Compromise for Retirement? A Shantyboat Project

“If money, space and time were unlimited there would be considerably less compromise in building a boat” – Everybody.

Just past midnight today, a friend of ours died of cancer after a nine-year battle. Her husband came by the house at about 1 pm today to let us know she was gone. We hugged and cried together.

It’s sobering. My retirement to part-time started a couple of weeks ago, and my wife begins hers on August first.  While we feel fortunate and blessed to be able to do this, retirement has also given both of us an increased sense of age and mortality. Today’s news compounds that.

Since his visit, we’ve been quiet and contemplative. What do we really want to do with our remaining time?

We certainly want to experience the world, to have adventures, with each other, on our own, and with family and friends.  As a part of a much bigger discussion with our kids, we decided to convert an old Sprinter van into a stealth camping-mobile.  It’s something we all wanted to do, and perhaps we could even do some of the build together.

But the economic and storage reality became daunting.  In addition to the purchase price/monthly loan, there’d be license fees and insurance, as well as storage and upkeep.   We already have three cars, one for each of us, and an old Chevy that is used and licensed only for purposes of towing our boat.  It’s just not up to a daily commute.  As a part of our retirement downsize we’d thought of moving to just one vehicle, but what economical daily errand vehicle could tow a boat?

There are many answers, but we have found a favorite, the Dodge Ram Promaster City Wagon.  It gets 29mpg on the highway, can haul a full sheet of plywood, and is small enough to be manageable by my wife who is used to driving a Smartcar!  There’s also back seats for the two dogs and an occasional friend.  Depending on the version you can get 2000 to 1800 pounds of towing capacity.  Reviews are very good.   Could we build a camper that would meet these limits?  There are several commercially available options that meet the spec, so we could either buy or meet the spec with a build of our own.  We’d have one car and one modest trailer to store.  This could be an option, and this one car could do it all. We’d sell the others.  Or could it?

Or could we build a boat that could serve as camper and a protected water shantyboat?   But 1800 pounds, trailer included, for a shantyboat for two with standing headroom?  That could be tough.   She’d be used in protected waters and could be far less than palatial.  At this point, I remembered my old friend Paul Browne, a very active member of my Yahoo Shantyboat Group back in the early 2000’s.  He designed Lisa B Good with some input from our group, then sadly, died of cancer after a short illness.

But even this little boat got a weight estimate from Paul of 2500 pounds loaded, not including trailer.  Can I shave 800 pounds or so off his guess?   I’m not sure but let’s work it out.  Paul used 2 by 8 lumber for the longitudinal frames and sides of the hull.   That is overkill, without a doubt.  Cool, but heavy.  Below I figure on using 3/4 inch plywood, but in my experience, even that isn’t really needed.    By going to 5/8ths I’d drop 12 pounds a sheet:

Item Weight Total
7 sheets for longitudinal frames/sides and decking plus bow and stern 3/4 inch Plywood 68 lbs each 476
2 sheets for bottom 1/2 inch Plywood  46 lbs each  92
lumber  100
Stuff  50


So a total weight for the hull of about 718 pounds, just the hull, using the thicker plywood?   That would leave me 1300 pounds for the superstructure, trailer, outboard, fuel, water and such.  That might work with structural panel style construction.

Still early in my research about trailers, but I figure I can get one up to the load that will weigh less than 500 pounds.    Let’s say that leaves me with 800 pounds for the superstructure, outboard, fuel, water and the like.   I think that is possible.

Hmm. Will this work? I’ll keep thinking.

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