Read the first part of the book – below.
There are many ways to get on the water. Building is one way, and there are many choices available to you to save money by doing things yourself. And in the end, you have a boat made how you want.
If you are interested in building a boat, inside the book you will find lots of things to help spark new ideas. The book is my story, of how I built a 40ft catamaran.
I tackled some things a little differently to how it is normally done, and they worked. I describe each stage of the build, what it cost, the difficulties and the things I learned along the way.
Available as ebook or paperback – Expand the sections below to read more. You can also “look inside” the book on Amazon, or download a free sample and read it on your phone or Kindle.
WHEN I WAS building my boat, whenever I met someone for the first time and told them what I was doing, their eyes would light up!
It didn’t seem to matter, young or old, male or female, the reaction was the same. This idea of building a boat, and sailing away seemed to appeal to a lot more people than I first thought.
I had no idea what awaited me when I started out and how long it was going to take. I naively thought, in 12 to 18 months I would be on the water… I had never built a boat before. I didn’t know anyone else who was making a cat. In fact, I’d never even stepped foot on a catamaran, apart from sailing small hobby cats at the beach.
Why live on a boat
Before I started to build, I never stopped to ponder the reasons or grounds for this urge. I just wanted to make a boat! But once I started living on board, I realised just how much freedom this life offers, and then I began to ponder, just how not free, our life really is.
In our “normal life,” it seems like more and more of our freedoms are taken away. In my lifetime I have observed many areas of my life, where new laws now prohibit, doing what I once used to be able to do.
But living on a boat on the ocean, you are left pretty much alone. You are free to live at anchor (for free) in so many places, of you’re choosing. I’ve anchored for months in the middle of the city (Brisbane), off the beach in front of beautiful resorts, tourist townships and in many places where you would be moved on or fined, if you were trying to do the same thing on the shore, sleeping in your car or camper van. But as soon as you move onto the water, no one touches you.
Once you sell or rent out, the things you don’t need anymore and move aboard your own boat, the high costs of living drop away. With no rent, rates or mortgage to pay, virtually no power bill, no car to register, maintain, and put fuel in, suddenly your financial needs shrink, to a fraction of what they were on the land. Meaning you don’t need to earn as much money to live, which is another massive freedom in itself.
With much less money going out, you can live comfortably with much less coming in. This opens up the possibility of being financially independent with a lot less. With a small passive income or a remote-working salary, for example, you can live with no fixed address, free to wander as you please. The world is literally, your oyster.
With cheap solar panels, lithium battery technology, inverters, mobile internet, satellite communications, and all the other technology available at low cost, today is a great time to be living on the water.
You don’t need to live like a gypsy, and you don’t need a big bank account either. Technology is cheap these days and the raw materials to make a boat are also inexpensive. You can build a very comfortable home to live and travel around in, without spending a lot of money. We will go into this in a lot more detail in Chapter-12.
Beyond all these practical reasons, you are living in touch and in tune with nature, the cycles of the moon and the tides. I have never experienced so many beautiful sunsets and sunrises, as in the time I lived on that boat. Even anchored in the same place I built the cat.
I wondered if these sunsets had been happening all the time I was working in my shed? I hadn’t noticed them before. And you are living in a home where you can change the view out the kitchen window whenever you want. It can take you to places! It’s a very cool way of life.
Building a boat is a project that will awaken your creativity, like nothing else. The sense of achievement making a craft this size was definitely at the top of the scale of anything I’ve done before. And the bonus is you save a lot of money in the process. There are also freedoms in building, similar to those enjoyed living on the water, in that you are free to create what you want, how you want.
Compared to making your own house there is a lot less red tape, in fact in Australia, there is no red tape. If it is a private vessel, what you create and how you create it, is totally up to you. When I registered my 12m catamaran in Queensland, it was a paperwork exercise, filling out the forms with the main dimensions of my boat, the engine numbers, etc., and paying my money of course.
But I didn’t have to have my boat checked or certified by anybody. I could have built it in any shape I wished, from any material and in any fashion. The plans didn’t need to be approved or come from a qualified designer. I could have designed it myself, (and the next one I will). Once I was on the water, I didn’t need a license to drive my boat either.
The only rules I needed to adhere to, were that I had the required safety gear onboard when I launched her. But that was no hindrance, that is common sense. I want those things on my boat anyway. So making a boat leaves you a lot of freedom to create something how you want. When you are finished, you will know your boat like the back of your hand. It comes with responsibility, and that’s a good thing.
No walk in the park
Living on a boat is magical. It is literally, the last freedom, for those reasons mentioned above, and many more. You can experience so many moments that make you feel like you are living in a movie, living a dream (you are). But it also puts you in situations where you can easily lose your life.
Living and sailing on the ocean is no walk in the park, and from time to time, you will be pushed to your limits. Your strengths, resourcefulness and ability will be tried in ways you have probably never experienced living ashore.
Living on the sea sorts out the “men from the boys”, and it will find your weaknesses, real fast. You can’t fake it, living on the ocean. I have never been so tested in all my life. I learned respect, with a capital R, and humility in the years I lived aboard.
Build or buy
So, if you are thinking about living on a boat, you can either buy one (new or second-hand), which is probably the most common way into boating, or you could build your own, either by yourself, or have it made for you. The choice is a personal one, and you probably know already what option feels right for you.
Building a boat is a project that will satisfy your creative urges, or awaken them! For me, creating my boat was more rewarding than the many years I lived on my boat, although those years aboard were a fantastic time in themselves. They are different rewards, and I wouldn’t want to have missed either of these experiences.
If you are thinking of building, then the next biggest question is probably whether you are biting off more than you can chew. It is a big project, that runs over many years, and requires a significant investment in money to see it through. So it is good to feel confident before starting, that once you start, you are going to finish it!
What’s in the book?
This book is the Story, of how I built a 40ft catamaran which I named “Tokyo Express”. In the book I share my journey, the thoughts and apprehensions I had, before and during the build. The problems and solutions I came up with.
The second half of the book gets heavier into the technical side of how I created the many parts of my boat. It is not a how-to guide, but it will give you a lot of useable ideas to take away.
To add a little colour to the story, I go off on a tangent at times, as I share with you the related and sometimes unrelated things that were connected with this story and were a part of my life at the time.
The book starts off discussing some of the reasons I had for choosing a cat over a keel yacht. This is a significant decision, whether you are buying or building, and one worth pondering well, before making your decision. The difference between sailing and living on a multihull compared to the more traditional keel yacht is enormous.
Chapter-two begins the story, some years before, with the twists and turns that my life took, that finally led to the building of Tokyo Express. I will walk you through the build as it happened with the details and things I think are worth considering if you are thinking of building a boat too.
There is a timeline at the back of the book, that lists all the significant events throughout the build. It will hopefully give you a bit of a yardstick, an idea, of how long the different phases took for me, to help you judge better what lays ahead of you. They are linked to their corresponding sections and (if you are reading the ebook) you can jump back and forward between the timeline and the parts of the book as you go.
In life, I try to break anything complex up into its parts to make it more manageable. If you are building a boat, it can help from getting overwhelmed. Chewing on bite-size pieces allows me to focus on one thing at a time and give each one all my attention. Later in the book as we step through the different sections of the boat, like steering, engine installation, electrical systems, etc., I will explain to you one by one, how I tackled them.
Many ways to save money
Yachting is notorious for being expensive, a rich man’s sport. But I didn’t share that philosophy and I proved it doesn’t have to be that way. I had more time than money, so I tried to make everything I could, especially if there was a fair amount to be saved.
I built a lot of the major components and systems that you would usually buy, or have made for you, and I saved quite a bit in the process. If you have a large budget, you can skip these steps and just pay for them, saving a lot of time in the process. But if you don’t have a big budget, and you have more time than money, as I did, there are alternatives.
You can make some or all of the systems yourself, without too much work, and there are some things you don’t really need as well. There are also things you can make better than what you buy. Despite being “homebuilt” I ended up with a sturdy, lightweight boat that performed exceptionally well, and it was built on a tight budget. After 20 years in the water, she still looks the same as the day she was launched.
Read through the book, you might find this dream is more affordable and possible than you think.
I got close to starting many times, but for one reason or another, it got put on hold. Finally, that turned out to be a good thing. The boat I ended up building was a very different craft from my early plans.
When I started building, I still wasn’t sure exactly how I was going to create this yacht. I’d never made a boat before. I didn’t know if I had enough money to do it (I didn’t). As I got closer to launching my cat and the money was running out, I kept striking things off my list the closer it came to getting in the water, things that I could do without.
I launched with only one sail (the mainsail), no deck winches, no anchor winch and a lot of other things missing. But I had the necessities, the safety gear, navigation equipment and the gear I needed for living aboard.
It was camping in those early days, showering with water from the kettle, cooking on a camping gas stove, and I loved it. I was on the water, living my dream, not still in my shed dreaming. The work continued, but at a much more leisurely pace than before.
There are so many ways to arrive at your goal, to fit in with your circumstances and budget. I did quite a few things a bit differently to the way things are “normally” done, and they worked out well. In the following chapters, I describe how.
Do it yourself
For sure it is not for everyone building their own boat. A few people were keen to convince me it was not a good idea, that it was fanciful thinking, suggesting I would be better off to just buy a second-hand boat. But it’s not the same.
The reasons for building a craft go beyond the dollars (even though you will save a lot of dollars). And what you end up with is a new boat, not a second-hand one.
For me, there was no question about building or buying. Building was all I wanted to do. If you have made things yourself, you will know what I mean.
You will also, never feel the same way about, and have the same connection to, a craft you bought, compared to a yacht you created. There is a nice end to this story that came nearly 20 years after “TE” was launched, near the end of the book.
Don’t put it off
It is good to research thoroughly and be comfortable with the path you are going down, but I believe it’s also important not to wait until you have every eventuality covered before starting. You may end up waiting forever.
I hope that you can find inspiration from reading this, that spurs you on if you have a similar dream. It was one of the most challenging and memorable times of my life, and I’m so glad I didn’t miss it.
If it is something that has been calling you, listen to that calling. It might be something you don’t want to miss out on in your life either. Anyway, this is my story…
So, let’s begin!
Cat vs keel yacht
1.1 WHY A CAT?
DISCUSSING THE PROS and cons of cats verses keel yachts can be a dangerous thing to do. The topic is like talking about religion, and many people stand by, and defend their beliefs quite vigorously!
So, I will tread lightly. I’m not trying to preach or convert anyone to multihulls. But for those people who are not in either camp and are open to hearing other’s opinions, I list my two bob’s worth below, about what I have learned in my time building and living on a cat.
I liked the Van der Stadt designs. Back in the early 80s, Jack, a friend of my Uncle’s was building himself a 40ft Van der Stadt in steel, in Warrnambool – Victoria. Warrnambool is a coastal town not too far from the well known, Great Ocean Road. The weather here gets pretty wild and woolly in winter. It’s on the windswept southern coast of Australia. The only thing south of here is the Antarctic.
There were many a sailing ship, shipwrecked along this stretch of coastline back in the old days. After months-long ocean passages, bound for Melbourne, from England and other ports far away, it must have been a tragic end, just hours away from entering Port Phillip Bay and arriving at their destination.
Jack who was retired was a perfectionist, and his work reflected that. I visited the shed on occasions with my uncle Rob, where he was welding up the hull. I loved moments like these they always added to that burning desire to be building my own. After many years of work Jack finished his boat, and together with his wife spent the next 10 years sailing around the world.
Boats of steel
I had dreams about doing the same, and I even purchased study plans for that boat. This was in my early days of working on ships. Before I went to sea, I did my apprenticeship as a fitter and turner, so I was used to working with steel. Doing a trade as fitter was the traditional route into becoming a marine engineer, going to night school to get the additional subjects needed, before starting work aboard ship.
The tugboats my Dad worked on, that I loved going out on as a kid, were made of steel. Everything I knew or worked on was made from steel. So it seemed logical to build a yacht out of metal.
I did a lot of research into the pros and cons of steel versus aluminium. Paint systems, construction methods, costs, maintenance, galvanic protection and so on. But at the time I still didn’t have the money to build a 40ft boat. It still remained a dream.
Advantages of one hull
Below is a list of some of the reasons why a catamaran made sense to me. I try to write this from as neutral a perspective as possible, but I admit that I have a bias so you can take that into account as you read this. But it’s one other person’s opinion (mine), that you can throw into the mix to consider, to help you draw your own conclusions on what makes sense for you.
Advantages of two hulls
Actually the more I thought about it, with weight, the idea of spending large amounts of money to build a yacht with the lightest materials you can afford and then pouring tonnes of the heaviest metal you can buy into it, just to keep it upright, seems ridiculous.
The argument that is so often thrown up against multihulls, by keel yacht owners is that if you turn one over you are in trouble. And they are right, you are in trouble. You need assistance to get a big cat or trimaran up again. But, when did you last hear about a cruising cat capsizing at sea?
Considering the amount of multihull craft on the water these days, all around the world, it is still something I’ve only read about in books. I can’t recall ever hearing in the news about one being turned over, and there are plenty of them in Australian waters.
I think cruising cats and trimarans have proven themselves beyond doubt, that they are seaworthy craft. For me, that excuse just doesn’t hold water, and my experience on the ocean convinced me, of their ability and stability.
Following the dream
2.1 HOW IT STARTED
IT WAS 1989, on the Sunshine Coast in south-east Queensland. I was living in a caravan I’d bought for 2000 Aussie dollars, after returning from Japan a few months earlier. I’d sold up everything in Geelong – Victoria, earlier that year and flown up to Japan to start a new life as an English teacher.
But on the flight up there I had been up on the flight deck, as I usually did, talking to the pilots. Those were the days when the cockpit door wasn’t locked, and you could always go forward and have a chat and a better view. It got me restless again. After a couple of months living in Tokyo, I decided this idea of being an English teacher, wasn’t really for me. I wanted to fly again…
So I returned to Oz (Australia) with the plan to change over my New Zealand pilot licence to the Aussie one and look for a job in Australia. It was a few years since I’d been flying and it was calling me back.
I learnt to fly planes in New Zealand, my Dad’s country of birth, back in the mid-1980s. Flying was (another) dream I had, which I followed after working the four years previous, on ships, saving my money so I could pay for my flying lessons.
New Zealand is a beautiful country and looks even better from the air. After training, I got work instructing and doing a bit of air ambulance work flying doctors up and down the East coast of the North Island, with the occasional rescue, before ending up out on the Chatham Islands, some 850 km east of Christchurch, in the Pacific ocean.
The Chatham’s consist of two tiny islands, the main one is mostly flat as a pancake and windswept. Only about 600 people were living there when I lived there, and its main industry is cray fishing.
The islands are also one of the first places to see the new day in summer. The international date line bends to go around them. The population swelled here on the eve of the millennium, with planeloads of reporter’s and enthusiasts arriving, to be the first in the world to see the sunrise on that 1st day of 2000…
I flew live crayfish three hours over water, from the Chatham Islands into Gisborne, on the North Island, for export to Japan, in an old twin-engine push-pull Cessna-337. With only one seat (for me) and the rest of the plane filled to the ceiling with plastic bins full of monster size crayfish, all clacking away. It was an unusual job, with some exciting moments, but that’s another story…
A turning point
Anyway, I was out this night, celebrating passing the flight test for my Aussie CPL (commercial pilot licence) at a bar near the beach in Mooloolaba, waiting to met up with my fellow pilots (who never turned up) when I met Tanja, a tall, attractive German girl who was in Australia on holidays.
Six months later, after a long road trip down south to Victoria together, towing my caravan, we ended up back in the bush. On my parent’s property in the hinterland, out the back of Noosa Heads, living in my caravan. There are a lot of people who have escaped the city life and are living around here on small plots of land with enough space and trees around them so they can’t see their neighbours.
I had forgotten about flying by this stage and convinced Tanja that she might like to help me build a small boat, and sail around the world together. This was the first time I can remember the dream of making a yacht actually taking form, with real planning. This dream that had been swimming around in my head for so many years was actually coming to life and having someone to share this project with, made it all the more fun.
We spent quite a bit of time walking the marinas, looking at the yachts and discussing different ideas. Neither of us had much money at the time, so I planned to build small. My thoughts were somewhere around the 28ft range.
It just so happened that it was the time of year for the Brisbane boat show. I’d been to the expo of boats a few times before. I always loved walking around this show and enjoyed checking out all the latest in marine electronics and accessories. So that weekend we drove the one and a half hours down to Brisbane for a day at the show together. But at the show, we were to encounter something much more interesting than marine electronics.
An inspiring encounter
At the show we met a chap, standing in one of the pavilions, with his boat. His name was Serge Testa, a quiet, unassuming guy who had just returned from a three-year around the world voyage, alone in a 12ft (3.6m) boat, that he built himself. Wow! And he created it for only $5000. He even made it into the Guinness book of records for being the smallest boat to sail around the world, and I think he still holds that record.
It might not have been too comfortable, but he did it! Wow, that’s an adventure! This guy did it, he did what most people only dream of. This is what life is all about! Poor Serge, I chewed his ear for quite some time and spent a lot of time going over his boat. I stumbled upon his yacht again, many years later, in the Brisbane city museum, (it is not there nowadays).
His determination to go sailing despite having no money, nor an idea of how to sail or navigate, just learning by doing, inspired me greatly. I bought his book “500 Days” (it is available on Amazon) and shortly after I purchased plans to build a boat.
I figured I needed a bit more room than Serge, as I wasn’t going solo… So I looked around and ended up buying plans to build a Bruce Roberts 21ft keel yacht in steel. It was bigger than Serge’s boat but still small, for two people to live on, for what may end up being many years together. I figured I could make it relatively cheaply making all the bits myself. I had welders and plenty of tools already.
Available now on Amazon, my first book is out, in both ebook and paperback format.
Full of information and tips to help you build a small boat, maybe even one you design for yourself.
The book is a step-by-step guide to building plywood boats. Woven into the guide is also the story on the building of a small boat (the original Noosa) while living on the Noosa River with my son Tobi in Australia.
To “look inside” the book or download a free sample to read on your phone or Kindle, just follow the links below to the store near you.
(Note – if you don’t have a Kindle device, download the free “Kindle” App for your Android or iPhone.)
The Building Guide
A basic step by step Guide, to building wooden boats with epoxy – Its free!
Boat building is a pastime that has brought me much joy and it is much easier to do than you think. This Guide is condensed version of the book “Small Boat Building”. There are tips throughout, and notes on safety to keep you healthy while you build.
This PDF Guide is written for building with plywood and epoxy, but much of what is covered here can be applied to other types of wooden boat building. You can use the information here to help you build boats from anybody’s Plans.
Tim Weston Boats
This website is all about boats, home boat building and other DIY projects. A place for the do it yourself builder and anyone interested in boats and making things.
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