Posted by: oldsalt1942 | March 2, 2015

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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



Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 21, 2015

Adaptable Ideas

While this link will take you to a story about converting a cargo van into a living space there’s a LOT here that can be adapted and adopted into a shantyboat.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 14, 2015

If I Can’t Have A Shantyboat….

Then I want to live HERE….


Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 10, 2015

The Ultimate Hammock For Boat Nuts Like Me

I’ve got a big post coming up about hammocks in the works. My hiking brother, Jeff, calls them “Bear Piñatas.” But if you’re a boat nut like me they don’t get much cooler than this…boat

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | October 9, 2015


Just some thoughts when it comes to hot water on a shanty boat…

Some might say I’m a bit strange, and I won’t argue the point. Some might say I live a minimalist lifestyle and I’m not so sure that’s entirely true but there are hints of it.

Almost all of us gringos grew up with hot water for bathing. Hardly any Panamanians did. In fact, there is a belief among many Panamanians that hot showers and baths are actually bad for one’s health. In fact, I had a neighbor lady tell me just that within the last week!

Over the years I’ve had situations where hot water wasn’t available at the turn of the tap. When I lived on my shanty boat in New Orleans I didn’t have hot water. When I wanted hot water to shave I had to put a pot on the stove and warm the water up. No big deal. I worked at a boat yard and did a lot of paint “prep” which consisted of spending eight hours a day with an electric sander in my hand making dust, much of which covered me by quitting time. Back at the boat I had a shower head rigged to a hose supported on a 2X4. New Orleans has a pretty hot climate most of the year, and the water in PVC piping that serviced my dock was rarely cold. Tepid to warm would be the best words to describe the water temperature so it was pleasant. In the three or four winter months I had a good friend who lived on my route home from the yard and he kindly allowed me to shower at his place. So things worked out pretty well.

The next time my living conditions didn’t have hot water on demand was when I bought my much-missed Nancy Dawson, a Kaiser 26 sailboat. I took off on her for nine months and single-handed to Mexico, Belize and the Rio Dulce in Guatemala It was always hot there so when I was in the salt water areas I’d dive off the side of the boat, climb up in the dinghy and lather up with Joy dishwashing soap (the only thing that produces lather in salt water) and then I’d rinse off with fresh water. That’s necessary because salt from the sea drying on your body will eventually give you a rash. When I returned to the States I lived for close to two years in a boat yard and then at a marina for another four years or so, and each place had shower rooms so hot water was not a problem.

In the first year and a half here in Panama I was house sitting at a place for two six-month stints and they had an on-demand hot water heater. The place here in Boqueron also has an on-demand water heater that doesn’t work simply because most of the time the water pressure isn’t high enough to trigger it. Now, I haven’t gotten used to cold water showers, though I have to say the water is never cold as it is in the States, but it’s still cold enough that I don’t find it comfortable most of the time. The exception is on really hot days in the middle of the afternoon then it feels good to get in the shower.

For shaving I do what I did on the shanty boat. Heat water in a pot and use that. I wash dishes in cold water and since most houses in the country don’t have hot water some brilliant people have created a soap that lathers up in cold water.

So, how do I deal with the cold water showers? Well, one way is what I would call a “modified sponge bath.” That is to say I stay out of the main stream of the water and use a soapy face cloth to wash myself. I don’t mind sticking my head in the cold water to wash my hair, though.

But I DO like warm water to shower with. For quite a while I used a “Sun Shower.” One of those four-gallon plastic bags that you lay in the sun for a couple of hours and it heats up the water. Does a damned good job, too. You can scald yourself if you’re not careful. The problems I had with it was hanging it up in the shower compartment space. Fresh water weighs 8 lbs. a gallon, so hoisting the 32-pound bag was a bit of a pain in the ass. Also, since it’s gravity-fed and the shower head nozzle was only about three feet off the deck I had to squat down to get under the water stream. It wasn’t a lot of fun to use, but I did. The biggest problem  was keeping the inside of the bag clean. Green slime would build up and eventually, even bleach wouldn’t get rid of the crud.

The end result for getting a hot water shower comes in the form of this thing. (Photo) It’s designed to spray toxic chemicals on weeds. I’d tried a smaller version years ago on the sailboat. It only held a gallon of water, and the spray nozzle wasn’t worth a damn. I think I tried it two or three times and gave up. But I decided to try again. This one holds 2-1/2 gallons. I did cut the hose and nozzle off of the sun shower and rigged it up to the new setup. A little bit of black spray paint et voilà as we used to say over in Antibes, France.

This certainly does the job though it’s no where near as exhilarating as standing under a REAL hot shower. I set it outside in the sun for a few hours and the water heats up nicely. A few strokes of the pump handle and there’s a decent flow of water. There’s a thing-a-mah-jig by the squeezer on the spray handle that allows for a continuous stream. Since the capacity of the unit is only 2-1/2 gallons you can’t stand under the hot water stream for a long time, but it’s enough to actually provide TWO Navy showers.

A Navy shower is essential for shipboard life where fresh water is limited. What you do is get wet, shut off the water stream, lather up, rinse off. It works. Another feature of the new set up over the Sun Shower is that the neck of the bottle is pretty wide, so if it has been a cloudy day, or I want to take a shower early in the morning all I have to do it put on the big pot of water, heat it up and pour it in to the container with the cooler water and then I’m able to get a comfortable shower.

Like I said, I don’t recommend that people live as I do. Most wouldn’t want to, but I’m adaptable. You have to be, after all, to live for nearly six years on a 26-foot sailboat.

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | September 13, 2015

Another Crazy Idea…

A while back I was investigating the availability here in Panama of close-cell foam to use as a building material for shantyboat pontoons. There is one place in Panama City that has the stuff, but it is, for my purposes, prohibitively expansive, especially when you consider the cost of fiberglass mat and roving and epoxy resin to cover the stuff. Actually, I’d probably use polyester resin. I’m not talking about building a yacht, here, and since I’m a 73-year old guy with COPD and three stents in my arteries I’m not looking for something that needs to last forever.

One thing they do have around here in Chiriquí Province is stuff like this:



It’s a foam core with high-tensile metal mesh on both sides. At first I didn’t think it could be adapted to use in shanty boat construction. But as so often happens, things are put aside and percolate subconsciously. There is a place along on my bus route from Boquerón into David (dah VEED) that actually stocks the stuff. I see it sitting in racks near the street. It looks like it comes in 4X8-foot sheets. It may be available in other sizes, but that’s what this stuff looks like.

When they’re building houses with this stuff they set up the foam panels and then coat both sides with concrete. Then several things came to me over the past couple of days. First: remember when ferro-cement boats were the big rage for home builders a few decades ago? Hundreds, perhaps thousands were started. Few were ever finished. Second: down here in Panama the majority of houses are cement block construction, wood being FOOD for a lot of different things. So the people around here are skilled with mixing and creating stuff out of concrete. I’m not just talking about piling up blocks to build houses with either. At the hostel I’m staying at for a few days while the owners of my house are down here on vacation they’ve made these counters out of concrete out in the palapa hut where the communal kitchen is located.

counter 1

counter 2

So, I’m thinking…if the panels are cheap enough why couldn’t they be used as the basis for either pontoons or a barge and have concrete applied to both sides to form a hull? b-panel, one of several companies that make these panels advertise them as being “quake resistant” so a hull could probably be strong enough to survive a truck ride of 25 miles or so down to Pedrigal from my house. Besides, the company advertises that pre-fab wall panels can be easily built and transported to a building site.

b-panel also has this interesting segment of their web site…Q: Can expanded polystyrene (EPS) be used for a floating house?

A: Yes, because EPS consists of 98% air, its buoyance is excellent. EPS is widely used for floating structures including floating houses. Furthermore, EPS as floatation has a much better safety factor than drum or other materials because EPS cannot easily sink, as its buoyancy is provided by millions of individual air cells.

So, tomorrow, Monday, I’m going to swing by the place that has the foam and see what they cost. Who knows what might develop?

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | September 1, 2015

Simple And Easily Done

I know, I know, I haven’t posted in a while but new shantyboat stuff doesn’t hit the internet on a daily basis.

This is a simple, easily done shantyboat that shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg. I’m sure nearly every reader would be able to find an inexpensive pontoon boat near them that could be converted. You could buy a shed at a lot of outlets and mount it aboard. Voilà!


Read about it here:

Posted by: oldsalt1942 | May 3, 2015

Learning Curve

I’ve decided that I should build a pontoon-type boat, doing it in four-foot segments (possibly eight-foot if I can be sure to divide that in half with a leak-proof bulkhead. These segments would be built here at the house in Boquerón and then trucked down to the marina in Pedregal where they’d be bolted and epoxied together. I have a LOT of experience with thickened epoxy as a bonding agent and I KNOW that the wood around the epoxied joint will give way before the joint will.

The pontoons will be 2-feet wide by 2-feet high, and between 24 and 28 feet long. Probably the latter. The beam of the boat will be 10-feet, with the house being 8-feet wide allowing for a nice roof overhang, or whatever that’s called in carpentry terms.

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. The cheapest 55-gallon plastic barrels I’ve found around here cost $30/each (can’t find a source for used barrels like in the States because if they are available they’re snapped up instantly by people who use them for water storage.). That’s $600 for flotation. 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 tried drawing these pontoon segments out on paper, but it wasn’t very successful, everything in 2-D. So I downloaded the free SketchUp design program and found out there’s a HUGE, STEEP learning curve and the frustration level was almost more than I could bear.

So, one Sunday morning last month I went into David (Dah VEED) to the store where I knew I could get 2′ X 2′ X 4′ styrofoam drop ceiling tiles, 1/2″ thick which is EXACTLY what like a pontoon segment would be like. (I’ve since decided that the bottoms of each segment should be 3/4″ thick instead of 1/2″. Using a hot-glue gun to assemble the pieces (Elmer’s School Glue took too long to dry and needed constant pressure to stick together, and contact cement INSTANTLY melts styrofoam) this is what I came up with.




Not only did this help me to visualize the building process, I found out that certain things had to be inset from an edge to accommodate other pieces.

If there’s one character trait I possess it’s that I’m STUBBORN! I became bound and determined that I was going to learn how to use the SketchUp program at least well enough so that I could document here, and possibly later in e-book form, how to build this boat. So I watched, over and over again, various YouTube tutorials on how the program works. I had to constantly trying something, discarding it, repeat, repeat, repeat. But I persevered and, while the measurements are a bit off at least I was finally able to get something resembling a 3-D rendition of a pontoon segment…

Segment 1Segment 3

Those end pieces that stick up above the pontoons are where the 2 X 6 cross beams will attach the pontoons to form a catamaran structure. End to end each 4′ section will have a one-inch-thick attachment point. Bolted and epoxied they should be strong enough to be able to move the boat without a problem. So, diddling around some more with SketchUp, and getting better at it all the time though still having to try something, discard it and do it over again, I came up with these ideas.

28-foot pontoon 2

This is what a pontoon would look like. That square thing in the bow would be a hatch so I could use those segments to store anchor line and fenders.

Here they are with the cross braces and decking…

28-foot pontoon with cross braces28-foot pontoon with decking

So that’s what I’ve come up with so far…


Posted by: oldsalt1942 | April 20, 2015

A New Phase

Things are moving along with the plan to build a shantyboat. Things go in phases.

The first phase was all the crackpot ideas I’ve come up with over the years. Camper shells on pontoons. Bamboo rafts. I’ve even gone so far as to actually buy plans for one. There were ideas of collecting empty plastic bottles, stuffing them into plastic milk crates that would be lashed together, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve finally decided that the most practical thing to do is to build a pair of pontoons in four-foot sections because they’re small enough that I can man-handle them by myself, and then epoxy them together.

So, I went out and bought some 2’X4′ styrofoam ceiling tiles and started to put together a full-size mockup of a pontoon section. The Sketchup program was had too steep a learning curve and trying to visualize how it should all go together on paper wasn’t working. Doing this, though, was a good lesson and I can see how this is going to have to go together and how pieces of wood need to be cut.

The first photo shows the bottom which will be 2’X4′ as will the top piece. The bottom piece will be 3/4″ ply and the top and sides will be 1/2 inch ply EXCEPT for the very last end piece on each pontoon. The pieces with the squiggly lines are going to be 2X4 set on end. The sides and end pieces will be glued and screwed into these 2X4s. In putting this model together I was right to inset the end carlins 1/2″ in from the ends because the end piece will sit on TOP of the bottom piece. I found out, while putting this together, that the carlins on the sides at the bottom must ALSO be inset 1/2 inch to accept the sides and maintain the 2′ width. 

You can see that the end piece sticks up an additional 5-1/2 inches ABOVE the 2′ height. To connect the two pontoons it’s necessary to have pieces spanning the beam of the boat. Except for the very last cross piece I plan on using 2X6 and bolting and gluing them to the ends. When 2 sections come together those “tabs”, if you will, will be 1″ thick. The reason for the 5-1/2″ height is that lumber is trimmed and a 2X6 actually measures 1-1/2″ X 5-1/2″. Plywood, on the other hand is actual size. That is, 3/4″ plywood REALLY IS 3/4 of an inch thick.

Each side piece will have a single carlin at the top so that the top of the pontoon can be glued and screwed securely.

Now, the very LAST end piece of each pontoon will be made up of TWO half-inch pieces of ply epoxied together so that the “tab” will be 1″ thick. But IT will extend 11-1/2″ above the tops of the pontoons and the cross member will be a 2X12 so that it will be strong enough and big enough to accept an outboard motor.

Why make so many 2’X4′ sections instead of one long one? First of all I’m going to be doing practically everything by myself and I’m pretty sure I can manhandle a 2X4′ section on my own. Second, I want to have several watertight segments so that if one part of a pontoon gets holed it won’t sink the boat. I can also buy enough of these 2X4-foot, 1/2″ styrofoam blanks to fill all the pontoons for $385. They come in bales of 35 sheets. Seventeen and a half inches high. If I opted to just put a single bale in each pontoon that would give me potential buoyancy of 746.67 lbs. Certainly good enough to keep from sinking, and it would save me $128 which would buy quite a bit of lumber.

Richard Philbrick's photo.
Richard Philbrick's photo.
Richard Philbrick's photo.
Today I took another step towards actually building the damned thing. After going into the city to pay my cable bill I want to the biggest hardware outlet in the area and the closest thing we have around here to a Lowes or Home Depot (don’t kid your self, Do It Center isn’t even close to being a Home Depot) and bought a circular saw.
I didn’t buy the most expensive saw they had in the place. After all, when I finish building the shantyboat and a dinghy I’ll probably never use the saw again. But it wasn’t the cheapest saw they had, either.
Next thing to buy is a drill and some C clamps and a couple of bar clamps and then a load of wood. Perhaps start building sometime in June.
Posted by: oldsalt1942 | March 3, 2015

What Good Are Plans If You Can’t Change Them?

I’ve had problems sleeping, lately. I get up in the middle of the night to take a whiz and can’t get back to sleep because variations of the shanty boat build whirl around in my mind.

I thought about filling milk crates with empty 2-liter plastic bottles and then found out there’s only one dairy in the whole country that uses them and they won’t sell them. Using other kinds of containers to hold the bottles are no real answer to the problem, either. In any case, I would have built a plywood pontoon around them.

So I got to thinking about using foam flotation. I found a place that sells open-cell foam ceiling tiles and could buy enough of them to provide, literally, tons of buoyancy. The problem with them is each 2’X4′ panel is only 1/2″ thick. Also, open-cell foam, I discovered from rummaging around on line when I couldn’t get back to sleep, will absorb water over time. I’d also have to  find a way to keep the 35 sheets that came in a bundle together.

Closed-cell foam doesn’t absorb water. There’s only one place in all of Panama that sells closed-foam sheets. The sheets are 4’X8′ and 4″ thick. They cost $100 each. I’d need 24 sheets to get the size and amount of buoyancy required for what I have in mind. I’m NOT spending $2,400 for floatation.

So, I’m looking at a site that shows some people building pontoons and stuffing it with foam.

Foam filling


As you can see in the bottom pic they’re using a combination of bottles, 5-gallon pails and foam. They also mentioned in their story that they weren’t making the pontoons water-tight because they were making a single river trip and the shanty wasn’t for long-term use.

The foam isn’t providing any buoyancy of its own. None at all. What it’s doing is providing potential buoyancy should the pontoons be breached.

Well, I intend on making my pontoons watertight using a combination of glues, epoxy filets, and glass over wood. I also plan on building the pontoons in separate 2’X2’X4′ sections. They’d be easy for an old geezer like me to build and move around than building two long 20′ or 24′ pontoons. These segments would, of course, each have closed ends so that a breach in one wouldn’t flood the whole pontoon. Then I would fill them, like seen above, with a collection of discarded bottles.

So, we’ll see if sorting this out in the daylight will help me sleep through the night.

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