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26 March 2014

Filthy Lucre: The Rising Cost of DIY

Auntie Em! Auntie Em!
We Ante Up.

If the ante were lower, we'd play hands we shouldn't.
- Heard around Tenakee poker tables

Filthy Lucre: The Rising Cost of DIY

We have entered the dreaded and inevitable shop/buy phase of our project.


First, I guesstimated this boat to cost about $17.5K, all found. Materials, transportation, infrastructure and clean-up... the works.

But it seems that real world numbers have jumped up an average of 50% since we built SLACKTIDE in 2009. My guess is that this is post-peak everything at work, especially in terms of energy involved in procuring raw materials and manufacture and transportation. Our ACX Plywood, for example, is now coming from Chile, rather than our own forests (which have been cherry-picked below 'commercial viablility').

My guesstimate came up about $10K short! We threw up a broadly itemized 'worst case' scenario by supplier/service, for a 'ridiculously conservative' total of $27.7K. After shopping, it looks like that's our scenario.

To cover this, we've gone into debt for the first time in our lives (a very generous advance against next winter's caretaking commitment). While we're very grateful, this is a queasy feeling for us. But it allows us to fit the copper plate in good order, rather than retrofit, later.

Here's our list, to date, rounded a bit:

$1500     Container, SeattleWA to PetersburgAK
$1200     Sheepherder WoodStove from
$9500     Copper
$5000     Plywood, Foam, Underlayment (for Copper)
$2700     Red Cedar Framing, Coamings, Handrails
$2750     Home Depot and Harbor Freight - Paints, Glues, Tools, Sundries
$1200     Jamestown Distributors - Glues, Fasteners
$24350 SubTotal

We have yet to shop for Sailcloth + Rigging, Cushions/Mattress and Electrical System. Some of this will be forwarded from SLACKTIDE, and the latter two can be deferred for later. I expect another $3K?

Ooh! Aaah!! I feel the pain of pennies, wrenched from my skinflint soul.

Admittedly, the path we've chosen for our boats is an odd mix of cheap and expensive. The low road approach (ACX Plywood, Ply-Frame Construction, Nails vs. Screws) is juxtaposed with some higher end features (remote building site in far Alaska, Copper Plate, Ply/Foam/Ply Construction, Bronze and SS Fasteners, use of 3M5200 and Gorilla Glue, Wood Stove (Range with Oven), extra-heavy 2in Bottom).

Factor these out (and lower-cost alternatives in), and we'd be left with a total of around $10K (modest rigging, cushions, electrical, included). Reclaimed framing and scrounging could drop this further.

For a 32ft boat, this is still high. Especially since we count labor as free.

Why build DIY, when the market is awash with cheap, used boats?

Our answer is that:

a) Not one of the affordable boats out there are likely to let us sail where and as we do. Ultra-shoal, insulated, armored sailboats in decent shape are rare as hen's teeth, lying far away, and tend to cost a cod-wallop.

b) Retrofitting what we want as best we may - insulation, junk rig, maybe sheer-legs and metal keel-strip - along with fixing what's iffy - keel-bolts, blisters, backing plates, rig faults, etc? - takes time and treasure, and is tricky to back-fit. DIY lets it all install in good order.

c) Knowing exactly how it's built - the whats, wheres and whys - keeps maintenance manageable.

d) Most of the upfront costs are one-time expenses. They pro-rate over the lifetime of a boat that is exactly what we make of it... that fits us and our ways like a glove. In the long run, we make up an initial price difference (vs a used boat) and more.

e) There is a feeling to setting sail in your very own creation, with which no mere acquisition can compete.

Is DIY for everyone? Nope. Not even for us in some situations. If something were to happen to this one, we'll regroup, if possible, and buy used.

This one's our last, DIY home... better make it count!


  1. I built a Piver Tri in the early 70's with ACX ply, today they just give you a dumb look when you ask if they have ACX ply. Looked at a piece of 1/4" BC sanded this past weekend and it was all bowed and wavy-price $23.75. - Have not found any bronze/ copper ringed nails yet. That is probably something else that is a mystery to the local retailer. I can appreciate the fact that not many guys walk into the local store looking for boat building material, but it is still discouraging. Now debt is something I can relate to-ha. Just so at the end of the day the in flow is grater than the out go. A 100 years from now it won't make any difference anyway-Continued good luck with the project.

    1. Hi Linn,
      Yep, gettin' grim.

      Try looking at concrete form ply. Next stop, 'sheathing' (1/2in 4-ply... not as strong, but depending on quality, still impressive).

      For bronze fasteners, try (east coast). They've got a good selection, though tend to round up to the 50lb box at random intervals. Also copper nails, stainless ringshank and all the rest. Sure beats thos spendy little 25ct packs at the marine pirates!

      And yes, inflow => outflow has been our practice. But not this time. Gulp!

      Dave Z

  2. Some alternatives to consider for other DIY romantic souls: concrete hulls, beach or salvage wood strip planked with roofing tar, steel from a nearby scrap yard or ship breaking operation, purposeful building site location near such supplies (possibly 2nd or 3rd world). One example is the sailor Hans Klaar, who built a 70 foot catamaran on the beach in Gambia, a few years back, of mostly indigenous wood (and indigenous labor for the most part) then sewed up a crab claw sail rig of patchy this and that (although in the end he was sweating the local authorities shutting him down since he painted the hulls black and they were accusing him of being a smuggler). And sailed said catamaran almost around the planet. Still do-able DIY paths to a boat design-build project well off the beaten path. Funny how a hull form as simple as a barge (or simple polynesian voyaging canoe in Hans Klaars case) can capture the imagination and fire off the romantic cannons. Here's to your efforts and best of luck in it. Your a inspiration to other DIYers. Ultimate shoestringers might do well to just cast far and wide for a good fixer upper though so as to GET OUT THERE sooner rather than later. Another prime example is the couple who took a simple Sea Pearl 21 beach cruiser, modified it with a cabin, and proceeded to sail from north america to the southern cone of south america (having a baby enroute). Where there is a will there will be a way.

    1. Hi BonRobi,

      Yep... many ways to the water!

      One of the basic DIY trade-offs is time for money. With time, one can bootstrap oneself into quite a vessel with NOTHING more than knowledge/ingenuity and what the world offers.

      Wood and stone tools, for example (knife, axe, adze, gluts and mallets) are plenty to turn raw wood into a vessel. 'Log Canoe' construction (‎), trunneled together can turn 'scrap' trees into a rugged and handsome vessel. Pitch and natural fibers do for tar and caulk; elbow grease for anti-fouling. Junk Rig works for sails woven of beach grass.

      DIY won't have to start quite that low a level in our lifetimes, but its all uphill from there!

      Dave Z

  3. Painful isn't it. But Just think of the alternative: no boat... This is much worse! I like the stove. Just a pity it's on the other side of the pond.

    1. Hi Joel,

      How true that is! And really, it's a mobile home for the price of a downpayment on most im-mobile ones.

      Copper pays for itself AND holds tangible value. Ply is quick, strong and ultimately monocoque. Foam conserves fuel and energy put toward heating. Glues are cheaper, stronger and more waterproof than fasteners.

      Huff, puff... it had better be a MANTRA.

      I'll be putting up a review of that stove, down the road. Meantime, they're a small, family firm... they might sell you the plans for fabrication in the UK? Sounds as though it works very well, judging by other user's feedback.

      Dave Z

    2. One consideration...

      We always like to calculate the cost of rent against the cost of a boat. At $500 per month (pretty low figure, in our parts), that's $6000 per year. If we live on the boat for five years at that rate, we break even.

      Not a bad return, despite my whining. 8)

      Dave Z

  4. Suddenly, strangely enough, I don't feel so bad about where we are with the Kairos--costly backtracking (and rush-related) errors to fix and all. Maybe I didn't do so bad after all... the Kairos being built also in Post-Peak times.

    That isn't to say I don't feel sympathy for your situation, in this. I do, because I feel it.

    (An' we ain't done wit' it, neither!)

    1. Hi Peter,

      I should say NOT! Just starting is a matter of courage; launching (as you have) is a matter of well earned pride. Back tracking and error just come with the territory.

      But we appreciate the sympathy (from all of you). And really... we should just buck up. No complaints if we're doing what we love! 8)

      Dave Z

  5. Hello Dave from north Idaho Chris ( actually in the process of driving to Las Vagas).

    What are you doing with Slacktide? If you sold her that would bring some dollars would it not?

    Watching your process has been very interesting and fun. I envy your freedom. Id trade it for all my wealth without a minute of thought. Riches are all about perspective. Your freedom is of far greater value than all my houses and stock!

    1. Hi Chris,

      We're hanging on to SLACKTIDE until the hull is complete (want to keep our mobility option), and then will offer her for sale. She will bring some back in (we hope... odd boat in an odd corner of the world), which will help rebuild our cushion.

      Freedom comes in many forms. Wealth may not be freedom itself, but it can be enabling. Invest it wisely!

      And enjoy your Road Trip... that's a gorgeous drive in the spring of the year!

      Dave Z

  6. Considering that the copper is 30% of the total, how thick are the sheets, who is the supplier, and if there were skegs installed what thickness would you drop down to? Not expecting you to change your design, but as consideration in my variation.

    1. Hi Dennis,

      We're going 3/32in thick on the bottom and 1/16 on the sides, buying from Alaskan Copper and Brass in Seattle (

      If using skegs, We'd likely have gone a sheet of 1/8th for their bottom and outboard faces (don't need the ouboard face, so much, but may as well use up the sheet) and dropped down to 1/16in along the bottom.

      This is considerably cheaper (approaching 30% of our comparable copper bill), and is one of the factors that make skegs a strong contender. Also, the bottom can be considerably thinner ply than we're using. Not so much a consideration if you live in a less rocky area...

      Copper is hanging around $3/lb, commodity price, but we paid arond $5.50/lb, manufactured. Rumors, as usual, are that it will go up or down, but suspect manufactured prices will only get worse, more or less regardless of the commodity price.

      As in so many respects, the time is NOW (if not 'then'!).

      Dave Z

  7. [Posted on behalf of JOHN]:

    Hello Dave,
    In discussing the thickness of the copper plating you plan to use on the hull, you mentioned that if you were to use skegs you would put thicker copper on the skegs and thinner copper on the rest of the hull bottom. If you were to use skegs what would be their shape and location?

    1. Hi John,

      Depending on which theory you favor, you could make them foils, sharpen symmetrically, sharpen to the inboard or ouboard face, V or taper them, round their bottoms, etc..

      I'd shape 'em pretty simply... beams standing on edge and sharpened toward the ends in plan view, with a a rounded, forward entry (for beaching). I'd for shapes that keep construction simple and the skegs robust in use. I doubt the difference between the best and reasonably worst shapes amounts to much, speed/lift-wise.

      Depth-wise, the taller they get, the more vulnerable they are (if they get too tall, they can be built wider at the top for better leverage). At a max, consider enough clearance to crawl under and use a tool (about 1.5ft?). Being a draft miser, I'd tend toward about half that as a minimum. Probably, PROBABLY settle on a foot.

      Consider 'wings' along their bottom... several ways to do it, but one is to use overhanging bronze plate on the bottom and reverse the bottom angle in support. This creates extra lateral resistance along their bottom, lee edges. Trick is to build 'em strong so as not to strip in grounding.

      Lengthwise, probably limit them to the deadflat, though some designs might edge that for or aft a bit, requiring padding or shaping along the upper edge.

      Personally, I'd tend to place them flush with the sides. This eliminates one salient edge (saves angle), and would allow extra mounting strength from extending the doubler plates downward, flush with their bottom face and bolting through a fat chine log.

      The last option that seems reasonable is to build a bilge (or SIPed bottom), providing framing for through-bolting.

      Sorry you asked, yet? 8)

      Dave Z

  8. Hi, the link for the sheepherder stove is no longer valid. Does anyone know where you can get them? Thanks, Robb

    1. Hi Robb,

      I've been looking for them with no luck, yet. YELP says they've closed, and I haven't been able to raise them by phone.

      To my mind, there's a good living for a welder with a basic wood range in the Shipmate 2a size range.

      The Sheepherder has worked pretty well for us... I'm close to writing a review. Quite a few deets I'd change, but they're relatively minor. For the price, it's been great.

      You might be able to find one, used... as I understand it, they got going for Y2K, and a lot of folks may just have them sitting around, since.

      Good Luck!

      Dave Z


About Me

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Anke and I live aboard WAYWARD, our T32x8 ketch. We sail by wind, tide and muscle in the waters of mid- to northern Southeast Alaska. We try to maximize the joys of life, and minimize the chores. ........ We live between the communities of SE Alaska, but drop in to visit with friends. Lately, we've worked, every other winter, care-taking Baranof Wilderness Lodge in Warmsprings Bay. This has given us a window on Web. ........ We're working toward a subsistence lifestyle, somewhat impeded by addictions to coffee, chocolate and cheese. ........ We think TEOTWAWKI is looming, and while we won't be ready, we'd at least like comfortable seats.