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By Richard Woods From-South African Yachting, 1992 Amateur Boatbuilder

"We've just bought our new boat! Well, actually its a shell, just hulls and decks bonded. Still - nothing to it, should get it in the water in a couple of weeks" Well, we all live in hope!

Over the last year we have been busy fitting out our 9-metre Sagitta catamaran in a plastic shed in our garden. Even though we have built many boats during the last 12 years I am still over-optimistic about the time it takes to build a boat-so this article should really be titled "Do as I say, not as I do."

Apart from the cost savings, one of the main reasons for finishing a boat from mouldings is that you can plan the interior to suit your own needs. However, before you get carried away, remember that tried and tested ideas are more likely to work than radical ones and that your builder has built many boats before, so the standard lay out will probably work best. Having said that, everyone has his own ideas.


You will have already decided how many bunks are needed, how sophisticated the galley and chartroom must be, and how many people the saloon should seat. However,the actual placing of these requires a good deal of thought. The first and most important thing to consider is the position of the sea bunks. When you are miserable, tired, wet or seasick (and you will be sometimes) then the prospect of a dry, warm, quiet berth at the end of your watch may be the only thing that keeps you going. Generally, the best bunks will be aft where there is least motion and as high above the waterline as possible (water sluicing past your ear, just a couple of inches away, is nerve-wracking to say the least). We prefer to have a bunk that is not near hatches and is difficult to get into.

Although a nuisance in harbour, it means the off-watch crew can sleep undisturbed by the navigator or cook Because a conscious effort is needed to climb into it there is no chance of sitting near it with dripping oilskins. As a result, in all our years of sailing and living aboard, we have never had to go below to wet bedding. We also prefer to keep the main bunks away from the galley smells, whieh helps prevent seasickness (but makes it harder to get breakfast in the morning). If your boat is big enough it is a good idea to reserve one as a 'wet' sea bunk, where the standby crew can rest while in oilskins.


If you are planning an ocean voyage you should remember that most traditional navigation will be in the morning, at noon and late afternoon, in other words at meal times. Therefore try to have the galley separate from the chartroom and do not expect to use the chart table as a food preparation worktop! Although a saloon is great in port, it will be rarely used at sea. Generally, a roomier one implies a bigger boat than strictly necessary and you should carefully weigh the advantages of say, being able to sit opposite each other, with all the disadvantages that the extra length entails. Most people automatically ask for standing headroom, but in many cases this is not necessary. Again, if you insist on it, it could mean that you will have to huild a larger boat. 1.5 metre is still quite satisfactory,while 1.75m is the minimum for standing (remember you never draw yourself up to your full height unless you are filling out passport forms) and 1.2m is the minimum to be able to sit comfortably. If you expect to live aboard for some time you should try to have an extra-dry locker for your shore clothes This should be big and airy enough to prevent them, from getting mildewed. Of course all boats should have space for putting away wet oilskins


Unlike the outside of the boat, which you will never see when you are aboard, you will have to live in and look at the interior. Thus you should take as much care in its aesthetic appeal as you would when decorating your house. Try for variety, not only in colour, but also in the materials and textures used. After visiting a few boatshows to get ideas you could be forgiven for thinking that only boats covered with teak-faced ply are real boats. In actual fact an all-teak interior is usually dark and boring, and often heavy and of poor quality into the bargain (unless the very best plywoods are used all the cost goes in the teak veneer and none into the quality of the glue or inner veneers). Colour schemes are a matter of taste, but generally matt finishes are better than gloss, except for areas that need a smooth, heavy duty coating like parts of the galley and soles. Incidentally, matt black is very good at hiding rough wood, glass joints, etc, since it reflects no light.

We prefer to sail rather than paint, so on our Sagitta we decided to have a plastic-looking interior even though there was some wood inside. Most plastic interiors look cheap, but with care a radical colour scheme can be quite effective. Powerboats seem to be years ahead in this respect. We spent a long time looking at glossy magazines like Boat International before deciding on our yellow cushion/ blue table interior. It sounds alarming, but actually worked very well. Best of all it is very practical since the whole boat can be hosed down and wiped clean inside and out.


All boats should be kept as light as possible. This is obvious for all multihulls and racing boats, but it is still important on cruisers, for every kilo saved in the structure is an extra kilo of carrying capacity. It is surprising just how much material you use when fitting out, so any extra thickness of ply and timber soon mounts up to a considerable weight penalty. All timber and ply fitted into the boat should be as light as possible and built in, adding to strength wherever possible, preferably in two ways at the same time - e.g. the cabin sole can stiffen the centre board box or keel while forming the top of the water tank, etc. For fixed soles, worktops and tables 9 mm is usually adequate, while 6 mm is enough for fixed lockers and even seats.

Similarly timber sizes can be much less than commonly found. Although 2" x 1" should be used wherever body impact is likely, 1" x 1" or even less can be used elsewhere. However, you should remember that the thinner the timber used the better the joints must be. Three o'clock in the morning, with the wind blowing 40 knots, is not the time to start wondering whether the structural glass work (the first laminating you ever did) is strong enough, so I would strongly recommend that you buy all the mouldings you can from the yard, even if they are fitted loose. Apart from the time saved they will probably have nicely rounded corners so will be easy to clean. Generally mouldings save on structural building time and cosmetic finishing.

In fact, if taken to the extreme, a d.i.y. project can easily turn into a m.i.y (manage it yourself), whereby you employ subcontract carpenters, electricians, upholsterers, painters, etc. and do none of the actual work yourself. True, you pay wages, but you save on overheads, profit margins, etc. At the end of the day you can call the boat professionally finished, usually with some insurance premium saving, always with an increased resale value. You can add GPS, microwave oven, spinnakers, etc.later, but you can never change the basic shell. Every time we build a boat we say "this time we will only buy the best," yet every time we buy some cheap gear and regret it later when it needs replacing. "Buy it once, buy the best," is a good motto.


It is pointless ordering a shell until you have found somewhere to finish it. Although your shell is essentially watertight when you collect it, it is still not a good idea to finish it in the open or afloat. Building under a polythene sheet in the garden is better than nothing, since it means you can leave lights on in the evenings, leave tools and materials outside instead of putting them away every night, while the boat is secure from prying eyes and neighbours' helpful(?) comments. Also of course you don't need to worry about rain. The best answer is to have a proper shed, preferably close to the water. We live in a row of six houses, three of which are owned by professional multihull builders, so our neighbours are more tolerant of backyard building than most.

You won't be so lucky, so before taking delivery you should discuss your project with your neighbours and explain how long it will take (double your estimate to be on the safe side). Also explain about the noise and smell. In return be polite, avoid grinding on Sundays or late in the evenings. Finally, invite them all to the launching party and tidy up the remaining rubbish as soon as possible!


Obviously your family will know all about the new boat, but they may not realise just how much material and equipment will go into it. We spent a year with our spare bedroom full of rolls of glassfibre, boxes of foam, foam-backed vinyl, sails, deck gear, boxes of electronics, etc. Towards the end the boxes spread into the lounge and hall as well. As I have said, fitting out the interior always takes longer than you expect and generally longer than making the hulls. So the simplest layouts and fittings should be used wherever possible. For instance, drawers are very hard to make, sliding locker doors slightly easier and shelves or open lockers the easiest (and lightest).

Although you may be tempted to rush the final fitting out because your proposed launching date is drawing near - don't! You only build a boat once, whereas you sail it for years and a few weeks extra at the building stage will make you much happier later on. Remember only one boat builder ever launched on time and that was Noah! ( And if you recall he didn't have time to fit the sails or engines!). It is always a mistake to go sailing before the boat is finished for the final fitting out, painting, etc is hard enough on the water, but almost impossible if you are living aboard as well.


Finally, after all that work, the great day arrives when you have to get your boat to the water. Over the years we have always managed against the odds. Our first cat was 5 m wide, but it was built on the wrong side of a 4 m-wide lock gate - so we had to make a short set of beams just for the launching. A few boats later we had to get our 6,5 m-wide Banshee 15 km by trailer to the sea. It sounds easy enough, but there were two houses on the road only 6 m apart... Although Sagitta was built by the water, it was 3 m below us even at high tide. No crane, or delivery lorry for that matter, can get to our house, so we had to use methods not seen in England since they built Stonehenge to launch it. We made it, but it was the hardest two days of the whole project. Finally, remember what they say - "If it survives the launch it will survive anything!"