Tag Archives: shantyboat

Latest Inspiration

I know, I know, I keep coming up with different ideas for what might be a good shanty boat to build. Here’s today’s offering. It’s a stretched Chugger. Back in October of 2009 I featured the Chugger in one of my posts: http://houseboatshantyboatbuilders.wordpress.com/2009/10/13/chugger-the-spirit-of-shantyboats/

Chugger

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Bryan Lowe, who built the first Chugger (the red one above) has expanded the original eight by four foot boat to a 12 feet:

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During the building of the Bonne Chance he took a ton of photos that would help anyone interested in building one of their own. https://www.flickr.com/photos/sidshare/collections/72157629210859469/

And he offers the plans, here: http://www.angelfire.com/ego/lewisboatworks/html/ChugBuildPlans_a.htm

In the pictures on this site you can see that the sides of the boat are cut out first and then molded over a couple of frames to get the boat into 3-D shape. Chines are installed, the boat is turned upside down and the bottom is put on. Then additional framing for strength are added later. He also has some sketches for a 16 foot by 6 foot version which I think could be stretched another four feet.  I think building in this fashion would also be easily adapted to building in sections and then bolting and epoxying everything together. Working with sections would make turning the sections over a lot easier than trying to manhandle a 20 foot boat.

I really like the skylight on this one. It would come in handy down here in Panama during the rainy season when you’d need to keep the side windows closed but you’d still get a lot of light below.

skylight

This builder, who calls himself “Bike and Boat” on Boat Design.net where I found thise shots came up with a nice “pop top” idea to add headroom after towing the Chugger to a launch site.

flatjt1

 

 

 

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Beautiful Small Shanty

I spend a lot of time looking at boat pictures on line for inspiration. Here’s one I think is wonderful but I’d want something I could stand up in, at least in the galley area, anyway. Nevertheless, this is beautiful. A small outboard to power it which would be economical to purchase and to run, and look closely and you’ll see the auxiliary power is a set of oars. I don’t think it would be something you’d want to live on full time,but it sure would be a good vacation getaway.

Paul Rainey designed and built his tiny houseboat himself. He’s taken it through Florida and the Erie Canal. I found this at: http://wilkinsonphoto.blogspot.com/2012/06/little-house-on-water.html

z7z6

 

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Shanty Boat Inspiration

Anyone who has thought about building a shanty boat knows who Harlan Hubbard and his wife Anna are. If you don’t, well, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlan_Hubbard.

His shanty boat books are legends and the stuff of dreams to nut jobs like myself.

http://www.amazon.com/Shantyboat-River-Life-Harlan-Hubbard/dp/0813113598/ref=la_B001HPQ6GO_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411849117&sr=1-1

http://www.amazon.com/Shantyboat-Journal-Harlan-Hubbard/dp/0813118689/ref=la_B001HPQ6GO_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411849234&sr=1-3

http://www.amazon.com/Shantyboat-Bayous-Harlan-Hubbard/dp/0813117178/ref=la_B001HPQ6GO_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1411849269&sr=1-4

 

 

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Getting Around

One of the first entries I posted on this blog was way back in April, 2009.

https://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/04/29/the-boaters-car-of-pickup-truck/

None of that has really changed, of course, but thinking about living on a boat on the hook again has the whole dinghy situation churning around in my head. Sitting on the back porch of Dos Palmas Hotel in Bocas del Toro you look out at the Bocas Marina and the anchorage.

IMG_0600

Every one of those boats has an inflatable dinghy with as big a motor on it as it can possibly handle. After sailing to Panama at what was probably an average speed of around five miles an hour now that they’ve arrived they have to zip around as fast as they possibly can while the natives, descendents of those who lived here before Columbus arrived in 1502, have a more sedate manner of getting around.

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I’d be lying to you if I said I hadn’t loved my semi-rigid inflatable when I was on my nine-month tour of Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. I enjoyed zipping around in it, the wind ruffling my hair. But times and ideas change.

My first inclination for a dinghy would be one of my favorite designs ever…A Puddle Duck Racer. http://www.pdracer.com/ I’ve written about these so many times in the past that I won’t elaborate on just why they appeal to me.

Here are a few reasons why I think one would be an excellent dinghy.

  • No asshole is going to punch a hole in one like often happens with inflatables.
  • You can row one whereas rowing an inflatable can be a exercise in frustration, especially if you have to row into a headwind.
  • You can sail a PDR. Ive seen, on line, sailing kits for inflatables, but I’m not so sure how well they’d work.
  • You can even put an electric trolling motor or a very small gas outboard on one, too.
  • The thing is so ugly that theft wouldn’t be a worry. Why? Well, because it would most likely be the only PDR around and instantly recognizable as stolen if you weren’t in it.

And the downside of a PDR?

Unless you’re going to tow it everywhere, there’s really no place to easily stow it on board a 23-foot boat with a 6-1/2-foot beam since the PDR has a 4-foot beam. There’s nothing wrong with towing a dinghy. I towed mine for, literally, hundreds of miles without incident.

They’re fairly heavy. I’d be living at anchor in a place with a tidal range of around 19 feet. That means that sometimes when I’d want to get ashore I’d be afloat, but when I’d be ready to return home both boats would be high and dry, or there would be a lot of sand to drag the PDR over to get to enough water to get it to float again. An inflatable would be even worse.

So, what’s the solution? Is there one? I think so. It would be in the form of what is known as a one-sheet boat. That’s one that is made from a single sheet of plywood. Made from 1/4-inch ply one would weigh around 35 lbs. It, too, would be something that wouldn’t be too attractive to thieves, especially if you painted it some garish colors. Here are a couple of pictures to show you what people have concocted with just a single sheet of plywood.

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And this from the designer of the boat above: http://koti.kapsi.fi/hvartial/oss_sam/oss_sam.htm

simprigalter6

Here’s all you need to build one of those: http://www.simplicityboats.com/minisharpie.html

If you find those interesting just Google “One sheet boats” and in the images section there are hundreds to look at.

 

 

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Contemplation

Yeah, yeah, I haven’t posted anything for a while and I know you’re all wanting an update on the quest for my having a shanty boat.

Well, there are a couple of reasons I haven’t posted lately, the most compelling being, I just didn’t feel like it!

But I haven’t been idle. I’ve been deep in contemplation about how a boat should go together. For example, I think, for now, anyway, that I’d like it to have a bowed roof, sort of like a Vardo, or Gypsy wagon:

vardoIt’s attractive and fairly easy to do, and the little overhang on the edges would be good for rainwater collection of which I will write more about later on.

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Another thing I’ve been contemplating is doors and windows. Should I build simple bi-fold doors that secure with a hatch like this? (Note how the lip of the sliding hatch basically lock the doors shut.)

colorful narrowboat

Or should I go with something a bit more conventional, but still off-beat like in the two doors in this photo?

NantesErdreColorfulHouseboats_dianenaoned

Windows are another story. Down here at a little over eight degrees north of the equator, and at sea level, it never gets cold, so windows with glass panes aren’t really necessary. A lot of houses in Panama are built like these:

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There was a sliding window on a green boat, I’m sure, that I liked a lot. I must have downloaded it but I simply can’t find it now and have been searching online for the last hour before giving up. Sigh.

I’ll leave with a couple of inspirational paintings by Claude Monet of his studio shanty boat. monet-studio-boat

Monet 1

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Crazy Boat Idea #???

I don’t know what number it is. Over the years there have been so many crazy boat ideas I’ve lost track. There was the R.V. camper shell on pontoons back in the late 60s. I briefly toyed with converting an oil well jack-up service barge after seeing one out at Breton Island when I worked there. I don’t know how many scow hulls and pontoon hulls I bought plans for. I still have some of them in the back room here. As you know I recently went over to Bocas del Toro to look at possibly buying a Westerly Centaur fixer upper. It was too much fixer and not enough upper so that hit the trash bin of bad ideas. This one, whatever its number might be, just might work.

So what’s the new idea? Well, as my readers know I’ve thought about how much work is involved in producing a hull that would support my shanty boat idea. I thought about how difficult it would be to build a scow hull upside down and turn it over and toyed with the idea of building pontoons in modules. All pie in the sky stuff, that’s for sure.

I thought about trying to find an old hull and putting a house on it, hopefully better than this, but you get the idea:

boat

So where to go from here?

I looked at the boats on craigslist, panama and what few were offered were WAY out of my range. For instance:

four winns

“Quest Four Winns de 26 pies, 10 pies de ancho
Excelente condiciones, vivero, 2 fish box
Baño, servicio, lavamanos, camarote,
GPS Garmin a colore con fish finder y ecosonda,
Radio de comunicaciones i-com, wash down,
Twin Yamaha 250 hp 520 horas
Tanque de 200 galones 2 bombas de achique
Trailer de aluminio.

And they’re only asking $55,000.

Then I was looking at a site called “encuentra 24.” Their listings for “Yates and Veleros” (Power yachts and sailboats) had things like this 38 foot Donzi, a steal at only $95,000:

donzi

Or this 35′ sportfish for a mere $300,000.

fish

Things were looking bleak. Then, for some unknown reason I clicked on their section labeled “Botes, Jet Ski.” The LAST thing I ever wanted was a jet ski. I hate the damned things and I despise the people who have them. But in there I found this:

Ventas de lanchas nuevas (New Boat Sales) Pangas de pesca y turismo

Precio de Venta: $3,500.00.

For those of you who don’t know what a ‘Panga’ is, they’re ubiquitous working craft throughout Mexico, Central America and parts of Africa and Asia. They look like this:

bernal panga There was a price list: lanchas de 18×5.5×3 -2,300.00, lancha de 20×5.5×3- 2,700.00, lancha de 23×5.5×3-3,100.00, lancha de mas capacidad 23×6.5×5- 3,500.00, lancha de 25×6.5×5- 3,800.00, lancha de 28×6.5×5- 4,500.00, lancha de 30×6.5×5-7,500.00.

I’d done some rough number crunching when I was into the idea of building the scow and figured that just for the scow hull itself it would cost me roughly $2,300. And then, of course, I’d have to build the damned thing myself! So paying an extra grand to get a good fiberglass hull built by someone else didn’t seem to be such a bad idea.

Hmmmmm. And the ad said that he was located in David, though I suspected Pedregal was more likely.

I hadn’t given too much though to the panga hulls for a long time. I remember on my first visit to Bocas del Toro back in ’09 standing in the lee of a restaurant and looking at a panga that was all kitted out against the rain and thinking, “I could put a cabin on that and be comfortable.” The problem is, as you can see above, the things are NARROW! The beam of my Nancy Dawson was 7’10” but on reflection I lived for nearly six years in a very tiny space. The overall length on deck was 26′ but the cockpit behind the cabin was a good eight and a half or nine feet, cutting the interior living space down to about 18 feet, and remember, forward of the beam it narrowed down considerably towards the stem. In an earlier blog entry I’d figured out that I’d been living in about 52 square feet of floor space! And yet I was comfortable, never the less.

My plans for a scow or pontoon boat called for about 24X8 with a cabin of about 16X8 or 128 square feet. More than double what I had on Nancy Dawson. If you look at sites like Tiny House Blog and similar you’ll see a lot of these minimalist shelters running around the 100 to 125 square foot range. And costing $30 grand and more, too!

But you have to realize that we’re not just talking about square footage, here. We’re talking about VOLUME when considering living space…length, width and HEIGHT! To keep windage down I would have built the house to give about 6’6″ headroom, so the volume would be 832 cubic feet.

Now, using the same calculations on a panga with a 16′ cabin and 6’6″ headroom you come up with 676 cubic feet. One hundred fifty cubic feet less. Sigh.

How big a handicap is that six and a half foot beam? Depends on how you look at it, I guess. Over in England, Scotland and Wales, they have what are known as “Narrowboats.” These were originally designed as cargo carriers on the extensive canal system that preceded the railroads. These boats have a maximum beam of just seven feet! That’s so they can make their way through the locks on the canals.

I did a lot of rummaging around online in recent days about these boats. The government estimates there are some 25,000 people who live on narrow boats in the country and then there are the weekenders and vacationers on top of that. While most of the boats a quite long, 40 t0 70 feet, there are quite a few smaller boats as well, many of them just 23 feet:

colorful narrowboatsilver-sailsarni

This is the interior of a Springer 23. Quite cozy:

springer 23-2

Wednesday I called the panga builder’s phone number and talked to him, sort of. Talking to someone in a foreign language on the telephone is incredibly difficult. I hated cringed when I had to do it in France and it’s only slightly better here, but I did confirm my suspicion that Sr. Bernal’s operation was in Pedregal.

So, Thursday morning, inspired by what I’d seen on the internet regarding narrowboats I took the 60¢ bus ride to the bus terminal in David, walked three blocks and got on the bus to Pedregal which costs 35¢. I got off 25 minutes later when I saw what looked to be a boat construction site down a side street which would be near one of the rivers in the area. I asked the first person I met if they knew Sr. Bernal who built pangas. They said they didn’t know that name, but a couple of blocks away there was a house that had several pangas in the adjoining yard and perhaps that’s the place I wanted.

I found the place with no problem, and sure enough there were five pangas about the right size there. They were what one would expect of a small operation with so-so quality. They certainly weren’t faired out well. I mean they were rather on the “wavy” side and the gel coat was certainly not of standards we might expect in the States. Of course we’d be paying a lot more for a boat in the States too, so you have to take that into consideration. Pangas are built to two purposes, fishing and tourism. Those for the tourism trade are built with several rows of bench seating. The fishing pangas are an “open” plan. Both kinds have a small enclosed compartment in the bow and a couple of feet from the transom which is cut down a bit for the installation of an outboard there is another full-width partition thus creating an “engine area.” All of these boats were set up with seating.

Heavy salsa music blared out of the open door of the house next door but I finally got the attention of someone inside. They said this was not Sr. Bernal’s operation, but the location where the boats were built was only a couple of blocks away.

 The operation was at the edge of an overgrown and neglected baseball diamond. There were four young men working away at three hulls. The boss wasn’t there but I talked to his brother who didn’t know how much the boats sold for. When asked how long it took  for them to build a hull he said eight days. I gave him my phone number and asked him to have his brother call me so I could find out how much the boats cost. I still haven’t heard from him.
The place I REALLY wanted to go to was a mystery and I didn’t know to how to get there.  Walking down a side street from the first taller (work shop) towards the main road where I figured I’d catch a cab, I asked an old man standing in the shade of a tree if he knew Sr. Bernal who built boats. He didn’t, but a teenaged girl sitting on the front porch of the house we were in front of said she knew. The guy I needed was her cousin! His shop was a good ways away and it would be best to take a taxi, and she wrote down the directions on how to get there. Out at the main road I caught a cab and was at Bernal’s in about three minutes. Pedregal isn’t THAT big a place, after all, but walking in the heat would have been enervating.
Amado Bernal, is a young guy in his early 30s. He was rigging out a 25 footer with a 75 horse Yamaha outboard. The boat had decent gel coat and the interior was finished off well with at least a modicum of attention to craftsmanship. The gel coat inside and out was nicely done, the inside with what we called “spider webbing” which is fun stuff that my friend Stefan and I used to use when fixing up old boats.
Amado said the 23X6.5 hull, with flooring, would cost $3,500. Knock off $300 if I wanted to put in the flooring myself. And knock off another 10% if I paid him in cash. (That was MY idea). The cash thing is that I don’t have a bank account here in Panama. It’s very hard and complicated for a gringo to get an account so my SS checks are deposited in the U.S. and I withdraw cash from ATMs. Only problem there is I’m limited to $500/day. I could go buy a Panamanian bank check, I suppose, but I’ll take the time and the discount.
He wants 1/2 down to get going and it takes him four weeks ( as opposed to one like the other place said) to finish a boat out. The construction is done with hand-laid mat and roving, not chopper gun construction. They will deliver the boat here to Boqueron for $125 and I can finish it out here. I told him what I was planning to do, put up a cabin structure to live in around Pedregal and over in the Boca Chica/Boca Brava area.  He thought it was a pretty cool idea. I like the guy and I’m going to start visiting the bank next week to make withdrawals so I can start the process. I’ve already called MY bank and told them when I was going over to Bocas that I was planning on buying a boat, needed to make a bunch of withdrawals and that the fraud department shouldn’t put a hold on my account for what will certainly look like suspicious activity. They made note on my account so all is good.
So that’s where it stands right now. The picture of the panga with the blue sheer stripe is the boat he was working on. He’d already put up a nice canvas shelter over practically the whole thing and added a nice steering console. This one is 25′. All the hulls have the same beam, they just have a piece that they insert into the mold’s stern to make the different lengths.
I think the color schemes for the narrowboats of England are extremely cool and I would seriously consider doing something in a similar vein. But seeing this is Panama I might do something along the lines of the now-defunct “Diablos Rojos” that used to terrorize the streets of Panama City. They looked like this:
FB IMG_0100pbus_1
Now how cool would a narrowboat be looking something like that?
I know my landlord will be reading this, and I know he wants me to stay here until the house sells.  I can understand his apprehension as he reads this, but all I can say is that none of this is going to happen within the next month or so. In fact, I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get things done before someone buys the place and I have to move before I’m ready. I can see this taking a minimum of six months and that’s if I got real lucky and everything went smoothly. And we know things never go smoothly.

 

 

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Rethinking Cruising Grounds

My original plan, when retiring to Panama, was to build a shanty boat and spend the rest of my days in the Bocas del Toro archipelago. Well it didn’t happen as my regular readers know. But for four years the idea has lain semi-dormant in the back of my mind. But why Bocas, specifically. Well, in all of Panama there are really only three places that seem to be written about as cruising areas.

On the Pacific side there’s the Perlas Islands. These islands are generally stopped at by people either about to or have recently made a transit of the Canal.

Las Perlaslas-perlas-mapYou might recognize Contadora where the Shah of Iran spent time after being deposed.

Pearl-island-contadora-arial

On the Caribbean side there’s the San Blas Islands, known here in Panama as Guna Yala. It is a semi-autonomous region administered by the Kuna Indians and to visit them you have to get permission from the Chiefs and pay to visit and your stay is limited in length. It’s not a place where you’re welcome to stay forever.

guna yalaguna-yala-explorer-privateThe Kuna are the second smallest group of people in the world after the pygmies in Africa, and the women’s distinctive “molas” make them iconic figures of Panama.

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But it’s Bocas that most cruisers gravitate to.

bocas

Miles and miles of sheltered water cruising with dozens of islands to tuck up to and anchor behind if you’re looking for some peace and quiet:

bocas-del-toro2

Or you can go into Bocas Town if you want to live it up a bit:

full-moon-pool-party-bocas-del-toro-1024x518

But making that ride back to the mainland after choosing not to buy the sailboat I realized I didn’t want to live in Bocas anyway. Too far away from too many things.

So, where does that leave me? Closer to home there’s Pedregal with it’s marina, Customs and Immigration offices and other Maritime offices.

pedregal

Pedregal is a 35¢ bus ride from downtown David. It’s not a very pretty place, and there is quite a bit of crime here, mostly drug related but it’s certainly not as tranquil as Boquerón. Back in 2009 (has it been that long ago?) when I was doing my exploratory visits to the country I went down to the marina to look around, and dismissed the place out of hand. (Please excuse the misspelling of the town’s name) https://onemoregoodadventure.com/2009/05/14/pedrigal-off-the-list/

So with Bocas off the list I went back to Google Earth and took another peek at Pedregal and saw this:

pedregal delta

Miles and miles of sheltered water in the delta and then to the east comes Boca Chica and Boca Brava.

boca chica

And there are lots of boats here which was a surprise to me…

boca chica boats

Lots of big game fishing goes on offshore from Boca Chica with world records being pulled out of the water. And there are plenty of islands to relax around.

Isla Palenque-Orgullo en Boca Chica-Panama-Real Estate

If anything does come of the boating bug this is probably where I’ll end up. Close to David.

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Making It Happen

One of the neatest things about having a blog is finding out that people actually read the damned thing and a quite a few of them take the time to write a comment. Recently Michael Bowman commented on my Budget Houseboating blog that he was building a shanty boat for use on the St. John’s River in northern Florida.

Michael has modified Phil Thiel’s “Escargot,” a design I always admired myself.

Escargot

We started exchanging emails and he wrote:

Talisa (Creek Indian word for “Beautiful Waters”) was designed with Plil Thiel’s ‘Escargot’ as the idea. I had to have some standing headroom somewhere and more than 2′ width to sleep. I added a foot to the beam and 18″ to the main cabin’s headroom.  The rest has just been sweat and $$. It has been a WONDERFUL experience and I’m heading towards a charter “business”.

He also included these photos from his idea to the completed boat…

Idea:

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Construction:

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Interior:

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Just a couple of days ago Talisa was “splashed” in the St. John’s and Michael reports that she handles “beautifully.”

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the St. John’s, at 310 miles, it is the longest river in the State of Florida. Most of it is scenic and much of it is in its natural state. When my mom died, my dad took their two mutts, got on his 26′ Stamas in Venice, FL and disappeared. Six months later we found out he’d voyaged across the state and up into the St. John’s where he mourned the loss of his wife, his companion and his partner.

You can charter Michael’s boat, starting in October, and find out why the St. John’s had the ability to sooth my father’s soul and may just give you some great memories for your life. Contact him at: rajahcat1@gmail.com.

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The Boat Bug Explained…

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.

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Bug Bit Again

In spite of the fact that I’ve worked on some exceptionally fine yachts in my day,

Lady Ann-Hatteras 58

Jolie Aire-Golfe Juan

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.

Nancy Dawson

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:

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.

Image 20065

http://www.amazon.com/Atchafalaya-Houseboat-Years-Louisiana-Swamp-ebook/dp/B003IT5SKC/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403133956&sr=1-1&keywords=atchafalaya+houseboat

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.

Houseboat trimmed

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 ON my 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.

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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…

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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