foredecks.

I was about to miss my window at the lake, which means the chores increased and time to play decreased. I decided I couldn't wait and threw it in the water one night. It worked fine, but of all things there was a leak, in a fully sheathed boat. Turned out there was a gap in the weave, and a hole from a wire tie that were in perfect alignment. Easy to plug, and topcoats sealed her up further. Still, I was a little red faced.

Life intervened and two years went by and then I got to use her.

I had some difficulty with control at first. It was not like a float tube where I just swim it around, it was more like paddling.

I am pretty wide, and ideally for me, the gap might be 2 inches wider, but I think I nailed the design for the majority of people. Part of the idea was to preserve the original design, so I was influenced by that more than the desire for custom hydro.

Straight ahead it chugs along pretty fast. No way it can keep up with a Kayak but for short periods it did seem to be keeping up. The kayaker can keep it up all day while with my knees, I was feeling it a lot just fooling around on the wagon.

So far I like it a lot, I didn't want to come in that first time out. This was my first try with flippers. The lake was pretty well dead flat, but I would expect that with fly fishing (spinning in pic obviously, but FF is what I do 99% of the time).

Nothing about the boat seemed unsafe. I even sunbathed on it, diagonally, at one point. This thing is a little heavy, but it is very tough. For me it is a fishing boat, but it could be a number of things, for instance a casual drift boat, like an inner tube, but drier.

Overall it took a week and a half of main work, an hour here or there in the evening. But the whole thing stretched over years, and it still isn't painted. I can live with that, projects come and go. Soon one has so many boats the maintenance is a full time job. No one boat can claim all the attention.

The bucket list lives on. I have two more items to take care of. One of them, an odd little sail rig, I found quite a bit of information on, and it may get done this year. The other, an underwater contraption is still a lot further off.

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