Web-posted Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Handmade boat was eight years in the making

By Cheryl Berzanskis

Steve Yokubaitis is building a floating dream.

In his shed, aka boathouse, he is constructing a 20-foot, 3-inch, all-mahogany inboard runabout. He's been working evenings and weekends on this project for eight years and plans to launch her in late spring or early summer.

Her name is Mistress.

"Lots of boats have been named Mistress. This really fits," Yokubaitis said.

Inspiration came from two sources, he said.

First: "It goes way back. It goes back to my dad," Yokubaitis said.

The late Vincent Yokubaitis once built a rowboat for himself and his siblings to enjoy on the Floyd and Missouri rivers at Sioux City, Iowa.

"And he'd tell me those stories. I always wanted to be like my dad," Yokubaitis said.

Then in 1958, the Yokubaitis family vacationed at Fillenwarth Beach Cottages on Lake Okoboji in northwest Iowa. The owner of Fillenwarth Beach Cottages had an old mahogany Chris-Craft, he said.

"I was too young then, but my dad and my sisters learned to ski, and he thought that was the greatest thing," Yokubaitis said.

Vincent Yokubaitis bought a used outboard boat built from a Chris-Craft kit. The family spent lots of weekends out on that boat, he said.

As the years passed, Yokubaitis lived in places conducive to boating - Puget Sound and Narragansett Bay. Then his life took a landlubber turn and he spent 20 years in Denver before moving to Amarillo in 1988.

In Denver, though he wasn't boating, Yokubaitis was honing skills he learned in his father's woodshop as a child. He installed a hardwood floor with inlays and built a staircase banister for his home. When Yokubaitis moved, he left his artistry behind.

However, he purposed not to do that again. He decided to build a boat.

"Of all the places you think about building a boat, the Texas Panhandle is probably not the top of the list," Yokubaitis said.

He purchased plans from Glen-L Marine in Bellflower, Calif., for the Riviera, an inboard runabout. The Mistress is constructed of both Honduras and African mahogany, purchased at different times.

The construction method is cold-molded veneer, Yokubaitis said.

The sides are 1/8-inch mahogany veneer laid over a framework and overlaid by a second, third and fourth layer, he said.

"You essentially build the hull four times," Yokubaitis said.

He cut lumber on a band saw to create the 600 to 700 pieces epoxyed together for the hull.

The boat's bottom is 1/4-inch plywood, overlaid with three layers of 1/8-inch veneer.

The transom is the same as the bottom with 1/4-inch plywood overlaid with three layers of 1/8-inch veneer.

The deck is 3/8-inch plywood and 1/8-inch veneer, he said.

The exterior is finished with three coats of clear epoxy and four coats of marine varnish, Yokubaitis said.

He is finishing the boat's interior now. When the bench-style seats are completed they will go to an upholsterer for mildew-resistant marine fabric. The windshield has been fitted but not installed. A trailer is under construction.

Yokubaitis' wife, Ruth, has pitched in when quick work was needed to epoxy the veneer and friends helped flip the boat over during the construction process.

"By and large it was many hours of me out there by myself or me and my wife," he said.

John Walker works with Yokubaitis at Rio Petroleum.

He's followed the boat's progress since it was a near skeleton.

"It's incredible is what it is," Walker said.

"The craftsmanship, what he's done with (it) ... is really something. The curves and all. It looks just like a Chris-Craft runabout," he said.

"Having built several canoes myself, I thought this is a pretty neat deal. When I saw the plans and the size of it, I was impressed beyond belief," Walker said.

For its debut launch, Yokubaitis plans to go where his love of boating began - Lake Okoboji.

If Yokubaitis has one regret, it harks back to childhood. His father wasn't here to help.

Mistress Details

** 20 feet 3 inches long

** Built from plans purchased from Glen-L Marine in Bellflower, Calif.

** The hull is made of strips of Honduras mahogany shaped using cold-molded method. Between 600 and 700 pieces of mahogany were bonded to make the hull of the boat.

** The Mistress will be powered by a Chevrolet 350 cubic inch V-8 engine rated at about 325 horsepower.

** Designed for a top safe speed of 50 mph.

** Steve Yokubaitis has worked nights and weekends for eight years on the boat.

The Mistress, under construction in 2004, sits in Steve Yokubaitis' shed. The first and second veneer layers are on the boat's sides with bottom battens in place and ready for the first veneer layer.

Provided Photo

This 2005 photo shows the interior hull and framing of the Mistress in Steve Yokubaitis' shed. The round cut-out holes are for gauges in the dashboard.

Provided Photo

Steve Yokubaitis stands in his shed with his 20-foot 3-inch, all-mahogany inboard runabout. Yokubaitis has spent nights and weekends for the past eight years working on the boat. He expects to launch the boat by late spring or early summer.

Photo by Henry Bargas