The Y-Flyer was originally designed to be built at home out of marine plywood. For many years, most of the boats in the class were home built. The wood boats are generally considered to be slightly stiffer than the fiberglass boats—but they require more annual maintenance. However, they can have a long useful life as wood boats over 40 years old are still being sailed today.
If you plan to race, wood boats are very competitive. Greg Kleffner, the 1990 National Champion, won in a boat he had built himself. At the awards banquet he commented: “To win the National Championship, in a boat you’ve built and rigged yourself, has to be the ultimate thrill.” Older wood boats won the National Championship in 1996, 1994 and 1991, while Greg’s new wood boat won in 1990.
What does it take to build a wooden boat? The first thing is a place to build it. However, it doesn’t have to be large. Chris Brooks built Juggler, Y-2772, in a one-car garage.
Says Chris, “Building a Y-Flyer in a one car garage was a ‘tight’ proposition. The jig was bolted to the floor diagonally to allow for work space around the hull. Along the left side of the garage are the okume (mahogany) sheets scarfed to 18 ft lengths. The work bench and table saw are in the back right. Also note the pink insulated box in the back of the garage. This box is heated and was used to store the epoxy at temperature. This made laying up the epoxy a breeze in the winter. I also insulated and heated the garage.” Yes, a gorgeous boat can be built in cramped quarters.
The second thing you need is supplies. However, you don’t have to buy everything at once. Dave Shearlock—who’s now been sailing Y’s for over 35 years—recalls building his first boat. A 1979 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article says, “Whenever Shearlock saved up $15, he’d go buy himself a sheet of plywood to continue work on his boat. Sometimes it would be weeks between sheets. But he finally finished the boat.” In fact that’s how a lot of the earlier members of the class got into sailing—building their own was an affordable way to get a great boat. While a sheet of plywood costs a little more now, it’s still a good way to get a great boat.
Do you need to be a master craftsman? No, most boats are built by weekend handymen. You need to be able to use basic power and hand tools and have attention to detail. The specific techniques you can learn from class publications and reference materials put out by WEST system epoxy.
How long does it take to build a boat? It’s hard to say, depending on whether you have someone to help you, whether you’re a master craftsman or this is your first big project, and so on. Many people find they can build a boat over a winter, in about 200 hours. Chris Brooks spent 16 months (after work and on weekends) building his “ultimate” boat. That’s probably the extreme of perfectionism!