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First-time Builders

I've been asked several times by newcomers to sailing, 'Do you think I can build a boat? Perhaps one like the W17?' … to which I might reply with three questions of my own:

Three YES replies can go a long way to answering the first question positively and here's why.

[*you may well have your own word for this, but in some countries, to 'whittle wood' is to shape or shave it with a sharp knife.]

First, building a trimaran is different from building a monohull. With the latter, one almost immediately sets up frames and starts to build the main hull. Only after that is finished does one get into making and fitting the small parts and sometimes that seems to go on for ever!

By comparison, you need a kit of small parts BEFORE you start to build or assemble three trimaran hulls, but once those parts are made, the assembly can go fairly fast and once done, there is then generally less to do to get yourself afloat.

But if you once enjoyed to 'whittle wood', then you'll certainly enjoy to make all the small parts that you'll need. A good number of small bulkheads and frames will be for starters and then other things follow like the daggerboard case, webs for the crossbeams and the lightweight stem pieces and similar small parts. None of these are very difficult to make, so if you once enjoyed whittling, you'll very likely enjoy making parts like these too. And the pure enjoyment of creating and building should be your initial goal. Even first time builders who originally saw this as 'a task', purely a means to an end and perhaps their only way to get the boat they wanted, end up by actually enjoying the work and process SO much that they frequently end up building another one! This is shown by how few 'one-time builders', actually end up building only ONE boat ;-)

So to start with, you have to be patient and take enjoyment from what is basically, just a slightly more complex and refined 'whittling'. Of course your tools, like a plane and spokeshave (see footnote), will become a little more sophisticated than a knife but the skills are similar.

Take these deck pads for example. They are simply-shaped pieces of ply that form the interface between the ama and cross beams (akas) with the pear shaped pieces also serving as a finishing surface for the forward beam fairing. A lot of these small pieces, like the ama stem pieces shown above, can be drawn or traced from the plans and make a pleasurable afternoon of 'whittling' into something interesting, rewarding and ultimately, useful. Bit by bit, all the required parts are made and prepared and then finally, they can be assembled quite easily, rather like those kits of your youth, and the hulls then quickly take shape with much personal satisfaction.

It's also important to choose a design where an experienced builder (ideally the designer) is accessible to answer questions, so that you have support when it's needed. Sadly, there are some good but old designs still available but only sold through an agent who is unable to offer any technical support. For experienced builders that may not be an issue, but for those just starting out, it can be.

So YES, there's a good chance that you CAN do this and I doubt you'll ever regret the effort. For the W17, early builders are claiming that my support service has been first class and I work hard to keep it that way. Sure, there will be a few hiccups along the way, but with wood and epoxy, almost everything can be put right if you know how and I'm offering to be here to help you do just that. Good luck with whatever you choose to build … JUST DO IT !!

mike waters 2010


In case a reader is not familiar with a SPOKESHAVE, it's a lightweight hand tool for shaping rounded parts and with a little practice, will neatly round off almost any part you need. Used with two hands one on a handle at each end, they come in a variety of styles and sizes with either a flat or curved base. The flat one is the one I use by far the most and having first discovered this tool when I was 12 years old, it's now clearly my favorite of all tools! I personally prefer the light, simple models without the screw blade adjustment and own two Stanley #64 models that I would never part with. A highly satisfying tool to own and use.
Available from $10 to $100, with a Stanley 64 selling through eBay for only $20–$30.
Some use them pulling towards you but I've always preferred to push away. Every boatbuilder needs one… They'll soon encourage the artistry in you. ;-)


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