Posted by: oldsalt1942 | March 2, 2015

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Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 25, 2016

Never forget …

The size of your boat should never dictate the size of your adventure…(Anon)

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | May 6, 2016

That Shantyboat Feel

We’ve looked at all kinds of different shantyboats here over the years (can you believe I’ve been running this thing since May 2009?). There have been barges, rafts, pontoons, but one thing we haven’t seen is sailboats. I’ve been seriously thinking of modifying a small sailboat when I return to the States in a few months, and I’d like it to look like this:


This is a Com-Pac 23 footer that goes for umpteen thousand dollars, but I like the concept. There are tons of small sailboats roughly the same size, called “trailer sailers” and they can be had for as little as a grand or two. If you take the sail rig off and just use them as a motor boat they are referred to as “terminal trawlers.” Some of them are pretty ugly:

trawler 7

But you get the idea. I’m sure my friend, Stephen, who, along with myself, have a combined half century, at least, of repair and restoration work on boats under our belt and could probably produce something that comes close to what that first photo looks like. There’s a web site with a ton of pics for the Com-Pac but it’s impossible to download them and they’re beyond the realm of the shantyboat genre.

But today while browsing around I came across a Craigslist ad in Manchester, New Hampshire, for a boat made from an O’Day 20-foot hull. O’Day’s are pretty good boats. I grew up with an O’Day Daysailer in Orleans, Mass., as a kid. It’s what I learned to sail on.

This is what they look like:

oday 20

This boat, with an asking price of $2,500 that comes with a 7 hp Nissan outboard with remote steering and shifter has that “Shantyboat” feel about it.


outboard mount

Can ya dig the stained glass windows?

from cockpit


cabin looking aft


looking inside

looking aft

It ain’t no yacht, but somebody’s gonna have fun with it…

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | April 14, 2016

A Must Have —

I was writing another post when I mentioned this product in passing, but it is such an important thing to have in your tool box  going to do this post first.

I honestly think this stuff is just as important a safety item as life jackets and flares. It’s an epoxy stick.


It’s comes in a variety of different forms…


And is made, or at least marketed by, a slew of different companies…Locktite, Superglue, Sika…way too many to try and list. But you’ll find epoxy sticks in just about every hardware store you enter. Both the epoxy and the hardener are combined in a Tootsie Roll-like stick. When you need to use it you cut off, I simply grab the stuff and rip off how much I think I’m going to need, and the you knead it until the two colors blend into a single shade and then apply it where it’s needed.


One of the neat features of the stuff is that it cures underwater. I was a bit doubtful of this claim when I read it on the packaging but decided to give it a try. When I bought my Kaiser-26 I found that the fitting for the paddle-wheel speedometer, located under the starboard saloon seat was weeping a good deal of water. The previous owner had tried to stop it by slathering what must have been several tubes of silicon over and around the unit. I’m sure it slowed the leak down, but it didn’t stop it. I spent an hour or so removing all that gunk. It was leaking enough that the bilge pump would cycle every few minutes. Fortunately I was in a boat yard at the time so if things became critical I could get myself hoisted out of the water long enough to effect a repair. I tore off about a quarter of the tube, kneaded it as directed, and started packing it around the offending part. It seemed to be doing the job so I tore off another chunk and repeated the process making sure to press the putty-like material down into the slight gap between the hull and the sending unit. When I finished not a drop of water was weeping into the boat, and it was STILL dry as a bone when I sold the boat seven years later!

An even more impressive testimony of the remarkable underwater qualities of epoxy sticks happened a few years later. My good friend Stef and I were contracted to do the maintenance work for vessels arrested by the U.S. Marshal’s Service in southeast Florida. One day one of those 80-foot wooden Haitian freighters was scooped up off the coast between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. There were HUNDREDS of persons on board, and the boat was literally sinking beneath them. After everyone was taken off the boat and it was towed to the Marshall’s Service dock at Marina Bay up on the New River in Fort Lauderdale, Stef and I went to work trying to prevent a catastrophe. The only thing that was keeping the keel from kissing the bottom was the three, four-inch gasoline-powered pumps the Coast Guard had put on board.

At first we tried the old trick of attaching coffee cans to a long stick, punching holes in the top and filling the cans with sawdust from our shop across the little lane from the docks. In theory you lower the cans into the water and shake them so that the sawdust comes out. Supposedly the water leaking into the boat will pick up the sawdust and it will fill the gaps where the water is leaking into the hull. Then the wet sawdust will swell up and the leak will end.

But there’s a great deal of simple good luck with that approach. The gaps were too wide and the pressure of the water flooding the hull were too great and the sawdust too fine so it simply was sucked into the hull with no effect. I suggested trying to give the epoxy sticks a go. We went to a nearby hardware store and bought a case of them. The cashier thought we were nuts.

So, with a friend of ours, who was a diver, in the water, Stef and I kneaded up a half stick at a time and dropped them down to Danny who would go under the boat and cram the stuff into the open seams of the boat. After using up the case we could easily tell that the leakage where the stuff had been used was nearly stopped. We then rushed out to hardware stores and marine suppliers all over Fort Lauderdale and bought up every stick we could lay our hands on. We got a second person down in the water and another on deck with me and Stef and we went to work. By the end of the day a single 4-inch pump handled what was coming in, and we only had to crank it up every couple of hours to keep the boat afloat.

As an epilogue, we had the divers fasten sheets of 1/4″ plywood over the bottom. With that done, two 24-volt bilge pumps with float switches were capable of handling the job and they’d only cycle three or four times a day!

On my own boat, when I was off cruising down in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala during the rainy season, I used a tube of the stuff to construct a dam between the cabin and the toe rail just behind the water tank fill. I left a gap, though, so that when it started to rain the water could run free to the scuppers cleaning off the deck and coach roof. After five minutes or so, I’d remover the fill cap, block the gap and the rain water would fill the tank quite nicely, thank you.

Where the stuff actually helped me out of a bind was when I was still in Guatemala. A chintzy plastic connecting piece on my Navik windvane self-steering broke…


I took a lima bean-sized piece of putty, wrapped it around where the plastic had broken and voilà, as we used to say over in Antibes, problem solved. It got me all the way back to Fort Lauderdale without a hitch. I would have been screwed, chained to the tiller for hours if it wasn’t for this stuff.


EVERYONE needs to have two or three tubes of the stuff in their tool box and not leave the dock without it. Oh, the stuff you don’t use is stored in a plastic tube ready for the next emergency.


Posted by: oldsalt1942 | March 22, 2016

Variation on a Theme

I don’t know if you’ve been following the goings on in Miami Beach where they’ve outlawed anchoring overnight and have actually been towing boats away. Of course it all boils down to people living on land who don’t want to have “free spirits” in their back yards “getting away with stuff” and “dumping sewage overboard.” And the same sort of thing hassling people who want to live on the water is expanding wherever there’s a shoreline. It’s happening in every state. Fortunately it’s not happening down here in Panama where in places like Almirante where you catch the water taxi out to party in Isla Colón, there are outhouses built right over the river with direct access from someone’s pooper to the water below.

The biggest problem with shantyboats is that while they’re capable of moving they don’t do it very well. Yeah, yeah, I know all about Dianne’s Rose which, while a nice boat that DOES move well, it’s neither fish nor fowl. With the growing battle against boaters of ALL KINDS you know shantyboaters are going to be prime targets. Unless you live somewhere where you can sort of “hide out” like the bayous of Louisiana or up in the Atchafalaya you’re probably going to run into problems sooner or later. And most marinas aren’t going to welcome a shantyboat with open arms, either. First they’re going to demand insurance and good luck with that since most shantyboats are homemade and uninsurable.

But that doesn’t mean one has to give up the dream entirely or be priced out of the market. A couple of years ago I read an article in (If you don’t have this wonderful site bookmarked already then DO IT NOW! Go ahead, we’ll wait. It will open up in a new window so you won’t lose your place here.) about a guy, Harold Duffield  of Florissant, Missouri who converted a 25′ Irwin sailboat he picked up cheap and turned it into something he calls a “Terminal Trawler.”

Here are links to his stories: / — — —


What I like about these is that they can be moved whenever needed. It’s probably not too hard to get insurance if someone requires you to have it, and finally, you can actually go somewhere with one of these rather cheaply which is cool. Up north in the summer, down south in the winter.

My friend Bryan Lowe has had a couple of articles on his fantastic site One is: which I think is pretty cool…

trawler 7


So, out of curiosity I went on Craigslist in three different states to see what was available in cheap sailboats that could possibly be converted. I set an arbitrary top price I’d consider of $3,500. Here’s what I found. I’m not going to put the entire ad here because they only appear for a limited time and then any link to them is no good afterwards.

In the Miami area I saw this, a 24-footer with an asking price of $1,500!

rebel 24 foot 1,500

You could pick up this 22-footer for a mere $700.

22 foot 700

In North Carolina this 26-foot Pearson only carried an asking price of $2,500

26 pearson 2000

They were only asking $1,750 for this 27-foot Hunter

27 hunter - $1750 (carlonia beach)

And in New Bedford, Mass you could pick up this 26-foot Bristol for $2,000.

Refurbished 26 ft Bristol Sloop - $1500 (New Bedford)

I saw bunches more and none of them came up to the $3,500 mark. Unfortunately you can’t find anything like this down in Panama and if there was, I’d jump on it in a heartbeat.

What do y’all think of this idea?

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 27, 2016

Foam Pontoons Redux

I think I suffer from a totally new mental disorder that I’ve labeled SBADD (Shanty Boat Attention Deficit Disorder). It’s akin to ADOLAP disorder (Adult Deficit Oh Look A Puppy!). In other words I vacillate from one idea of how I want to build a shanty boat.

I would truly love to have something like Bryan Lowe’s dream of the H.W. Taunt. Who wouldn’t?


But the reality is I don’t think I have either the skill level or the physical stamina to build something like that, more’s the pity. The reality is that I’m a nearly 74 year-old guy with 3 stents in his coronary arteries and a lung capacity 34% of normal. I get winded making the bed (wish that was a joke, but it’s not). So as much as I would love to have something like theTaunt it’s just not going to happen.

So, right now I’m back on the idea of a pontoon boat. The shanty boat that I owned in Louisiana was a pontoon boat. It was basically a shack on a pair of 35-foot long by 24″ diameter well casings. Worked pretty well, and I lived on it for almost three years, but I only moved it three times. The first time was from where I’d found it on the Tchefuncta River on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain down to the Gulf Outlet Marina in Chalmette. a total run of about 42 miles. A couple of years later the starboard pontoon developed a leak and I moved it from the marina to the boatyard where I worked and back around 18 miles round trip.

What had happened was that the pontoon had rusted through in a couple of places right around the waterline. As the boat rocked water would slosh into the pontoon. I was able to drill a hole in the forward part of the pontoon and use a drill motor pump to clear it out. The steel was too thin to weld a patch and there were several holes and almost holes in both pontoons. What I did was to clean the effected areas and put fiberglass patches over them with polyester resin. Then I used 15 gallons of a special epoxy paint. The stuff was really thick. Like runny ketchup. I was able to get three coats of the stuff on the pontoons and it was probably close to 1/4″ thick.

Anyway, I’m not adverse to the idea of using pontoons for floatation. I investigated the possibility of making a raft type shanty using 55-gallon drums. There’s a place in Panama City where you can get metal ones for about $10/each, but then you’d have to ship them 300 miles out here to Boquerón. I checked a lot of places around here but no one had metal drums. The cheapest plastic ones I found were $35/each if I bought 20 of them. Forty five bucks each if I bought fewer than 20.

I’m not going to go cruising with whatever I build but I do want to be able to move it fairly easily and barrel rafts aren’t really great for doing that.

So that brings me to the pontoon idea again. The original idea was to use glass-covered plywood pontoons made in 2X2X4-foot segments and then join them together with bolts and epoxy. Seems like a good idea. After all, they build huge aircraft carriers in segments and join them all together to make a ship.

I’m thinking I’d make them between 20 and 24-feet long. How much could something like that support? Here’s what I figured out for pontoons 28-feet long (refer to previous post of “Resist the Urge” to see about “size creep”).

The pontoons will be 2-feet wide by 2-feet high, and between 24 and 28 feet long.

I decided on the pontoons because of the amount of flotation they offer. Here are the numbers I’ve come up with…

Each pontoon segment will be 2’X2’X4’ = 16 cubic feet

One cubic foot = 7.5 gallons (7.48)

One gallon of water weighs = 8.3453 pounds. One cubic foot = 7.48052 gallons. The weight of one cubic foot of water is 7.48052 gallons times 8.3453 pounds, which equals 62.42 pounds of water per cubic foot. OR, it would take 62.42 lbs. to completely sink a cubic foot container.

SO, 62.42 lbs X 16 cubic feet = 998.72 lbs. displacement for each 4’ pontoon. Minus the weight of the materials each pontoon will support, roughly, 900 lbs.

The sections in the bow would be made like the bow of a barge or scow, sloped up from the bottom to move through the water with less resistance. Figure that each one of those will be roughly half the volume of the regular one for a 28’ long structure overall, or roughly 11,700 lbs. flotation. Whatever kind of house structure I build on top of the pontoon segments plus all the junk that I’d bring aboard certainly isn’t going to amount to five and a half TONS!

If you look as building a raft-type structure using 55-gallon drums the figures look like this:

Now, a 55 gallon drum measures 35” X 24”. A 55 gallon drum will displace 459 lbs.

Because of the odd measurement of 35” you’d need 10 drums to make up each pontoon of a similar size to the plywood pontoons. Now you’re mucking around with non-standard size lumber or going for 10 barrels a side. And how much flotation? Potentially 9,180 lbs., before deducting the weight of the materials needed to contain them. So more than a ton less flotation than the plywood pontoons.

I also toyed with the idea of using closed-cell foam to build the pontoons and encase them with fiberglass in polyester resin. I know a lot of people will say it’s better to use epoxy, but the stuff is terribly expensive down here in Panama. Polyester resin is about a quarter of the price of epoxy, and just think of how many THOUSANDS of boats are floating around made with polyester resin!

Foam would be, of course, a LOT lighter than plywood pontoons would be and easier for me, in my physical condition, to move around. Some people are using foam insulation boards to build with.

pink foam

Foam insulation sheets can be bought at the big box stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot…


Eighteen sheets of this stuff would make a pair of 2X2X24-foot pontoons for $270! The problem HERE is they DON’T USE insulation in their construction. Almost everything is cement block construction which does have a bit of built-in insulation value. There’s only one place in all of Panama I’ve found that sells 4X8-foot sheets of closed-cell foam in 1″, 2″,3″, and 4″ thicknesses. When I called about a year ago the 4″ sheets went for $107 a piece. A pair of solid 24′ pontoons would cost $963. And that’s JUST for the foam.

I don’t know what the 1-or-2-inch sheets cost, but I’ll be in Panama City on the 3rd of February and stop at the supplier and find out. But it has got me going in another “what if” direction…

There’s a place in David that sells 2’X4’X1/2″ styrofoam drop ceiling tiles for 50¢ each. What if the 1″ or 2″ closed cell foam sheets were reasonably priced? What if I used THEM like I would if I was building the pontoons with plywood? Then, what if I filled the empty spaces with the ceiling tiles? I’d need 576 of those at a cost of $308.16, tax included. I’d have unsinkable pontoons on which to build the house.

I priced out what the wood costs would be if I built the pontoons with plywood. Wood cost, plywood and framing lumber as of Jan 26 = $806.32 using 3/4″ HDO for the bottoms and 1/2″ regular ply for the sides and top. Using regular ply the lumber would cost $710.02.

In both cases there would be extra costs for the glass cloth and resin.

And THIS is how I spend much of my day!



Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 26, 2016

Difference Between Houseboat and a Shantyboat

I have recently begun corresponding via email with Bryan Lowe of (unfortunately his domain lapsed within the last couple of hours. Hope he restores it because besides myself he’s the only one I know of out there who is interested in ALL ASPECTS of shantyboats.)

In his interview with Derek “Deek” Diedricksen of (a font of great, adaptable ideas in his own right) Bryan had this to say about what it is that defines a shantyboat. (Some emphasis is mine)

Bryan Lowe: Well, In the dictionary shanty means a small crudely built dwelling, so a shantyboat would therefore mean a crudely built boat, and that is a part of it, up to a point.  No shanty has gold plating, literally or figuratively.  These are simple craft, homebuilt by untrained builders, with an eye toward extended stay, such as your life allows. For a few, it’s living aboard in some backwater full time. For most of us, we build our simple craft and grab as many weekends as we can, always dreaming of a future time with expanded shantyboat living. The line between houseboat and shanty is always subjective. There are a few givens: you can buy a houseboat but you can’t buy a new shantyboat.  A houseboat can be built with virtually unlimited resources, but a shantyboat almost requires a little pragmatic scrounging.   And finally, there is intent.  Are you trying to recreate a home that just happens to be on the water, or create a homebuilt replica of a commercially built houseboat?  Shantyboats aspire to a different aesthetic.  They can be cute, they can be painted, they can be cozy, but there must be no mistaking them for commercially built.  A shantyboat is handcrafted by it’s owner, with care, with affection, and with a decidedly pragmatic streak!  Shantyboats are square, they have edges, with no effort to make it more aero or hydro dynamic.  In the end it’s like porn.  You know one when you see one, without doubt.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 24, 2016

The Doc Bremer and the H. W. Taunt

One of the best shantyboat sites (besides this one, of course) is The site has been the inspiration for quite a few of the articles I’ve posted here.

Bryan Lowe runs the site and has actually built several shanty boats. Among them are his version of Phil Theil’s Escargot:


Bryan also has a great sense of humor for building this:

Click the link to see his micro shanty in action.

micro 2


Lately, though he’s been thinking along bigger lines than a 4X8-foot micro shanty. His wife is demanding more headroom than the Escargot offers and Bryan has been inspired by two old boats. The Doc Bemer on the Mississippi river:

doc bremer 1

And the H.W. Taunt over in England…


These seem to be variations on the Loire river barges in France…

loire barge

The Loire barges were working boats and carry a HUGE square sail when the wind is right.

Bryan has done some Sketchup drawings and has actually started putting together an egg crate framing



I really like where this is heading and would love to do one myself.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 14, 2016

Resist The Urge

I don’t know if it’s a universal trait or not, but people in the United States have long believed that “Bigger is Better.” “Size Matters.” I want to scream, “No it isn’t!” and “No it doesn’t!”

On the other side of the coin you have dumbest phrase of ALL TIME in “Less is More.”  I can’t tell you how much this makes my back teeth ache. NO IT’S NOT!!! MORE is MORE! Less, by its very definition isn’t as much so it CAN’T be more! Now less can sometimes be BETTER than more but Less is NEVER more.

One of the most often asked boating questions is “What size boat do I need to go cruising?” Well, if you pay attention to the boating and cruising magazines whose life blood is the advertising income they receive from boat manufacturers and equipment manufacturers. Your life is in imminent danger the moment you leave the dock in anything less than 45 or fifty feet of fiberglass tricked out with every electronic device known to mankind. I remember once someone describing another person’s boat saying it was fantastic because it had the “most expensive” navigation gear available. Naysayer that I am I said that NO, most “expensive” is NOT  a synonym for “best.” Those same boating mags totally ignore the fact that Robert Manry in 1965 sailed from Falmouth, Mass. to Falmouth, Cornwall, England in Tinkerbelle a tiny 13.5-foot (4.1 m) sailboat.


Or that 16 year old Robin Lee Graham sailed his 24′ Dove around the world alone


or that Tania Aebi did a solo circumnavigation in a 26′ sailboat when she was 18.


Between 1955 and 1959 John Guzzwell sailed solo around the world in a boat that wasn’t quite 21 feet long.


The answer to the question “What size boat do I need to go cruising?” was best summed up, I think by Don Casey and Lew Hackler in their book Sensible Cruising: The Thoreau Approach when they said, “The one you have.”

I absolutely LOVE this book and the advice in it is gold…

And “cruising” DOESN’T have to entail great ocean crossings. Taking your boat and going to a little cove you’ve never been to before is going cruising.

L. Francis Herreshoff, who knew a thing or three about boats had this to say about cruising . . . “Cruising should be entirely for pleasure, and when it ceases to be so it no longer makes sense. Of course those who want to beat out what little brains they have in a night thrash to windward should have a strong, stiff racing machine, a very expensive contraption, one which sacrifices the best qualities of a cruiser. But the little yacht that can snuggle alongside some river bank for the night and let its crew have their supper in peace while listening to the night calls of the whippoorwill will keep its crew much more contented. They will be particularly happy and contented when the evening rain patters on the deck and the coal-burning stove becomes the center of attraction. Then if you can lie back in a comfortable place to read, or spend the evening in pleasant contemplation of the next day’s run, well, then you can say “This is really cruising.”

And here’s a truism most people aren’t aware of: “Boats are used in inverse proportion to their size!” That is, the smaller the boat and the easier it is to use then the more it WILL BE USED.

So, what got me started on this rant in the first place? Well, I’ve once again been bitten by  the “I need to have a shanty boat bug!” And I’ve been pouring over old articles I’ve saved and scouring the internet for new inspiration. And last night I saw this neat thing. It’s LaMar Alexander’s 8×12 Stealth-boat Tiny House Design.


The VERY FIRST THING that crossed my mind was, “with just three more sheets of plywood you could extend it to 8X20 feet and have a lot more room!” I mean that was my instant reaction, and it’s really not wrong, I don’t believe, if you’re making something that you intend to live on.×12-stealth-boat-tiny-house-design/#m2rqK975Cd4K6q2A.99

An eight by twelve foot shanty like this would be a great weekender or fine for a short vacation, but I really believe if you’re going to spend much time on it you need to make it AT LEAST 16-feet long but I wouldn’t go over 20 because of cost, weight, time to build, etc.

Just be wary of where you brain leads you. It’s going to automatically make you want to go bigger.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | January 13, 2016

Ideas That Won’t Work

One of my favorite quotes of all times is, “Every man has a million dollar idea that won’t work.” That’s SO TRUE, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be worth a million dollars for that idea not to work…

Way back last September I wrote a post about using foam blocks with steel grids to possibly build pontoons using a ferro cement method.

In that post I mentioned that I often pass by a place on the bus route that actually has the stuff. Well, today I decided to finally take a look at it. As you can see from this picture it has sort of a wavy pattern to the foam, probably to give the concrete better structural strength…I don’t really have a clue, though.


The foam is about 2″ thick, though that’s just a guess from memory looking at it. I didn’t actually measure it. The wire part is pretty chintzy. To do a ferrocement cement construction you’d need to attach a lot of chicken wire to the wire that’s already on the foam. I don’t think it would be worth the time and effort. But my most recent brain storm, was the possibility of using the foam as a core and putting fiberglass on both sides and making a barge hull. Glass foam construction is an actual way of creating one-off boats, for real.

Up close and personal, as they say, the wire mesh is pretty chintzy. it’s not embedded into the foam but rather at each corner there is a sort of barb that pierces the foam to hold the mesh in place. It would be quite easy to rip the stuff off of the foam, but the ripples wouldn’t be a good stratus to glass over.

But I was curious about the stuff anyway so I went inside and talked to one of the sales people. Normally I do okay with my Spanish but I wasn’t getting through to this guy. The Spanish word for “foam” is “espuma” but he thought I was talking about the expanding foam stuff that comes in cans. I told him what I wanted they had stored across the street, and so we went to take a look at it.

“Ah, tres em ay.” Three M. Yes, Three M makes the stuff. We went back to the main, air conditioned, store and he looked it up on the computer. Each 4’X8′ piece costs $34.95, With 7% tax it comes to $34.70. It would take about 8 sheets for $277.60. Not counting glass and resin, etc.

I then asked his supervisor if they could order similar blocks of foam without the mesh and he said, “No.”

“Really, you can’t order foam blocks?” I said.

“No,” he replied.

“Is it because you can’t, or because you won’t?” I asked, with a wink.

He just shrugged his shoulders with a sardonic wink, and walked away.

Oh, well.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | November 19, 2015

Shanty Boater’s Idea Of Heaven?

Halong Bay Floating Village, Vietnam, must be a shanty boater’s idea of dying and going to heaven…

floating village 2


There are about 600 residents of this floating village, most of whom, not surprisingly,  make a living from the sea.

floating village



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