Patricia Ann - a 12 ft. Pocket Tug
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Design by Mike Gill - Fort Myers, Florida - USA

Allow me to introduce you to my stitch and tape together 12-foot pocket tugboat. She can be built as a compact yacht or a crusty workboat. Whatever your taste, she is fun to build and a hoot to command.

Iíve always been in love with tugboats. Designing a salty little pocket tug to parade around and explore the Southwest Florida coastal islands has always been a dream. After raising two sons, one a law school grad and the other now at the University of Florida, I returned to my love of designing and building small boats. I dusted off the drawing board and went to work.

It is my opinion the artistry of boat design is much like the anatomy of a beautiful woman. The most attractive parts are the front and the back. My tugís bow must have nice sweeping lines that are pleasing to the eye.† Her stern must be full and attractive. Everything in the middle should be well proportioned, gracious and charming. If you wish, the tug can be adorned with brass and bronze nautical jewelry if that is your style. The commercial fisherman-type builder may like cast iron, galvanized hardware and grey house paint. She is an attractive lassie no matter how she is decorated.

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What developed is Patricia Ann, my 12-foot tugboat named after my wonderful wife Pat. She loves afternoon picnics on the water and the tug is a comfortable ride.

I never wanted a full-size tug. The cost, responsibility, upkeep and headaches would far exceed my boundaries. Over the years I studied small tug designs. Few designs are out there...

... are wonderful concepts. However, I wanted something simple, easy, quick to build yet not a toy or a huge project. I couldnít find a design that fit.

My tug needed to be the largest possible boat in the smallest possible package. I wanted her to be big enough for several hefty adults. I like to stand and move around without falling overboard or feeling uncomfortable. I do not want the crew limited to sitting or crouching. The design needed to be large enough for an occasional overnight excursion. When not at sea, she must be easily dry-docked. Most of all, she must have salty appeal. I didnít want her to look like one of the cookie-cutter, boxy, popped-out plastic look-a-likes. She must have nautical charm.

I created the† lines for Pocket Tug with the thought that she should be very straightforward with no frills. However, once I started assembly, the hull had more volume than I anticipated. With a little creativity, a builder could add a small doghouse forward and include a six-foot V berth under the fordeck for Spartan accommodations for a friendly couple.†

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Pocket Tug is easily constructed in a reasonable workspace. It is important that she go together quickly using minimal pieces without sacrificing structural integrity. I like to use affordable, readily available lumberyard materials. I do not want to spend retirement savings on a boat project. I need to stay out of the marine supply stores. I can be addicted to buying boat things. Funds evaporate quickly in those places. Searching for second hand marine bootie at garage sales, marina junk piles, thrift stores, flea markets and E-Bay is great fun. Some of the older, more traditional boat designs require almost as much lumber to build the strongback and building jig as it does to build the boat. I didnít want that.

My pocket tug shall be powered by a small outboard motor. Five to eight horsepower will work well. Going fast is no priority. On E-Bay I found an old shipís wheel equipped for cable and pulley steering and a bollard (Samson post) from an old Chris Craft to adorn my tugís fordeck. Most other gear I purchased from Duckworks or fabricated from discards.

Water surrounding the Southwest Florida coastline is very shallow. Patricia Ann must navigate skinny water on my search for secret fishing spots or that perfect picnic anchorage. Most importantly, the tug MUST be fun, quick and easy to build, attractive and a little yacht I will be proud of. I demanded a lot but I think Pocket Tug fits the bill.

Quarter-inch luan ply that cost less than $10 per sheet at most lumberyards is my material of choice. Forced, curved panels make this tugís hull stronger than the plywood itself. PVC plumbing pipe sliced, relieved and fiberglassed into the hull, forms an I beam structure at the rubrail, thwart and keelson to give Patricia Annís hull and wheelhouse incredible stiffness and strength. The PVC will never be a maintenance issue and makes good conduit for running electrical wires if desired.

Some boat builders hate luan. I enjoy working with it. Over the years I built several luan boats. It is my opinion that maintenance is the key to a boatís longevity. Good epoxy application, quality paint and reasonable care and storage will give a luan boat a long lifetime. Keep in mind this pocket tug can be built from quarter-inch AC or marine grade plywood if the builder wishes.

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When Home Depot people see me coming, they start mumbling. Iím very selective choosing lumber for my boat projects. I pick and chose wood like an old lady shopping for melons. Less epoxy products, Patricia Annís hull can be roughed out for less than $200. If you use Okume or high quality marine grade materials, cost can be tenfold.

The big advantage to stitch and tape construction is the speed at which Pocket Tug goes together. Panels are cut to shape, bent around bulkheads and stitched together with #16 copper wire. Very simple. No assembly of† ribs, jigs, frames, stringers, strongbacks, gussets, stems, etc. There is not a single screw, nail or bolt in the tugís basic hull. This makes Pocket Tug a joy to build. Anyone who owns creative juices, a jig saw and the ability to read offsets can build her. Iíve built many models that were more difficult.

I consider myself a hopeless romantic, especially when it comes to boat design. I find myself gawking at my creations like they are works of art. Not good. This slows progress and I catch myself admiring hull curves and symmetry way too much. Itís a disease. My schedule allows me to work on the tug an hour here and an hour there. Large blocks of time are difficult. If I turn off my cell phone, stay on task and stop gawking, progress is swift. I feel the greatest tool needed to build a boat is your eye. Studying curves, sweeps and lines will tell you if Pocket Tug goes together correctly. If your eye tells you something does not look right, it probably isnít.†

The first order of business is to purchase the dozen 4x8 sheets of luan and begin lofting hull panels to offeset dimensions. Accuracy is important. I like to put two sheets of luan together, end to end, to form a 4íx16í blank. Duct tape works well. You need only loft three panels - the hull bottom, lower hull chine panel(s), upper hull chine panel(s) and sheer panel(s). Duplicates of the† lower chine hull panel, upper chine hull panel and sheer panels can be stackcut so you have a port set of panels and a starboard set of panels. The stackcutting process helps insure a symetric hull. It is important to scribe all station lines boldly on both sides of all panels. After cutting the panels, I like to splice the respective pieces together using† several layers of four-inch pieces of fiberglass cloth epoxied to both sides of the panel. This works well for me. It is quick, easy and eliminates complicated scarfing and awkward splice blocks (see photo of hull pieces).

Years ago I purchased several discarded hospital gurneys. They are the most useful items I own. The large wheels allow great mobility and I can roll them inside, outside as workbenches and rolling storage tables.

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You can build the hull flat on several workbenches or sawhorses. I put several 2x4ís together atop one of the gurneys on which I assembled the hull. I placed the bottom panel on the 2x4 rails and temporarily screwed the three bulkheads into position, using scrap blocks and strips of wood to hold them erect, stiff and aligned in place. I emphasize it is important to scribe all station lines boldly on both sides of all panels. This will help the entire construction process as you progress. The prototype Pocket Tug went together very nicely. The lower chine panels are stitched to the bulkheads and floor panel. Care should be taken to make certain all offset lines are correct and aligned.

The trickiest part building Pocket Tug is stitching together the lower bow. This Tug is plump at the bow, to say the least. The return of the plywood panels from station #3 bulkhead to the bow stem is severe and tortures the plywood to the point of fracture. Cutting longitudinal slits in the lower, forward chine panels allows the panels to bend and stitch into a round bottom without fracture. This may seem difficult and confusing but it is easy. I approached this part of construction as if I was performing surgery on a patient. I try to be cautious, skillful, methodical and very precise. Surgery was successful.

With Pocket Tugís excessive seven-foot beam, I opted to tape and epoxy the bottom and lower chine panels together to all the bulkheads and transom before stitching the upper chine and sheer panels together. The hull is so broad I didnít think I could reach the bottom seams to tape and epoxy with the entire hull structure stitched together. I would kill my back and fall into the hull.

†Once you epoxy and tape panels, there is no going back to make adjustments. Epoxy welds everything together. It is important to check and eyeball several times before applying the epoxy and tape. At times the hull is unstable and like a wet noodle. The more you stitch and epoxy panels together the stiffer the hull grows.†††††

After the lower chine panels are epoxied and taped to the bottom panel, bulkheads and transom, it is time to sew the upper chine panels and sheer panels to the structure. It only takes a few hours before the tug takes shape.

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Once the hull panels are aligned all interior hull seams get epoxy fillet, tape and locked together. I used two layers of four-inch tape and epoxy on all junctions and seams. This welds the hull together so all wire stitches can be cut loose and sanded flat. I purchased two block and tackles ($7 each and Harbor Freight) and drilled holes in the bulkheads to place small pieces of rope to hoist the hull into different positions for epoxy seam work (see photos).

With Pocket Tugís hull formed, I ran PVC pipe through the table saw to cut a slot in it lengthwise to slide over the hull sides like a cap. Relief cuts must be sliced half-way-through the PVC every 2 inches to allow the pipe to be flexible enough and make the needed bends. The PVC forms the cap rail and slides over the luan nicely. It is epoxied into place with two layers of cloth. This makes the hull sides very strong and rigid.

The hull is flipped upside down and placed on a simple rolling cradle build from scrap 2x4ís on casters. With the hull upside down, it is sanded and all seams get a 2Ē and 4Ē tape and epoxy. The entire hull then gets two layers of glass cloth and epoxy. I like to use 38Ē cloth. It is a convenient size to work with. My goal is to totally encapsulate the luan hull in epoxy and cloth.

One thing concerns me about Pocket Tug. She is a 12-foot boat that looks and feels like a vessel much larger than she really is. She can easily seduce you into a false sense of security. This boat is designed for protected waters and not created to take on the wakes of big yachts or blue water adventuring. Pocket Tug is designed to patrol quiet waters and parade around the harbors and mangrove islands of Southwest Florida. I think of her as a big, fat dinghy. She is no sissy but not a blue water cruiser.

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