Selecting plans

Selecting any particular design can be daunting. If your needs are diverse or a little different, you can spend as much time finding the right set of plans, as it takes to actually build the boat. This process of picking a design can be difficult and has several pitfalls, common among novice skippers and/or builders.
   The wisest course is to establish a firm set of goals, the design must achieve. We call this an SOR (Statement Of Requirements) in the industry and this is a combination wish list and goal targets, any prospective design must meet. As is the case with all yacht design decisions, if you want one particular element, you’ll probably have to trade with some other element to get it. Compromise and priority are simply a fact of life in this regard. We see a lot of this on the initial attempts with SOR lists. For example, you want a high speed runabout, but one with a comfortable ride. Without a prioritized SOR, you can’t have both equally. You’ll either get a really fast boat with a harsh ride or a fast looking boat, that’s quite comfortable to ride in. With high speed further up on the priority list, we can work on the ride aspect of the equation, but not so much that the top speed targets can’t be reached.
   Another area of concern is placing too many eggs in the same basket. Some years ago, I was asked to draw up a new sloop, in the “Friendship” style, so of course it was to be a gaffer and look like it just rolled out of the golden age of sail. Cool, I said, but then came the SOR, which wanted modern appendages, so the boat would handle better, which I wholeheartedly agreed with, plus shoal draft and in a trailerable length, with standing headroom in the cabin and several other conflicting design conundrums. The Friendship sloop has a few notable design elements, making it look like, well and Friendship sloop. These are typically a log rail, low cabin roof line, moderate freeboard, bow and stern treatments, etc. Standing headroom in a relatively short length, shoal draft boat, with a low cabin and squat freeboard makes for bald designers. I could hide some of the cabin side height, with a heavily crowned roof, but not too much, as this would detract from the “look”. Additionally, I could use taller than normal bulwarks, but Friendships typically had a simple log rail, instead of an envisioned raised bulwark. The shoal draft requirement meant the hull volume wouldn’t be sufficient for standing headroom, without a big box of a cabin sitting on the deck, etc., etc., etc. This is why most designers are balding or have given up and shave their heads. So be reasonable and don’t try to get everything, because you just can’t. Think of it as buying a house. You’ll look at lots of houses, some really cool, some hitting most of the things you want, but none will ring all the bells, so you have to accept getting as much as you can. The only time you can get everything, is if you’re having a custom design done and your budget is nearly unlimited.
   Judge the scale of the project. Very often, folks buy a set of plans, just to realize they can’t fit it in their garage or building area. Additionally, don’t bite off more than you can chew. A 20’ boat is literally half the size of a 24’ boat, even though it’s only a few feet longer. It’s simple physics, though not well understood by most, we have to deal with it regularly. If you’re a novice or first time builder, start small. Maybe you’re envisioning your dream yacht, but try starting with the dream yacht’s dinghy, preferably built in the same method, so you can get a handle on this boat building gig. Hell, you might find you hate this stuff and you can spare yourself (and the family) the heartache, of a partly built project that you’ve lost interest in. I can’t tell you how many unfinished boats I’ve seen over the years. When you look at the numbers, it’s surprising any get built at all. Of 100 plans sets sold, only about 50% will get some materials purchased. Of this 50% only 50% of these (25% of the total plans sales) will have the strongback built and some station molds erected. Of this only 50% (12.5% of the total plans sales) will reach the first natural stopping point (the roll over). Of this, yet another 50% (6.25% of the total plans sales) will make it through these natural stopping points (building plateaus). This means of the 100 plan sets initially sold, maybe 3% or so, will actually get splashed. Damn, that’s not much. On the other hand, you can look at it like this - those that do complete a build are in a special league, where very few live and are sailing around in a boat they built themselves. Given the odds, the natural plateaus, the issues, problems and non-instant gratification associated with these types of ventures, something to be very proud to have done.
    I find myself talking folks out of trying to build a boat, more often than I care to admit. Seems a pretty foolish thing to do, but I don’t want people to buy a set of plans, for a boat they can never build. This is common among new and novice builders – trying to build their dream yacht, right out of the gate. Maybe you want a 45’ world cruiser (don’t we all), but (again) consider building the tender to the mother ship first. The odds of finishing a 45’ yacht, as your first build are astronomically against you, though an 12' - 18’er is a good place to start.
   Secure a building site. This seems simple enough, but trust me on this; the other half will want her garage or carport back, before you’ve finished up the boat. Boat building projects have certainly caused their share of grief with families and friends. The build site needs several things, besides tools and a roof. It needs to be secure, have a reasonably level floor, enough room around the boat to work on it - at least 3’ in any direction, which is very tight, but manageable. You’ll need a work bench, a place for a moaning chair and end table (a place to rest your beer, between crying sessions), plus material and tool storage. Don’t discount the moaning chair and end table, I’m serious. This will be used a lot as you ponder the realities of your latest attempts to measure twice and cut three times, just to figure out you’re still short of fitting the piece in. I prefer the end table to be a small refrigerator, which can also hold up a reading lamp, while you pull out a fresh one. The chair should be comfortable, possibly reclining. You’ll sit in this chair, look over the boat and figure out how to work though the most recent setback.
   Have a look at the designer's web site and see what their plans look like. Are they in color, are they well detailed, do they offer metric and SAE dimensions, are specific sub-assemblies shown or do you have to make it up as you go? Is the designer alive? This is an often overlooked consideration. A living designer can be approached by phone, email, etc. and you can iron out a few questions in a very short amount of time, if 
they're dead, not so much. Also look around the net and see if they contribute to the general knowledge and understanding within the industry. By this I mean, some just aren't as people friendly as others, so some will be helpful, while other can't be bothered.
   Some sites offer full size patterns, which seems great and a huge time saver. In reality, these are more a marketing approuch, than a time saver, unless they actually send you full size templates for the actual planking, which few actually do. Station mold templates on a simple single chine hull save maybe a days work, for the average person. In the big picture, this isn't much savings. Then you have to transfer the full size drawings to the work (plywood), so how do you do this with reasonable accuracy? Draw on the back with a pencil? Really and you saved what with these full size templates? Some use a sewing pattern making wheel, which is like a pizza cutter with pins sticking out. These work pretty good, but you're still tracing the pattern on the work and connecting the dots, so why not just draw it directly on the plywood and skip all the fuss with transferring the full size patterns.
   Are kits available? I don't offer kits, as I think the market has quite a few to select from, but I can see the appeal for the novice. The only problem with a kit is you're married to the design, so if you'd like to make some changes, you're screwed or have to buy more material. I've found most home builders do make changes to the design, typically to styling or accommodation aspects of the build. You might want the V berth to be longer, taller, etc., maybe different combings or hatch locations, etc., so don't be fooled by all that a kit might offer. It, just like everything else in yacht design and building is a "Convoluted, Concession in Discontiguous Compromise". All this said there's much to please the novice or first time builder in a kit, so think it over.
   Ask yourself if you’re a good problem solver. Boat building will require you address countless issues. If you’re “good on your feet” with analyzing and fixing an issue, you’ll likely do well at this boat building thing. I call this engineering on the fly and you’ll do a lot of it. These “issues” can run the gauntlet of making tools do things they were never intended to do, to bending wood into shapes it generally doesn’t want to accept. You’ll find you have to invent and create methods, techniques, tools, clever cursing and jaw holding positions, just to get through the project.
   Get the family involved. Many a family has become worn out or tattered, because of a project. If they’re involved, this is less likely and much more rewarding too. A father son relationship can be very enjoyable, but daughters also like this stuff. Also, know your limitations and let the other half pick the colors for the boat. If it was up to us guys, everything would be battleship gray, white or black. The other half will have a much better eye about this sort of thing and she gets in on the project, even if just in this way. The boat will look a lot better and she’ll be able to live with it better as well.
   Don’t build an oddball. Even if your SOR is pretty specialized, try to consider its resale value. Homebuilt boats don't sell very well, unless you’re a noted amateur builder or a professional. If you want to recover the building material costs, select a design that will have a reasonable chance at a sale. The most popular type and size boat in the USA is an 18’, outboard powered, center console, with a V bottom. These are pretty easy to sell, because everyone wants one, even if it is homemade. Now you’re thinking I’m building this for myself, so I don’t need to sell it. Great, but 10 years from now, you might think otherwise, so make it palatable to the largest buyer’s market you can.
   Some food for thought . . .

1 comment:

  1. Great read! I've built some very small boats, owned a few others, plus co-owned a 25' Cape Dory sailboat. I'm presently in my mid-70's and a bit handicapped walking. I know I am probably dreaming, but your Murphy 16.2 comes as close to my dream boat, Ian Proctor's "Wayfarer" as I can find. I may get only as far as plans, but that's OK; it will be worth it, just dreaming! This is a great site! Thanks!!