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Motivation for a Home Boatbuilder

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M56C - Just add water!

 

You are looking at the author's pride and joy: a 5.6 metre plate alloy half-cabin built entirely by my father and myself over several years. Literally everything you see in the photo was constructed in the confines of our garage and on the driveway just outside. The hull, transom, fuel tank, instrument panel, targa, bimini, handrails, foam flotation, bowsprit, rod holders... all of it except for the steel trailer (which we improved), the 100HP Yamaha 4-stroke outboard (which we installed and connected ourselves - no mean feat for an engine weighing 189KG), and the safety glass panels which form the windshield.

A Glint in an Obsessed Would-Be Boater's Eye

The biggest "boat" the family ever owned previously was an old inflatable, roughly 3 metres or so in length, with an ancient 4HP outboard. Without a solid floor or any semblance of rigidity, the hull couldn't really handle a bigger motor, and the author vividly remembers childhood daytrips in the inflatable loaded to the gills with picnic supplies, sunbrellas, kids, a grandmother and attendant paraphernalia, and sometimes the occasional relative or two. Even places which are relatively close can take a long time to reach at 3 knots wide-open-throttle!

It was nothing if not memorable, however, and the stage was set for a complete fascination with boats and all things boat-related in adulthood. Theory books, yachting magazines, charts, circumnavigation stories, I voraciously read all of them and fed my expectations while finishing school and starting the first few years of full-time employment. Then, it was time for a bigger and better boat...

The Disappointment of Boat Shows

There probably are flawless commercially-constructed boats, somewhere. Unfortunately, Sydney's boat shows of the late 1990's tended to emphasise style over substance. Granted, the boats mostly looked great, but was that cleat really meant to hold in a gale force wind, or was it only there to look "nautical" in its plastic uselessness? Except for the unattainably expensive offerings, it seemed that most of the investment was going towards the purple metallic paint, as opposed to design and fitout. "Fancy" wasn't a requirement. Just safe, capable, and stupidly strong and reliable - all qualities the inflatable mostly lacked.

Enter the CNC Plasma Cutter

Advances in technology by the mid-1990s meant that commercial boats were no longer "lofted" in the old-fashioned and complex way which used to scare most prospective amateur boatbuilders out of their daydreams. A CAD package could instead be used do design a boat, blow it up into its constituent parts, and if it was metal, conceptually straighten out those parts and transpose them onto flat plate for cutting by a computer-controlled (CNC) plasma cutting machine. Even over distances of 5 or 10 metres, the accuracy of such a setup was within a millimetre - an order of magnitude better than what is achievable with even the most meticulous lofting. Metal is an appealing medium. Inherently strong and low-maintenance, the only problem was that nobody in the family knew a welder from a high-pressure water cleaner. Complete ignorance will not let itself be held back by mere trifles, however. We felt that building it ourselves was the best way to end up with a real boat - one which would be right for us.

But Aluminum? The Material Supposedly "Beyond Amateur Boatbuilders"?

Could we really do this? A bit of detailed investigation seemed to suggest we could. Or at least, we wouldn't do any worse than some of the products on the market which also looked to have been assembled by people who'd never seen a welder before. As an added bonus, we would control the boat completely, from the quality of the components to the precise location of each and every grab rail, each and every bolt and fastening. Both Dad and I spent 6 months learning the ropes at a TAFE introductory MIG welding course, twice a week for a couple of hours.

The Design is Chosen

Without any real experience, we instinctively felt that the right boat was a modern design, and the right size was the largest hull which would fit into our garage and still allow the garage door to close with a "click" when the boat was inside. We settled on a Phil Curran designed 5.6m half-cabin called the M56C. Everything about it seemed right. Thick plate alloy, the potential for full-length berths in the cabin, relatively wide for its length (2.3m), and modern, purposeful looks. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, we forgot and overlooked many things which might seem very silly in retrospect. For example, how exactly do you get roughly 800KG of palletised aluminum plate - dimensions 6m by 1.2m - off the back of a flatbed truck in suburban Sydney? We assumed the truckie would surely have some sort of lifting gizmo to do that. Nope. He was just the truckie. Turned the wheel and pressed the accelerator every so often. Loading and unloading was always Someone Else's Problem, although to be fair he jumped out and helped when it became clear that each of the dozen or so 50KG plates would have to be individually lifted off the pallet and manhandled down from the truck if he was to go home that night.

That was the first lesson regarding the importance of good tools. There would be many more such lessons to come...


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