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Building Our Sailboat

The author's finished product Moondancer continually reminds her that generous amounts of time, money, and skill are needed to proceed from the concept to the cruising.
If you're dreaming about taking a few years off to build your own sailboat, please read this article first. When my husband and I set out to build our own boat, we were dreamers. We thought that building our own boat would be a cheap, fast way to start cruising. But we were wrong. By the end of the first year of boat building, we realized that there was a rather large gap between our dreams and reality. Looking back, there are at least five things we wish we had considered more carefully before starting our boat-building project.

Money    Think clearly and honestly about your finances before starting any large, long-term project. If you are not building a unique boat design, consider carefully whether building is really going to be cheaper than buying a boat.

When you buy a boat, sinks for the head and galley are usually part of the package. However, when you are building your own boat, you will be paying a separate markup for each item that you buy. Although you may find a few good deals on used parts, don't count on finding everything you need in that fashion. Trust me, after the first year of doing nothing but spending money on your boat, you will start to wince every time you buy another stainless steel screw, hinge, or bronze lock for the galley cupboards.

Sewing the settee cushions for Moondancer was just one of many skills we had to learn for this immense project.

Time    For us, time was money. If we weren't out sailing, then we were spending money twofold for food and shelter on land and on the boat. We wanted to reduce the financial burden as quickly as possible, but we ran into a few snags with suppliers.

Do yourself a favor before you end up waiting two or three months for the wood for the masts to arrive (like we did). Make a list of the materials you'll need and line up your supplies well in advance. When we finally did get the call that the wood for our masts was ready, the man on the other end of the line was asking me if I wanted the wood dried. Dried? That was going to take another six weeks he informed. In desperation, we quickly lined up another supplier and considered ourselves lucky that more time wasn't lost.

Communication    If you are building your boat on your own, be honest with yourself about your goals. If you are building this boat with a partner or a family in mind, be honest with them about your goals and expectations for the project.

As the boat-building process wears on, little things like stainless steel hardware, can begin to take a toll on your finances, so it's best to budget for an overage. 
As an individual, you have to keep your goals in mind. Are you going to be a boat builder or a sailor? We've all heard stories about the man who spent 10 or 15 years building the "perfect" boat in his backyard. Every year that man spent working on his boat, he was not sailing. So you need to decide in advance how you want to spend your time or you may discover that you spent so much time and money building your boat that you don't have anything left for cruising. If you have a partner or children to consider, think about their needs, too. A spouse who might have been ready to cruise five years earlier may have different goals in mind when the boat is finally ready. Think well in advance and keep talking as you, your partner, and your children change throughout the project.

Skills    You should really spend the time to assess your boat-building skills well in advance of actually starting of this project. Of course you'll pick up a number of valuable skills in the process, but if you are going to be learning how to weld or make upholstery, then you should expand your budget and add another few weeks to your time estimate.

For us, the problem didn't come with learning new skills, but rather with expecting professional results in each new area that we learned. Since we are not professional welders or seamstresses, these little areas added both time and money to our overall project. We found that we had to repeat some steps a few times. For others, we finally broke down and paid a professional for work that we simply couldn't duplicate with our limited equipment and expertise. In the end, biting the bullet and paying a professional was the best decision, but it hurt our egos to pay for small projects twiceonce on our own and once for the professional.

If you create a generously large working space for your boat-building project, it will be easier to maintain a separation between work and home.
Space    Working on a boat can become the equivalent of the camel sticking its nose into the tent. First, if you're doing this at your home, you will start to leave a few tools around the house. Before you know it, the house will be uninhabitable because you have a half-built hull in the garage, sails in the living room, boat plans on the kitchen table, tools in the office, and a trail of epoxy-sodden work clothes leading to some dark corner of the bedroom.

Give yourself a break from living, breathing, and eating boat-building by sticking to a clearly-defined arrangement of work and living space. Build an oversized garage or add a loft to your current garage, and add a storage room, or better yet just buy an aluminum storage shed and park it in the backyard. And don'tno matter how much you are temptedmove onto the boat before you are entirely finished building it. Once you're on the boat, cruising will become your lifestyle and all thoughts of completing the boat will be left back on land.

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