Following the DREAM

Joe McKeown formed his boatbuilding company Bakayaro Boatworks (bakayaro means "idiot" in Japanese), brought ace boatbuilder David Blair up from New Zealand for the project, and then spent 12 months (spread out over 18 months) and 13,000 man hours building Shanachie in the mountains of Santa Cruz at his Happy Valley boat shop. She was originally a 47-foot cold-molded wood boat, which means the hull is laminated in layers using the West Epoxy System for the highest strength-to-weight ratio, and triple planked with Alaskan yellow cedar and mahogany for a total hull thickness of 1-1/4". Hover on the photos, below, to view captions, click/tap on them for enlargements, and check out Joe’s building notes for the story.  


  1. Build the Shop and They Will Come Seems logical: first you have to build the shop to build the boat, so we built a 60' x 25' x 29-foot high shop on our somewhat rural mountain property in Santa Cruz. The entire structure is on poles. This was my first experience with trusses and what a marvelous way to obtain large roof spans. Most of the wood came at a bargain when Big Creek Lumber, up the coast in Santa Cruz, ended up with 20,000 BF of specially-milled lumber that was never picked up. The window frames and trusses are old-growth fir that we recycled from a 100-year-old schoolhouse in Stockton.
  3. Line Drawings and Lofting The line drawings and a numerical table of offsets are what we used to draw the boat to scale on the floor, or in other words, to loft it. This took (what seemed like) about a million sheets of 4x8 particle board, painted white, and a good week of drawing different cross and longitudinal sections to scale on the floor, and then, 60-ft battens to connect all the dots. As you progress with the construction you can always go back to the lofting and pull off any other critical measurements for fabrication. We literally laminated the hull and deck beams on the lofting lines drawn up. David has such an artistic eye that after a spell he literally threw out the table of offsets and went with his artistic sense. Mess up with the lofting, and you might as well go golfing.
  5. Stations, Frames, and Backbone This stage is easier to comprehend if you can visualize a whale’s skeleton—its ribs, backbone and overall curvature are analogous to the internal structure of a wood boat. A notable difference is, we use stringers on top of the frames, which is more analagous to the airplane wings of old. The critical first phase after lofting is to establish the correct contour and curvature of the hull. This is accomplished with a combination of temporary stations and actual laminated frames interspersed along the length of the hull. The backbone is an integral structural component of the entire hull and ties the whole unit together. Once the hull is planked, and the boat is turned over, you can remove the temporary stations.
  7. Planking Three laminates make up the exterior skin of the hull. The first two are 3/8-inch yellow cedar and are run diagonally opposite each other. They are epoxy saturated and attached to the stringers. The final layer is ½-inch mahogany, and it is screwed to the other layers. We used the good old well-proven Yankee screwdriver for its excellent torque, and, over 13,000 screws. Finally, on alternate stringers, the planking as a unit is copper riveted to the frames. A very long and tedious job... Next phase is to buy a keg of beer or whatever, invite all those friends that hope to go sailing with you, make up some long-boards with 40-grit sandpaper and have a Long Board Sanding Party. Add a layer of 10-oz. fiberglass, some primer paint, and the boat is ready to turn over.
  9. The Flip When we designed the shop we had to add a belvedere in order to gain enough height to attach a beam to block and tackle the boat for turning it over. In principle, it is pretty straight-forward. Two huge blocks to lift it off the deck, two blocks on the floor—one as a preventer and one to pull—and then reverse positions as the boat is turned. ‘Twas a bit unnerving with all the noise and creaks, but things actually went quite well.
  11. Interior and Deck  Now the serious work begins. Best to accomplish as much as you can inside before you start the deck structure. Lots of time drawing, mocking up, templates, milling, fabricating, finishing, wiring, plumbing, mechanical systems, sanding, (a zillion sheets of sandpaper and eternal raw fingers), paint, varnish, and, lots of beer. For the deck, it’s back to the lofting for the curvature and patterns for lamination. The deck is an underlayer of 1/2-inch marine fin ply and then ½-inch teak, epoxied, screwed, plugged, and then two-part polysulfide caulking. Messy, but traditional with a beautiful result that has lasted—so far—more than forty years.
  13. Down the Road  Before we built the shop or boat I asked a friend, Doug Kilner (who had a bulldozer and lowboy trailer), if he thought we could get a 50-ft boat down our steep and curvy driveway. Three of us walked it with a 50-ft rope, one person at each end and one in the center with a 13-ft wide board. Imagine a dragon at a Chinese parade—seemed logical! In reality Doug had to straighten out several corners of our hillside with his dozer, and disconnect the stays holding up a PG&E power pole (yes, they were carefully reconnected when the move was completed). Doug, at that time, also owned a large helicopter that had the capacity to pick up the boat but, in talks with my risk-averse insurance agent— “You want to do what?” (an elementary school is located just down the road)—we, perhaps wisely, opted out. Without the keel, which we were to attach later at the harbor, it was indeed possible, and I was rather excited about the prospect.
  15. Keel Sadly, the designer (and good friend of mine), Paul Whiting, along with his wife and crew, were lost at sea when his boat Smackwater Jack vanished while returning to New Zealand from Australia across the Tasman Sea in a 100-knot storm. They had just completed the classic Sydney-Hobart race. Thus, the original keel drawings were lost but Paul’s father, D’arcy, still had the original wood plug from when they built the parent ship Tequila. D’arcy shipped it up from NZ, we refaired it, had a friend make a ferrocement two-part mold, then we buried the mold in a huge hole, packed it with sand, and after letting it cure for a couple of months, we spent 6 hours melting 13,500 pounds of lead to then pour the keel. (A Toys R Us strip mall in Santa Cruz now occupies the spot of our temporary foundry. Ah, for the good old days in the Cruz!). We placed two temporary 1-inch eyebolts, deep into the pour at the top, to lift it out of the ground. When the crane came, the operator, seeing just two eyebolts sticking out of the keel, laughed at me when I told him he better deploy his outrigger supports because this was heavy. The fool almost flipped the entire crane. Because the keel is so large, it would be difficult to set the keel bolts in it while pouring the lead. It would be impossible to make a template accurate enough to align and drill all the holes through 30 inches of wood into the boat to secure the keel. Therefore, to accomplish this, we fit the keel under the boat by rolling it back and forth on galvanized pipes. We then drilled down from inside the boat, cut into the keel with a torch, fastened a huge washer and nut, and repoured the lead back into the keel. In all, we placed nine 1-inch Monel bolts, from 5- to 7-feet long. Big job!
  17. Launch  Well, finally launch day came, we were outta money, outta time and needed to get the boat into the water to turn the whole project off for a breather. Friends came from far and wide for the epic event, Nancy christened the good ship Shanachie with a bottle of the finest Irish Whiskey, we had a fantastic party and dance in the now abandoned boathouse, and soon headed to the Sierras and Palisade area for a week of cross country exploration and recuperation with a change of scenery far from boats—for a while.