Category Archives: Shanty boat

Watch This Spot For Future Developments

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…

Where I Am

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.

upside downSo, when it’s all sheeted and the fiberglassing is done you have to do this…

flipping itYou 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 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?

So, naturally, this set me off in other sleepless wanderings around the internet. I found a TON of stuff. From Viet Nam there was this:,   And this: Plus a bunch more, but you get the idea.

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 ( 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… 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.





Filed under boats, Boqueron Panama, Floating Homes, homemade boats, Houseboat, Living Abroad, Living in Panama, Living off the grid, Living Small, Minimalist Cruising, PDR Racer, Puddle Duck Goose, Puddle Duck Racer, Retirement, Retirement Abroad, sailboats, Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living, Small Houses, Small Sailboats

Everyone Has A Dream – You Need To Live Yours NOW!

Everyone has a dream. Some want to sail around the world. Others might want to pack up and live off the land in some wilderness area. Back to the earth. Buy an RV and see the USA. Who knows? But everyone has a dream yet most of them are never fulfilled. Why? Well Sterling Hayden pretty much nailed it in his book Wanderer when he wrote:

“‘I’ve always wanted to sail to the South Seas, but I can’t afford it,’ [so many people say]. What (they) can’t afford is not to go.  They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of ‘security.’  And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine–and before we know it our lives are gone.

“What does a man need–really need?  A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in–and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.  That’s all–in the material sense. And we know it.  But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade.

“The years thunder by.  The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience.  Before we know it the tomb is sealed.”

Before you go any further with this post stop and reread that quote again and thing about how it applies to you and those around you. That quote had such an impact on me it changed my entire life. The power of words can do that to a person.

When I read that quote I wrote it down in my journal and in one form or another I’ve carried it around with me for the past forty one years. It was in 1971. I was working as the assistant public relations director of the largest non-profit hospital in the second most populace county in the State of Florida at the time. It wasn’t that I didn’t like my job. I did. Sorta. But the whole time I was doing it, and being impaled on my own free lance writing magazine articles, I was reading all the boating magazines and dreaming about being on a boat and sailing off to distant shores. And it hit me that 1) I was never going to have enough money to buy the boat I wanted to accomplish that dream. 2) I wasn’t willing to do what it took to make the kind of money it would take to accomplish that dream and 3) If you ARE willing to do what it takes to make that kind of money then you don’t have the time to be out sailing around in the first place until you’re probably too old to do it.

Everyone’s dream in their teens and early twenties or thirties has a young person pulling it off. Not someone who’s carrying around three stents in their arteries, taking pills twice a day to keep their blood pressure in check and whose fingers are gnarled from arthritis.

At about the same time as I read Wanderer I also read Viking’s Wake by Richard MacCullagh that contained a life-changing quote:

“And the bright horizon calls!  Many a thing will keep till the world’s work is done, and youth is only a memory.  When the old enchanter came to my door laden with dreams, I reached out with both hands.  For I knew that he would not be lured with the gold that I might later offer, when age had come upon me.”

I scaled my dreams way down from flashy boats that graced the pages of the yachting publications way down to one where I’d get a set of pontoons, perch a pickup camper insert on it and take off on the Intracoastal Waterway and perhaps do what is known as “The Great Loop” a water route that circles the eastern half of the United States.  But the reality of the situation was that I didn’t even have enough money to accomplish that. So when my wife and I parted company in the Great $16.25 Divorce ( I quit my job, got a job as a deckhand on a dinner cruise boat which led me to obtaining a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton license and living out many of my dreams including doing the “Great Loop” in 1974/75, a dozen trips up and down the Intracoastal Waterway, living on the French Riviera and the Costa del Sol for three years and sailing across the Atlantic Ocean on other people’s boats and getting paid to do it, too. I eventually bought my own small sailboat and did a single-handed trip (another dream) from Fort Lauderdale to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and back.

Recently I found some YouTube videos by someone who calls himself “Skipperfound.”He’s a guy who’s living his dreams. He sort of adapted my pontoon and camper shell idea with plans for taking the boat from Ludington, Michigan down to the Florida Keys. He has over 124 YouTube videos of this trip and other adventures: the conversion of a bus (he sold the boat in Panama City, Florida) and his travels in it, and building a tiny house. This video shows the early stages of the construction of the boat.

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Naturally when someone is doing something as offbeat as Skipperfound it attracts attention. Sometimes people doing the out of the ordinary get interviewed by newspapers along the way. Here he is explaining his reasons for doing what he does. I don’t know if he ever read Sterling Hayden of Richard MacCullagh or not, but he’s sure taken their advise to heart.

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Finally thereis a quote from John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany:

“If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”



Filed under boats, cruising, homemade boats, Houseboat, Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living, Small boat cruising

The Ultimate Slacker’s Boat!!!

Murray Stevens instantly became my hero when he designed and built this —

Once again, another fine find from reading:


Filed under boats, Floating Homes, Houseboat, Living off the grid, Living Small, Microcruising, Minimalist Cruising, Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living, Small boat cruising

Boats I’ve Bought Plans For

Over the years I’ve bought plans for three different boats I was thinking of building. None, so far, have been built.

The first set I bought came from Glen-L, one of the biggest outlet for boat plans around:

I shelled out the money for the 32′ Mark Twain pontoon boat. The plans had full-sized patterns for building the frames and detailed plans for construction of the house and interior.

Mark twain


The project was abandoned when I bought my shantyboat. I kept the plans for years, but they disappeared somewhere in the two decade saga that followed which included a three year stint living on the French Riviera.

When I decided to retire to Panama and was interested in the possibility of settling in the Bocas del Toro archepeligo on a boat I bought another set. This came from: I opted for something a bit smaller at 27 feet and a mono-hull rather than a pontoon model. I chose the GT Cruiser 27 which looks like a pram on steroids. It is 27-1/2 feet long with an 8’9″ beam. Only slightly bigger than my Nancy Dawson. The GT Cruiser 27 has a six inch draft which means it can tuck into really skinny water. You could easily beach her and step ashore with dry feet. Nancy, on the other hand needed at least an additional 4 feet of water.




Not only do I like the looks of this boat, it is built with stitch-and-glue methods. Having done a lot of expoy work in my years of repairing boats I feel confident that I could easily put this together.

While this boat is still a possibility, I am strongly drawn to the barge-hulled shantyboat. I also purchased the plans for the Brandy Bar

Brandy Bar

This is probably be the direction I take in the end. The reasons are rather simple. Building the barge is essentially nothing more than building a big box. Simple as that. The house, though, probably won’t look anything like that above. My windows probably won’t be glazed. More likely they will be something like this:


On Nancy Dawson I had screens that could be rolled up and were attached to the open frames of the hatches with Velcro. Screens will be essential down in Panama.

No matter what gets build it will be One More Good Adventure.

Comments Off on Boats I’ve Bought Plans For

Filed under boats, Houseboat, Shanty boat

Shantyboat Living

Back in the mid 1980s I bought a shantyboat that was tied up to a tree on a river on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Essentially it was little more than a shack on pontoons. The pontoons had been made out of oil well casing and were about 35 feet overall and the boat had a 12 foot beam. An old 25 hp Johnson outboard pushed it along at a sedate pace. I only moved it three times. Once from where I found it down to the Gulf Outlet Marina on Bayou Bienvenue in Chalmette, and once too and from the boat yard I worked at to do some repairs when the starboard pontoon developed a leak. I lived on the boat for almost two and a half years but after losing my fifth job in three years (in 1986 the official unemployment rate in the New Orleans area was 18%!) I put a For Sale sign on it and left three weeks later.

I enjoyed that boat. Actually, owning that boat kept me in Louisiana for a couple of years longer than I should have stayed there.

Houseboat trimmed

In 1985 when I got laid off at the boat yard I was only eligible for $55 a week in unemployment. When I found that out my next stop was to the Food Stamp Office. (Hey! For all of you who would say you’d never stoop so low…well, you’ve never been there. And when the official unemployment rate is 18% the real rate is closer to 25% so there are no jobs around and you sort of get accustomed to eating on a regular basis.) I received $80 a month in food stamps. My dock rent was $97 a month and I paid the minimum amount demanded to have electrical hookup which was $7 a month so my first two weeks of unemployment left me with $6 in my pocket. You can do the rest of the math and see that I was supposed to survive on less than $30 a week. When your income is restricted to less than $30 a week and you have no savings, you aren’t able to pick up and move away to somewhere where your prospects might be better.

So, how was I able to survive? Well, I lived on a houseboat on the water. At the first of each month when I received my food stamps I’d go to Schwegmann’s Supermarket and buy my staples, rice, beans, ground beef, etc. Next I’d pass by Little Red’s Fish Market. They sold heads-on, unsorted shrimp for $1 a pound and they accepted food stamps. I’d buy five pounds of shrimp each month. (Now, I only did this for a little more than three months and then the yard got busy again and I went back to work.)

Out of that five pounds of shrimp there’d be enough big sized shrimp to make up one decent meal. On my birthday that July of 1985 I literally didn’t have a dollar bill to my name, but I had shrimp newburg for supper which is pretty good for a broke guy. Anyway, what I would do after I’d picked out the big shrimp was to divide the remaining shrimp into four piles and freeze them. Now, since I wasn’t working and there was no work to be had, I’d take one of those piles of shrimp and sit out on the back of my shantyboat and fish. I’d catch croakers, speckled sea trout and the occasional red fish. I’d fillet them up and pop them in the freezer. I’d then put the heads, guts and filleted bodies into the six commercial crab traps I’d bought well before I’d been laid off. I’d string the traps along the dock and let them soak overnight. The next day they’d be filled with delicious blue crabs and I’d spend the day cooking and picking crabs. My refrigerator rarely had less than a couple of pounds of picked crab meat.

When you hauled up the traps there were sometimes a pair of crabs “doubled up.” A male and a female getting ready to do the big nasty. The only time a female crab is able to mate is when she molts, comes out of her shell, and the male crab is holding on to her ready to get his jollys as well as protecting her until her new shell starts to harden. You knock him off her and plop her in a five gallon bucket of seawater and wait for her to come out of her shell. When she does, you take her out of the water and pop her in the fridge where she’ll stay, nice and soft for several days until you’re ready to cook her up and eat her.

It’s against the law to take egg-bearing female crabs (lobsters, too) but since she hadn’t mated there were no eggs and she was legal. However, if all you take are females you eventually hurt the breeding population. But how do you know when a male crab is ready to molt? Crabbers know how to read the signs on the rear swimming legs of a crab and can tell. There’s an excellent description of how this is done in the book Beautiful Swimmers: Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay by William W. Warner and available on and other book sellers.

I never was able to figure out this esoteric art of discovering when male crabs were going to molt, but an old Cajun I got to know when I was working out on Breton Island in the Kerr-McGee oil field told me how to do it. You see, the female has nothing to worry about because the male crab is going to protect her when she’s in that vulnerable “soft” state. But the male crab has to hide somewhere to protect himself.

What you do is to gather a bunch of willow branches. And they have to be willow branches. Others won’t work. You take three or four branches and bundle them together and lay them along the edge of the bayou. The ready to molt males seek out these branches to hide in, so you “run” them a couple of times a day like lobstermen and crab fishermen do with their traps. I’d hop in my dinghy and row down Bayou Bienvenue, pick up the bundles and shake them into the bottom of the boat. The crabs that fell out were invariably males and I’d go back to my shanty and pop each one into an individual five gallon bucket of water and wait for the inevitable to happen.

So, in addition to a freezer full of fresh fish fillets and a pound or two of picked lump crab meat I’d often have a half dozen or so soft shell crabs in my fridge as well. When you’re eating as good as I did it dulls your incentive to move.


Filed under Shanty boat, Shantyboat Living

Water, Water, Everywhere and Not a Drop to Drink

Water, as everyone knows, is absolutely essential to life. Articles say that anywhere from between 50 to 70 percent of the human body is made up of water (I guess the variable is how fat one is). And a person can go anywhere from between eight to fourteen days without any before they die, and fat people can actually go longer without it than can someone who is skinny and out of shape.

People on land, at least in developed countries, take clean, potable, accessable water for granted. And we’re lucky, millions of people don’t have the water we take for granted and tens of thousands worldwide die each year because they don’t have it. More children, worldwide, die from the lack of clean water than those who die from AIDS and malaria COMBINED. But this is about access to water aboard a boat.

When you’re tied up at a dock in a marina water is similar to what it was when you were living ashore. Turn a knob and the water flows. You just have to hook up a hose from the dock to your boat.

What happens after you’ve cast off? At first you will depend on the water stored in your boat’s tanks and what you have brought aboard in containers. After that you can either make your own water with a reverse osmosis watermaker which is 1)expensive to purchase 2) a hassle to maintian 3) probably going to break down at some point which brings us to the most accurate definition of “cruising” ever: “Cruising is repairing equipment with inadequate tools and access to parts in exotic locations.”

OR, you can do what people have been doing since the dawn of time: collect and store rain water.


Don’t get me wrong. Watermakers certainly have their niche, and there are valid reasons someone might want to invest in one.

  1. As an emergency water supply. What happens in the unlikely event that your tanks spring a leak or get contaminated? Neither ever happened to me in all my years of professional and pleasure boating. BUT, I did have one incident when an inexperienced deck hand topped off the fuel tanks with the water hose, not paying attention to which deck fill he was opening. It’s also possible that a water tank could be contaminated with undrinkable water and you aren’t able to purify it. A hand operated model may also be a good thousand dollar investment for a ditch bag for long-distance cruisers in case they have to take to their last-chance of survival raft and could well save their lives. But that group of boater is a tiny minority of people who own and use boats.
  2. Reduce weight. A gallon of fresh water weighs 8.34 lbs, so, with a topped-off 50 gallon water tank that means you’re lugging around an additional 417 pounds.
  3. Extended range of travel. You don’t have to plan your cruise around stops to replenish your water supply.
  4. Save money in foreign ports. Available potable water in many foreign ports is limited even to their own inhabitants and if you want to fill your tanks from their precious water reserves you’re going to have to pay for it just like you have to pay for filling your fuel tanks.
  5. Provide a safe water supply on board. In many parts of the world safe, potable water is unavailable. If you’re able to make your own you won’t ruin your adventure with parasite-related illness.

But all this comes with a hefty price tag. Checking the West Marine on-line catalog the watermakers they offer range from $1,999.00 to $6,887.00.

An alternative, if you’re handy, is to build your own. You need a high-pressure pump capable of at least 1,000 psi, 3,000 psi is better. Then you have to buy the membrane that filters the water, the wiring and tubing, etc., etc. A Google search of “build your own watermaker came up with 8,170 hits, so there’s a lot of information out there if you’re so inclined.

If you have a watermaker you also have to have a power supply to run it, either 12 or 24 volt dc power or 120 or 240 volt ac power. All this presents another problem. There is one site I saw that is supposed to be able to make up to 72 gallons of water by dragging a special unit with a propeller behind your boat while underway and can be adapted to hand operation if you have to ditch the sinking mother ship. I offer this URL because I think the concept is interesting:

Collecting Rainwater

Harvesting rainwater has been going on since man lived in caves and a time-honored method of filling the water tanks at sea. People living a shore-based life have had cisterns for the containment of rainwater worldwide and is currently enjoying a reviva ldue to the inherent quality of rainwater and an interest in reducing consumption of treated water.

Rainwater is valued for its purity and softness. It has a nearly neutral pH, and is free from disinfection by-products, salts, minerals, and other natural and man-made contaminants. Plants thrive under irrigation with stored rainwater.
Appliances last longer when free from the corrosive or scale effects of hard water. Users with potable systems prefer
the superior taste and cleansing properties of rainwater.

There is archeological evidence that the concept of harvesting rainwater in China may date back 6,000 years. Ruins of cisterns built as early as 2,000 BC for storing runoff from hillsides for agriculture and domestic purposes are still standing in Israel today.

One of the best things about rainwater is that it’s FREE, and a collection system can be very inexpensive to install on your boat. When I was cruising on Nancy Dawson I only brought water from shore on two occasions in my nine-month trip. The rest came from the sky.

The first time I collected water on board was in Belize heading north from Belize City to Ambergris Caye. The wind stopped and the water came down so hard and heavy that it cut visibility to less than a hundred yards. I’ve been in fog banks were I could see farther. After it had rained for about five minutes in a deluge that Noah never had to deal with I felt that whatever salt and dirt might be on the sails had been washed off I raised the topping lift a bit and the water ran off the goose neck. I put a cup down to collect a bit of water and tasted it and it was sweet and clean. It was raining so hard and fast that I filled five of the gallon jugs I had aboard in about 15 minutes.

A couple of weeks later I stopped for a day at Caye Chapel where I filled my main tank with their water and headed south towards Guatemala. I had been thinking about how I would capture more rain water since that first experience. Standing in the rain to get the water off the goose neck didn’t seem like a practical exercise and I needed some system that wouldn’t require me to either get soaking wet or to put on my foul weather gear.

The deck fill for my water tank was on the port side just forward of the cockpit. I built a small dam from the cabin towards the toe rail and from the toe rail inboard leaving about a three inch gap so water could run the whole length of the deck and out the scuppers aft. I fashioned  the dam out with epoxy stick, something no boat should ever leave the dock without having several on board. They are a two part putty, one part wrapped around the other. They’re about six inches long and an inch thick. You simply break off the amount you need and knead the two different colored parts together until it’s a single color and them mold it around whatever you want to build or repair. Besides building the dam I used it to stop a persist ant leak in a through-hull fitting and to repair a broken part on my windvane self-steering. If I hadn’t had the putty I would have had to hand steer for about a thousand miles. After the stuff hardens it can be tapped to accept machine screws and the stuff hardens under water, too.

Anyway, I built the dam so that each section had a small groove where I could insert a small piece of wood when I wanted to utilize the dam for water collection but would otherwise remain open. From then on when it would start raining I would wait for a while for the rain to wash off the deck, open the deck fill and insert the piece of wood to close the dam and the rain water would drain into my tank. It worked like a charm.

Here are several other solutions that can be used for collecting this nectar from the Gods:

All this, of course, is grist for the mill for when I build my shanty boat, and since I’ll be living on the hook most of the time it will be a requirement. How feasible is it in Bocas del Toro? Well, I did some research on rainfall in the area and this is what I found:

Rainfall in Bocas del Toro, Panama
Month Mean Total Rainfall Mean Total Rainfall Mean Number of
(mm) (Inches) Rain Days
January 123.9 4.88 16.6
February 266.1 10.48 14.6
March 83.8 3.30 14.8
April 369.1 14.53 15.2
May 178.3 7.02 16.7
June 259 10.2 17.9
July 420.1 16.54 20.9
August 440.7 17.35 18.4
September 311.2 12.25 15.8
October 150.5 5.93 16.4
November 291.7 11.48 17
December 563.6 22.19 20
Total 3,458 136.15
That’s 11.35 FEET of water a year
This information came from the World Weather Information Service
Climatological information is based on monthly averages for the 30-year period 1971-2000.
Mean number of rain days = Mean number of days with at least 0.1 mm of rain.

With almost eleven and a half feet or rain falling in the area every year I think keeping dry will be more of a problem than keeping the water tanks full.

“All the water that ever was, still is today.  All the water that evaporates today the same amount also falls. The tears we cry could be the same ones Jesus wept”..Unattributed

POST SCRIPT: Ken, a regular reader of my blog and who contributes welcomed comments left a comment on this post and referenced the discharge of gray and black water from boats. You can read my reply, but I couldn’t upload a photo in the comments section so here goes.

Ken, this is common in the Bocas del Toro area as well as in the San Blas archipelago, and it’s NOT a phone booth built out over the water.bocas-outhouse


Filed under boats, Floating Homes, Houseboat, Living off the grid, Shanty boat

Houseboat/Shantyboat Updated

I’ve been doing a lot of  thinking about what a design to use  for my prospective houseboat/shantyboat. I’ve been disappointed in the number of suitable designs available for one reason or another, and the selection isn’t very large. Years ago I had purchased the plans for GlenL’s Mark Twain 32 for several hundred dollars.



I don’t remember exactly how much the plans cost since it was  nearly 30 years ago. At that time I was really enamoured on the pontoon idea and the plans had full-sized drawings for the framing. But the plans are long gone and these days I’m leaning much more towards the barge hull designs.

Whether barge or pontoon building the houseboat/shantyboat has several advantages over more conventional boat designs in power or sail. Houseboat/shantyboats are much simpler to build. A barge is basically a box and the pontoon boat is basically two narrow boxes, and material costs are almost identical. There are no complicated compound curves to deal with in the process of building these designs. The “house” is bult like a regular shoreside structure so constructing one of these can fairly easily be done by almost anyone who got out of their high school shop classes with all fingers intact.



Think you could put that together? That’s basically how a barge hull is built.

In my previous post I said I rather liked the Bolger design.


I joined the Yahoo Group Bolger Boats and found that someone in Canada had actually built one


I think it certainly falls into the shanty boat category. But I’m not sure I care for the overall look. But the “house” can be built in so many different ways depending on one’s imagination and creativity. The pictured one is just one way of doing it. Never the less this design is a weak “maybe.”

I also said I liked the Evening Song


and I still do like the look. The drawback to this design is that it’s not self propelled.

I like the looks of George Buehler’s 25′ River Walker. There’s a nice web site on this, and other Buehler designs at:

The pictures of the barge hull above come from his site as do the following pictures that show a completed River Walker:




I think this is a very attractive boat and well executed. A big step up from a shanty boat.

I also am drawn to Beuhler’s Rufus:


This is 33′ long with an 11′ beam. What intrigues me about this is the SAIL!

Back into the more “shanty boat” theme is the Atkin & Co. design Nautilus;


This is a 32′ design with an 18′ beam. For complete information on this go to their site:

Plans for this boat are $75.00

The leader for possible build at this time is the Brandy Belle:


She’s 25′ with a 10′ beam and self-propelled.

There’s an excellent article in Mother Earth News’s site:

Warning: The story is excellent and you can purchase the plans in PDF format for $20. The article is five pages long and there’s an extremely irritating pop up that appears every time you access the page. I wrote to Mother Earth News’s support team and there’s nothing you can do about it. But it’s worth closing it out just to read through the story once.

I am most likely going to go with the 25′ length for several reasons, the pocket book being the motivating factor. While The Rufus and Nautilus are only7 and 8 feet longer and a couple of feet wider, it takes a lot more lumber, plywood, fiberglass, epoxy and paint to build them adding greatly to the construction costs. Though the size difference seems small the increase in costs are exponential. There would also be a heavier hit to the pocket to buy the larger outboard that would be necessary to power the boat and a lot more gas as well.

Now, as I said, what really interests me about Rufus is the sail! I am going to investigate the possibility of adding one to the boat I build, and the Brandy Belle seems the most likely candidate for doing this. Don’t scoff at this idea. There is a long history of sailing barges and scows (the difference between a barge and a scow is little more than semantics). If you’re interested Google Thames Sailing Barges or San Francisco Hay Scows. There is even a class of racing boats known as scows and they are very fast.

The sail would be an auxiliary power source and used primarily with the wind abaft the beam. Motor sailing has a lot going for it: it can increase speed and it saves fuel.When I was bringing the 85′ Jolie Aire across the Atlantic we motor sailed quite a bit. We ran the engine to keep the battery bank charged up and while we always had the sails up if the engine was off and our speed dropped to seven knots we would hit the starter button. We sailed from Grand Canary Island to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in 13 days, six and a half hours at an average speed of just over 10 knots which is a very acceptable speed.

The addition of a sailing rig would necessitate the design and installation of a rudder for steering rather than relying on the outboard power for steerage. Having the outboard offset from the centerline really doesn’t effect how the boat operates as long as it’s not too far off the center. My Nancy Dawson had windvane self-steering gear on the centerline of the transom so the outboard bracket was on the port side out of necessity. One advantage I found with this arrangement was that when I had to make a really tight turn putting the tiller hard over and turning the outboard in the direction of the turn she’d turn in almost her own length and turn fast.

I’m sure that auxiliary sail power would greatly save on fuel consumption when there was enough wind in the right direction.

In a future post I mean to address dinghies and the addition of a mast will mean I’ll be able to lift one out of the water and carry it on the cabin top rather than towing it behind. I towed my dinghy behind Nancy for hundreds of miles and never had a problem, but it does have a drawback on speed due to the drag. Additionally when you’re anchored out a dinghy stored on the cabin top is pretty hard to steal in the middle of the night.


Filed under boats, Houseboat, Shanty boat

Living Room

No, I don’t mean that part of your house where you entertain guests.

I mean how much room do you really need to live in. Once upon a time in this vast continent of North America people used to move to less populated places because they needed “living room.”

But how much does a person need? I used to drive for a limousine service offering airport pick up service and I’d take elderly couples to their McMansions and it was like dropping two BBs into a 55 gallon drum. It was ridiculous. In my mind anyway.

No matter how big your house is, you can only be in one place at a time. And if you think about it for a moment, the way most people live is that when they come home from work, if their jobs haven’t been outsourced overseas, they plop down in their favorite chair in front of the TV.  They might even eat their evening meal in the same seat. Perhaps they spend some time on line so they are at a desk and then they go to bed. Easily 99% of their domicile is rarely used. The one concession I would make for large size would be a kitchen with lots of counter space. I love to cook.

I grew up in a house on Cape Cod that was built before the American Revolution.


There were three small bedrooms on the main floor and my bedroom was under the eaves (the two larger windows on the second floor). The kitchen was in the smaller section of the house you see on the right and where the corner post and the roof eaves met they were joined with wooden pegs made of locust wood. There was my mom and dad, me and my four brothers and we all shared a single small bathroom. A few years ago when my brother Mark and his kids and I were driving around while visiting for our brother Gary’s Memorial Golf Tournament we stopped by the old house. The current owner was mowing the lawn and we stopped and introduced ourselves. The owner was very gracious and invited us inside to show us what they had done with the place. What struck me the most was how small it was for such a large family.

I lived on a 26 foot sailboat for almost 6 years.


People, especially women that I was meeting, would ask how I could live in such a small space. Actually, I never lacked for anything. Living in a marina I had a telephone, cable TV service and internet access. But granted, the actual space in which I lived was, indeed very small.


There were the vee berths forward where I slept. Aft of that on the port side was the head and opposite that was a hanging locker that I converted to a shelved space for storing my clothes. Aft of that section you see there were two berths. In the marina the starboard berth cushion was removed and a small refrigerator and a 9″ color tv sat atop it. I used the port berth as my sofa. An ingenious fold-down table was hung on the bulkhead that separated the cabin from the head and it was where I ate, of course, and also served as my desk when playing around on the computer. Aft of the berths were my galley with a two-burner propane stove to starboard and what had originally been the ice box was now used to store my pots and pans. In dead center was the sink. There was six foot head room from the sink forward to the bulkheads forward of the berths. Since I’m only 5’9″ tall it was comfortable enough. But, discounting the head area where I did have to duck my head a bit and the vee berths which were only used for sleeping, my actual living area was about 56 square feet, and the floor space of the cabin area was only about 22 square feet!

In ruminating about how big a boat I would like to build and live on I’ve run through about a dozen possible plans found on line. Many, are only 16 to 18 feet and though I’ve lived in such a small space I really want something larger than that. The 35 feet of my Louisiana shanty boat is a bit too large, too, simply because of the cost of materials. I’m more inclined to something along the order of the Bolger houseboat and the Evening Song posted earlier. They seem fairly simple to build and roughly 200 square feet of living space.

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Filed under boats, Houseboat, Shanty boat

Houseboat vs Shanty Boat vs Floating Home

I love living on the water. I’ve done so on a 65′ motor yacht, an 85′ sailboat a 26′ sailboat and my 35′ houseboat which should more accurately be labeled a “Shanty boat.”

To continue with this theme we need to clarify a few terms: houseboat, shanty boat and floating home.

Let’s start with “floating home.”  In general these are larger living spaces on the water and are minimally mobile other than vertically with the tide. Some of these can be considered “McMansions” on the water and some can be extremely artistically creative. Holland is one of the world’s leaders in floating homes and the Pacific Northwest has a decades-long history of this genre of living on the water.

These are what I would consider to be within the McMansion category:


Here’s a bit smaller floating home on Lake Erie




In this one below you can see why it would not be easy to move around and would undoubtedly require hiring a commercial tugboat in order to do so which would cost big bucks. But then if you were able to afford such a structure you’d most likely have the wherewithal to hire a tug.


In British Columbia there is even a floating home specific community:


On a more sensible scale there is Berklely Engineering’s Cape Codder at 24’X10′ that I think is pretty neat but certainly wouldn’t be buildable on a small budget.




Houseboats, by my definition, are self-propelled craft that are meant to be moved from one location to another. Most often they are used as vacation home and are designed for use in sheltered waters rather than the open ocean or other bodies of water that can get rough. Quite often they simply look like RVs on the water rather than a more conventional boat.



Strictly from an aesthetic point of view I’m not a fan of this type of craft. But not all boats that I would classify as houseboats are cheesy by any means. In Somerset, KY, hometown of my good friend Mark who has made comments on other post in this blog, is the manufacturer of some awesome houseboats, some over 100′ long and many cost more than most houses.

Here’s a photo of the living room of a Somerset houseboat…


This sure isn’t “slumming it”

More difficult to pin down are what would be called “Shanty Boats.” These are mostly home made and strictly intended for use on sheltered waters. My boat, pictured above, was basically a shack on pontoons and though mine was 35′ most shanty boats are on the small side, 16 to 24 feet. Back in the 40s and 50s they were often marketed as inexpensive summer get aways and magazines like Popular Mechanics offered plans for them.

coolwater1coolwater2coolwater3Phil Bolger is a designer of some very original, and many people think ugly boats, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder…


Back in the late 70s one of my favorite boating magazines was Small Boat Journal. This design by Thomas A. MacNaughton caught my attention and has lingered with me all these years. It’s called Evening Song. He had designed and build a nifty 18′ tug boat called Bantam and wrote:

“In our original article on Bantam we casually mentioned toward the end that it would be fun to have a houseboat barge to go with her. We felt it would be a lot of fun to live aboard the barge and push it down the Intracoastal Waterway of the East Coast. We hadn’t thought of this as more than a fun idea but immediately we started getting all sorts of letters demanding plans for the barge! After all, what else do you want to do with a tug so much as push and pull something around? This presented something of a challenge, as we had never known anyone to design a houseboat barge before, per se, so we had to come up with something completely new. The result was Evening Song. The combination of the tug and the barge clearly struck another cord, as we’ve sold a lot of both plans. This time it didn’t surprise us. The image of the tug and barge traveling together in the Intracoastal Waterway, or of the barge anchored in a secluded creek while the tug comes and goes with guests and provisions, is about as idyllic as it gets. Evening Song contains a whole lot of space in a reasonable compromise between camp-like and boat-like accommodations. She comes complete with two “porches” where one can sit with the dog and the shotgun waiting for the ducks, or just watch the world go by.

“There’s also a lot of “roof” space adaptable to lounging, solar panels, rainwater catchment, etc. Construction is about as simple as it could be, being epoxy and plywood throughout, with a lot of right angles mixed in with the curves of the sheer and bottom.”



Quite frankly I’m a fan of shanty boats both becaue of their funkieness and the fact that they’re usually rather inexpensive to build.

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Filed under boats, Floating Homes, Houseboat, Shanty boat