A secret to boat building–booze

By Steve Estes

Strictly Drivel by Steve Estes

I’ve had a lot of questions from people about building boats for our annual paddleboat race coming up next Saturday at Looe Key Tiki Bar.

Before we get into a not-how-to discussion of building a paddleboat, let me fill you in on the annual Board of Directors walk along the race course.

Because of the length of the canal behind Looe Key versus the open water dock area of our former race course, we have definitively approved the installation of a 180-degree turnaround as part of the race course.

The course will start at the boat ramp. Racers can walk their craft to the drop off and climb in, which will make for a little easier mounting than the dock was, or they can pitch the craft out into the water, swim out and climb aboard. I’ll sell tickets for the latter.

The race will commence at the dropping of the start flag and proceed approximately 40 yards to the west where there will be a buoy. At the buoy, the racers will execute a 180-degree turn and come back to the boat ramp for the finish line.

Yes, we expect a little NASCAR-style bump-n-grind to occur at that turn.

Should a boat spin out in the turn and go down, there is a ladder to get the boat pilot out of the water. Fishing the boat out will be for our on-scene diver, or the boat crew, or the nearest drunk who wants to get wet. We’re not picky.

Now, on to boat building 101.

I won’t give away any secrets from the past race winners except to say that a boat sized to the pilot is always best. The weight of the pilot should be centered as much as possible to keep the bow down and give good traction for torque on the sprocket assembly.

But here are a few important things to remember. This is supposed to be fun. Alcohol is a prime ingredient, both in the building process and on race day. But not too much. Remember, everything is best in moderation.

When cutting the sideboards and keels, be sure to keep all important parts away from the saw blade, and make sure that the person chosen as the bartender understands that the blade can start at any time.

To get better structural strength, rip your 2×4 boards into 2x2s to start, and from there you can cut angles or strips for added connections. You get more board that way.

You have six feet of one-inch dowel rod. There is nothing in the rules (I know, I wrote them) that says you can’t use dowel rod as a support structure if you don’t need it for the sprocket assemblies.

And if all else fails, and you’re not quite sure if you’ve used the proper amount of board in your design (Like maybe a little too much), then the boat-design judge (me) is completely bribable. The bartenders know my favorite brand of beer and bourbon.

And remember, alcohol.

Duct tape makes both a great exterior sealant and a joint sealant. Roll the tape, stick it to the joint and drive the screw or nail through the tape into the accepting board.

Of course, if you have a crowd helping out with construction, ask them all to chew massive amounts of gum during the build process and use the gum as a joint sealant.

Paint, of which there is no limit, also can serve as a great joint sealant if applied wet before the boards are attached to one another. Oil-base paint can be your best friend.

Make sure to wear some kind of eye protection if using paint. A fast screw gun can toss paint for several feet. Don’t ask me how I know that. Just suffice it to say that I’m glad I wear prescription glasses on boat-build day.

Tape applied after the paint job dries to a good tack and then painted over also seals quite well. If you ever build a boat that doesn’t leak, I’ll bribe you for the secret.

And remember, alcohol.

The sprocket assembly may well be the most important detail. Here I will share with you that the best performing boats have been those that use a hole 15 percent or more larger than the dowel. Salt water tends to make things expand and after a race or two can make for a hard-to-turn power assembly.

The best performing boats also are meticulous in grinding and sanding the dowels and the receiver holes for smooth performance. Of course, sanding too much can affect the strength of the dowel.  A one-inch rod isn’t exactly something upon which you would stake your life.

Drywall screws. Three-quarter staples. Both very light.

Staple guns are not for shooting at people. They are meant to drive sharp objects into wood and tape.

And remember, alcohol.

The length of the paddles is a matter for debate. Some folks go with more blades and less blade in the water, some go with fewer blades and more blade in the water. Figure out your water line first fully loaded. I didn’t once. The boat wouldn’t move. Not enough blade in the water.

And remember, alcohol.

Because there will be a turn in the course this year for the first time, either independently- turning paddlewheels or a rudder are essential ingredients. Unless of course your pilot has extremely long arms and can use those arms to steer. But if they use them to paddle, it will take a lot of what the bartenders are familiar with to get the judge to sign off on human rudders.

And remember….wait….maybe alcohol is the reason I don’t remember?


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