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Cajun Pirogue

Not for everyone.  Admission? Well, you know what the admission is...

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My first attempt at boatbuilding taught me as much as all the reading and thinking combined.  Upon the boat's completion, I had graduated from Foundering Fool to Rank Amateur, and that is a greater leap than one might imagine.  I think that people who have been building boats for years might forget just how ignorant a first time builder can be.  Or perhaps they only wish they could.  Fortunately for us, and sometimes to their irritation, there is a rather developed online boatbuilding community (forums, message boards, newsgroups, webs).  And regularly we first time builders find and exploit this resource--dropping in amongst the engineers, naval architects, designers, and expert builders.  We loudly whine and beg information, proclaim our sad dilemmas.  We don't understand the difference between Epoxy and Polyester--they're both Resin, right?  We want to reduce the useful lifetime of our boats by half, in order to save $10.  We think we want FREE plans.  We think we want cookie cutter patterns to spread out on the plywood.  We would like to ask about a particular measurement but we don't know what the dang thing is called.  And we are certain we were ripped off when our plans arrive and they are little more than a few pages of drawings we can't decipher.  But we have no shame.  Because our ignorance is temporary.  Because we are on the threshold of one of the most captivating experiences possible.  And when we get a little farther along, we will patiently lend a hand to others who are crossing that creek for the first time.

My first boat was a good boat for the first time builder.  It was the Uncle John's Pirogue.  I selected it for all the wrong reasons, but it worked out fine.  Primarily I was enticed by the photos and messages posted by successful builders.  And the boat was a "kit" as well as a plan.  I must admit, I had some misgivings when the kit arrived in a box the size of an industrial roll of aluminum foil and I realized the plans were simply printouts of what was already on the website--in fact there was no new information there at all.  But as I began building the boat, I realized that only a beginner would need a "kit" or plans to build this boat. I made a few stupid mistakes, but nothing fatal. I got nearly all of my technical support from Larry Steeves at Raka Marine (an excellent dealer of inexpensive quality epoxy), who was patient and helpful way beyond the call of duty.  I was less aware of other resources at the time, and I bothered him with all manner of ridiculous questions about materials and building.  I am sorry I was such a trial to him, though he never pointed it out.  And while I won't advise others to take advantage of his kindness and expertise in this way, I will plug his business shamelessly.  His products are quality, he carries all the materials one would typically need, to build a plyboat (except ply of course), so you don't have to use a half dozen suppliers.  His prices are typically the best one can find.  He is simply the best supplier of materials for a boatbuilder who wants quality on a low-end budget. And he gives excellent support, ships quickly, and gives great advice.  So if you are wondering where to buy good Epoxy and glass cloth and other fixins and you don't know where to start, go to

Now for some photos of my pirogue:

Here I have attached the stems, but have merely clamped the frames in place to see what it would look like.  You can see where I have attached one rubrail with clamps.  It is a no-no to attach rubrails one side at a time.  But I didn't know.  Fortunately the boat came out symmetrical anyway.  I suspect that I would not have been so lucky if this boat was not a double ended design.

I built the boat about 7 inches wider at the maximum beam than designed, after discussing it with Larry of course.

It is amazing how quickly the pieces of plywood become a boat shape.  This is the part where a first time builder thinks he is nearly done, because he doesn't know that the finishing takes twice as long as everything else combined.

Here is a picture of my work area.  Proof that I am not overly methodical in my building approach.  Also evidence that I spend entirely too much time searching through piles of crap exclaiming, "I just had the damn thing not 5 minutes ago!"


Glassing the outside hull.  I didn't believe the glass cloth would mold to the shape of the hull without cutting pleats, but it did, just like Larry said it would.

And sanding, and sanding, and sanding.

Used Ace Hardware, alkalyd oil based porch paint.  It was adequate, but took forever to dry/cure.  With use it scraped off as easily as the cheaper, faster drying exterior latex. Live-n-learn.

Ah, all decked out and ready.  The seat is on a short plybox base and not attached to the hull, to allow for adjustment for different payloads.

Okay, so the boat was too wide at center to paddle with a regular canoe paddle, and I was too heavy to sit aft.  So a sandbag in the bow increased maneuverability and tracking on solo journeys. By the way, no one was really anxious to join me on my first launch, but I forgive them.

Without the weight in the bow.


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Last updated: June 08, 2007.