Homebuilding your own boat in time of crisis/ PART 2

Homebuilding your own boat in time of crisis/ PART 2

Second part of the article on how to save some money and launch a sound safe and beautiful boat; we’re gonna talk about engine, deck gears and on-board systems, quite a rollercoaster , so fasten your seat belts !

– engine: simply one of the economical nightmares for homebuilders, at least if you’re involved in a medium-large sailboat with saildrive or shaftline diesel inboard engine.

Why nightmare?

Simply because a new inboard engine costs a HUGE amount of money, and because it’s quite tricky to found a decent second hand small (13-40 hp) engine, and it’s almost impossible to find one fitted with saildrive transmission.

a shiny new diesel inboard engine for our Petrel 28, a huge fraction of the total budget !

petrel 28 engine

The nightmare is by far less worrying if you’re building a small boat and you can purchase an outboard engine; they cost less and second hand market is full of decent bargains.

Let’s make same examples: a new 13 HP inboard engine fitted with saildrive transmission cost about 9000 euros, (italian prices , 2013, that’s to say 12000 US$), a huge fraction of the total budget for a project like our petrel 28. A 20 HP outboard 4 strokes engine may costs 5000 euros/6500 US$ (small note: I’ve just compared an inboard 15 hp with a 20 hp outboard: since outboard runs at higher rpm, you can’t let your outboard engine run at maximum rpm continuously for 4-6 hours as you’d do with an inboard diesel one, so go for a slightly more powerful one).

So what can we do ?

  • Look for a second hand reliable inboard engine: it’s difficult, but not impossible, let’s begin the search as soon as possible, when we’re still drawing the bulkheads, and we’ll have a lot of time to find it; extend the search far from local level, a reliable inboard engine at a good price definitely deserves some extra bucks to cover delivery cost from a far away dealer; discard cheap very old engines, it’s quite impossible to find spare parts in case of troubles, same problems come from engines that are not common in your country, it may be the best engine in the world but it’ll become a total mess when you’ll have to order an oil filter from 4000 km away and wait 10 working days to get it.

  • accept the shaft-line solution: I perfectly know that engines with saildrive transmission are by far easier to install, but since it’s really difficult to find them, you may go for a more common shaft line engine; it’s not that difficult to build a reliable and properly aligned shaft line for small engines.

  • Switch from inboard to outboard: this is somehow a radical choice, but it can be worth some extra work: in medium sized cruising sailboats like our petrel 28 you may fit an outboard 20 HP engine, entrenched in a well in the after part of cockpit, so that propeller is under the hull and won’t suffer boat pitching; if plans don’t cover this option, don’t worry, this is the kind of modifications I usually do for free. With this solution you may cut by half the engine’s cost at the price of a slightly smaller cockpit, a more than decent compromise.

  • Search a boat to catch an engine: marinas and boatyards sometimes host sailboats or motorboats in pitiful conditions, with engines in decent or good conditions, and if you’re lucky they can be purchased for a real bargain price (1500-2500€ for the whole boat) ; if engine is ok (go there with a mechanic and check it) it may be a good choice (if you’re lucky you may even recover from the boat some other parts and scrap the rest)

a bukh 23 HP inline shaft diesel engine recovered from a boat sold for scrap, a HUGE bargain; altough it seems in bad conditions a mechanic tested it before the purchase ( a wise decision ! ) and he says it’s ok, a new layer of red paint and new wirings and it will be fine

buck recovered engine


  • deck gear: this the area where we have probably the maximum chance to save money if we accept several compromises, keeping in mind that our sailboat has got to be perfectly safe and seaworthy; let’s scan this subject item by item:


  • jib furler: they’re quite useful, especially for cruising, but they’re expensive (800 €, 1000 US$ for a small one for a 6m sailboat) and very far from being essential; you may go for a traditional jib with good ‘n old bronze snap sewed on the sail, sliding on your very cheap steel wire forestay; considering a jib fitted with a reefing point and a secondary storm jib, you probably may save 600 euros or so (900 US$) discarding a jib furler on a 8 metres boat; if you rig your boat smartly you may reef your jib direclty from the cockpit; on small boats (up to 10 square metres jib) you may go for a Barton jib furler (120 €), which is made for the biggest dinghies, but it will work only in two modes: jib totally unfurled or totally furled, and requires a dedicated jib with a luff wire (or hi-load textile, dynema or similar).

  • winches: self-tailing winches are a great invention, no doubt, but they’re terribly expensive (they cost more than twice the same size non self-tailing winch) ; on small (and even not so small) boats they can be avoided , on a boat like Petrel 28, you may save up to 800 euros (1100 US$) swtiching from 4 self tailing winches to 4 normal ones, on bigger projects this differences grows up with the winches’ size. On small boats like IDEA19 you may handle your sails with no winches at all (you’ll need a 2:1 purchase for jib sheets, ratchet blocks for gennaker sheets  and a little bit of muscle power, that’s all)


recovered winches

a set of 4 non self tailing winches (size 18 and 28)  taken from a boat sold for scrap (same boat of the aformentioned engine); they’re used but in good shape as we’ve seen opening them to do maintenance works.

Stopper vs. Clamcleat : on these items my humble opinion til a year ago was that saving 200 euros (270 US $) changing 2 sets of triple stoppers with 6 alloy clamcleat was not worth the safety and ease of handling that stoppers give, but in the ast year  I’ve been sailing in reliable and awesome boats with no stoppers at all, and  I find no big differences in rope and sail handling;  you may save some bucks passing from stoppers to alloy clamcleat.

Avoid cheap plastics cleats, they last no more than a couple of sailing seasons and they’re quite fragile; since you’re building a wooden boat you can made your own custom cleats starting form a mahogany batten; few hours of work to have a sturdy, fascinating old fashioned set of cleats,

alloy clamcleat

the beauty (and money savings) of a handcrafted wooden cleat

Penobscot 14 Spars 101


  • jib and mainsail traveller and tracks: in this area all depends on the boat and on her main activity (cruise or racing to put it simple); in my humble opinion I wouldn’t sacrifice a mainsheet track , it allows to manage the mainsail in the best way; anyway, if you decide to go for a fixed point mainsheet purchase and for no jib tracks you may save up to 500 € (670 US$), that is to say three traveller and tracks, for a 25-30 foot sailboat

  • blocks: just discard the hi-tech racing expensive ones and go for normal blocks of good quality; it’s not difficult to find bargain for this items on ebay , both for new and second hand blocks

  • electrical windlass: in small boats up to 32 feet I personally think it can be erased with little or no consequences, you’ll save 400-650 € (550-100 US$) and you may keep your batteries lighter since windlass is one of the most energy-cruncher items on board


rig and sails: in my experience this the most critical area: there are small chances to save money without heavily compromising perfomances of the boat. There are some reasons for that:

  • rig is probably the most stressed component for a sailboat, so I tend to have a very conservative approach on second hand rig

  • it’s quite difficult to find a second hand rig in good shape which can be adapted to a given project (different sizes, completely different section, too heavy , too light, too spreaders or missing ones, and so on)

a second hand mast that will be fitted on a Saltaspiaggia

mast second hand saltaspiaggia


  • it’s difficult to find second hand sails in decent shape that can be fitted on our boat without the need of several modifications, we may catch this chance if our rig is very similar  to very common model of boat , with a wide market of second hand sails.

recovered turnbuckles

second hand turnbuckles and ss steel wires; builder will evaluate if use them or not  depending on wire diameter and lenght , my personal opinion is that they’re too delicate stuff, scrap them and buy them new, it’s worth every buck !


So what can we do ?

  • Home built mast: could be a solution for small boats, (our Saltaspiaggia plans provides a dedicated drawing to self built the rig), although mast building is not a forgiving operation, you’ll have to be very accurate and very close to an optimum work, much more than what is required for hull building; the final result will be for sure beautiful, fascinating, heavier than alloy mast, and after all not so cheap, since it will require only first choice selected wood of some selected essences


  • Home built sails: this a possible choice, but I must confess I still have to see a set of home built sails comparable to those made by a decent sailmaker; the operation is anyway not cheap since good quality dacron fabrics and accessories costs a lot; I won’t bother you talking about Lankotex or other crappy fabrics, they’ll last not more than a single squall, and you’ll end up with a rag wrapped around your rig and no sails at all; they can be used optimistically for boats not larger than a small dinghy (and I’d avoid it even for this boats)


  • select carefully rigger and sailmaker: I think this is the most realistic option on the ground: sailmakers can delivery sails very far away from their loft so you can have a wide choice; if you provide them correct measurements for your set of sails, they’ll be able to do a good work. On the contrary when you chose the rigger , pay attention to the location, you have to deal with delivery costs that can be quite relevant, so consider always the total amount of rig+delivery costs (low cost delivery is possible if you personally know any logistic company; a mast is a very light item , virtually requires no extra space in a still scheduled trip, so a friendly logistic may give your rig an hitchhike for a low price, in my experience  this happened a good number of times)


interiors: here you have some choices to stay on the low side of budget, but in any case interiors are much more a matter of working hours and care for details than of budget. Let’s see some tricks:

  • use cheap non marine plywood: if you don’t like its color, simply change it with acrilic paint ; remember that you must protect plywood with liquid epoxy; even for solid wood you may go for cheap battens or use the waste collected form hull and deck stringers

  • avoid too complicate solutions: keep straight lines, avoid ceilings on the coachroof, avoid bent panels or laminated wood works, they’re beautiful but highly time-consuming

  • delay non-essential works: launch the boat with a minimal interior arrangement that allows you to cruise (same things can be done for systems), you’ll complete the details in a secondary moment, maybe the next winter, so your wallet will take a breath for some months and you’ll clear your mind about wich works are really worth doing on board and which not


systems: just few notes

  • keep everything simple and man-powered (avoid too much use of electricity on board)

  • navigation electronics: unless you’re not normally crossing the ocean or sailing in the fog or rough seas, keep it simple or install nothing at all; nowadays a normal smarthphone with its apps and a waterproof case can do 90% of navigation tasks, I’d prefer to spent 100€ for a small 220V good quality inverter to charge my personal devices than to spent 800-1000 € for an electronic navigation suite; I’d personally go for a minimal GPS to back up smartphone (200 €) ,  a VHF radio and nothing else;

  • electrical system: go for basic solutions, keep the wirings simple and clear, label each wire, keep batteries at minimum avoiding excessive electrical loads on board, use LED lamps ( they cost some more bucks, but allow you to keep batteries light and always charged), go for manual pedal-operated tap and manual toilet; avoid powered windlass and refrigerator, they’ll force to double (at least) your service batteries size;

  • plumbing:  keep everything light and simple here too, go for general market commercial solutions when you can (sometimes the same items may cost twice or more just because someone labeled it “for boating purpose”….), chose commercial plastic tanks, they’re reliable, easy to install and cost less than a half compared to a stainless steel one

I think I touched all the main subjects, now all you have to do is to buy a plan and built your own boat :) :)