Meet Fergal; born in Ireland he is the swiss army knife of boat builders. Over the years Fergal has built, restored and re-imagined many boats. One in particular, appealed to Boat Renovation People (BRP) and it was the phenomenal backyard build of a 1954 style cracker box power boat, completed in 2013. This boat is truly stunning and if you told us it had been featured in a bond film we would probably believe you! We should warn you; this story doesn’t end well so if you’re not fond of an unhappy ending then this probably isn’t for you!
What’s a Cracker box?
Cracker Box’s were popularised in America after the second world war and until recently when Fergal built one, there wasn’t a Glen-l cracker box in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Chevy engines in the 1950’s were often salvaged from old corvettes and used to propel the boats. As the demand for these beautiful boats increased so did their speed. Some cracker boxes have been known to travel up to the 80- 90 mph range!
Cracker Boxes are still raced to this day and there are various clubs in America that host regular events: Cracker Box Racing being one of them. As you can imagine, this highly appealing DIY racing culture has had a large influence on the more modern offshore power boats of today.
Traditionally on a Cracker box, the inboard engine is located in the middle of the boat which in turn drives a highly efficient propeller. Its 15ft sleek body makes it ideal for trailering, and better yet it’s possible to build this beauty on a budget.
In 2011 Fergal went about building the first Irish Glen-l cracker box. He needed an engine that would be true to the cracker box style, so he salvaged a GM 5.7 V8 from a donated Sportique boat. Fergal re-built the engine and gearbox using a friend’s workshop so it could be craned into his beloved creation.
For many years Fergal has been restoring old cars and boats as a hobby but his love of engines and quest for perfection has often lead to a severe thrashing of his finances! Fergal insists that every time he
works on an engine it costs him more in expenses than its worth. We don’t blame him, everyone knows that once you fall in love with a boat or engine you’ll spend as much as it takes to make it look beautiful. In turn, you become the boat’s sugar daddie! One thing that made us giggle was a comment on finances: “My only fear is that when I die the wife will sell the boat and engine for half of what she thinks I paid into it!”
skip diving & Budget Boat Building
It’s well known that the renovation and upkeep of a boat is enough to bankrupt many, so you can imagine the costs involved in building one. Fergal claims he regularly skip dives, attends jumble sales and will wait years for the right piece of equipment to come up for auction cheaply. Chandleries make a lot of money from the fact that the majority of boat owners are inherently impatient. If you want to go sailing at the weekend and the only thing that’s stopping you is some new gear case oil then you’re going to buy it. Time gets the best of us but not in Fergal’s case!
His projects are funded by odd jobs and this coupled with his ability to save money when needed, means that Fergal can build boats on a budget. Here is a great quote from the man himself:
“If I can’t afford something, I’ll do a small project to get me what I need. It’s called my boat fund so at the end of it all my boats cost me nothing but time and effort. If you set out to build a boat for 4k it will cost you 4k and more, but if you set out to build a boat for nothing, from nothing then that is what it will cost. “
building the boat
Understandably, Fergal wanted to make sure this boat would be solidly built and so began its creation. It’s not just his engineering skills that stood out to us but the impressive craftsmanship through woodwork, metalwork and painting; hence why we’ve named him the swiss army knife of boat building! Here is a selection of photos from his project.
Where is THE boat now?
This as Fergal puts it, is the million dollar question. In 2014 the boat was launched and with it was an almost cult following of forumites who had watched the build in progress. It was also featured in the IWN magazine. Everyone it seemed was excited to finally see the boat in action. He enjoyed the boat for a short while before putting it up for sale for €15,000 . However, as fate would have it in June 2015, Fergal broke the news that the boat had sunk:
Fergal – “Not the best weekend I have had. Old’s Cool is now sitting at the bottom of Lough Ree under about 40 foot of water. We left Portlick bay at about 12.30 and headed to Killinure point to meet up with some other boats. We then we headed to Lanesborough for the summer prom festival. The water was quite calm and it was a pleasant trip up, arriving at about 2pm. We stayed for an hour and then headed back to Portlick. After about half an hour we got hit with a large hail shower and the waves got a lot bigger very quick. We were doing 10 knots just to keep the bow up above the waves but I came down off one hard and nosed dived into another, swamping the boat and killing the engine. With no forward motion, I then got turned sideways and hit by two more waves that filled the boat, and down she went all within 30 seconds. I didn’t even have time to make an SOS call but luckily the other boat that was with me saw what happened and came back to pull me out of the water. The important thing is that I’m here to tell the story and that’s all that counts.”
The search for Fergal’s boat was carried out with the help of many but unfortunately, to this date, it was never found.
We wanted to ask Fergal some question about the build of his Cracker Box:
Louis – In your writing, you talk about epoxying over the inside of the boat and having to sand all of the intricate parts in between. Most interestingly you talk about adding a few layers of varnish over the epoxy, what varnish do you use and is it single part or two?
Fergal – “I used schooner gold which is a one part varnish. I thought it would be handier for fixing any scratches or dings over the years. I put 12 coats on her, sanding between each coat, then on the last coat I sanded all the way to 4000 grit then rubbing compound and wax.”
Louis – On your project, you applied Toplac to the underneath of the boat using the roll and tip method- how well did that hold-up?
Fergal – “It held up well. At most, she would only be in the water for a weekend and when out, she sits on a carpet bunked trailer.”
Louis – There was a point where you had finished caulking the top of the boat with Siikafelx and had epoxied over the top only to realise it wasn’t setting. Did you ever come close to giving up, and what was the hardest part about this build?
Fergal – “I never give up, but I did get quite upset when I put the finished coat of epoxy on the bow and a cat decided to go to sleep on it, not a pretty sight! I think the hardest part was the sanding; I had no finger prints for weeks.”
Louis – Your woodwork and patterning is a thing of beauty; where did you learn these skills and from what age?
Fergal – “I learnt the skills by building my first boat, which I think it was 2009.”
Louis – From start to finish how long did this project take roughly?
Fergal – “About 2 years of just doing a bit whenever I got a chance. ”
Louis – So lastly, we noticed you’re currently trying to raise some money to help with the modification of a boat for your wife and son who are disabled. Have you found a suitable boat yet and is there anything anyone who’s reading this could do to help?
Fergal – “I’ve been working on the boat and it’s a Roving Gem by Richardson, an ex-Norfolk Broads hire boat. I hope to convert it so that it’s wheelchair friendly. I thought it would be safer to get a boat that was sunk already! I’m going to need all the help I can get with this so feel free to offer what you have.”
You can check out Fergal’s funding page here – https://www.gofundme.com/bqnrrbyk