Getting Started
by David Arnold

“Just say, someday I will; someday I will.”
Jimmy Buffet

My inclination is to blame everything on Duckworks, but that would not be fair. I have been collecting boat plans and books for years and, and, as a surrogate to actually building a boat, own one of the largest collections of unfinished ship models known to exist. But I do have an excuse! I do! I was in the military for a lot of years and then grad school and all, and none of those are conducive to building a boat. I did own a couple boats though while stationed variously in Vermont, the Chesapeake Bay area, and TVA country. I had a great opportunity a few years ago to build something when I actually had a place with several acres and a barn and a big shed sort of thing, but with commuting and three kids and trying take care of the farm and fences and all; well…no boat.

So now, what with everyone in Duckworks prodding me and my really getting the bug again, I have gone and bought some new power tools and am going through plans and models again. The tools also carry some promises made about quilt racks and garden arbors and picture frames and stuff, but the real agenda is BUILD A BOAT!

Where I live in Central Kentucky, sailing really isn’t really much of an option, and I’m getting a bit longer in the tooth, so to get something manageable but with more room and capacity than just a sailing or rowing dingy, I decided to look at outboard power. Enter Jim Michalak’s excellent range of plans. They are straightforward, elegant (mostly) and relatively simple for a first timer. Clinker built and wineglass transoms are really impressive, but…maybe not as a first shot. After dithering for six months, I ordered a set of AF4 plans last year. I really like the basic approach to construction and the appearance. Anything with a raised flush deck reminiscent of Crocker’s Stone Horse or the small Elco cruisers really gets to me.

I did a lot of sketching and then started to put together a chipboard model. I still like the design, but I wasn’t completely convinced. I wasn’t really happy with the amount of interior volume in the cuddy for the length. Also, I couldn’t see convincing my wife to let me leave the garage door open for several weeks or months or whatever because the AF4 was too long to accommodate during construction. The AF4 Breve would fit in the garage, but it’s even shorter on volume. By the way, if the photos are a little fuzzy, I apologize. My camera has some sort of ranging and delay circuit in the flash that is a bit like firing a flintlock pistol – a click, simmer, pop, flash sort of delay that sometimes makes it hard to hold steady for close work.

Next, I spent a lot of time sketching variations on Mr. Michalak’s Harmonica and Shanteuse designs. I’ve got a lot of rivers and medium sized lakes the area. The shanty boat style with room for a small camp stove, a coffee pot, and a comfortable chair or two has some real appeal here in the heart of houseboat country. In an attempt to do a little bit more “boaty” profile, I put together one sketch model that combined Shanteuse scale with something of Steve Lewis’s Chugger design. Chugger is a design so appealing and homely and so instantly feasible that I almost bought plywood the day I discovered it, but calm returned. Lots of nice sketches were the result, but no decision. I just wasn’t convinced by either the appearance or by the narrow beam.

Once I identified the beam to length discussion as the real issue and decided I had to go wider than a four foot sheet despite the cost, Michalak’s Sows’ Ear entered the equation. It’s a bit roomier than the AF4 but still fits my building area. It appears to be even a bit simpler in construction than AF4, having the vertical hull sections of Harmonica or Shanteuse which are acceptable to me at this point because I don’t really care about going fast. And it is kind of cute. Another order thru Duckworks produced another set of plans, and out came the chipboard, mat board, knives, and glue again.

My model making skills have deteriorated since design school, but I’m about halfway into a first sketch model now for a Sows’ Ear. The first picture (above) is the paired midships bulkheads. I’ve opened the portside forward one up a bit in the model to let a little more light and space sneak into the cuddy. I’ve also sketched in some dividers on the port side to fit water jerrycans, stoves, and other gear I own. This is very tentative. I’d like to get about three to six more inches between these two bulkheads, but I’m not sure about the consequences of that.

The next photo shows the model with the hull panels on but no bottom or decking. I’ve modified the flat run of the upper sheer aft of the cabin bulkhead for purely appearance reasons. I suspect that I will build the hull with the straight sheer shown in the plan for stability during construction and then cut the new pattern when the hull is turned over. The rub rails and details are not in place yet, but the color line shows that I am altering the curve of the lower rub rail somewhat. Also the astute observer will note that the portholes are out of whack. Oh well…

That’s where I stand. I’m not yet firm on cockpit and interior design in the cuddy, and I suspect I will do some modification on in the space between the transom and the after bulkhead. I have some mock ups to do maybe. Then again, I might build her empty and then see how things fit in. I’m also not sure yet about the final configuration of the slot top arrangement. I’m not completely sold on the slot top approach, although there are some really distinct advantages to it. Lots to do, including a massive upload to Goodwill or a garage sale to make some room, but I am going to make sawdust soon.

I’ll keep you posted.


Since I first submitted this article, I have continued to mess with the model. As I mentioned, I'm not completely sold on the slot top, but am still unsure. Here is a photo of the model with a partial overhead cover. I'm wondering if this should be a skylight. The complexity of hatch details may bring the slot top back. Also, I've sketched in one side of a windscreen with a flat surface behind it to serve as a working surface for charts or whatever at the helm station. I intend to use wheel steering on the port bulkhead. If I can figure it out, the windscreen would extend on across to port. Anyway, I'm still moving forward.

David Arnold
Versailles, KY