|HAVE A CLEAR IDEA OF WHAT YOU WANT TO ACHIEVE
Keep the overall concept of your boat clear in your mind. It will help you to keep focussed on important aspects of the construction, stop you from wasting your energy on unimportant items and help you to maintain confidence in the progress of the project.
Have an approximate launch date in mind, it will give you a target toward which you can work. Some of the builders whom I know say to me that they will launch when the boat is ready, they don't want to even estimate launch dates. Those boats, almost without exception, take forever to reach completion, as is the wont of most open-ended projects.
A target launch date gives some urgency to the project. If you have a date which cannot be changed, such as I had with the start of the Cape to Rio Race, you only have two choices. Make the target or forget about it because you will be wasting your time and effort. In that sense the target which you set yourself must be achievable.
Any one of us can produce a work of art when we build a boat. Hower, it takes a lot of time to do so. That is OK if you are building it as a hobby, wanting only to get enjoyment out of the building process. It is also OK if you are building the boat as an investment. In that case, the time put into improving details and finishes will be worth it. However, if you are building with the intention of going cruising in a few years, the extra time can seriously knock your cruising plans.
For your cruiser you need a home, not a palace. You need it to be comfortable, neat and functional. Fancy custom turned woodwork can give you pleasure to look at but serves no function in the working of the ship.
You will need determination to achieve your goals. Don't be discouraged by setbacks, instead you must look at them as part of a learning experience. Analyse the setbacks to see where you went wrong, figure out how to get around the problem when you tackle it next time and determine to not make the same mistake again.
You must bounce back from any setback. If what you are doing means enough to you then you won't give up. This is where it helps to be born under the correct star sign. The bull headed Taurus in me cannot be easily beaten into submission. Add to that my birth in the Chinese year of the ox and fate stands little chance of setting up a permanent barrier.
The other factor which undoubtedly comes into it is that I am too stupid to know when I am beaten. By the time that I know that I should have been beaten by a situation, it has generally given up and gone off to look for a more sensitive person to prey on.
Awhile back I had opportunity of visiting the Wright Brothers Museum at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina. That proved to be an education in determination and resilience. Wilbur and Orville Wright were bicycle builders with a passion to fly. They were convinced that man was capable of sustained flight and set out to succeed at it. They did kite and glider testing for over 10 years before attempting powered flight. During that period they lived in Ohio but did flight testing in North Carolina, transporting themselves and their craft by train. They did over 1000 glider flights in the process and developed the world's first wind tunnel, in which they tested and redefined the shapes of wing sections. They also developed methods to twist the wingtips to control banking for turning, whereas other builders were using the CG of the pilot to control the airplane.
Their flights included many failures and crashes. Returning home to Ohio after one period of testing in which they had problems, one of the brothers said to the other "Never in 1000 years will man fly". They seriously considered giving up at that stage but picked themselves up and progressed, fueled by their passion and belief in what they were doing. In the process, they established many aeronautical principles still in use today and they developed the first generation of true foil sections that developed into modern wings.
Wilbur and Orville Wright did work that impacted tremendously on the future of mankind. It is extremely unlikely that any of us will ever have similar impact with our boatbuilding projects but we can benefit from applying the same sort of determination and resilience to whatever we do.
Always know what the next phase of the project is going to need in the way of materials and have them ready. Source any special tools which you will be needing. You can hire or borrow any which you don't own and will not be needing again. No sense in wasting money on buying it.
Study the drawings to plan the next job. Think through any potential difficulties and understand the procedures involved. You will have time to seek expert advice on anything which you cannot figure out for yourself, either through reading in books or asking someone who has done the job before.
One of the big time consumers throughout the construction is sourcing materials. Towards the end this becomes a major problem, when you are buying fittings, fasteners, wiring, pipes, paint etc. If care is not taken in planning these excursions they tend to overtake the boat. It is a major frustration if you are constantly running around for little bits and the boat hardly seems to progress. Better planning of the buying trips will reduce the frustration.
If you are unsure of your abilities then your work will be hesitant. You need to cultivate your knowledge and your skills that will be needed during the project.
First thing to do is to read, read, read and read some more. Many amateurs are reluctant to buy books to assist them in their boatbuiilding, expecting the plans that they have bought to include all of the information needed to build the boat. This is possible for small boat projects like dinghies but for larger boats this is unlikely. On those, you can expect a good spread of information and guidance on how to go about it but this needs to be supplemented by other reading. Experienced professional builders have reference books on their shelves, why should an amateur need less?
Here are some suggestions. If you cannot source them from your local bookseller, they can be ordered from Amazon.com via links in the bookshop section of our website.
Gougeon Brothers on Boat Construction - Building wooden boats by modern wood/epoxy methods
Building Small Boats by Dave Greenwell - Building smaller wooden boats, mainly by more traditional methods
Fiberglass Boatbuilding for Amateurs by Ken Hankinson - Building one-off GRP boats
Steel Away by LeCain Smith & Sheila Moir - Building steel boats
Aluminium Boatbuilding by Ernest Sims - Building aluminum boats
Boat Joinery and Cabinetmaking Simplified by Fred P Bingham - Joinery aspects of fitting out
Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual by Nigel Calder - Mchanical and electrical aspects of fitting out
For most methods of construction you can learn some of the required skills while doing the small bits of preliminary work which are generally needed before you get into the main project. Metal boats need building stocks and frames to be welded together long before you get to the plate welding stage. Wooden boats have frames and bulkheads to be made up. For GRP practise you can start with some of the smaller items which will be needed further into the project, like hatch covers, dorade boxes etc.
There may be some major new skills which you will need to learn. You may be able to learn them from friends, otherwise consider doing courses at the local technical school. They normally cover such subjects as welding, metalwork, woodwork, electrical and plumbing. Some of the skills required to build a boat are pretty basic but, if you are out of your depth with any aspect, it is better to educate yourself before getting too deeply involved.
If you are planning to build a boat from aluminum then it is particularly important that you educate yourself properly ahead of time. Aluminum is intolerant of sloppy or dirty workmanship. You will produce a boat of very suspect strength with serious potential for cracking the welds if your work is not up to scratch.
Most of us have friends with special skills. We may not want to impose on them but they are often wanting to get involved in an interesting project. Make use of these friends when you can. In time the favours will balance out because you will help them with their projects or you can take them sailing as reward. Hire specialists if you know that you are out of your depth but do so as a last resort, if that is what is needed to achieve a sound job.
PRACTISE SAFE WORKING HABITS
We all flaunt safety at times, at our own peril. This should be resisted, sloppy work habits can waste a lot of time, aside from the pain and suffering caused to ourselves and others.
Use proper protective clothing and equipment when using powertools, welding or working with noxious chemicals. This means goggles, masks, overalls, dust masks etc. It also means steel capped boots if working with thin plates, or you could see your toes wriggling on the ground like lizard tails.
Work carefully when doing any job that is hazardous. Concentrate on the job on hand and don't let yourself be side-tracked by things irrelevant to what you are doing at the time. Also, follow the manufacturer's instructions for whatever power tool you are using.
While building "Black Cat", I was working on making a whole bunch of small identical plywood items. It was repetitive work and simple to do. I was distracted after a telephone call and put my thumb through the radius cutter of my router. Spinning at around 20000 rpm, it made a terrible mess of the end of my thumb. It laid me off boat work for about a week and made it very uncomfortable for another month. Six years later it still gives me occasional problems. If I had not been distracted I would have saved myself a lot of hassle and wasted time.
There are many stories of boats that have fallen over for various reasons or have been dropped from cranes. Mostly they are due to carelessness. Such an accident can kill or maim you or a helper, putting an end to your cruising plans. Better to work carefully instead.
TAKE THE RIGHT STEPS IF MOMENTUM LAPSES
If you take a long break from the project, for whatever reason, it can be very difficult to motivate yourself back into it. You have lost the threads of what you were doing. You can't think where to start and just see this big incomplete project in front of you. You are overawed by the enormity of the task which waits for you.
Whatever you do, don't panic. That just fuels the problem and you will procrastinate forever. Panic confuses your thinking. It also keeps you awake at night, which will make your daytine thinking even more fuzzy. Fight it down and calm you mind. Then you will sleep better and think more clearly in the morning.
Start by sitting down and rationally taking stock of the state of the project. Don't do it in the living room poring over the drawings, that will aggravate your sense of panic. Don't do it in the workshop surrounded by piles of sawdust, tools and unused materials. Inside the boat is the best place to do this, whether she is still in framing or part way through fitting out.
Look around the project, take pride in what you have already achieved because it will help to remotivate you. Identify a small job that will not take too much effort or time, like making a gusset, knee or locker door. Take your time to do a good job of it. Then identify another similar project and get that one done. You will start to feel the progress and regain your sense of achievement. Continuity, momentum and enthusiasm will follow. Before you know it you will be back into full stride with everything happening in logical sequence again.
There are some basic principles which need to be applied to every amateur boatbuilding project, if success is to have a reasonable chance. The relative importance of the principles will depend on your own character, primarily tenacity and resilience.
1) Choose a boat of reasonable size. Seriously consider whether or not you really need a boat as large as the one which you have chosen. Remember that, for boats of similar concept and construction, the work will increase approximately in proportion to the increase in displacement. A 40% increase in length is likely to more than double the work (and cost).
2) Don't go for a complicated concept. Complicated building details or features slow down progress. Taken to extremes they will bog you down so that you will never finish. Keep it simple for success.
3) Don't be overawed by the thought of tackling a big project. Every big project is a series of little projects with a logical sequence.
4) View the overall project one step at a time. From the first step, the next logical one will always be clear.
5) Take your rewards at your milestones. You will have deserved them.
Happy sailing - See you on the water.