Arthur Michell Ransome (18 January 1884 – 3 June 1967) was an English author and journalist. He is best known for writing the Swallows And Amazons series of children’s books.
Regarding boats he wrote:
“The desire to build a boat is one of those that cannot be resisted. It begins as a little cloud on a serene horizon. It ends by covering the whole sky, so that you can think of nothing else. You must build to regain your freedom. . .”
He also wrote that the difference between a house and a boat is: “Houses are but badly built boats so firmly aground that you can not think of moving them. They are definitely inferior things, belonging to the vegetable, not the animal world, rooted and stationary, incapable of gay transition…The desire to build a house is the tired wish of a man content thenceforward with a single anchorage. The desire to build a boat is the desire of youth, unwilling yet to accept the idea of a final resting place.”
Despite emphysema, arthritis and the three stents I carry around in my heart I’m not ready for a final resting place. That’s why this blog is named One More Good Adventure.
I haven’t been sleeping well since the shanty boat bug bit me again. I’ll go to bed and then wake up at 3:30 or 4:00 in the morning as 72 year old men are wont to do, but then when I lay down again my mind keeps churning about all the possibilities of this venture that I can’t get back to sleep. So a half hour, forty-five minutes later I’m up again and roaming around on the computer.
Here’s one of the hurdles I have to overcome…
As you can see by the yellow stick pin where I am and where the boat should be are quite far apart. Not only that, running right smack between those two pins is the continental divide. A mountain chain thousands of feet high!
I have a complete set of plans for a shanty boat called the Brandy Bar
It’s 25 feet long and 10 feet wide. That would make it too wide to put on a trailer and truck over the hills to Almirante where it could be launched. The construction is pretty straight forward. It’s like building a house because everything is right angles and no complex compound curves. It would be pretty simple to simply modify the plans and scale the beam down to 8 feet so it would be trailerable.
Another problem is cost. Even scrimping on things like interior design and not counting such essentials as navigation lights, anchors with their chain and rode, regular lighting, cooking facilities, etc., etc., the bare hull would cost around $4K!
Then we get into construction problems themselves. 1) The best source for marine plywood is over there in Bocas del Toro. I live here in Boquerón. For those of you not familiar with boat building, real marine plywood is expensive stuff. Without getting into a big dissertation about how plywood is made I’ll just say there’s “Marine Ply,’ ‘AB’, ‘BC’ and stuff called ‘CDX.’ The letters all refer to the condition of the outermost ply, and the X means ‘exterior.’ All need to have exterior grade glues so the plies won’t delaminate. The supplier I know of charges $99.95 for a 3/4″ sheet of the stuff. Tack on Panama’s 7% tax and each sheet come in at $106.95. There are approximately 18 sheets needed to build a Brandy Bar or $1,925.00 worth of plywood! He also carries CDX which costs $54.95 for a 3/4” sheet. That would cut the plywood costs to $1,058.33.
Now all that doesn’t include the framing lumber. There are 21 frames that need to be built with 2X6 inch, pressure treated lumber. Each of the frames requires 14′ of the stuff. An 8′, pressure treated 2X6 costs $14.12 (tax included). Each frame is 3′ high, so the lumber for the framing comes in at about $77.00 whether you’re building with top rated marine ply of CDX.
I was also directed, yesterday, to a place that’s supposed to sell plywood in David. What I’ve seen so far has been disappointing, but I’ll check out the new place in the next few days.
And that’s just what the lumber costs. Add in epoxy resins which are far from cheap and which I haven’t even tried to price out though I did find out about a place in David that sells it, fiberglass mat for protecting the hull against ship worms down here (Columbus abandoned two of his boats here in Panama in 1502 because of ship worms). And so on and so on with expenses.
Another problem arises in the building process. You have to build the damned hull upside down on a kind of large jig to hold the framing in place while you’re putting on the plywood sheeting and glassing it all together.
So, when it’s all sheeted and the fiberglassing is done you have to do this…
You have to turn it over so you can build the cabin. And the flippin’ thing is HEAVY right now. (The last two photos courtesy [though they don’t know it yet] of http://littleshantyboat.blogspot.com/ which is one of the best blogs I’ve read anywhere about the actual building process of a shanty boat. If you’re interested in building one you need to bookmark this site.)
So, the other night I was talking to my surfing friend, David, who lives in Costa Rica but who is thinking about resettling, too, in Bocas, when an idea hit me. . .
From time immemorial boats and ships have been built as a single unit. The keel was laid down, frames were attached to that and planking was added to the frames to complete the hull. Instead of building my 25′ long by 8′ wide hull as a single unit, why couldn’t I build, say, units that were 8’X8′ which would be a lot lighter in weight and them, with epoxy, through-bolt those units together? Sort of like putting Legos® together. Why not, indeed? I mean they build HUGE ships and aircraft carriers that way, now, don’t they?
If they can build something as big as an aircraft carrier in sections and, essentially, bolt the pieces together why couldn’t I do the same thing with something so simple as a shanty boat?
Four Puddle Duck Racers bolted together would make a 16’X8′ hull. Six of them and you’ve got a 24X8. Four of them with a deck covering the top of each one, and joined with spanning members floored over and you’ve got yourself the pontoons and platform for a pretty large floating home.
And here, too, you don’t have to build it all at once. You can build something large enough (or small enough) to give you a place to live in while you construct further modules. My uncle Dick and his wife Helen lived in the basement of their house in Cincinnati, Ohio while they were building the big house. My secret heros, Jim Kimball and Jay Viola (not to mention their wives who worked just as hard as they did, though in the States) built a fabulous Eco Resort, Tranquilo Bay (http://www.tranquilobay.com/) on the island of Bastimentos in Bocas del Toro, Panama, piece by piece, and they lived in a TENT on a rickety dock when they started the venture. You really SHOULD read this story, it’s absolutely inspiring about what guts and determination can accomplish…http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080501/paradise-the-hard-way.html I had the good fortune to spend a couple of hours with Jim Kimball a few years ago when I was making my first exploratory trips to Panama and it would be hard to find a nicer person willing to sit down with a total stranger for a couple of hours and discuss the stranger’s crackpot ideas of building a shanty boat.
So, there you have it. I’m sure there will be many more sleepless nights ahead because of this nonsense. My birthday is only a couple of weeks away. I think this year I’m going to gift myself with some power tools. I’ll show you when I get them.
A few years ago I priced it out at less than $200. I’ve also said that I doubt that there’s a group of sailors who have more fun than the Puddle Duckers.
A PDR is a “class” sailboat, just like an Optimist Pram, but those go for as much as a grand plus. A “class” sailboat means that they all meet certain criteria so that they can compete against one another without a handicapping system. The bottom rocker of all Puddle Ducks is exactly the same.
Other than that, anything goes…
Thinking about building a shanty boat, I’m going to need to have a dinghy and I’m going to build a PDR, but it WON’T be anything like this one…
Continuing on the search for building materials for a shanty boat build here in Boquerón, Panama. Five years or so ago I talked to Courtney Parks, owner of the Bocas Marina and a good friend of my friend the late, great Frank Hilson (everyone who knew Frank misses him). Back then Courtney was working on getting a boat yard up and running in Almirante on the mainland. Yard, travel lift, the whole nine yards and rare as hen’s teeth down here. Well, going through a ton of sites this last week it seems he’s actually done it and the yard opened a couple of years ago.
Courtney said then, that the plywood they sell here in Panama is garbage, and he usually had what he needed shipped down from the States. So, talk about expensive! Figure in the cost of shipping and then the import duties, sheeesh!
Today I went to one of the largest hardware outlets around, Franklin Jurado, over in Bugaba. They had a limited stock of plywood and while it was marked “Marinero,” I doubt that it really IS marine-grade ply. A 3/4″ sheet is listed at $26.05 and 1/2″ at $22.53. Cochez, the other big supplier in the area prices their stuff within a few cents of Jurado’s prices.
So, building a small, 18′ scow hull like the Atkins “Retreat” which I’ve lways rather liked, http://shantyboatliving.com/2012/shantyboat-living-book-design-options-retreat/ you can figure that the plywood for the scow hull is going to run around $450, not counting framing (2X4X8, untreated pine runs $4.84 each) plus fastenings, glass and resin for sheathing I’d make a very rough guess at about $1,250 for the hull. And remember, of really lousy plywood, too.
So this brings me back to wondering what using bamboo would cost, and what would it look like? Well, they seem to use it quite well in Thailand where these pictures were taken:
Now I have to track down a source for bamboo for pricing. Besides, I’m thinking of building the cabin with split bamboo because of its light weight.
In spite of the fact that I’ve worked on some exceptionally fine yachts in my day,
And had my own small sailboat that I single-handed for a nine-month trip from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala back in ’92 after sailing the boat in the picture above from France to Fort Lauderdale.
I am secretly a HUGE fan of unconventional craft. Boats on the cheap, so to speak.
Back in the early 70s I dreamed of building a pontoon platform and loading one of those pickup truck RV inserts onto it and power it with an outboard. I never did it, but it’s STILL an excellent idea.
You know, sort of like this:
I mean everything you’d need is right there in the insert…galley, living space, sanitary facilities (heads we call them in pirate talk). All together you’d have a relatively inexpensive shanty boat. And the pleasure of being on the water isn’t related to how much the boat costs, either. And it’s true that boats are used in INVERSE proportion to their size. The smaller the boat the more it’s used.
In 1980, after attending my 20th high school reunion (Okay, it was actually our FIRST class reunion. It just took us 20 years to get it together to have it.) I went to Maine to visit some dear friends. The first night there I was browsing through some National Geographic Magazines that were on the nightstand in my bedroom when I came across an article about a couple, Gwen Carpenter Roland and Calvin Voisin, who recycled an old Louisiana shotgun style house, mounted it on a steel barge and had it towed deep into the Atchafalaya swamp where they eventually lived on it for the next eight years.
I thought it was one of the coolest ideas I’d ever come across. Without knowing it at the time, I would eventually come to know the Atchafalaya Basin extremely well running a crew boat all through the area taking men and supplies to the drilling rigs located there, but I never came across their house.
I think I stole that copy of the Geographic and took it back to New Orleans where I was living at the time. (Coincidentally, I at the class reunion I won the prize for traveling the farthest to get there, but that was only because Sheila Bonnell didn’t make it from Japan where she was working as an architect.) I envied that couple and the realization of their dream. I knew I’d never have enough money to own a yacht of my own, and actually I found it much better to play around on somebody else’s yacht and get paid for doing it than owning one of my own. But the story made me believe that owning and living on a shanty boat was actually doable. Though the cost of a deck barge like theirs was prohibitive for me, not to mention how much it would cost to hire a tug boat to tow it somewhere was totally out of the question.
And it was. In 1984 I found a half build shanty boat tied up to a tree in the Tchefuncte River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. It was essentially a shack on two pontoons made from oil well casings, and it had a 25 hp Johnson outboard motor for power. I bought it for $1,500, and with my friend Woody Northington, a professional seaman like myself, brought the boat across the lake and down to the Mississippi Gulf Outlet Marina on Bayou Bienvenue (Welcome Bayou) in Chalmette, a suburb just outside of New Orleans.
I lived on the boat for nearly three years and loved it as much as any yacht I ever worked on (and that included the 175′ Gallant Lady). Altogether I had less than $2,000 invested in her, and when I had to leave Louisiana after losing five jobs in three years and getting laid off for the last time ONmy birthday I sold her for $2500 and left.
When I decided to retire to Panama my original idea was to build a shanty boat and spend my remaining days being a “character” over in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well, so far that hasn’t happened. Hasn’t even come close to happening. But like one of those songs that get stuck in your head that you just can’t shake all day long, the lure of a shanty boat has returned to haunt me.
I have been very content with my life here in Panama, living way up in the mountains in Potrerillos Arriba and down here “on the flat” in Boquerón. But this little house I love and have called home for three years is for sale and I’m on a month-to-month basis. So far it doesn’t seem that I’m in any danger of being removed. People aren’t beating down the door to look the place over and possibly buy it, but it could happen at any time. Then what would I do? The houseboat worm is burrowing around in my brain.
(You have absolutely no idea how much I’m craving a cigar right now after having stopped smoking nearly 7 months ago.)
I began to think about a modified version of the Louisiana boat. When I ride the bus into David we pass by a place called Riegos Chiriquí (Chiriquí Irrigation). Out in their lot surrounding the office building are stacks of various sized PVC piping. Some of it easily as big in diameter (24″) as the pontoons of my old boat. I started Googling building shanty boats with PVC piping and found some really cool stuff that the Chinese (wouldn’t you know) are doing.
They are using PVC piping to replace what had once been traditional bamboo construction. And I’m not talking about small stuff, either. They’re making freight-carrying boats in the 30′ to 40’+ range.
Pretty cool, huh? Well, it turns out that while it is cool it’s too damned expensive to do here in Panama. I dropped in at Riegos a couple of days ago and found out that the 24″ pipe which maxes out at 20 feet (the Louisiana boat was 35′) costs over $1,800 each. The smaller pipe like in the pictures above, also max of 20′ cost over $400 each. Prohibitive for my budget.
We’ve all seen pictures of the reed boats of Lake Titicaca…
Why couldn’t one use bamboo bundled together to make pontoons for the base of a shanty boat? Bamboo grows wild around here. I’ve seen forests of it in my travels up in the mountains. While at Riegos I asked how much 4″PVC cost, figuring that was about the size of most of the bamboo I’ve seen here. A 20′ length of the stuff is $23.07, and I haven’t done any calculations on the flotation capabilities of the stuff to know how much would be needed. But at a buck fifteen a foot it, too, is prohibitive.
But what all this has done has been to keep me wandering through various sites and dreaming the dream once again.
I recently wrote a post about how much free food was available here in Panama. Yesterday I went to a supermarket for groceries. Naturally that wasn’t free, but when I went to the bus stop to get back home there was a gentleman about my age who had set up a box on one of the two available seats. It was filled with avocados and pibas.
Now, you all know what avocados are, and there are several large avocado trees along my street. People come with long bamboo poles to knock them down.
The old man was selling them for 50¢ each. Half of what they go for in the supermarkets. They were all rather soft and ready to eat so I bought one. It was scrumptious, too. Creamy and just right. You know how avocados are judged? You buy them in the market and wait for them to soften up. Each day you give them a little squeeze and goes like this: too hard, too hard, too hard, too hard, too late it’s rotten.
He also had a dozen bags of pibá (known in English as Peach Palm fruit.).
They are seasonal and people throughout Central and South America love these. In Costa Rica they’re called pejibaye. They’re chontaduro in Colombia and Ecuador, pijuayo in Peru, pijiguao in Venezuela, tembé in Bolivia. The Brazilians know them as pupunha and in Trinidad and Tobago they’re called peewah.
Whatever they’re called they’re about the size of a golf ball and just about as hard when they’re raw. They have to be boiled for hours in order to soften them up enough so you can eat them. Most often they are cooked in salted water over an open fire in a large pot known as a fogón. Cooked this way the fire imparts a smokey flavor to the nuts. Personally I like them. The flesh, even when cooked right, is rather tough but it reminds me a bit of the flavor of artichoke hearts.
What really surprised me was what a bag of them cost. Only 25¢ for a dozen. (Don’t count them in the picture. I ate two before taking the shot.) They were so cheap I wasn’t sure I understood what he’d said the first time and had him repeat it. Twenty five cents a dozen. And they’d already been cooked. As you roam around downtown David (Dah VEED) there are dozens of street venders selling produce and now they all seem to have little plastic bags of pibá .