Toy Boat  
By Brian Anderson - Cologne, Germany
also author of "Small Boats on Green Waters"

I had been wanting to turn my hand to making a toy boat for my girls for a while, but had never seemed to find the right time. The other day I was rummaging through some file folders and came upon plans for a steam powered “pop pop boat” that I had downloaded from Duckworks, and since I hadn’t made a pile of sawdust in a while, decided now was a good time to have a go at a little boat.

I went out and got a package of some 4mm poplar plywood they sell here in Germany for craft projects and toy making. It comes in packages of 5 in different sizes, is pretty inexpensive, and can be cut with a utility knife and a straight edge.

I decided on a dory hull for simplicity. At first I was thinking to make a pop pop boat, but one morning, after I had the hull mostly together, my daughter Rachel found the boat on the workbench and was so happy with it that I decided to ditch the pop pop idea and just make her a nice little toy that she and her sister Maia could play with.

click to enlarge Sides waiting for chine logs and a bottom. I cut two strips of the plywood 24” long by 4” wide and then cut a 45 degree angle to form the stem. The bulkhead and transom sides were cut at 100 degrees to form the hull’s flare, and the slope of the transom was also just eyeballed. After the basic hull was together, I just sort of started filling in the gaps, adding a removable deck up front and a fixed in poop deck. I also reinforced the sides and gunwales with strips of plywood and pine to try to make the thing as sturdy as possible.

click to enlarge The sails are made from courtesy flags. They are colorful and since they are made to flap in the breeze for long periods of time, the stitching on the edges and attachment points is very well made and strong.

The sprit mainsail is the flag of the city of Cologne. The three crowns are for the Three Kings who brought gifts to the infant Jesus, and whose bones lie in a golden sarcophagus in Cologne Cathedral. The 11 flames are for St. Ursula’s 11 virgins (or 11,000 -- apparently some scribe in the 11th century made a typo and added the three extra 000s and later versions of the story keep the 11,000 number) who were martyred after refusing to marry a 5th century Visigothic king and his retainers. The king was besieging Cologne and captured the young women on their way back to England after a pilgrimage to Rome.

The jib is the Polish flag. Not the best job of resewing the luff, but it works and it is strong enough to stand some abuse.

The masts are beech dowels -- 1/2” and 3/8”. The boat is about 23” LOA, with a beam of 7”. She went together pretty easily -- I figure about 8 - 10 hours over a week or so, and all told less than $20 in materials, including the flags, which were easily the most expensive bits at maybe $10.

I wanted there to be enough little pieces of string and other fittings to give it the feel of a real model boat, but not enough so that I would be constantly replacing broken bits.

click to enlarge I had some linen string left over from making bow strings, some 4 mm grommets from my skin-on-frame kayak, and some eye-screws for hanging pictures, and figured they would be perfect for this project. Aside from the plywood, I used a few bits of meranti and some pine lath I had laying around. I glued and screwed the thing together and later took out most of the screws and filled the holes. But here and there I left some screws in places where I figured there might be some stress during use.
click to enlarge Some copper boat nails left over from another project worked well enough for belaying pins and on the Samson post.
click to enlarge The "fish hold."
click to enlarge Maia puts the whole gang aboard.

All in all it was a pleasant little project, and with Christmas coming up, a nice, very personal alternative to the overpriced and generic plastic crap one finds in the toy stores.

The only slight hitch was that after I painted her, my oldest, Rachel, 3, told me she liked it better with the hull finished bright, and was also generally feeling a little cheated because when Papa told her he was building her a boat, she figured it was going to be a boat. For her, not her dolls. One that you could sit in and paddle around in. So, maybe next time.

See also:

Other Articles by Brian Anderson: