So, you want to build yourself a VolksCruiser…

As it happens, I really enjoy building boats.I find the whole process of boat construction both a creative outlet and deeply satisfying on an emotional level.

That being the case, I often recommend to a lot of folks that they might want to think twice before building a cruising boat because there’s a steep learning curve. It takes a special mindset to build a good boat and not everyone has what it takes. 

Which is not to say I’m one of those sad people who hang out on forums telling folks that building your own boat is a project that only an idiot would attempt, it will take a decade or more to finish, and when the dust has settled you’ll have spent more than a new boat would cost. My advice is more along the line that building your own boat is a great experience, which can save you some money, and be done in a timely manner providing you have your shit together sort.

Which leaves us with the perennial question…

Do you have your shit together? 

The truth is that this is a question I ask myself on a pretty regular basis. It’s a go to mantra of sorts because, in my case at least, I need to keep track of what sort of condition my condition is in*.

The hardest part of building a boat has less to do with one’s abilities to do dovetail joints or perfect scarfs and everything to do with keeping your shit together in the midst of a gazillion interlocking, yet contradictory tasks, which is otherwise known as project management.

Take a look at the folks around you and, I suspect, there are people who can manage a project and others who can’t even manage to do even simple tasks without some involved drama. 

Another reason boat projects fail is that the builder can’t follow the plan. One of the most common questions I hear about boat building is something like “I got the Bolger AS29 plans but think I’ll substitute the rig from a Catalina 30 and maybe add an inboard diesel engine. What do you think?” sort. One of the things I love about building a boat is I get to follow a plan that makes sense which is a wonderful thing considering that managing a boat building project is often an exercise that makes wrangling cats seem simple.

The fact of the matter is the backbone of any successful boat build is the plan and the minute you start questioning the validity of the design chaos ensues. 

The last issue that is seriously problematic for the build is that not everyone is good at doing consistent productive labor. Take a look at one of my favorite Wharram designs the Tiki 30 which is really a nice little cruising design. According to Wharram, the design requires around nine-hundred hours of labor to complete which is an average as some folks take longer, some take less, some are part-time and some folks work full time. Now, anyone who actually works for a living has already figured out that nine-hundred hours is between 22-23 forty-hour work weeks. 

Building boats is just like working for a paycheck. It’s all about the labor. When building the Wharram you don’t get to count time spent looking at that big pile of plywood pondering which part you’ll cut out first, daydreaming about how awesome it will be sailing the cat in the Caribbean, or redesigning the design so it looks more like a Gunboat. Nope, you only get to count the hours you actually worked that produced stuff.

Admittedly some people are not all that great at being their own taskmaster and that’s OK as long as they realize that doing an hour here and a few hours there doesn’t get a boat built in any kind of timely manner, if at all. On the other hand, if the builder is self-actualized and can put in productive eight-hour days, not only will he have a successful build but also be able to send “Having a wonderful time in Pago Pago” postcards to all of the naysayers who said that it’s stupid to build a boat.

Like I said, building your own boat is not for everyone but for those who can, it rocks.

*H/T The First Edition.


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1 thought on “So, you want to build yourself a VolksCruiser…”

  1. I think you also have to have a hard look at yourself and decide what type of boat builder you are going to be. A craftsman could easily double the time it takes to build the Tiki 30. All that time spent sharpening tools, hand cutting every joint to perfection and doing everything a 100% correct adds up. A hack on the other hand could build the Tiki 30 in less than the quoted time because close enough is good enough and filler and paint will hide most of the mistakes to some degree. I am somewhere in the middle and find the work boat style of finishing gets me on the water quicker and still maintain some quality control.I often find for a lot of craftsman it's all about the journey and very therapeutic doing everything right. But for the hack its often more about getting on the water and going sailing.

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