My Boat Building Experience

by Leland Frayseth

This episode prompted me to take the home study Boating Safety Course from the California Department of Boating and Waterways. I sent in my exam, aced the test and got back my certificate. I bought a 50-pound thrust trolling motor and took her fishing at San Pablo with the boom box many times. I bought her a 5 horsepower outboard. I took her to Martinez and, with a life jacket on my Dalmatian, we cruised past the breakwater. Suddenly, Homer jumped overboard and headed back for dry land. I stopped the outboard and pulled him back in over the transom with only inches of freeboard. Later that winter, after Homer passed away unexpectedly, I told myself I could feel bad or I could get a pup right away and build a new boat.

I looked in the paper and found yellow labs available near the Pleasant Hill BART station. When the breeder showed me one of the pup's webbed feet, I thought, "Cool! Little guy, you are going to be a swimmer."

My new canine companion, Orion, was content but I could tell he was lonesome during the day while I was at work. I looked in the paper and found black labs over by Contra Costa Boulevard. The breeder scattered some food on the ground, prompting one of the plump pups to start barking and getting all excited. I thought it was cute — little did I know that behavior would continue as she got bigger!

When I first brought Lady Athena into the backyard in my arms, Orion was so happy and excited. I lowered her to the ground and said, "This is our girl. She will love us and we will love her."

We took the Little Gem out to Pittsburg and Lady Athena would not stay in the boat. She wasn't trying to escape from the boat like the Dalmatian; she simply wanted to be swimming. It was clear we needed a bigger boat. I put a sign on the Little Gem — "Must sell for dog food" — and tied the dogs to the boat. A neighbor took pity on me and bought the boat and motor for what I had in them; that boat is now up at Grass Valley.

I looked at several designs, then ordered the plans for Wee Hunk, a 16-foot Pacific dory. Lady Athena and Orion stretched out on the cocoa mat by the garage side door as I encapsulated the hull and stitched her together. Burt, a nearby neighbor, came by and soon became my boat-building friend. He helped me lay the epoxy putty fillets with a lid from a jar of gherkin pickles. We reinforced the fillets and seams with biaxial cloth and covered the bottom with fiberglass cloth and epoxy. We ate Togo's sandwiches while building the boat and brought the barbeque into the garage on cold winter mornings to warm it up so we could work. Neighbors helped me turn the boat and put it on the trailer. One day after vacuuming chips out of the interior, I lifted Lady Athena into the hull and she trembled with awe and excitement. Neighbors laughed at me sitting on a milk crate using the garbage can lid for a steering wheel as I played with the ergonomics and center of gravity to locate the seat and console.

One of the neighborhood kids came by with his skateboard while I was working on Pegasus. He told me that the boat was sick. When I looked puzzled, he explained that sick translates to cool in the lingo of today's teens. I was proud: I had redeemed myself from building that napkin holder four decades ago.

I bought a new 25-horsepower long shaft Yamaha outboard motor. I was so proud when Burt and I brought Pegasus up on plane for the first time: no chine walk; no porpoising. The ridiculing I took with the milk crate and garbage can lid paid off, as the center of gravity was right where I planned it.

I keep Pegasus in dry storage at Sugar Barge on Bethel Island; we have made many friends there. Lady Athena, Orion and I take Pegasus out almost every weekend. They get so excited when they see the boat keys (with the float) come out of the drawer. Their ears perk up when they hear the tractor coming into dry storage to tow us to the launch ramp. Lady Athena is first to find a stick at Swing Beach. I throw it out in the slough and they retrieve all day long. They sleep in the boat on the way back from a busy day swimming at Swing Beach.

I would like to do some camping in the Delta, so my next goal is to build the Glen-L Sea Knight, a 17-foot outboard cruiser. I bought the plans and am getting ready to start Cassiopeia. Wanting to be around my own kind, I organized the 2007 Boat Builder Rendezvous last October. Rich, a skilled boat builder, brought his Glen-L Monaco. It is simply beautiful. We all watched with amazement on the Glen-L Forum as Bill built his Flying Saucer and Terry built his Jet Squirt. We were humbled to be joined by John's Mojo, a Navy Launch with a 1-lunger (1912 Hicks one cylinder gas marine engine built in San Francisco).

The 2008 Rendezvous is 4 May at Sugar Barge on Bethel Island. You are welcome to attend if you are a boat builder or interested in becoming a boat builder.