Building Frolic, A Robote (What?!)

by Robert Jacobs - Fresno, California - USA

Yeah, I know.

Really, I know, I know. I’m SUPPOSED to be building a Frolic 2, not a Robote, but I had reasons. The plot demanded it. Kismet. Fate.

Density (sic). Hehe.

I briefly explained in the last installment on the Frolic that I have become ultimately delayed on that build. I keep chipping and picking away at the little bits, though, so when the rest of the boat is done, I won’t have much futzing left to do.

But. I had promised I would launch my Frolic in Texas at the 200, and I was determined to keep that promise. Sort of. In the most roundabout and hilarious way possible.

Last year I discovered I really can’t paddle anymore, so I decided to build a goofy little rowboat to rowboat around in. I tacked a set of plans onto an order I was making from Duckworks, and just set them aside for a while.

See, now, the whole point of this boat was to have a quick and dirty little boat to use and use and use. I was concerned that it work fairly well, so I opted for a proven model. Jim Michalak’s Robote model seemed to fit the bill nicely, and could be made for a modest amount of time and money. I generally just use domestic ply for little boats like this, because it really is fine for this type construction especially when sheathed, and it’s available locally.

Three sheets of ¼” ply, some solid wood, and a bit of glass cloth and tape and a little gloop, and you, too can have a boat with a very pointy bottom half. Hehe.

The boat, see, is a very, very v-bottom type, but from the chines upward it does a fair job of approximating a flat iron skiff. Sort of. Suffice to say, it shares the same something I think all Jim’s boats have. A sort of an odd beauty, I think, and certainly in the vein of Phil, eh? Let’s make her work, then futz with the looks a bit, to make her not look TOO bad, and then add just a hint of “Kilroy Was Here” at the very end, so we know who drew it.

Now, there is nothing special-tastic or fant-tacular about any part of this boat, or build. This is just about as straight forward as building a boat is going to get unless you build one of the rectangular punts. Hehe.

Honest, all that needs doing is laying the panels (and temporary forms) out on pieces of plywood, and hacking them free. The plans are laid out for plywood panels, and show the layout and measurements in one picture. Mark some lines, plot some dots, connect the dots (careful, they are not ordered, so you can’t just follow one with the next and draw a turtle…hehe) with lines, cut along the lines with a saw, and boom! Halfway there!


Now, this is one of those brilliant “self-jigging” type boats, what assemble themselves on themselves by using themselves as a guide for assembling themselves. The lines are all drawn where the forms meet the panels, so provided all the parts match (always match mirror image panels on boats like this by sticking them back to back and jointing the edges all around), the whole shooting match straightens, aligns, and trues itself right up.

Measure, measure, measure, including the all important horning measure. At least, that’s what I learned it as. What I mean is measuring the “horns” of an object, in this case the outer edges of each individual form, to a common center point. Triangles is one of nature’s levels, after all.

Anywho, once all these forms are in place, and temporarily fastened there, the edges of the panels can be joined by fillets. Now, this here is straight forward stitch and glue 101. Nothing special at all about this part of the build. Just remember to not to glue any of the forms in there!

After the boat was all glued up, but before I pulled out the forms, I glued on the outwales and added the thwarts, such as they are, to keep the shape of the boat. The whole boat is basically open, relying on the wales and thwarts at the ends for strength. It is a wobbly sort of stiff that ensures quite a bit of confidence, and allows a completely open interior.

Well, except for the butt blocks. See, I used butt blocks of ply on this boat. I have lost my faith in the tape on both sides butt. I just don’t trust the tape or glass in those joints like I used to. So, on boats like this, where the panels or planks are butted and not scarfed, I prefer to use wood as a butt on one side, and tape or cloth on the other.

Just my preference. They are kind of ugly, I will admit, but I kind of like the look of them. Weirdo. Hehe.

Now, I think maybe the coolest and weirdest part of this boat is the rowing thwart, which is simply a board. Yep. A board. You just cut a piece of 1x, bevel the ends a bit, jam it in there, and sit thee doon! It is strange, and odd, and cool. It really works well, stays put when weighted with a body, and can be fine tuned to adjust trim and body size a bit. Or just removed from the way.

Not that you could sleep in the bottom easily. Maybe at anchor, but you’d need a hammock, or lots of padding down in the vee. Ashore, she simply flops to one side or the other, because she is a real vee bottom. Afloat, she generally stays level. Ahem.

The boat is VERY tender initially. About 2 degrees either direction firms her right up, though, as soon as the chine touches. And, once that chine does touch, she becomes STABLE! We could not bury the rail with normal frolicking about in her at the beach. But, I’m ahead of myself.

Not much, but as I’ve gone this far, I may as well blabber out the rest.

Okay, so where was I? Oh, yes. The panels are all cut out, stuck together, and glued up, and the outwales have been glued on, and the thwarts, breasthook, and knees have been installed. All the joints were glued and filleted well before and forms were removed, but I removed all the forms before any glass reinforcement went on, because I sheathed the entire outer surface with 6 oz. glass cloth, and I wanted all the temporary fasteners out of the panels first.

The sheathing of the outside was straightforward, the glass reaching just to the underside of the wales all the way around. It went fairly quickly, even working alone, and I continue to be impressed with the way the Duckypoxy works. You have to REALLY try hard to get it all foamy, and even then, it still seems to settle out and dry nice and clear.

Eventually. Hehe. The slow kicker ain’t no joke. You get some open time with this stuff. Hehe. Which, since I did this in the hot part of the year (temps over 100f), worked out just nicely. A quicker kick off of the gloop may have bit me in the butt on this one.

Well, better to be lucky than good, eh?

The breasthook and quarter knees were laminated up from some scraps of “marine” ply (it’s luaun…) and glued and screwed in there. The plans call for a pair of straight boards serving as canoe-style thwarts, that is, not meant to be sat upon, really, but sort of hefty athwartship bracing. Mine are 1 x 3s, and I didnt even cut any shape in them or anything. Savage.

The inside was painted all over with some of the new “deck restore” style paint. I think it’s some sort of elastomeric coating or some such, and it has a little bit of gritty in it. I used it on the punt, and I found it quite satisfactory, so I decide to use it on this’un, too. The problem was, I didn’t have enough of either color, so I painted one can dry, then finished from the other. The whole shebang was then overcoated with a nice light blue.  Nobody will ever know… D’oh!

The outside. Well.

I decided not to fill the weave on the cloth. It is something I tried on the cabin sides of the real Frolic (no, I ain’t forget to keep building it or writing about it. Truth is, I really should be retired to be doing all this fooling around, but I just can’t wait that long. Well, plus I never had a “real” job to retire from, anyway. Hehe. Truth is, the big Frolic keeps taking a back seat to stupid old work.) on the advice of somebody, and I liked it.

A nice, high build primer (or, really, just a high build primer) goes a long way toward filling all those little divots in the glass. I can’t imagine that extra resin in those divots adding anything but cost and weight, really, on a painted boat. I don’t do bright, anymore. Ahem.

So, the outside received a few coats of primer, and was deemed “Close Enough For A Town This Size,” which is kind of silly, because I live on the edge of one of the largest cities in California. Hehe.


The glorious grape jelly purple paint came next. Now, anyone who has ever painted purple knows it took 1,764 coats before it sorta started looking purple. Ish. Hehe. Not really, but just about. I think I got 5 coats on there, but it may be 6. Either way, the 4,000 mile trailer ride rubbed her raw in a few spots. A few more coats of purple, and she’ll be good as new.

Sweet. She looks nice, now, all purple and blue and shiny. Oh the rails are bright. It was pretty doug fir, so I cleared it, for a change.

Wait, how do we move it? Oops. Hehe.

I originally planned to use the same oars as the Frolic sailboat. Then I thought about what a bad idea that was, so I decided to make the Robote her own oars. I installed single tholepins in the rails to accommodate the oars, and all was lovely. She moves very nicely.

But then I saw an Irish currach, and the kooky looking oars they use, which reminded me so much of a Greenland style kayak paddle, that I decided I HAD to have some. A bit of here and there with the saw and drawknife gave me a pair of tapered sticks. Really! I added a block to engage the tholepin on one side of the sticks, then rounded and further tapered the other side. Bingo! Oars!

I’ve yet to try the boat with her new oars, but the plan is in motion now. There will be several days of punting and pirogueing and rowboating, and duck punting. Yeah, one of THOSE duck punts. I built one.

What? You think the Frolic2 is languishing for no good reason? Shoot, there’s 5 people live here need boats in their lives, and they gotta be satisfied. And so does this stupid itch to build. Ahem.

Oh, shoot, I nearly forgot the best part. I DID get to Texas and I DID launch a Frolic. It was a Robote we decided to call Frolic, and not a Frolic we decided to call Lark, but, hey, sue me. Hehe.

Don’t worry, I got the big boat flipped, now, on the home stretch, as it were, and I’ll spill all about those oars and the new punt. Stringing together this many letters in a row makes me head really hurt.


  1. Great report! Congratulations on a nice build. Thank you for motivating me to pull out my robote plans to get busy to fulfill my winter ambition to have a good rowboat next season!

  2. Bluebunny,
    Thank you for the kind words.

    Do it. Start right now. You will not be sorry. 🙂 I can’t wait to see YOUR boat.


  3. Dan,
    Excellent! I make a lark of it, because I’m so comfortable making stuff like this, but it ain’t lol hard.
    The hardest part is starting.
    The second hardest part is finishing. 🙂
    Baby steps. Just keep moving, and it’ll get done.

    Oh, that blissful moment you first float in a boat you made with your own hands…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.