Posted by: oldsalt1942 | August 18, 2009

Harlan Hubbard=Shantyboat Guru

I’ve been mulling over my shantyboat building project in lieu of the information that finding decent plywood is a major problem in Panama. I have found two places in Bocas del Toro province that say they stock plywood but in spite of several email inquiries to what they charge I’ve gotten no response. So, what are the alternatives? Two by twelves are readily available as well as other dimensional lumber that could be used for building the hull.

One place to draw inspiration is the writings of Harlan Hubbard, the guru of shantyboats. His book Shantyboat: A River Way of Life is an excellent source, of course, but I recently discovered he wrote several other books on the subject. While the book everyone interested in the subject knows about, Hubbard’s Shantyboat Journal goes a bit more into the details of his construction process. Hubbard built his boat in 1944 built with planks 20 foot long planks that were three inches thick by 15 inches wide that he scavanged from a building that was being demolished. He was building in ” a time of shortages, and all available lumber was being allotted to construction more essential than ours could claim to be.” I doubt Hubbard would have sprung for plywood even if it had been available.

If you Google “Google Books” you can read most of each of Hubbard’s books which also includes Shantyboat on the Bayous, the conclusion of his and his wife Anna’s voyage down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

The Kentucky Historical Society has 16 photos of Harlan and Anna and have some interesting pictures taken during the construction of the boat:

Unfortunately you can’t download them without jumping through hoops to obtain the Society’s permission to do so but looking at them online is very instructive.

All of this will be fodder for keeping me from falling asleep at night as the process will filter through my mind as I try.


  1. forget the mortgages, for get the mansions, build a shantyboat.
    But be aware you need standing height.
    and a good heater.

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