Extreme Makeover (for Boats)
by Larry Pullon

Sometime back in ’99 I got this bright idea that it would be worthwhile to put a jetski motor in a regular boat hull. Like most of these flashes of inspiration (unburdened by intelligence) my mind skipped over the work involved and jumped ahead to the finished product – huge trout fighting each other to get on my line as I drifted peacefully down a pristine river. I couldn’t help it – and if you build boats you can’t help it either. Home boat builders are blessed (cursed) with a defense mechanism that protects our brains from permanent damage when we leap into these things – it also works for getting married, buying new cars, houses, having kids, and getting a dog. But, that is not what I wanted to talk with you about – because surely by now you have already learned to live with your broken brain! No, I wanted to talk about something us wooden boat builders rarely mention – FACTORY BOATS (or more specifically those big old abandoned hulks that litter the countryside like dinosaur bones baking in the sun).

When I met Guy Boyce (in person) for the first time at last year at the Mid-Western Messabout (hosted by Jim Michalak I was immediately impressed with his boat “Church”. It is a great looking boat. Guy also brought his show and tell photo album to the messabout. Most of these things are fairly BORING - here is a hole I drilled and here is a board I cut, but, Guy’s photos where fascinating! Here is an old junk boat, here is the top removed, the transom sawed off, and the keel split all the way to the bow. And here are the sides cut down, and the new deadrise angle and new transom – and on and on until the “new” boat bore no resemblance to the old 60’s vee hull.

Guy’s “Church”

Every time I run across big old boats with rotted floors, locked up inboard motors, and wore out outdrives that people are selling for way under what you would pay for just the trailer – I remember Guy’s pictures. Then one day as I looked at one of those “junkers” on Ebay it dawned on me that the bigger boats have "yards" of ready made fiberglass panels ripe for “harvesting”. So now I present a question: why can't we homebuilders cut them up and reuse them to build more reasonable boats?

Ebay “Project Boat”

Example, look at your average 24 foot hulk. With bad floors, shot interior, removed motor and outdrive, they are only worth about $350 with the trailer. Selling the rub rails, hand rails, windshields, bimini frame, etc, would at least pay for some of your investment (and proper disposal cost of the residue). And if you cut her way down and didn’t need the big trailer anymore you might even break even!

So, let’s say you find one of these marvels of technology and drag it home. After removing the top-cap (decks and cabin) you are left with a big ole ugly hull with a hole in the back – or, looking at it another way, a big beautiful fresh palette ready to mold into a whole new kind of homebuilt boat! I used a 24 footer in the example, but you can see how it would work the same with 14,16,18 footers as well – thank of it as an extreme makeover!

I can easily see forming the panels into a great sailing boat - like the Ladybug Chuck is currently building. You would only be limited by your imagination. Split the old hull down the middle and remove most of the deep Vee deadrise as Guy did and you have the beginnings of a very strong skiff with just the right amount of flare. Cut flat panels into long strips and you have the makings of a unique lapstrake hull. Sailboat, powerboat, rowboat – anything you could build with plywood! Add oak gunnels, quarterknees, thwarts, and other bright work, a coat of paint, and she would be beautiful. I think you get the picture. And to make it a little sweeter, she would be “your” boat just like any other boat you built.

I could go on and on about this! The possibilities are enormous. Think of the great fun of developing a new boat building method! A whole new market for designers, and plans that begin with, "Buy a 20ft junk boat and trailer"… And, new topics for great discussions and debates! The best way to cut, join, sand, finish, glue, etc. Plus, as a bonus, we would be recycling what would otherwise be so much landfill! Why, we should get a check from the government for every boat we cut up and reuse! Let's see - 5 sheets of outrageously priced oakum plywood - or a 24 foot hull with a trailer? Duh! It ain't rocket science!

Like most things, there is a down side. The landfills are still going to be fed with the residue you create. Cutting the fiberglass is hazardous and will require a respirator, coveralls, gloves, and goggles. And not all boats would be suitable, I would avoid chopped strand hulls and seek woven glass hulls. But as homebuilders these are all things we can adapt to and overcome – I mean sawing off a finger you need while working with wood isn’t a picnic either!

I don’t know about you, but I see huge trout fighting each other to get on my line as I drift peacefully down a pristine river in my recycled boat - Jetfish III…

“Jetfish II”

P.S. See you at the Mid-Western Messabout (Rend Lake, IL) on June 12!