Constructing Johncanoe



  • Why start a second, smaller boat before the first one is done?
  • Is a Cheap Canoe really cheap?
  • The design
  • Materials and tools
  • The actual building
  • Finished

  • The whys and wherefores

    I had been working on Krakenbait for about a year and a half and was getting very impatient to get into the water. I was taking a week off from work over the 2002 Independence Day holiday and thought I could get it finished then. However, when I took a realistic look at all that needed to be done, I realized that there was no way it'd be finished as a sailboat before the Fall.

    So I started looking for another option. That May I had attended Okoumestock (a messabout put on by Chesapeake Light Craft) and was surprised to find that I really enjoyed canoes and kayaks. So I decided to build one. Unfortunately, CLC's kayak's and canoes, while very beautiful, well-designed boats, are not the sort that get put together in a week. Eventually, I settled on the Cheap Canoe, from Mertens-Goosens, Inc.

    The dismal science

    Cheap Canoe is a misnomer. It is neither. First off, it's a pirogue. Next, although the plans are offered at no charge, the epoxy/fiberglass/woodflour for the stock version alone comes to $140 plus shipping. Then, there are the options (fiberglass sheath for the bottom, etc.). And, of course, there's the plywood. If you believe as I do that it is penny wise and pound foolish to spend the money on the other parts and nickel-and-dime the main structural material, then 2 sheets of Lloyd's-certified BS1088 marine okoume add in another $140 - $180 dollars.

    If this is your first boat, there's also the tools and the cost of setting up the shop. In addition to the boat itself, there's the outfitting cost (cleats, padeyes and other hardware, PFD, seat, paddle, anchor, compass, chart case, dry bags, first aid kit, etc.). And finally, there's the trailer or roof racks needed to get the boat to the water.

    So it could end up costing upwards of $400 - $700 (or more) to put a so-called Cheap Canoe into the water. But that includes the capital investment to set up a boatyard and the first vessel in your fleet. Once you have all the equipment for the Cheap Canoe, you can reuse it for the next boat and that'll be the cheap one. Or, as in my case, if you've already built (or started to build) another boat, the Cheap Canoe can be built using the existing shop, tools and leftovers from the other boat. I had everything on hand from building Krakenbait except the 2 sheets of plywood. This probably mean I spent too much money on materials for Krakenbait, but at least that wasn't supposed to be a cheap boat.

    Either way, the Cheap Canoe will be cheap only if it's not the only boat you're building.

    This, by the way, is why I have a real problem with people who complain about the cost of plans. By the time you spend all the money on everything else, the plans are the cheapest part of the boat, even if you have to pay for them.

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    Copyright © 2002, 2003 László I. Mórocz. All Rights Reserved.