Folding Gable Ends

We were aware that this beast with its generously gabled roof would be pretty tall.  Especially on a flatbed.  So I worked on some mechanism that would allow the gabled roof to fold down flat.  The question is:  How can you fold down the gables and then the two roof sections without anything binding?

I came up with a solution that I liked.  The gable end walls are a little shorter, so the gable ends can fold down without binding the roof sections.

If the roof sections themselves are in danger of binding (which I doubt since their overlap is minimal), the two side roof sections could be slightly different heights, though this might introduce other problems or look weird.

Boat Builder Porn

Is it hot in here, or is it just me?  I spent a rainy Felton afternoon checking out shanty boat info on the World Wide Web.  While there are many amazing photos and stuff, today boat plans are making me hot.  Check this shit.

This is the Escargot Canal Cruiser, designed by Phil Thiel of Seattle.  I found it on Bryan Lowe's amazing Shanty Boat Living blog.  This entry chronicles Bryan's journey building this cute boat.

This is Bill Durham's House-Punt.  Apparently, this one is a bit of a mystery, but here Bryan Lowe talks about it.

This is William Atkin's Retreat - An 18' Shanty Boat Deluxe.  I like the simple hull design.  Here's William Atkin's site with the plans.

This is the Glen-L Classic Barge-style Houseboat. These plans come from an old skool boat design house.  The boat boasts: Incredibly simple curve-free construction, Easy, quick project for anyone who can handle basic woodworking tools, and Uses ordinary materials available anywhere at bargain prices.  It is reviewed in this article from Shanty Boat Living.  

Here's an amazing 1899 houseboat plans that Bryan Lowe of Shanty Boat Living turned up.  It is beautiful in it's simplicity.  Check out this article that pulls illustrations out of a book called Woodworking For Beginners: A Manual for Amateurs.  That sounds right up my alley.

 This is Paul Browne's Lisa B Good, a trailerable shanty.  Also described on Shanty Boat Living in this article.  Here are the full plans.

Okay, whew.  I think I have to go be by myself for some "private time" for a little while.


You know how many marinas there are in the Sacramento Delta?  A lot, let me tell you.  And I've called nearly every one in search of our elusive, inexpensive junked, but still floating, 20 foot-or-so pontoon boat.  A few leads which I'm following up on.

Kai and I also hung a flier up in a few delta towns when we were up there. 

Surprisingly, we got a response within a few days from a guy named Chris in Walnut Grove.  "I live on a little harbor.  The woman who owns it is like 90 something and she's going crazy.  The marina's falling apart.  There a boat in the harbor, just sitting there for years, sounds like what you are looking for."  It took me a bit to understand Chris.  He seemed like a nice guy, a lot like the other folks we met in the area, lonely, talkative, staggeringly inarticulate.

"I don't know if it's a pontoon boat, but it's sinking on one side.  So it's probably a pontoon boat, right?"  I had to think through this logic a little bit.  One of the reasons we are interested in a pontoon boat is that it is less likely to sink. 

"This boat's got stuff in it.  A fridge, held up with a rope.  It got coats in there, like nice ones.  And other stuff."  I wondered that the locals had not already stripped this abandoned boat full of nice coats.

I asked Chris if he could send me a picture of this boat.  "You know, I'm technology illiterate.  My phone's got a camera, but I don't know know how to use the goddamned thing.  Technology, man, I just don't know it."

Chris went on, "To tell the truth, you don't want this boat.  It's sinking on one side.  But it's just sitting here.  And free's a good price, right?  Am I right?  You know, who knows?  You could haul this thing out and do us a favor before it sinks."

As dubious as it sounds, we'll probably take a look at it next time we go up there.  If it hasn't already settled to the bottom of the Sacramento River.  As Chris says, who knows?

Walls and diagonal bracing

I was worried that since we were planning to sheet only the outside with vertical boards, that the walls would have no sheer strength and would be subject to deformation by lateral forces such as wind, waves, and hitting an iceberg.

Here is a suggestion from Aralia to give the walls sheer strength. 

We are planning to keep the inside studs open.  This will save the weight of the extra (inside) sheeting and will give us lots of lovely places between the studs to install shelves, cabinetry, etc.

A few plans have called for 2x2 framing for the cabin to reduce weight in the topside.  This is impressively spindly.  In that case, I'd definitely want 1x4 diagonal bracing so the first heavy overhanging branch didn't clear the decks.  

I still like the idea of 2x4 studs simply because it would give us great storage/shelf opportunities on the inside.  Is that dumb?  Maybe.

A Madcap Boat Scavenging Journey

Kai and I took a mad motorcycle trip up the Sacramento Delta to check out a couple of "pontoon boats."  They turned out to not only not be pontoon boats, but much longer than we were told and barely afloat.

The first was a fiberglass houseboat around 35 feet or so, much too large, and much too... not what we're looking for whatsoever.  The best thing that could be said for it, was that at least it was floating pretty high and.. not quite dry as it had lots of water sloshing around in its hull.  It was probably a 70s era houseboat, fiberglass hull, fiberglass cabin, ugly aluminum windows, rotting deck, and rusty inboard engine.  They offered to give that one to me free.  Uh.. thanks?

The second boat, and the reason we went up there, was an alleged pontoon boat that could easily be shortened, we were told.  Instead, it had a steal twin hull, something like triangular Vs that went down in the water, vaguely pontoon stylee.  Some of the bulkheads below the waterline had been filled inexpertly with foam. Unfortunately, these weren't pontoons and the boat sat inches off the water and listed to the port side.  I couldn't see exactly how the hull was configured, but it looked like it was a steel hull with twin-Vs that couldn't have offered much displacement.  It was also filled with a lot of rusty water.

We guessed at the cross-sectional area of these "pontoons" was something like 249 sq in (compared to a round pontoon of the same width at 452 sq in).  We take the cross-sectional area of the "pontoon" times the length to get the displacement at 60.5 cu ft.  Times the weight of water to get the buoyancy at 3776 lb - plus you'd have to subtract the weight of that enormously heavy steel hull.  For comparison, a similarly sized round pontoon would provide 6855 lb of flotation.  No wonder the boat was barely out of the water.

The one thing it had going for it is that it had a trailer. Still, though, I think we'll take a pass on these.  Chicken John, a friend who is no stranger to building with scavenged boats, says these sad houseboats are as common as dirt.  Or as he put it, "You can get that kind of stuff forever for free. Finding clean pontoons, steel or fiberglass is rare for free. They are worth $1,000 each. Steel is better, I say. Aluminum is swank, but there is always the possibility of theft, and they sell for like $2,000 a pop."

The guy who showed us around was a grizzled old fella who lived in a floating house in the marina and was heavily up-selling these boats.  "You can easily cut this down, make it the size you want, and wham!  There you go."  And "Just needs a little TLC and you got a beautiful boat."  He set my teeth on edge with a few borderline racist comments. The topper was when he tossed his filtered cigarette butt into the water.  Maybe I'm stupidly naive, but uh, doesn't he live on these waters?

However, the trip was not wasted as I learned to ask better questions when I'm on the phone with potential boat sellers.  "When you say pontoon, what do you mean?"  And "By 20 foot, do you mean actually 35 foot?"  Things like that. 

And Kai and I enjoyed the trip.  We loved the idyllic little towns along the delta, such as Walnut Grove and Islandton, where people were ridiculously friendly and helpful and seemingly lonely.  We had beers at Giusti's Place and then sat out on the deck watching the fishermen and the migrating ducks.

In the meantime, if we can't find a pontoon boat base, we'll look into building our own hull using the fiberglass over plywood method.

Are we ready to tackle the craziness of being DIY boat builders?  I mean building everything above the deck just felt like being a carpenter, which I'm comfortable with.  But building a boat?  Like, a real boat hull?  That part that floats in the water?  That feels crazy.

We took a very brief tour of a foreclosed boatyard.  Apparently, according to two different lonely men, the previous owner Bee owed lots of back rent and lost the boatyard.  Lots of tantalizing loot in the yard that wants to be turned into our shanty boat.

As we talked to the "caretaker" (read: a guy who lives in his RV in the yard), his tiny tiny guard dog Jezebel was vigorously attempting to eat my pants cuff and my boot.  He asked the usual questions, You from around here?  Where you from?  What you want a pontoon boat for? As we rode the motorcycle around the yard, we were in constant danger of either having our ankles chewed off or flattening poor ferocious Jezebel. Kai lifted her feet up on the hard bags out of range, and only risked dying of laughter, while my feet were thoroughly hazarded by Jezebel.

After listening to this lonely man for a while, we were taking our leave of Jezebel and the caretaker when he yelled.  "Hey, stop!  I got one more question."  I slowed the bike so Jezebel could attempt to noisily eat my boots again.  "Santa Cruz," he said, "Is it pretty much the same, or has it gotten worse?"  I pondered the many possible meanings and responses to that for a moment.

"Pretty much the same," I said.  "It's pretty much the same."


Looking around, shanty boats have been around for a long time.  The dream of living on the water is hardly new.  Shanty boats were the obvious choice for itinerant workers, miners, dockworkers, and farmers. And as living on land has felt more and more constrained, people have looked to the relative freedom of rivers, lakes, and seas.

From "Toward Defining Shantyboat Living" by Bryan Lowe (original source uncredited)

Here are some of the inspirations I've found from various online sources.

Untitled by Alexey Sergeev

"Floating camp on the Ouachita River by FinchLake" by Scott Whitlock.

"Euro Floating Cottage" from Euroship Services.  Custom made floating cabins.

"Float Cabins on Powell Lake" by Kent Griswold.  Float cabins in Coastal British Columbia.
"Loggers floating cabin" by Darian Rawson.
"Floating Shack" by Sadieinoz1957.  A floating bluegrass stage on the Derwent River, Hobart City, Tasmania, Australia.
"Jack Kern's Shantyboat" by Bryan Owen.  Permanently anchored in a little bay off the beach on the Ohio River.
"Shantyboat Gals" from

A Mad Idea Fueled by Gin

It started with Camp Tipsy. Alex and I started talking about what we could build, what kind of floating contraption would excite us.  We were unequivocally unanimous in wanting something like a tiny cabin that floats.  Something that we could escape to.

Or maybe it started earlier.  Maybe it started with the river floats.  For years, I'd built homemade rafts and floated down major American rivers with friends.
On that first trip, when I was trying to rustle up friends to join the adventure, here's what I wrote "This is not white water rafting. We're talking rivers with class zero rapids. A floating river. A lazy hot summer day eating found apples sort of river. These adventures remain low on specifics, high on general concept, mood, and emotion. Part of an experiment and a belief in the power of boredom to inspire."

In 2005, a few of us set out on a punk rafting adventure, building a raft out of found and scavenged materials and floating for a week, Huck Finn-style, on one of the largest fastest rivers on the continent, the Missouri.

We lived to tell the tale (barely), and so year after year, we took longer and longer adventures, floating a handful of rivers on completely ridiculous homemade rafts. After that first raft trip, we invited others, launching with whole punk raft flotillas. The experience has been life changing.

Alex and Jen and I were at Camp Tipsy and it was Happy Hour at our camp and we were drinking gin and tonics and maybe the alcohol contributed to our grandiose and ambitious scheming, or maybe, honestly, I've always been that way.

Camp Tipsy Hot Tub by ropersf

We were looking at all the bizzaro floating contraptions and nautical imagining.  We didn't want to go fast or swing or be propelled by some Rube Goldberg propulsion system or even soak in a wood-fired hot tub, so much, at that moment, as we wanted to sit peacefully on our own floating front porch and watch the madness of the rest of the world.

We decided to make a floating cabin, a shanty boat. 

Sketchy Napkin Plans

As with all great projects, this one started with a napkin drawing:

While  barrel floats have a long glorious history, we'll probably do either pontoons or a full plywood-fiberglass hull.  

We won't need any kind of keel with pontoons, but with a full hull, the keel is still an open question.  Though apparently some plans call for a, whadyacallit, a skeg, like a short keel that runs the length of the hull.