Boat Building Our Dreams

In January we stumbled upon a wooden boat builder named Tony Osse. At the time we were on a mission to find photos of boat renovators, builders, and the awkward positions they get themselves in. It turns out that Tony had got himself into some sticky situations! Searching again this month, however, Tony popped up again! This time Tony and his family were the stars of episode 12 of Volvo Penta’s – Boating Dreams. The episode features an impressive story of a family handcrafting a boat from the bare bones. This is a story that got us thinking – what is it that inspires us to build and renovate boats, often in spite of all difficulty and against the odds?

Tony and his family currently reside in the outskirts of São Paulo, Brazil.
São Paulo, famous for its beautiful architecture and iconic buildings, as well as being a vibrant financial center.

Tony is currently building a Black Crown; a 30ft Wooden motorboat based on Sam Devlin’s designs. Over the years Sam Devlin have built variations of this boat from 25-32ft. The Black Crown is designed to be a sit-in cruiser without the traditional fly-bridge found on some motorboats. Once the boat is finished, Tony hopes for a cruising speed of 20-25knts. He modestly claims he’s an amateur boat builder but Tony and his partner of 40 years, Cylene have been building canoes since 1996. A long history of building small boats has led Tony and the rest of the Osse family to want to push forward and take their skills to the next level.

If that’s not impressive enough, the Osse family went one step further and for their 25th-anniversary, Tony and his partner gifted each other a 200hp Volvo Penta engine for their self build. I know, right? That’s the most awesome and sweetest thing boat lovers could imagine!

We decided that it was time to ask Tony some questions about him and his partners build.

Boat Renovation People – What has driven you and your family to choose the hard option and build a boat from scratch? 

Tony – We have been building small boats for a very long time. We have ran a canoe shop since 1996. We thought that the next natural step in our life and work was to build something bigger.  We have the space, the tools and, we hope, the knowledge. And you are right: it´s a hard option!  So far from “just building a bigger canoe”…  The amount of work is amazing! I didn’t expect that, but you learn to love it and just go ahead.

Some people ask me if at the very least we have saved money in comparison to buying a new boat. The answers, yes, but only if I don´t count the value of all the time that we spent building her.  Even if I use the hourly rate of my job as a biology teacher which is quite low, then this boat would cost much more than buying one from a regular manufacturer. In other words, you save money only if you have real free time to spend on it. But that´s the idea, right?

Boat Renovation People – What’s been the hardest part about building your boat?  

Tony – Flipping the big 30ft one and a half ton hull was the most tense moment for me until today. Everything was, literally, in the air!  One mistake and you can loose two years of work on the hull alone.  But, as for everyday work, sanding is the big villain. Be prepared to sand, and sand, and sand more…and sand again!   The best investment you can make is on multiple sanders (having all types available)  and a great vacuum cleaner with a long hose, a cyclone separator and a remote control switch!  Don’t forget a box of good masks.   My wife is a great help when I have to move some heavier parts, plywood sheets etc. Thank God she’s not the Barbie girl type. 

Boat Renovation People – Has there ever been a point where you’ve thought about giving up, if so how did you overcome it?

Tony – If you say that you never got mad and kicked the walls while building a bigger boat, something must be wrong! It’s easy to get overtired, tendinitis on both arms, epoxy drops on your head/hair, that glass cloth that doesn´t want to cooperate and stay in place while you have epoxy dripping from the roller.

Most annoyingly, I often find myself working inside the boat: after climbing the stairs for the 14567th time, then suddenly I remember that I should of grabbed a tool that’s now needed.   BUT, on the other hand, every day you find new reasons to keep going! When you finish any small job, like fixing the floor timbers, all leveled well It´s such a joy, you know it’s one more step ahead.   I know it´s cliche, but you really must enjoy the journey as much as the destination you are heading to.  If all you want is a boat, buy one. 

Boat Renovation People – How much do you think the project has cost you so far? 

Tony – I have an exact number, as I take note of all of my expenses. From a box of ss screws to a chart plotter they are in a spreadsheet that I feed and review at least a couple times a week.  The total number is a bit high right now cause we already bought the expensive sterndrive+engine+props and also many electronics and deck fittings (that people usually buy at the end). Another detail is that we also have all the wood and plywood to use until the last piece, including some extra as a precaution.  Some big expenses ahead are: epoxy (that never ends?), electrical and hydraulic materials, oh, and the windows/hatches. I have the money aside to buy from a good manufacturer, otherwise, we´ll make them here. The big number is at US$ 45.493,00 right now. But I guess that it will stop around 52K!

Boat Renovation People – Who inspired you to begin building boats? 

Tony – Not sure about that. We have been involved with boats since we were 14 years old. It all started with us diving and sailing etc when we were younger.  As we got older we became marine biologists and became even closer to the sea. Boats are a part of our soul. but, specifically building them.

Our boat building dream started when we returned for a trip to Canada. We paddled a canoe there, got addicted to canoeing and decided to buy one when back to Brazil. All we could find were the usual kayaks (that we already had).  The only solution was to build one. That was in 1994, and we still have this first canoe we made!

Boat Renovation People – What’s it like building boats in Brazil, are there certain types of materials that are hard to get hold off?   

Tony – Amateur boat building is NOT a common practice in Brazil. In a coarse attempt of  “broader thinking”, I would say that boat building is a perfect middle class hobby! BUT, the middle class in Brazil is almost extinct. Or, at least, under severe pressure!  People are more preoccupied in buying I phones (quite expensive in Brazil) and fancy cars, pretending that they belong to the upper class. Not as much time is spent developing basic woodworking skills, sawing and gluing wood. These are the skills that I believe would link them to a lower-hand working class.

Yes, people will look weird at you if your hands have epoxy stains     Because of that, you can´t find a single store selling materials specifically to boat building in Brazil.  For example, I bought my plywood straight from the factory, but only because it was a large order. The epoxy I buy is from an industrial distributor, and it took me 20 years of experimentation to reach the best combinations of resins and hardeners among, literally, thousands of options designed for aircraft to micro-electrical isolators.

But all that extra work brings a lot of pleasure, as you must learn and understand all the minimal details of the craft and materials. Most people (in a developed amateur boat building market like USA for example) will just buy epoxy by the brand and follow the simple instructions from the manufacturer.  Few will have or be able to calculate the compatibility, viscosity or curing times from the epoxy equivalents, amine indexes and OH amounts for different resins and hardeners. Is it easier to just order by a brand that offers a nice catalogue with all the magic potions you need? Sure.  Would I like it that way?  Not sure…..  Well, probably not now that I suffered so much learning!!  Haha!

As I mentioned above, I have already bought many of the electronics for this boat. But only because I had the chance to travel to the US a few months ago, where prices are, believe me, 4 times lower than here! Yes, that´s true. Importing taxes over electronics in Brazil are just abusive. Same with engines, parts etc.  This also puts a rock on the way of amateur boat building. We still have that stupid view that boats are for the rich only.

Boat Renovation People – When you finish this project what do you see yourself doing next?

Tony – Well, boat building is my addiction! But I promised I will take my family to Alaska in this boat!  Let´s see what comes first!  Anyway, they are free to say “no way you crazy #$%@”     Start another big boat….

Boat Renovation People – What made you choose Sam Devlin’s design – was there any other design that nearly made the cut?

Tony – Our initial choice was a little bigger trawler designed by a Brazilian, Roberto Barros. But we had the opportunity to test a few similar boats before, and agreed that 8 knots of speed was not our ideal for travelling and having fun. A bit more of speed would bring more smiles and be safer on what we like, that is long distance cruising.  So we downsized a bit because of costs (engine size for example) and looked around for the most beautiful boat that we could find among classic designs. Sam Devlin´s designs are just perfect on both criteria.  Oh, and that´s where the Alaska trip idea started too….  We want to show the creation to the creator on the way!

Why Do We Build Boats?

So, I found the Osse families’ journey to create a dreamboat was perhaps similar to mine although mine was notably a slightly less glamorous one. One question I had to ask; what drove Tony and his family to create a boat from scratch when they could have easily bought one? What creates these dreams of boat building that drive us to pour our life and soul into projects- often against all odds?

The fantasy of building or renovating your own boat is something many of us dream of. But why? Is it the draw of the ocean, the thought of escaping the city and living on the water? Or maybe just the challenge of learning new skills?

Personally, I feel one part of the Osse’s story that spoke to me the most was owning a boat to escape the formalities of everyday life. Having lived in two of the most “sort after” cities in the UK; Bristol and Brighton, I still find myself moving to the outskirts. In Brighton, I moved from the busy but picturesque center to a live aboard yacht in Southwick. Most recently I moved from a flat to a boatyard in the middle of nowhere. It’s as close as I can be to the water whilst being surrounded by like-minded boaters. The city is a short train ride away but the peace and tranquillity of the water with the sound of seagulls instead of cars, is enough to keep me here forever.

All Boats Start With Dreams

From a small canoe to a 100ft trawler, someone at some point dreams of creating that boat for an adventure. In fact, next time you look at a boat imagine the thought process behind it, every curve, contour, plank and strand of fiberglass having been well thought out and meticulously planned.

It’s a well-known fact that the boating life, and in particular boat building, comes at a heavy financial cost. Simple mistakes can consume all of your time and money. So why do we continue to put money into something that is not always financially viable? This makes me wonder about my own spending habits; why I moan about paying an extra 30p for a pint of beer in a fancy bar yet happily spend £80 on a tin of specialist paint? It’s as if the boat becomes your new found lover, you’ll spend whatever it takes to keep her happy. It’s all you’re thinking about from the moment you wake to when you close your eyes at night.

It comes as no surprise that people often dream of building floating homes to help them escape the sometimes mundane familiarity of life. But what is it that truly drives us? Is it the sense that one day you can use your boat to escape and explore the seas; is this really what drives us to renovate, restore and build boats? Often against all the odds’, we pour our life and soul into a project that sometimes to others seems like a total waste of time. To me it is the notion that the ocean is the last place, where we can truly relax and synchronize with nature in all it’s finest.

Renovating boats for me has always been about creating a space that caters for all of my needs, without being tied into a mortgage. A boat I can move anywhere in the world yet still have the comforts associated with a home. In a increasingly overpopulated world, where people often find themselves struggling to pay rent, or worse homeless; perhaps it is this ideology that drives us? Can you blame us for dreaming of a better life? A boat builder named Fergal once said to me; “I want to build a life that I don’t need a vacation from” And perhaps it is this mentality that drives us all to create our dreams.

3 thoughts on “Boat Building Our Dreams”

  1. I’m not building a boat, I’m repairing/improving one. The urge to be afloat is what drives me on. As mentioned in the article,I’m thinking about the boat and what needs to be done every waking hour and am pouring every available penny into achieving my goal.
    To me, a boat,and sailing,represents absolute freedom and if I own a boat,I always have a home.

    1. Thanks for the comment Glen, I know how you are feeling. I go through waves of spending everything I have on my project then sometimes I have to treat her mean to keep me kean. Nice blog by the way, write something for BRP sometime. 🙂

    2. Thanks for the comment Glen, I know how you are feeling. I go through waves of spending everything I have on my project then sometimes I have to treat her mean to keep me kean. Nice blog by the way, you should write something for BRP sometime. 🙂

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