Mark Ramsby of Portland, Oregon, wanted a bigger boat. He had built a cedar-strip canoe and had used it for several years, but at 66 he was finding it more difficult to sit in its confines of long stretches of time. After he had retired he thought about building a boat with enough room and stability for him to move about and to take on less-sheltered waters: the lower Columbia River, Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and the San Juan Islands to the north in Washington State.
Mark looked at a wide variety of designs for powerboats and sailboats. While he was interested in boats up to 30′, his home workshop in his two-car garage set the limit at 20′. He opted for a powerboat to travel without the limitations often posed by sail, and briefly considered a boat with sleeping arrangements for overnight trips with his wife, Meg. To keep the boat simple, affordable, and versatile, he decided that shore-side accommodations—camping on the beach or renting a room—were the better option.
Harry Bryan’s 18′ Handy Billy caught his eye, and he went so far as to buy the plans and loft the lines. The 5′ beam began to look too small, the projected 900-lb weight too heavy, and the potential for leaks in the batten-seam construction too great. He abandoned the project and went back to his search.
Mark had seen PT Watercraft’s 18′5″ PT Skiff in Port Townsend, Washington. With a weight of 385 lbs (without motor), this center-console runabout was much lighter than the Handy Billy, wider at 6′2″, and, with its plywood and fiberglass construction, wasn’t going to leak after drying out while sitting on a trailer in his garage. Mark wanted the experience of building from plans, but the PT skiff was available only as a kit. After considering the building time—2,000 hours for the Handy Billy versus 400 hours for the PT skiff—the kit became the obvious choice. “That was the difference between building it over a couple of years and building over the winter. Since I was 66 at the time and wanted to use this boat, I wrote the check and placed my order.”
The CAD-designed kit parts are CNC-cut from BS 1088 okoume plywood with tabs and slots, puzzle joints, scribed markings, and alignment notches to assure everything gets assembled with great precision. Mark made a number of modifications to his PT Skiff—swapping out plywood parts meant to be painted with solid wood that he could varnish, for example—to produce a boat that he “wanted to look at for a long time.”
On September 2 last year Mark and a friend launched in MOJO on the Willamette River. Less than 4 miles downriver Mark crossed the stern of a tug pushing a barge into a dock. MOJO, running light without her ballast tanks filled, got tossed around in the prop wash. Mark filled the tanks in mid-river, adding 320 lbs of ballast beneath the cockpit sole, and crossed the prop-wash again, this time with confidence-inspiring stability.
Meg joined Mark the following day for a 20-mile trip on the Willamette, and the following week the couple began the exploration that he’d been daydreaming about. They trailered north into Washington and toured Washington’s Hood Canal, and then launched again at Port Townsend to show the boat off at the Wooden Boat Festival.
Mark and MOJO made the most of the remaining mild autumn weather and explored more of the Willamette River both upriver and down, and ventured farther north to Multnomah Channel and the Columbia River. He reports that for MOJO running at 10–15 knots is “a lovely speed, not too much twitchiness, just a calm and mannered cruise.” On one of his outings he and a friend stopped at a riverside café. When they returned to MOJO, someone from the café asked if they were heading out soon, adding: “That boat is so damned beautiful, it’s making the rest of us look bad.”
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