"Fishbones", more than just another boat

by Tonia Moxley


Rather than a bass boat, which has a flat bottom and low sides, Newman wanted a V-shaped hull, which sits higher in the water and rides smoother, he said. His 10-year-old son, Taylor, wanted a cabin on the boat - a nice place to rest in the shade after a hard day on the lake. So Newman ordered a set of plans for a Cabin skiff from Glen-L, an online marine supply company based in California.

The plans detail what is called the "stitch-and-glue method," a process that is similar to sewing a big, wooden dress. The plans came with full-sized patterns that Newman traced onto sheets of marine-grade plywood. He then cut out the pattern with an electric saw.

Next up was his drill, which got a good workout as he drilled holes - about 400 of them - at 3-inch intervals around the edges of each piece of plywood.

Strands of copper wire stood in for thread in the stitching process. Beginning with the hull pieces, Newman threaded wire, one strand at a time,through the holes. He used pliers to twist the ends of each strand into a knot, securing the stitch. It took at least 200 stitches to build the frame.

But that was just the beginning.

The seams had to be sealed with epoxy, followed by fiberglass tape. Then Newman applied a coat of fiberglass cloth to waterproof the hull, followed by several coats of epoxy resin. After each coat, he sanded the whole thing. He lost count of the layers, he said.

Newman outfitted the boat with a livewell (angler-speak for a tank) to keep the day's catch fresh, a VHF radio, a CD player, a 50-horsepower engine and a cabin that sleeps two adults.

Newman is a night owl, said his wife, Kim, so building the boat didn't take much of his time away from the family. Some weeks he would work on the boat a lot; some weeks, he didn't touch it.

"I'm very proud of his skill and determination. I've always known that he can make almost anything out of wood," she said. The back yard is full of Newman's woodworking projects, including a deck and a fence with an arbor that surrounds the family's swimming pool. He also built all the cabinets in the house.

Taken all together, Newman said he's put about $6,000 into the boat, which he named Fish Bones. "If I hadn't put all the doodads in it, it would have been less expensive," he said. A commercially built boat of similar size with similar outfitting would probably cost slightly less.

"Most home-built boats look home-built. But this one looks really nice," said marine surveyor Richard Geisel. "It's in good shape." Geisel, who inspects boats for insurance purposes, recently examined Newman's handiwork. Geisel hadn't seen a boat made from scratch in more than a decade. "I was surprised to even get a call about one," he said.

Nationally, seven amateur builders have registered their Cabin Skiffs on Glen-L's Web site, but not everyone who builds a boat registers it. The company does not track how many Cabin Skiff plans are sold in a given year.

Newman is never far from his boat. He parks it beside his house on a concrete pad beneath his son's basketball hoop. It looks like a spiky tropical fish out of water. Four 8-foot-long striper poles stick out at extreme angles from their specially made rests. Newman got a good deal on them from eBay, where he bought a lot of fixtures and other parts for the boat, he said.

Newman and Taylor took Fish Bones on her maiden voyage just after Easter. She performed well, Newman said, but drainage holes gave him some trouble. "I feel sorry for boat designers. You never can figure out where water's going to run," he said.

Newman hopes to take Fish Bones with him on vacation to Nags Head on the North Carolina coast. "We won't get in the ocean, but we will get out into the [Roanoke] Sound," he said. He has some small worries such as saltwater corrosion of fixtures on the boat, and always there's the fear of sinking. But Geisel gave Newman some pointers on his drainage system and reassured him. The Roanoke Sound is shallow, after all.

"As long as there's not a hurricane, I'll take it," Newman said. "I can't wait."