Questions for the Old Man

I didn’t expect myself to be talking to the old man, the designer himself, bouncing my dumb ideas off him and hearing the edge of concern in his voice.

I bought our Shantyboat plans from Glen-L Marine.  The company was started by and named after Glen L. Witt, a boat designer who’s been designing boats for over 50 years.  When other boat designers needed to give people in-depth information about plywood boats or about fiberglass, they referred me to Glen Witt’s books on the subjects.  This is one of the reasons I went with the Glen-L plans.

From the 50s-era Glen-L Marine calendar.

Glen Witt is now retired in his 80s, and the company is run by his daughter Gayle.  When I emailed questions, Gayle herself personally and graciously answered them.  When I ordered stuff, it arrived quickly on my doorstep in good condition, exactly as described.  Okay, what more could I want, right?

This week, I had a question about materials needed to complete the Waterlodge plans.  I was on my way to the lumberyard, so I didn’t have time to wait around for an email.  I called up Glen-L expecting to talk to some random employee.  Gayle answered the phone, and fielded my questions deftly, clearly familiar with this design, one of hundreds they offer.

I thought this might be an opportunity to get something off my mind.  We’d made changes to the design, and I really wanted to get the assurance of someone who knew better before we moved forward.  We’d messed up Glen Witt’s perfectly elegant design with the following changes:

  • Reduced the size of the cabin by two feet to get a longer fore deck.
  • Put a covered porch over the fore and aft decks
  • Raised the cabin height by a foot to get more head room on the decks (and a sleeping loft in the cabin)
  • Replaced the cabin roof with a gabled roof
  • Added more and larger windows
  • And proposed to build the cabin with board and batten for a traditional cabin-y look

Could Gayle answer these questions, or could she put some experienced boatbuilder on the phone to field my questions? Instead she said, “Well hold on, let me put Glen on the phone.”

There was a little delay in which I had time to be a little star struck.   You mean the Glen L. whose plans I’d been studying for a year?  Who wrote what appears to be the bible on plywood boats?  Was I really going to have to tell him how I was planning on ruining his perfectly good plans with my modifications?

An older man came on the phone, “Hello?”

I asked my questions to which most he replied, “Well, if you want to do that.”  Though I expected something more like, “Good God, are you trying to be killed?”

But no, we talked about the height of the roof, in which his suggestion was to keep the weight low, and suggested that the “fair lines” of the boat were less important than the appearance I was looking for.  He had a concern about the weight of board and battens,. a concern which I shared.  I asked a few more questions about weight distribution and stuff, all of which he answered politely and knowledgeably. 

Overall, I think I received his cautious stamp of approval.

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