Interview with Alex Bogdanov

When did you become a boat designer and what was your first real design?

It’s a slow process – you start by modifying existing boats that you have or designs which you like by adding your own touches and improvements based on personal boating experience. The very first boat I designed and built was a small sailing catamaran (about 12′ long) made of the steel pontoons of a very old paddle boat. I adapted the sailing rig of a “Cadet” sailing dinghy. The final result wasn’t bad except I only got to sail the boat twice as she got stolen 🙁

Next came a very popular sailing dinghy designed by the famous French small boat designer Jean Jacques Herbulot called “Vaurien”. I found the drawings published in a magazine. The only change I made to the design was a totally redesigned interior arrangement to suit mine and my friend’s needs. Later on, I built my first stitch and glue boat which was a 12′ dinghy designed by Jacques Mertens. I replaced the sail rig with a larger sail and changed the mast attachment to the hull to take the load and stress from the larger sail area. When making changes to designs, the biggest challenge is to make sure you don’t ruin something else especially concerning safety, seaworthiness and strength. It takes a bit of reading, calculations and experiments. Again, it’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight.

My first “real” designs were “Happy Hour” kayak based on Ross Lillistone’s “Water Rat” and “Colibri” – a general purpose dinghy requested by a friend of mine who is an avid fisherman. Actually, most of my designs are based on something else. In my opinion it’s hard to come up with a really pioneering idea in boat design.

Which designer(s) had the greatest influence on you?

I think Jim Michalak and Jacques Mertens – I really like how sturdy, practical and utilitarian their boats are.

How many boat designs have you drawn in total?



Happy Hour

Mickey Mouse

Mighty Mouse

Mouse Grande



Which of your designs is your best seller, and which is your personal favorite?

“Happy Hour” and “Colibri”. My favorite however is “Mouse Grande“. I think this little boat has so much potential that many people new to the boating field don’t see.

Do you have a design philosophy – certain themes or principles your adhere to?

All my boats can be built by first time builders. If you can use a saw and tape measure you can build a boat. I am trying to design small, easy to build, easy to transport boats which can be quickly launched and used just for a few hours. Most people have busy schedules nowadays and being able to transport and launch the boat quickly determines how often she gets used. The smaller the boat the more use she gets. Other important factors are safety, strength and light weight. I am also trying to use less fittings in my boats as the cost of these adds up exponentially. For example a knee with a hole in it provides strength, a handle and a place to tie a line. Last but not least I like to build prototypes of my designs and test them out on the water. If necessary I do changes. Only then I put the plans up for sale on my website.

What key tips would you give to builders of your designs?

Keep it simple, don’t buy fancy tools, follow the instructions. All you need is a jig saw, drill and pliers. When I was building “Colibri” prototype I used a hand saw to cut out all panels from plywood. It’s a good exercise too. Ask questions until everything is clear. I usually reply to e-mails within 24 hours. Use your common sense. Don’t mix too much epoxy, exterior grade plywood is fine, buy the cheapest exterior (porch) paint you can find at Home Depot. Use vinegar to clean surfaces and bread flour for filler. Don’t sand too much into the fiberglass tape and don’t go for a super fancy finish. Instead, spend this time actually using the boat. This kind of finish is just for showroom boats. Everytime you launch your boat she’s gonna get a few scratches. But that’s a good sign – means the boat is getting used. At the end of the season some putty here and there and a couple of coats of paint will take care of it.

What do you have on the drawing board now?

Secret, it will be a surprise:)


    • The plans are available as a download. Like most reputable boat plans, there are not full size patterns included – instead there are clear and concise instructions for laying out the parts on plywood. If you can use a tape measure and a pencil, you can build this boat.

  1. Alex:

    I am quite fascinated with your Happy Hour. Over the past 50 or 60 years, I’ve had just about every permutation on the traditional shore boat or “kids’ boat” one might dream up. Gotta’ admit there are enough fresh ideas in HH to warrant a second or third look. I travel regularly with my attack miniature poodle, Jamie the Seadog. We would be perfectly happy to stay aboard the mothership and anchor out with impunity, were it not for our divergent notions of “proper sanitation.”

    We trailer a largish boat all over the place, and launch often in places that good sense would say otherwise for the “senior single hander” I have become. Dealing with a heavy inflatable (quite stable and seaworthy when afloat), roto-molded kayak (easy to paddle, but tippy to step down into, and awkward to get out of in some beaching situations, etc.), small whitehall wannabe (seaworthy, cute, heavy, and limited to the displacement speeds God dictated for a 9-foot roundy hull), and so forth have become sort of one of those world blocks we used to talk about in Transactional Analysis. And, then, there it was!

    A purportedly lightweight, flat bottomed, and modestly burdensome little bug. Further, she looks a bit like her mom was scared by a (Kent) Ranger 20, with that convex-creased-tumblehome effect. And, I for one, find the R-20 a pleasing departure from the run of the mill. At any event, when ever DW and PayPal complete their, apparently complex, transactions, I hope to download your plans and start turning a couple sheets of quarter-AC into dust, noise, and some boatparts.


  2. Thank you guys for your comments and kind words!

    Scott, as Chuck mentioned no full size patterns but very detailed plans and work instruction as well. A few Happy Hours have already been built, some picture on my website. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me.

    Maris, I hope you managed to squeeze out a few more outings with your beautiful kayak before winter really came in Latvia!

    Dan, thanks and enjoy your build!

    Cheers and Happy New Year!

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