Blog: The Minimalist Boater

From the Minimalist Boater Website: ¬†Banjeau is a 16′ mini-houseboat I designed and built to use as a camper on the trailer and houseboat on the water. She was inspired by the boxy designs of Phil Bolger and Jim Michalak. Michalak has a design called Harmonica that is a neat little minimalist boat but I wanted something a little larger, heftier, and more stable. Banjeau weighs in at around 1000 pounds, has traveled from North Carolina and back via California and Canada. I’ve had a few requests for plans but never got the motivation to polish up the pencil sketches I built her from. This is the original flat-top version with a central opening that Bolger developed and Michalak uses. While it’s very handy for fair weather day-cruising, it’s not the best for cruising/camping. So we made some changes before going to the Florida Keys.


The flat top has been removed and a curved one is being installed. I’ve found that how much I enjoy boats is usually inversely proportional to the amount I spend on them, so I try to hold down costs where I can. The formers are cut from a couple of hollow-core doors bought from a Habitat for Humanity re-use center supplemented by a couple more damaged ones retrieved from their dumpster. Four sheets of 4x8x5.2mm exterior-glue lauan (Home Depot) at about $9 each kept the addition under $60 and also kept the weight down. I’ve got the typical short attention span that most Americans seem to suffer from and figure that even the most basic of boats devoid of epoxy/glass and other niceties will outlast my interest in them. Also when cobbling together one’s own designs, it’s important not to get carried away with materials and labor since, disappointing as it may seem, the boat just may not turn out to be your penultimate progeny.

Banjeau actually performs better than I anticipated for what’s essentially a barge with a house. The flat bottom curves up only in the forward 3 feet to allow 13 feet of uninterrupted flat floor in the house (the boat has a double bottom with I-beam bracing), so at 5-7 knots, she pushes a sizable bow wave like any barge, particularly if you’re sitting on the front porch. But, surprised as I was, with a 15 horse Johnson, she’ll plane and has topped out at 17 knots or just under 20 mph. Of course with the additional windage, speed drops with a headwind. Draft is about 4 inches and you can walk all over this boat with very little movement. With the flat top, I used to climb on top and stand at the stern corner just to marvel at how little she listed. The guy who built Michalak’s prototype Harmonica says the boat tried to throw him the first time he jumped aboard so I was a little surprised at how much extra stability results from additional length, width (6′) and weight.



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  1. I love this! A 20 mph shanty boat!
    Unless you lived very simply, it would
    be slowed down by sufficient accumulation
    for full time living.

    BTW, a flat bottom is the most efficient
    planing hull. Its not used more because it
    pounds in a chop.

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