Considering a Shantyboat from 1880

Considering a Shantyboat from 1880

First off, I recognize this is a first world issue… meaning, I have a choice between two really cool boats.  I;m lucky.  But I do have a choice and will share my thinking so far.

One can only build and store so many big boats… probably just one.  What should I build for my next “big” boat?  (Along with another one or two smaller ones, perhaps)

At this point I have two “big” boats under consideration.  I’ve already written about the CLC Autumn Leaves canoe yawl.  The other boat I am considering is a self-designed shantyboat.  Totally NOT a sailboat.

Some backstory here.  I am the founder of a website called, which has seen about 3 million page views through the years.  If you look up shantyboat online, you’ll see some of my almost 900 posts. I’ve done a lot of reading/research on shantyboats.

The second boat I built was a Phil Theil designed Escargot.  I built the first in the world to the plans he released.  He’d built a test one, but it was dramatically different than what he ended up selling as plans.  I have now heard from numerous people around the world who used this design as a foundation for their boat, with most doing minor to major alterations.   I made a few myself, with the most significant one being I gave the cabin 6 inches more headroom.

Through the years I’ve spent weeks out on the local sloughs. I really loved being out there.  It was an escape from the stresses of life.  A bad boss.  Family health challenges.  Depression.

But now I want standing headroom.  Time to sell the old girl and build a new boat.

Should it be a shantyboat?   Yes,or maybe, not sure…  but my question for myself is, now that I am retired and much of that stress is behind me do I need an escape. a place to sit, draw, paint, read and think?  Or, do I need some moderate adventure, such as sailing around the Pacific Northwest’s beautiful waterways?  Is the shantyboat thing a “been there, done that” or a “been there, need that”?  Only I can decide.  I can do both in the sailboat… I can do more with my wife on the Shantyboat.

For years now THIS is the boat I knew I wanted, a boat from 1880 that was used by Henry Taunt as a photo darkroom and get about boat for his photographic expeditions.

And this is my take on the boat.  22′ feet long by 6.5′ wide. I have no idea what the dimensions were for the boat above, though I am sure it is less than 6.5′ wide.  Using Mr. Taunt as a measuring stick, and I’d guess him to be no more than 5.5′ tall, given the era… I think the boat is certainly no wider than he is tall.  I’ll have to build light, especially the cabin structure, in order to maximize safety and to keep my weight down for trailering.

Here’s my checklist for this boat:

  • I can build this one.  I can afford it.  I have the skill set.  I have, more likely than not, enough time.  Can I design a boat that will be worth using?  A low-speed calm water shantyboat is a relatively light order, but let’s say I feel confident with some lingering doubts.
  • Plans are affordable.  They are free… as I made them, and that is half the fun.
  • I’m not too heavy for it.   My wife and I would have NO issue with weight.
  • I have the space to build it… but it will really be pushing it.
  • I can tow it.  Our capacity is about 2200 pounds total tow weight for the car.  Can I build it that light?  I think so.  The plywood is 3/8ths where it counts and a quarter inch for much that isbove water.
  • Don’t overwhelm myself with too big a project.  Well… compared to some boats, this is “easy”, but there are others that would be far easier and accomplish SOME of these goals.  Hmm.
  • I can sail this one.  Nope.  No sailing here.
  • It is adventure capable, within reason.  Well, of a sort.  Yes, adventure capable, on my scale, at least. Puget Sound is out, but many other waterways will work, including perhaps South Puget Sound where ship traffic is almost non-existent and the waterways protected.  But… no sailing.  Yeah, I could put up a square sail… but… no thanks.
  • Can my wife join me for some of the adventures?  Yes, without a doubt.  It will have standing headroom and a bathroom, which she insists on, reasonably enough.  There will be enough room aboard inside and just barelyenough out on the front deck.
  • Standing headroom?  Yes… see above.
  • Is it too “normal”?  Not at all.  I have an odd quirk in that I’d rather go pretty far off the beaten path.  It needs to work for me, but just as importantly, it must create an unusual experience. When I sail this thing, I want the experience to be a joyful break from the norm. THIS boat is that.  I am what I am!
  • I like attractive boats, though it can, and probably should be, in a slightly unconventional way.  More runway model than prom queen, more Hudson than Corvette, more Brussels Sprouts than green beans.  This boat is adorable to my eyes.


Some of the places to motor nearby our shop:  Here Lake Washington is in the foreground.  That will be no problem.  Behind that is Puget Sound, which is too much for this boat… except, if you look carefully, you’ll see some water behind that Island.  That water is protected and fine for my boat.

Here I am with my son on the Skagit River many years ago.  Not too many miles are navigable by a boat like this, but it was a lot of fun.

Here I am on the sloughs north of Everett, Washington.

Why not just keep using this boat?  I want standing head room, remember.  Also, I want to build again.  I’ve spent more than a decade in Shantyboats.  Do I want another ten years or a new adventure?

OK… so I am thinking… I’m thinking.  I’ll add more to this page soon.

Additional Resources:  – Search for Escargot.  Also, search for Taunt, as I have written about this boat often.

2 thoughts on “Considering a Shantyboat from 1880

  1. Dear Bryan, Very intriguing thought process here. Thanks for sharing! I am reminded of the Triloboat series of boats, and Claude Monet’s painting (of his boat) “The Studio Boat”. Best of luck!

  2. NIRVANA I can’t explain it BUT I know Bryan found it. I have found it after a day or two canoeing or sailing, when the worries of the world, the job and all my problems are left a stearn. It might be a fleeting moment but its grate.

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