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L'il Nip

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After living aboard our 40-foot Cross trimaran in San Diego for several years, my wife and I sold the boat and moved to the south coast of Massachusetts. The area’s endless inlets and coves seemed perfect for exploring with a smaller boat, so once we were settled I built a 22-foot trailerable catamaran and a basic 9-foot flat bottom plywood skiff to use as a tender. The small skiff rowed well in flat water but had a tendency to pound in wind and chop. I became intrigued by the idea of building a catamaran skiff with similar lines to our 22-foot cat, and this is the story of that project.

The catamaran skiff has two dory hulls connected by a narrow bridge deck that serves as a continuous seat, fore and aft. It is built with 1/4-inch luan plywood from Home Depot, which, at $12 a sheet, is a great choice for a cheap experimental design. The two dory hulls are simple to build, and each of them was put together in a day.

I began by setting up two temporary frames and the transom on my workbench. After shaping the two side panels to line up on the frames, I placed the bottom panel on top and scribed the piece. I placed thickened epoxy between the bow seams and tack-glued the bottom, using masking tape to hold it in place. Next, I filleted and taped the inside corners and glassed the hull bottoms. Bulkheads and beams at each end held the hulls together and created watertight compartments in bow and stern. I used quarter-inch plywood to connect the hulls and create the bridge deck seat. Finally, I sealed everything with a couple of coats of epoxy, then sanded and varnished the outside of the hulls.

The maiden voyage

After launching the boat, and before taking her out for a spin, my first task was to find the balance point, and locate and install the oarlocks. I was finally ready for the moment of truth. I’m happy to report that the skiff rows perfectly and the catamaran hulls are incredibly stable. At less than 8 feet long, she carries my wife, our dog, our supplies, and me from ship to shore--and back again—quite easily. I’ve, always hated rowing dinghies with the stern dragging in the water, and the continuous seat and two rowing positions allow this boat to be in perfect trim at all times. The simple varnished wooden hulls draw lots of attention at the dock. I don’t think people are accustomed to seeing wooden boats these days, and definitely not with catamaran hulls. We have used the boat for a couple of seasons now, and love it. It’s a pleasure to row and does much better in wind and chop than the original skiff I built.

Plans for L'il Nip consist of a 13 page document with all the instructions, detailed drawings and photographs needed to build this lovely, stable rowboat.