Budgeting the Build of a 35' steel sailboat; worthwhile costs vs. extravagance

Discussion in 'Metal Boat Building' started by welder/fitter, Sep 12, 2010.

  1. welder/fitter
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    welder/fitter Senior Member

    As no 2 boats are the same, no 2 builders have the same budget. Some budgets are more realistic than others, & where one is building effects the budget as much as what one builds. Still, some things remain a constant regardless of where one lives.

    We all pay more for a Wire-fed rig(GMAW,FCAW) than we do for a simple stick welder(SMAW), and we all pay more for a DC stick welder than an AC welder(other than "home-built" units).

    The plans we build to will cost us close to the same, regardless of where we are located, yet, the cost of plans from different designers can vary significantly.

    So, what is a "worthwhile investment", in other words, you get what you paid for? What is extravagant, in other words, a luxury more than sensible expenditure?

    For this thread, I'll suggest a steel sailboat of approx. 35feet(LOA) with the ability/ stores capacity to sail across any ocean. I'm not sure if we need to discuss "designer brands", other than a suggestion that "designer A's" plans are worth the extra cost, or "designer B's" boat requires more investment or skill for the manner of construction required(a possible example being radius hull?).

    Some other parameters - please, add to them as they occur to you - could be that this is a one-off build, an area of suitable dimensions is available to you, there is no present structure on that property, power is available, water is available, you have 100 full work days available per year(your choice how many hours you work in each day), the nearest town with all needed equipment/materials and a marina with all launch facilities are within a 1 hour drive of your build location.

    You grew up with a family sailboat - a 1974 mass-produced Plastic27 - and you are going to build a steel boat, rather than buy one(of any description), because you've lost touch with reality, are having a mid-life crisis(whatever reason). To limit some areas; you are looking for stock plans from a qualified designer, and you want to build as much as you can yourself, preferably from start to finish, but are starting with a lack of associated skills. You plan to take your wife sailing around the world with your two small kids, dog died last month/cat ran away. You want to build a pro-quality boat, for the least amount of money.

    Nothing need be in order, launch method before plans, for all I care. Let's address a question/topic, then, after 6 to 12 responses(depending on topic & variety of opinions) move on to another consideration.

    But, let me start with plans. Prices range from about US$600 to US$3,500 . Does it matter? Go cheap or choose the plans which you are most attracted to? Whose plans are easiest for an amateur to build to? Who's are a significant challenge? Is it a reasonable investment to buy cutting files? A pre-cut kit?(I can already see Wynand's response!lol) Or is that extravagant?

    Mike
     
  2. gonzo
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    gonzo Senior Member

    To start with, a pro quality boat needs a pro to build it. By the time you are more half way throught the project you will start seeing the mistakes you made. If you can't settle for an amateur quality, finding a shipwright to work with you as a helper is an option.
     
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  3. welder/fitter
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    welder/fitter Senior Member




    I don't know about that; I've seen some pretty nicely built one-offs before. But, your point is well-taken. So, that is another consideration for the described-above builder, being; is it worth the investment to hire an experienced individual to assist and/or monitor the builder? I'll put gonzo down as a definite "yes" and I tend to agree that it is money well spent.
     
  4. apex1

    apex1 Guest

    I would say, it is money saved, not spent, at least in the end.
    A "well done and forgotten" job is always cheaper, than a second and third attempt. (with a pro to correct in the end)

    My 2c

    Richard
     
  5. Lampy08
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    Lampy08 Junior Member

    I think picking a reputable designer, “qualified” or not checking out his/her work before you spend dollar one would be the best way to spend your time and money to begin with. The same thing goes with any welding coach.
    I can’t speak for metal boats having not really built one (ok there was that attempt with some aluminium flashing when I was 12…) but in the wooden boat building shows nearly every year amateur built boats are in the top three, often first, and a lot of “Professional” builds don’t even get mentioned. Don’t rule out the home builders ability, some do better than some professionals.
    I had some aluminium handrails delivered here, designed by Coast Guard engineers, welded by professional welders working for Coast Guard and inspected and certified by the same engineers that designed them. When the helicopter slung them in the welds literally popped apart when they set them down. They were sent back to town and re-welded and sent back here only to find they don’t fit the deck they were designed for. They are still here if any one wants to come out and look at “professional” welding and engineering.

    Dennis
     
  6. pdwiley
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    pdwiley Senior Member

    On plans, I'd decide what I wanted the boat to do, then any restrictions on that use, then find all the plans that matched the requirement. I'd then cull them to the ones I liked the best visually, then look at ease of construction and any special construction requirements. Plan price would be the last consideration as the boat is going to cost a ton of money compared to the plans.

    I wanted a shoal draft ocean capable vessel that could be built (including rig if I needed to) pretty simply and had a proven track record of both construction and use. I knew my skills weren't up to round bilge and I also knew that round bilge boats don't actually sail any better than hard chine boats anyway, so that ruled out the round bilge designs.

    PDW
     
  7. welder/fitter
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    welder/fitter Senior Member

    I should have explained better. The purpose of this thread is a place to point to when that next post of, "Hi, I'm a newbie to these forums. I'm planning on building a steel sailboat and thought that this would be a good place to get an idea of...". (or some such post).



    Presumably, one would do this. But, I did specify "qualified designer", so please stick with the parameters I suggested &, by all means, offer other parameters that might be of value to the thread. I would agree that if hiring someone to weld or advise about welding, then a welder who is experienced in marine vessels is a consideration, however, I believe that gonzo & Richard are suggesting that it be someone who is knowledgeable about all aspects of boatbuilding, rather than just welding. While that does narrow the field, I think that it would be a good place to start, then settle for the closest that you can find to the ideal advisor. If the "whole package" can be found; perfect!

    It's a shame that you've had such bad experiences. Regardless, as I've mentioned, this is a thread to discuss the differences between wise expenditures & wasting one's budget.

    Mike
     
  8. M&M Ovenden
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    M&M Ovenden Senior Member

    No doubt, among backyard boat builders, most don't brace accordingly to what there project will cost, it costs a lot and there isn't much to save on. I find interesting your choice of words "worth while cost vs extravagance". I don't think of most of the costs on the construction of a steel boat as extravagances, extravagances come when one equips the boat.
    Whatever boat is being built, for similar size you will need similar quantity of steel, will have about as much surface to blast, paint and insulate. What has to be done has to be done. A hard vs radius chine: is that really a choice to be made on cost? Or skill? The amount of welding on a 35 ft boat compared to an other? With proper equipment, well planned prep and sequences, there can't be that much more welding to make a crucial difference. Welding (with good equipment) is fast. ....faster than trying to figure out how the hell to proceed from half drawn out plans bought for cheap. Nah, I really don't think there is much leeway for savings on building boat vs an other comparable one.

    What may seem like extravagant may not be. Mark and I have this concept we call "cost of regret". When a decision comes down to cost (all other variables have been discussed and evaluated) we don't only consider the price difference between "choice a" and "choice b" but also take in consideration a cost associated to making the wrong decision. If "a" and "b" are evenly viable options the cost of regret is at 0 and we can can pick the cheaper option with peace in mind. If there is a quality difference between two options the "cost of regret" can vary from a small inconvenience to exceeding the cost of the more expensive option (like in a potential redo down the road situation). This "cost of regret" concept adds an extra somewhat objective variable in our decision making when emotions can get a little too close to our wallet. The matter of the fact is that more often than other adding the "cost of regret" leads us to buying better rather than cheaper. On the long run I believe though that our "better" becomes "cheaper".

    Over the past few years I have "witnessed" many saving strategies which turned out not so good. These, I think are quite common among amateur boat builders who build themselves with "cheaper" in mind. Examples? Buying an engine before even laying out the keel because it was a good price. Ten years later the boat is built, there is no more warranty on the engine and the poor diesel machine, which has never run, is seized. An other one? Skimping on the blasting.....to eventually have to blast anyway and paint again. Or, what's with the idea of building a boat in the middle of a field to avoid rent but burn money in fuel to run a generator...even if it happened to be cheaper, one would be hard press to do quality work in such conditions. Buying cheap tools...then they break....then one goes and buys not so cheap of tools....and eventually makes its way to the good stuff. I believe in good tools. Skill is half the battle, good tools the other...actually, real pros usually know how to pick there tools. It really makes me squidge when I read posts from people trying to figure out the cheapest way to gizmo a welding apparatus to weld up a hull.

    Wow, this almost turned out into a rant. The truth of the matter is that I do get annoyed by the "cheap steel boat" idea. The only thing cheap about steel boats are the half finished shells on which people give up.

    Murielle
     
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  9. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    If you are starting from scratch, and assuming the plans are good etc, then without doubt, the best way is to seek expert advice.

    As Richard notes, it is money saved not spent.

    Building boats whilst it may seem like a hobby and “anyone can do it”, not everyone can weld properly - nor read/understand dwgs correctly. By that I mean a weld that is microscopically correct, rather than visibly. Visual inspection can only cover so much and if the welder is an amateur, as this thread suggests, then what bench mark does said welder have to judge whether the weld is quality or not?

    So, seek advice from an experience fabricator. By this I mean as already eluded too, not just a welder. A full on fabricator(shipwright), someone with the skills, expertise and track record of building boats from start to finish. Preferably professional back ground. That is to say, qualifications to back up the experience. This simply demonstrates the ability to be consistent, compliant and due diligence to procedures which are terribly important and always over looked by amateurs as “she’ll be right mate” when in fact it is not!

    Ask the fabricator, what is best way to start, what things should be done what things should not be done…when improvisation is acceptable and when it is not. Which means when is it best to seek expert advice on either fabrication or design; KNOW YOUR LIMITS and stick to them.

    Then periodically ask the said fabricator to return to inspect what you have done as a ‘dry survey’. This will keep you on track and ensure you have not forgotten the basics. Being a professional fabricator, s/he will know what is acceptable and what is not, thus their advice shall be invaluable.

    Finally, when completed, ask the fabricator of they can recommend a surveyor to give a final inspect and then, if passed, a stamp approved certification; beit it MCA/USCG etc etc. The cert, is the Jewel in the Crown.

    It is not good spending $$$/£££/¥¥¥ and endless hours/weeks/years slaving away for a pile of junk. Just because it is a home build, does not mean it should be shoddy workmanship. Get your blood sweat and tears stamped as “approved”. With this cert, you have peace of mind and a serious increase in resale value.
     
  10. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    Spoken like a true pro :)
     
  11. welder/fitter
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    welder/fitter Senior Member

    Excellent post, Murielle!

    LOL, I shouldn't have chosen the word "extravagant" & promise not to do it again! By doing so, perhaps, I've given you the idea that I support the cheapest/fastest way to build a boat, but that is not the case at all.

    First, I'm talking about all aspects of building a boat, not just the steel work. What I was trying to say was that, if, for instance, someone came up to you & Mark today & said that they had seen you working on your boat, were thinking that they'd like to build one, and was wondering what advice you'd give - as probably happens to you often on the internet - would you say, "Well, if we were starting again, we'd do everything the same" or "Here's one thing we'd do to save some time/money", or "We have specific skills that we have been able to incorporate into the building of our boat, but if you don't have this specific skill, you're better to build this way", or "to that sort of design."

    Is that a bit more clear?

    Peter,
    I think you understood what I was trying to do & have perfectly illustrated your priorities in the value of plans. I tend to agree that what one gets for their money is vastly more important than what one pays.

    Ad Hoc, great advice! (as usual)
     
  12. Ad Hoc
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    Ad Hoc Naval Architect

    The only thing that is cheap...is your time, ie the labour costs. Since it is your boat, you're not charging yourself for the work.

    Hence this gives the impression that there are so many savings that can be made. The 'saving' is that you do bits and pieces when you can afford it, rather than taking out a huge mortgage for it!

    Everything costs money...either you accept a cheap winch or not, or a decent window and frame, or not, a used engine or not...Murielle summed it all up nicely.

    This summation is what "I" go through every day with clients, based upon the SOR and GA and of course, their budget. BUT, this is because the final cost (budget) is already known and agreed upon in advance. In a home build...what is the final cost???...all unknown. Hence Murielle's advice is on the money, pun intended :p
     
  13. pdwiley
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    pdwiley Senior Member

    Non-boat examples.

    Friend of mine & I both have the same size and roughly same finish houses. I built mine. He paid to have his built. His was finished in less than 6 months, mine took over 2 years. Some trivial bits still aren't finished in mine but it's warm, dry and everything works.

    At the end of the time he had a $100,000 mortgage. I didn't have one.

    I couldn't save that $100K in the time difference between builds so doing it myself saved me a lot, plus I know exactly who to blame for any faults.

    Same with my barn. I drew up the draft plans, paid an engineer to certify the plans then built it to plan. Less than half the cost of paying someone to do it for me or buying a prefab unit. Took me a while.

    Boat? Jury is out. I totally agree there's no saving in steel, a one-off builder probably pays more because they buy retail. Don't know about diesel engines, I have 6 to choose from now. I bought bronze castings for my port lights but I have lathes and milling machines so finishing the castings isn't an issue except for the time.

    I pay in time what I don't want to spend in money. Nothing is free. Some things are worth paying for; blasting steel is an example. I send mine to the commercial blasters even though I have a 120 cfm compressor of my own. If the commercial price was much more expensive I'd do it myself. I can sell the compressor when I'm finished but consider, it's a 25 HP 3 phase motor. How many prospective builders have a 415V 100A supply available to them? It cost me $8,000 just to get the 3 phase power connected some years ago.

    Good, cheap, fast. You only ever get to pick 2.

    Back to the questions, after picking the plans I'd find my building site. Depending on whether I was building under cover or in the open I'd work out my plan of attack. In the open, I'd be weather dependent, could be too hot for months to weld, could pour rain. In a wet climate I'd worry about the steel rusting faster than I could build. That would be a consideration when deciding whether to build right way up or upside down. I'd want to get the hull weathertight as soon as I could. Building in a cradle (VDS 34) might be good if the keel opening was a drain, building upside down would also work as each plate added increased the weather resistance somewhat.

    Site rental is another issue. None, there's no time pressure. High rent, better plan on building fast (pick appropriate design) or relocating the hull as soon as all the metalwork is finished. Think crane rentals and wide load permits. It can easily cost $2K where I live to move a hull by the time you pay the minimum charges for cranes, low loaders, riggers etc etc.

    PDW
     
  14. Manie B
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    Manie B Senior Member

    The best plans is not what they cost but how much detail is in them and how much online support there is. For you the best is to build a popular boat where there are good forums for that particular design and designer.
    Just look around at how many **** builds there are because the builder doesn't have enough details on the plans and his lack of experience.

    Here I have seen you get what you pay for
    cheap plans = few details = guess work = **** build = no re-sale value
     
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  15. apex1

    apex1 Guest

    That is a opinion I hear quite often. But it is just that, a opinion.

    When Daniel Skira, Peter Radcliffe, Wynand Noortje would build a boat in a backyard, sure the result would be a professional one. They ARE pro´s, hence no wonder.
    But ask them if they would dare to say they are able to do better than a top yard.

    The "amateurs can do better than pro´s" statement is wrong. They can not.

    Boatbuilding is far too complex to make it possible for a amateur to achieve results like pro´s. Too many different trades, hence too many little tricks one has to know, to get the final result as good as the different experts in their field would.

    I am dead sure, Peter can make a very good steel boat, and Wynand as good a wooden one, but as sure the result is a much better one if done the other way round. (Daniel has a bit broader range)

    Now when you ask all three of them how much they like the wiring, they will probably tell you they don´t know, never tried, they hire experts! (one can translate this example into other trades as plumbing too)

    Of course, compared with a mass product, some homebuilders can achieve quite good results in one or the other trade, but there is not one single example aflaot, where a amateur has done a better boat than pro´s!

    I have seen quite impressive woodwork done by skilled homebuilders, no doubt, but my cabinetmakers make that look like orange crates when they spend half the time on such "masterpiece". But they are cabinetmakers, in plumbing, I fear, they would brake their legs and arms and get it not done.
    You got the picture?

    Another point, always overlooked by amateurs, is the fact, that most NA´s are unable to design "buildable".
    The one with the most sold stock plans is a perfect proof for the validity of this statement. (radius chine, as a hint)
    Most of them are able to integrate the most obvious stuff right where it belongs, but then the finicky part starts. Plumbing, ducts, sea cocks,limber holes, accessability of parts and compartements, etc. etc..........

    Here the shipwright pays back what he got. He is well familiar with these sloppy drawn "plans" and has sensible solutions, tricks and experience.

    No, don´t tell the homebuilder he can do a better boat than the professionals, thats a lie.
    He can, with patience, dedication and growing skills*, produce a boat nearly as good as a yard built, in details even a bit better than the average, but not a award winning superyacht to the best overall quality.

    * the mentioned ten years building time are a direct result of these! Though Murielle sure has shocked some of the homebuilders reading that, she is right on the penny not to underestimate the time frame.

    Regards
    Richard
     
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