June 2, 2010

Lakes Region: Hitting Sebago on a homemade boat


Our family enjoyed a cookout on the water this Memorial Day weekend. Boating season is upon us here in the Lakes Region. We anchored off an island aboard Moonrise, our converted pontoon boat. Food really does taste better out on the water.

click image to enlarge

Moonrise is intended to be a home for cookouts and sunsets for the Perkins family.

Don Perkins photo

It took about three years to build this craft, a few hours at a time, with materials purchased as money became available. It was launched last July, and the unique vessel has become a wonderful way to commune with the lake we love. It also gets plenty of looks.

For the past 16 years I've lived on Sebago Lake in Raymond with only a canoe linking me to the expanse of Sebago's 28,000 acres. It wasn't long before I started longing for a boat. But I didn't want a speed demon, something I'd learned to dislike as a canoeist. I wanted something that would allow an intimacy with the water and Sebago's beautiful landscape -- something I could spend hours on sheltered from the sun.

As a former carpenter and woodworker, I like building my own versions of things. Ten years ago I made a homemade truck cap, and when it comes to paddling, you can find me holding one of my very own canoe paddles. So I guess it was only natural that I wanted to build something uniquely my own. And the typical state of my finances meant I'd never be able to purchase anything like this in a lump sum (if such a vessel was even available). I would have to build it.

I began sharing my idea of getting a used pontoon boat, stripping it and building a "house" on top. Reactions were interesting. Folks seemed to be split into two camps almost immediately. There was little middle ground. People either loved the idea and wanted to hear more, or thought I was completely nuts.

There was no shortage of naysayers. Some thought it would just never work -- it would easily tip over and be unfit in any sort of wind. I took these considerations to heart and must admit the thought of never knowing exactly how it would handle until it was actually in the water weighed on my mind. I knew I had to make it lightweight and provide openings for wind to blow through rather than push against.

I also knew I wanted the rustic look of cedar shingles. Because they are lightweight, I decided to cover the entire structure in cedar shingles, roof and all. I built the frame of lightweight three-quarter-inch strapping, with laths applied as a base for the shingles. Building a traditional frame of "two-by" dimensional lumber clad with plywood sheathing would be too heavy.

For a decade, nothing happened. Moonrise was just an idea rolling around in my head. It seems life can get in the way of our dreams. Many things happened in the interim. I got married, went back to school, and had to give up a career in woodworking after developing carpal tunnel syndrome.

In late 2005, I acquired some funds and decided if it was ever going to happen, it would have to be now. I found a used but solid 24-foot pontoon boat with a 50-horsepower engine. But because I was a full-time student (also working 40 hours a week), my project sat in the yard until the spring of 2007. My wife, although patient with my whims, was beginning to doubt this thing would be anything more than an unsightly lawn ornament.

But I got myself in gear. Removing the worn-out vinyl furniture and stripping the mildewed carpet proved the least satisfying part of the whole project.

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