About six years ago I got a wild hair up my ass and decided I wanted to build a drift boat from scratch in my garage. I had quite a bit of experience with epoxy and fiberglass from repairing snowboards as my winter job so I figured that was the scary part, the rest was just putting it together, piece of cake. A friend of mine let me measure his Clackacraft to get all the dimensions I needed including top width, bottom width, rowers seat to bow, rowers seat to aft, front seat to bow, rear seat to aft and so on and so forth. Winging it is my style so I figured a few measurements off of a production drift boat and I would be on my way.
So I came home one fall afternoon with 12 sheets of A/C grade 4X8 plywood from the local hardware store, ten bags of zip ties and a book called how to build a kayak using the stitch and glue technique, and told my wife I was building a boat. A very skeptical look came back at me followed by silence. The rest of the supplies, marine epoxy, fiberglass, paint and other random supplies were on order. I told my wife that she was not going to be able to have the garage for a while, more silence.
I dove in head first and started cutting and chopping the bottom of the boat and piecing it together. Seemed like you should work bottom to top right? There are two ways to join plywood, scarfing and butt blocking. I am all about getting things done fast with the least amount of pain in the ass. Scarfing involved all sorts of complicated tools so I decided to butt block everything together, ugly, but as strong or stronger than scarfing. This boat was meant to function, not be a show piece. The first problem, 4X8 sheets of plywood are only 48 inches wide and I wanted my boat to be at least 52 inches wide, solution, butt block 4 more inches on each side of the 4X8 sheet. Problem Solved. After the bottom was glued together I used the measurements I took off of the bottom of the Clacka and transferred them over to the bottom I was putting together. I tapped in a bunch of tiny nails for the outline of the bottom and then bent a fly rod on them to get a perfect curve that I could mark along for a cutting guide. I really had absolutely no idea what I was doing but in my head I knew I could get it done. Next problem, two 4X8 sheets of plywood are 16 feet long. Perfect, I wanted my drift boat to be 16 feet long, oh wait, the sides are curved meaning the plywood needs to be about 17.5 feet long. Damn, add another butt block to extend the front to appropriate length. Problem solved again. Phew
Time to zip tie (stitch) the sides to the bottom. I wanted a mellow rocker on my boat and decided that it would be one cinder block high between the middle of the boat and the ends. How did I come up with that? I am not really sure exactly, but it looked like a good amount of rocker to me. It took about 6 people to bend the sides into the shape of the bottom of the boat, two standing in the middle to keep the bottom from moving and four pushing the sides. I really wish I would have had someone videoing this part of the build, it was quite a junk show and everyone was doubting that this was going to work. Once both sides were zip tied and in place I cut down them down to 20″ high on a random curve I pulled out of my head, it worked out somehow. And somehow both sides were leaning at the same angle which is what you want. The transom was cut to size and zip tied it into place. It looked like a drift boat at this point and I knew the rest was cake.
Fully armed now with the appropriate boat building gear we flipped the boat over, cut all of the zip ties, sanded them flush and began glassing and epoxying the outside. After the boat was fully glassed and dry we flipped it back over and began building its innards. Some complicated cuts were needed and I didn’t have the right tools to get the job done. Luckily my next door neighbors dad had a 5000 sq foot wood shop he used to build custom cabinetry that had every wood cutting gizmo possible. We trailered it up and hauled it 20 miles to the shop. I don’t think the boat would have ever been completed without the use of this space. We finished up the inside of the boat rather quickly as my boat could not be in the shop for too long. I didn’t want to wear out my welcome and they were busy busting out custom cabinetry. I was thankful to be able to use all of these amazing wood tools and it definitely made it much easier than if I had to hack away at it with a chop saw at home. Three weeks at the wood shop and the boat was finally done. I was soooo stoked. I brought the boat back home to the garage, painted it and installed an anchor system and it was finally completed. Everyone had their doubts that the boat would even float so what better river than the Yellowstone River to give her the inaugural float.
One thing I forgot to mention, half way into glassing the boat in my garage before we ever moved it out to the wood shop, it started getting too cold. Winter was settling in and the garage was not heated. I tried heating the garage with a space heater but It could not keep the temp above 60 degrees which is needed for proper curing of epoxy, and also could not afford the heating bill. There were some unhappy campers that had to park outside for the entire winter. Ooops, sorry. I started the boat in September and finished it up the next October one year later. It would have been done sooner but summer guiding was busy and I was only able to put a little bit of time into it.
Now, six years later, she has put hundreds and hundreds of days on many different rivers and lakes, and has floated the entire length of the Yellowstone River from Gardiner Montana to North Dakota. She is looking a little rough now and needs some love. In a few weeks I am finally going to have a space to put some love back into her and hope to get another 10 years of good use. If you ever have thought about building a boat and have a space with heat, all the appropriate tools, a respirator, and a wife that will put up with your crazy, DO IT!! A great resource for building a wooden drift boat and one that helped me out quite a bit along the way is a site www.woodenboatpeople.com