Whatever Floats Your Boat

More American families are discovering the fun of building their own small craft

In the center of a loose circle formed by the Nimr family of Southport, Conn., a 17-foot kayak called a Merganser is taking shape. Kristen, Amer, and their three sons -- Rakan, 13; Ramzi, 11; and Rashad, 8 -- started in February at Wooden Boat Workshop in Norwalk, Conn., with 24 pieces of precut plywood panels. Now they are stitching the top and bottom halves together using copper wire. When they are finished with this stage of the project, they will apply fiberglass tape to the seams, remove the stitching, and paint on an epoxy glue to hold the two halves together. They've set aside three hours every Saturday to work on the little vessel so that by June, they can launch it into the Long Island Sound.


Like the Nimrs, families coast to coast are discovering that building a boat can be an enjoyable way to learn new skills and create something tangible together. With the boat-building season getting under way, you can sign up for courses lasting 10 or 15 weeks at maritime museums, yacht clubs, and carpentry shops. Wooden Boat magazine runs one- and two-week workshops in all aspects of boat-building at its headquarters in Brooklin, Me., and other locations around the country. Or you can assemble a boat in two to three days at one of the more than 24 venues from California to Arkansas and Maryland that are participating in Family Boat Building Week, July 19-25 (familyboatbuilding.com). The cost ranges from $500 to $1,500 per family, depending on the location, duration of the course, and type of boat you make.

Don't worry if you don't know a skiff from a schooner. "With the proper instruction and easy-to-build boat, anyone can do it," says Carl Cramer, publisher of Wooden Boat, which is, along with the Alexandria (Va.) Seaport Foundation, a sponsor of Family Boat Building Week. At the programs run by Alexandria's Executive Director Joe Youcha, participants assemble a rowboat called the Bevin's Skiff by nailing together 30 pieces of precut wood. After listening to a talk about safety, materials, and how to use a caulking gun, the families watch as group leaders demonstrate how to measure the center frame and attach it to the stem, a part of the boat's bow, or front. The trickiest part is fitting the chines -- the points at which the sides of the boat meet the flat bottom. If you don't seal these seams properly with special pieces of wood, the boat will leak.

Everyone works. Kids as young as 5 can hammer in nails, while even littler ones can fetch supplies. Last October, Marvin and Kayo Motsenbocker and their three daughters, aged 11, 9, and 7, built a rowboat in Alexandria that they're ready to use this spring. "If you had asked my kids: 'Could you do this?' they would have said no. But now they know -- if you take something step by step and take your time, you can do it," says Marvin. "They have a great deal of pride in what they've done." And they can't wait to go fishing with their grandpa in their new craft.

By Elaine S. Silver

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