shows by example how easily you can eliminate stress, become more independent, raise your children in a safer environment (while spending more time with them, instilling values not based on the mighty dollar) and avoid the traps of commercialism. Because we live and sail simply, we have been wandering for 11 years with no intention of stopping. This is not a trip for us; it is our life, and I hope to share our success with stories of laughter and tears, as well as how-to tips and DIY projects for preparing, sailing and making a boat a home, so that others can join us.

Building a $200 Dinghy in a Week

June 23, 2014

After our youngest son and his wife put an offer on a boat there was a seemingly interminable length of time while we all held our breath and waited for the marina to secure a clear title for it. In the meantime, as a way to keep my boat builder husband busy, teach our son some wood and epoxy skills, and entertain us while we waited, they decided to build a dinghy.

Layout sheet

Our first dinghy, and our son's favorite, was a little Bolger Nymph who quickly became a member of the family and then just as quickly was set loose at sea. Naturally, our son wanted another Dovè. But plans aren't always that quick and easy to get, so instead, Dave designed a pram to meet their specific needs.

Table of offsets, of sorts.

On Saturday morning, using Carlson Design free hulls software, Dave designed a V-bottomed dinghy 93 inches long by 4 1/2 feet wide. He tested her stability and waterline with up to 400 pounds in her and played with her dimensions until she met his qualifications. With a toddler, they wanted a boat that would be stable with all three of them onboard, yet easy to row. They also requested a fore and aft thwart, reminiscent of our old Nymph.

The tools

When he was satisfied with her virtual performance, Dave dragged the individual pieces to plywood on the software to make for the least amount of waste. Including interior framing, the layout required 3 sheets of plywood. He probably could have cut out the framing individually and stacked them and got the entire boat out of 2 sheets, but for $20 it was a better use of time and money to just lay out entire bulkheads and cut them down to the correct size once they were in the boat. They chose to use fir plywood, since the entire boat will be coated in epoxy and fir is slightly better than luan, which was their next choice.

Measuring up the y distance after measuring over the x distance

Using free software always leaves one a bit suspicious of errors, as well you should be. Dave printed out the "layout" sheets so that he could verify angles and which dots to connect when he laid out the individual points from the table of offsets of sorts that the program provides. The distance from one corner to the right and then up are given, similar to plotting points with x and y on a coordinate plane. Dave prefers to print these measurements in millimeters, since it is more accurate and easier. This time, when all the points were plotted and he started to draw the panels, he noticed a discrepancy. Chine one and Copy of Chine one did not have the same angles. After verifying their measurements, they decided the program had just had a senior moment, determined the correct Chine one (by comparing it to the drawing) and cut it out. They then used that as a pattern for the Copy of Chine one.

Connect the dots.

When all points were plotted and connected, they cut out the bulkheads, bow transom and stern transom, and panels with a jig saw. He aligned copies of chines (inside to inside) and clamped them together in order to use a hand plane to fair them. This ensures that both sides of the boat are exactly the same. While they were together he drilled holes for the wire along the edge of every piece that would connect to another piece. (Meaning not along the top where the gunwales will go.)

Pencil outlines of pieces

The Daves assembled the boat one panel at a time, wiring each piece together loosely until assembly was complete. They then went back and tightened the wires until the boat was the correct shape. Before the final tightening, Dave strung 2 pieces of thin line, corner to corner. When these two pieces of twine just barely touched, they knew the boat was square and they could tighten the wires.

Copying chine one

They made a fillet between each of the wires out of epoxy, colloidal silica and wood powder as a thickener. The colloidal silica adds strength; the wood powder adds bulk and makes it more easily sandable. They allowed the epoxy to cure overnight.

All the pieces

The next day, they pulled the wires, acetone washed the cured epoxy, chiseled off the high spots, and scuffed the fillets. They cut, organized, and labeled strips of 3" fiberglass tape and did a dry run before epoxying. They mixed more epoxy, colloidal silica and wood powder and made fillets across every chine filling in the spots left where the wires were. While the epoxy was still wet, they laid their pre-cut pieces of fiberglass tape on the fillets and wetted them out with neat (unthickened) epoxy.

Holes for the wires

The next day, they flipped over the dinghy and using only neat epoxy, they applied fiberglass tape to each outside chine. These areas were then faired with epoxy thickened with colloidal silica while the epoxy was still green--before it has completely cured.


The next day, David painted the inside of the dinghy with neat epoxy. Now, every surface was covered with epoxy, every chine was protected with fiberglass tape, and the bottom was covered with many layers of glass so that it can be dragged onto a beach without compromising the wood.

Almost a boat

Squaring it.

Fiberglass laid out and organized

Inside figerglass tape and curing epoxy.

Outside coated with neat epoxy

In four days, we had a boat. Total cost to this point was $180. (The epoxy was left over from another project.) All the interior bulkheads were still in place and none of the framing was complete, but that we will explain on MONDAY.

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