If you were to ask 10 different boat builders how best to build a boat, you would probably get 10 different answers. You’ll never hear me complain about this fact because there are several highly skilled craftsmen whose techniques and visions can be applied by other builders for unique and amazing results.
I prefer to design and build my own hulls. The rivers of western Montana can push a lot of water and become a bit unruly at times, so a small, low profile hull may not be the best option. I enjoy spending time fishing on local rivers. But, what I really love doing are multiple day trips where a longer length and larger hull provides me with the storage capacity and buoyancy that I may need. Having said that, the hull that YOU choose will depend entirely on how you intend to use your boat.
The interior layout and components are of my own design, the design of other builders, or a combination of both. For example, a highly talented builder out of southeast Montana has included multiple fly rod storage shelves that are simple in design yet brilliant in function in many of his boats. Several of my boats also utilize this feature for the reasons listed above; they are simple and brilliant. Long rods always get in the way when not in use, and this offers an easy solution. Many of my interior components are simply “traditional” drift boat features. In other words, every boat has them. Breast hooks, oar lock blocks, dry boxes with hatch covers, anchor systems, seating, etc. No doubt, these components will continue to change and evolve over time with each boat produced. This is an exciting effect of hand built products and the human mind!
So, you ask, “How are the boats built, and what are some of my choices?” Many of today’s shorter length boats are built using a technique known as “stitch and glue” construction. Both side panels are stitched to the floor using wire or plastic ties, and the resulting seam is reinforced with thickened epoxy and fiberglass tape. Before the shape of the hull can be defined, the side panels and floor must be created. Side panels are created by gluing together multiple sheets of marine grade 4′x8′ mahogany plywood end to end creating panels that are 4′ wide by 16′ plus in length. How many panels used is determined by the boats length, and material thickness is determined by what part it will become. Floors are built in the same manner and the individual parts are cut from these large sheets. Once the panels and floor have been cut to final size and shape, they are encased with fiberglass cloth and multiple coats of epoxy, sanded smooth, and faired if need be. The transom and stem cap (if used) are handled in the same way. Once the shape of the hull has been set, the seams are filleted with thickened epoxy and strips of fiberglass tape. Additional coats of epoxy are added to fill the weave of the fiberglass tape and more sanding is performed for a smooth, strong finished joint. There are lots of intermediate steps taking place throughout the process, but the hull’s shell is essentially finished. Level floors are then added for the front and rear seating areas, dry boxes and decks are built in place, inner and outer gunwales, breast hook and oarlock blocks are attached, and the anchor mount is installed on the transom. Hatch covers for the dry box openings are built and finished in the shop and installed at different times throughout the build process. Lots of things are happening all at once…when something is drying, something is being built and vice-versa. The previously mentioned hardwood components are sealed with clear epoxy and then varnished, keeping with the more traditional look and feel of wooden boats. The hull is sent out to a professional booth to be sprayed with multiple coats of a hard, high gloss polyurethane topside finish and the bottom of the boat is protected by a “truck bed liner material” to ward off rocks, logs, and other nasty surprises. The interior finish, whether varnish or paint, is chosen by the client. I personally like paint for interior floors and hull sides because it’s durable, can be easily fixed or completely changed, and the color schemes are endless. Deck tops and hatch covers, wooden components and trim have a traditional look when finished with varnish. But again, the choice is yours….