The Punt

by Robert Jacobs - Fresno, California - USA

Shoot, like I don’t know I’m already building another boat. Okay, two boats. Guess what? It’s more than two… Anyway, me and the family need to get on the water with a bunch of crud, and I need to get on the water to fish with my bud, and we got all this otherwise useless plywood, so, we decided to build a punt. A dumb simple one, too. Just a straight, flat box, with slanty bottoms on both ends. Oh, yeah, she’s a true double ender. Classy lot, we.

The kids already own a classy double ended pirogue, which is extra fancy, what with its sheer and its flare. Trouble is, they can’t all pile in with a cousin or two anymore without them turning it into a submarine. I believe they sank her three times last summer/fall. She was also “borrowed” by someone and stranded. Oh, and I can’t even imagine the number of times she has been dragged over granite boulders. The pointy kind, y’all.

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I know I was talking about a punt, but you needed to know why we fooling around with such a contraption in the first place. We know from experience, dumb little plywood boats, built right, but cheaply, have a bad habit of lasting a long time, and being pretty darn fun, to boot. We considered building what would probably be large enough to have to be called a bateau instead, but the idea of big end decks to jump off was too much for the youngest to resist. The fact that casting decks at opposite ends would work out well for me and Uncle Bernie is only icing, y’all, and not that grocery store bakery kind, all style and no substance. I mean the type of icing made by a Baker what wants you to remember you ate a Cake and Frosting.

So. Let’s get to work, kids. Kids? Well, they come and go, and help here and there, typically only the instant gratification stuff like finally assembly and painting. Boy, do they love painting. I don’t harass them, though, because this building boats deal is really mine, and I’d like to share with them. If I grate on them, though, they might be hesitant to pitch in when it’s time to actually use the suckers, which is kind of the whole point. Shoot, I don’t need no punt, nor no other boat to build, but I do need adventure companions, and kids are the finest kind.

Now, for those what don’t know, I started building boats kinda late in life, I guess. In college, anyway. By the time I got turned onto boats by a friend, and had helped him in the making of one, why I reckon I had built or drawn just about every three dimensional shape you could possibly imagine, so banana shaped bowls weren’t nothing, really. A couple of kayaks and canoes were hoisted off my horse before I discovered flat bottom boats.

Dang.

To be more accurate, I discovered the three board boat, one of those artifacts common to global man. Seriously. Everyone, everywhere (I think) has a simple three board-style boat, by which I mean bottom plank and two side planks. Dories, sampans, gamelas, wa’apas, pirogues, jon boats, punts, prams, scows, barges, skiffs, gosh, I’m sure I’m leaving out at least a dozen more, but you must get what I’m after by now? Just about everywhere we find a similar solution.

See, in college, while learning how to design stuff, I also learned to make it. Helpful, to be sure, but I studied different people, too, which was maybe more helpful. The more I studied different people, see, the more I realized how similar we all really are, how we all figure stuff out in similar ways. I mean, sure, a guy in a swamp wants a different boat than a guy on the shore, but they sometimes end up the exact same thing. Geez, y’all, this is a long winded dissertation full of amateur speculation for a guy talking about a rectangular box. Looks like we’re planting bed lettuce… Hehheh.

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Whatever. Point is, I can do fancy, but I tend to less and less frequently of late, finding myself drawn to the simplest solution that properly solves the problem. Let’s be clear about that. I don’t want any half baked bread, don’t want anything dangerous or dumb or cheap for cheaps sake, but I do like simple. We have been in need of a bigger boat to fart around on stillwaters with, because we like to do that, and haven’t had a boat large enough to hold our burgeoning clan for a while. Armada style is fun, and all, but it will be nice to all roll together, again, as it were.

This project has been intended to be participated in fully by some kids, with the understanding they would not have to stay involved constantly, of course. With that in mind, the boat design was as dumb simple as possible, and made from relatively hazard free stuff. I would really have liked to use solid lumber, just because I would, but I’m saving all my nice wood for other projects, and I ain’t gonna go buy wood when there’s a pile of ply right over there. Aside from the plywood, and a nice pine 1 x 10 I had stashed for some project, we just used a bunch of 1 x 2 material glued and screwed. The chines and inwales are glued with wood glue from a squeeze bottle and the bottom and decks glued down with a caulking tube adhesive.

I’ll mention brand names when I start getting paid to. That’s only half a joke, folks…

Boy, we got out the tape measure, which is odd for most of my work, really. I usually measure with strings or sticks. Absolute measure sometimes isn’t as important as symmetrical measure, I think. Certainly, not in most of my work. Plus, almost all my own art and boats are from my head based on found or available material, or anthropometric sizes. I don’t need a ruler for a handspan, nor for a smidgen…

Anyway, we taped out the dots, connected them with a big steel straight edge, watched yours truly get after them with a circle saw, and… Frankly, y’all, watching an old guy what is dressed up like he’s trying to kidnap ET go after some flimsy old plywood chips with a worm drive ain’t all in it with YouTube. Well, the “baby” took off on his bike around the track in the yard, working on his jumps. The almost growns went off to do whatever the heck it is they do.

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Everyone shows up for assembly time, though, as much for the chance to hear a glue bottle fart as to maybe run the power drill. Don’t get me wrong, they love the old egg beater drill and the brace, and so do I, but sometimes, you just use the ‘lectric drill. Unless the switch finally stops switching. Well, more accurately, it stopped being a variable speed switch. I’ve owned the thing for 20 odd years and rebuilt the switch twice, and it already wore out. Needless to say, the Boxes didn’t have a part, even for a popular national brand they carry (no money, big tool company, no name drop…), so I went to the tool repair store. The guy offered to order it for me, if I paid up front and waited, as if it were some great favor, and a true onus for his own self. Shoot. I didn’t want to trouble the poor man…

Mind you, the drill works fine, but only high speed. It’s fine as a drill, for the most part, that is, but not as a driver. I did some heavy thinking while I was doing the long board hula on the seams of my new sailboat to be (the Frolic2, y’all, I ain’t forgot her, nor quit a working. These things do take time, even for a First Class Can’t Sit Still such as myself), and decided to break down and get an impact driver. Heard wonderful things. They are wonderful tools. I’ve heard. I’m hooked now, and so are the kids, and we all agree it sounds hilarious, like a typewriter fighting a woodpecker.  I honestly think we freaked out the flickers that live in a neighbor to the tree we were working under.

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And so it goes. I Tom Sawyer my way out of stuff until they catch on, or need some advice or piece made, or until they decide to go do whatever kid stuff they do. I don’t know anymore, man, I’m old.

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But she goes together, and we spend some time. The build goes quickly, duh, and we get to the tedious business of painting and waiting. The painting is all good. The waiting. Waiting to dry enough to sand. To dry enough to use. Painting, if done properly, is the most time consuming aspect of a boat build this simple. Seriously, the boat is done in one or two days, but the paint job can take weeks, if done properly. I may have stated before, I’m saving money, but not cheaping out. This is a simple boat, built sturdy, to be used heavily in shallow water. It doesn’t need to be expensive or flashy, but we can still take the time and care to make her nice…

Which, that’s a relative word, really, and very subjective, because nice is not the same thing for everybody. In this case, suffice to say it means careful work, with nice fits and finish, even if simple and rough in nature. The faying surfaces meet well, the intersections are all tight and/or filled, the paint and putty are carefully applied, with much prep work. In fact, it is this prep work that demands so much of the time painting, but what of it? The time spent making something for yourself is well spent, the moreso if that time is spent with your loved ones, and trifecta gold when you get to use the thing you made, and, again, use it with your loves.

Dang.

The exterior bottom has a great feature in some skid strips we put on running the length of the bottom. They serve two great purposes, really, by tying the floor frames together mechanically, and providing a great buffer between the dirt outside and the planking. A surprise bonus feature was the ability to flip the boat onto the skids to facilitate working on the inside while the outside paint dried.

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There was much thought given to the decks and general layout of this boat, believe it, or not. The boat is intended to serve multiple purposes, after all, and one of those is landing craft. Having a nice, wide, overhanging deck to step onto or off of on a sandy beach or muddy shore dry footed is a marvelous thing. The dog, and Vava (Portuguese for grandma) absolutely love them. We couldn’t have known when deciding and laying them out, but we guessed, and hindsight has here shown us correct in our guessing.

If I may, for a moment, explain the deck layout. The ends are 3’ x 4’ flat decks, with a 1” x 2” perimeter cleat, stopping just short of the deck edges inboard. The cleats serve, really, as a sort of toe-rail to keep all the little rolly bits involved in rock collecting and fishing from rolling off. They also, incidentally, serve as an excellent toe-rail when you stand on the deck for casting, or paddling, or poling, or just plain fun. The decks are excellent leaping and diving platforms, and the hull is low sided enough she can be boarded over the end decks, the toe-rails here providing excellent hand grips.

This option of boarding over the end decks, and leaping off them proved to be very popular with the swimming kids. The decks are also a great place to lay, with your head hanging over the end of the boat, gazing down into the water, looking at rocks and flooded stumps and fishes. Or to nap.

In the spirit of full disclosure, the boat was originally launched without floorboards for a “quick fishing trip” to the ponds. Suffice to say, the floorboards are necessary, and we caught no fish, but I now have a great story to introduce Uncle Bernie to y’all… Later.

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Also, suffice to say, the combination of floorboards and skid strips fastened to thwartship floors has made a very stiff boat, but she remains car toppable, by two unassisted, or one with tricks, which I got. She is really easy to put on a flat trailer, fill full of stuff, stack other boats onto, lash down, and roll. The trailer need not be dunked, because the boat can be easily carried by two, or rolled on fenders or rollers, so launch spots abide…

Now, the coolest part of the decks, to me, is the little drains in the corners of the deck, where the toe-rails meet. The drains are angled down and away from the corners, and lined with glued in copper tubes, peened over into a counter sink with a ball peen hammer. Water has a pretty hard time staying on the decks, but surprisingly little gets in, other than from dripping swimmers and paddle blades. This is not a very pleasant boat to paddle for any distance, if you are in any kind of wind, or hurry, but it is far from unhandy, and can carry a massive and very wiggly load safely. We even learned, by accident, she can handle a significant amount of waverunner and planing power boat wake, with aplomb, provided you take it on the quarter. Of course she slaps! The slapping sounds of water on hulls such as this is part of the charm, we think, especially when they are beached and chuckling softly. I quickly learned to trim her so the forward “knuckle” was just clear of, or kissing the water for the best, quietest paddling. She honestly performs best with about 600-700 pounds in her. Yes, there is still plenty of freeboard.

Anywho, there isn’t much more to add, for now, except to say the boat is a success, and pending a few modifications, she will be perfect. She needs oars, we think, and a scull. So, I’ll have to build some, then we’ll go do some stuff in the boat some more.

Until then…

2 Comments

  1. This is a wonderful piece about making a very simple but useful boat. Many people think they should have much more boat than they really need and cheat themselves out of fun on the waters they really use. I’ve been guilty of this myself.
    Though no dimensions have been given. I take it this boat is 3 ft wide, about 16 ft long, and maybe 16 inches deep.
    Looking at it, I’d be tempted to make it into a sailboat by adding as little gear as possible. I’d put a mast hole in the center thwart and a step under it, then look for a used Sunfish(tm) sail and mast. That would be it. The long immersed chine would serve as a keel and I’d use a paddle for steering.
    Sorry, but I’m crazy in this way.
    When I discovered that my home built sailing scow was actually making progress to windward, some 45 years ago, it was a high point of my life.
    I’ll never forget it, even though the boat was probably the worst built boat that ever successfully sailed.

  2. Bob,
    Many thanks. I think you nailed the dimensions, by the by! I think the sides are shorter than that, but, shoot.
    Interesting you mention a sail, cause we all think a nice square sail would rock on this boat.
    Good for all the points of sail we might make, and a great awning!
    Oh, and as to the worst built boat that ever sailed? Now, THAT might make an interesting contest, eh?
    Thanks again for the kind words. We got a couple more simple boats a going, so I will share them, too.
    Peace,
    Robert

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