Building at home was common in the early days of recreational boating, before fiberglass, assembly lines and slick marketing. As production boats proliferated, do-it-yourself builders turned to small kit boats. Companies such as Chesapeake Light Craft and Pygmy Kayaks have done well carving out a niche for amateur builders who take pride and pleasure in creating their own craft to the best of their abilities.“Backyard builders [sometimes] do it not to get it done, but they do it for the job,” says James Brown, the father of Port Townsend Watercraft owner Russell Brown and a veteran trimaran designer who estimates that the plans for his Searunner series have attracted 1,600 builders.
Do-it-yourselfer Jan Brandt built a Port Townsend Skiff “to get it done.” An environmental consultant in Seattle, Brandt grew up sailing dinghies, multihulls and keelboats in Hamburg, Germany. Before plunging into the PT Skiff kit, he had built some small stitch-and-glue cedar-strip boats. “I was looking for a winter project, a dayboat for fishing and camping,” he says. “I wanted a light boat I could easily trailer.”
Browsing the Web, Brandt found Port Townsend Watercraft’s kit boat. “It was a more involved project than building a kayak,” he says. “It helps to have worked with epoxy and kit boats before, but carefully following the illustrated manual was most important because Russell is very accurate and thought this through carefully.”
Brandt completed his boat in five-and-a-half months (about 500 hours) and customized the center console with beautiful American Indian art inlays created by his wife, Holli. Brandt is not only satisfied with the final product, which gets compliments from fellow boaters, but also with the performance, which he verified with a German engineer’s sense of precision.
The boat weighs 580 pounds, including a 25-hp Evinrude E-TEC 2-stroke, a battery and a full tank of gas. Brandt tested various prop sizes, engine trims and cavitation plates. His records show that the boat’s performance with and without water ballast varies as little as 5.2 percent (at 5,250 rpm), which confirms the hull’s efficiency across the performance spectrum. A prop with less pitch narrows the gap even further, he says.
Brandt, Holli and daughter Sydney use the skiff to buzz around Lake Washington, which is at their doorstep. On weekends, they might tow it a few miles to Edmonds to cruise Puget Sound. In the summer, they take it up to the San Juan Islands. Cruising in the 15- to 17-knot range, Brandt says, the E-TEC burns 1.5 gallons an hour.
“Conventionally built center-console skiffs of similar size might need 60- to 100-hp engines, which burn a lot more gasoline,” he says. “Heavier boats also need larger trailers and bigger cars for towing.”
So rolling up your sleeves to build a Port Townsend Skiff, Brandt muses, offers multiple gratifications: a unique and efficient craft, pride of ownership, portability and fewer environmental effects.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue