Peter Poanessa, an East Coast native living 100 miles from the ocean in Keene, N.H., chose a traditional West Coast fishing design for his first boatbuilding project.
Watch the evolution of Poanessa’s 26-foot Sam Devlin-designed Surf Scoter, Alsek.
Poanessa, who spent a decade as a commercial fisherman, for years dreamed of building his own boat. He recalls his fishing days with nostalgia and gravitated to the designs of Sam Devlin - a pioneer of the stitch-and-glue wooden-boat building method known for his seaworthy designs with workboat lines (Click here for more).
"I liked the classic design of Devlin's boats, a real traditional workboat style," says Poanessa, who is 52. "Having been an old fisherman, that's what appealed to me, then the building method."
Poanessa wanted a trailerable boat with an enclosed helm, full galley, head and sleeping quarters.
It was summer 2003 before Poanessa - a full-time family man and the owner of Keene Signworx, which produces custom carved and dimensional signs - found the time to get started. He and his brother built a shed less than 100 feet from his store. A short time later Poanessa learned Sam Devlin would be in Maine for a weeklong class on stitch-and-glue construction, where marine plywood panels are "stitched" together with wire sutures, epoxied and fiberglassed, producing a one-piece boat (see accompanying story). Poanessa jumped at the chance to learn the method from Devlin himself.
"It made the process easier for a non-boatbuilder," he says. "The finished boat tends to be lighter, stiffer and stronger."
Poanessa acquired plans for Devlin's 25-foot Surf Scoter. He bought 30 gallons of epoxy and 94 8-foot sheets of BS 1088 okoume plywood, including 40 half-inch sheets (at the time $95 each) and another 40 sheets of 3/4-inch ($120). For cold-molding the bottom, he used quarter-inch and 3/16-inch plywood. For the interior of the cabin, he purchased four sheets of okoume with a 19mm mahogany veneer at about $120 a sheet.
"I don't know the total cost of the plywood because I did end up buying a few more sheets here and there, but I can tell you the total project cost about $70,000," he says.
Poanessa aligned and braced all of the bulkheads, then assembled the entire hull in one weekend. Before building the transom, however, he did some figuring. By scarfing together 3-1/2 sheets of plywood, he could stretch the design a foot while maximizing the expensive okoume. After consulting Devlin, he decided to go with a 26-footer.
A plan comes together
The top of the pilothouse follows the sheer line, and Poanessa modified the pilothouse windows so they are plumb instead of the 7-degree slant the plans show. Poanessa also shoehorned a galley table that converts to a berth to port in the pilothouse, which he accomplished by adding 4 inches of width to the cabin in his design - narrowing the port and starboard side decks by 2 inches. That created enough room for the table. "It makes the boat so much more livable," he says.
The mechanical elements were the most difficult part of the project, particularly installing the Volvo Penta D3-160 diesel sterndrive with just his wife for help.
"Like everything with building a boat, it was all confusing and mystical at first," says Poanessa. "But standing knee-deep in 100 pages worth of manual and wires - I just took it one step at a time, followed the directions, got help from the wife, and got it done."
Poanessa wanted a fuel-efficient engine with no corrosion issues - horsepower was a lesser concern. He liked the carbon fiber outdrives in Volvo Penta's Ocean Series, which allow for painting with regular bottom paint. He chose the 160-hp engine because, at the time, it was the smallest power plant Volvo would mate to that drive, he says. Ultimately, he says, it ended up being more fuel efficient than the smaller Volvo engines he'd looked at, and it gives the boat a top end of 26 knots.
In summer 2006, after 2,200 hours of labor, Poanessa completed the boat of his dreams: Alsek, the 26-foot Surf Scoter.
If the process was smooth, the result was smoother. He reports having no major issues with the boat. "If a problem were ever to arise, I have peace of mind knowing every nook and cranny of the inner workings is of my own creation," he says.
Poanessa keeps Alsek on a mooring in East Greenwich, R.I., roughly 2-1/2 hours from his home in Keene.
Stories in this issue:Not a plastic show