Boats have always been a part of Tom Hepp’s life. He grew up on the banks of a river in Ohio, served in the Navy, and embarked upon a career as a merchant mariner. During his vacations he often traveled along the East Coast by car, visiting the port cities where he had worked. Being landbound didn’t sit well with him, and he longed to have a boat he could take with him.
Trailering a boat comes with its own set of limitations, and cartopping a boat on his van didn’t appeal to him either, but a nesting sectional boat could go in the van, stored safely until he found an opportunity to get afloat. He checked the Internet for nesting boats and didn’t find much, just a two-piece 8′ dinghy and a kayak.
To get the boat he wanted, he’d have to create it. Pirogues that he’d seen in WoodenBoat seemed like a good starting point. The simple design would be easy to adapt, quick to build, and lightweight.
While many pirogues are open boats, meant for the protected waters of Louisiana swamps, marshes, and bayous, Tom expected he’d have to contend with boat wakes if not wind-driven chop on the more open bodies of water he wanted to explore, so he drew up lines for a 9′6″ pirogue with airtight decked ends for flotation and a generous freeboard of 13″ and beam of 30″. The length of the center section of his three-part boat was determined by the distance from his lower back to his heels while he was seated. That turned out to be 51″. The bow and stern sections would have to fit in the center section.
He developed the shape using a half-hull model and then used scaled-up dimensions from it to build the bulkheads and frames. With those parts and the stems set up on a strongback, he faired the hull and planked it with plywood.
He finished the boat in January 2010, a bad time for sea trials in the waters of Maine near his home in Appleton, so he packed the boat in his van and drove south to the Gulf of Mexico. The sea trials were successful, and Tom was ready to take the boat with him on his next vacation.
His first trip was to Arizona—Lake Watson and Lake Powell—and then to Texas and the Rio Grande. Travel in the years to come took the boat to the East Coast and back to the Southwest.
That first nesting boat turned out to have more than enough freeboard for the waters Tom paddled, so he imagined building a pair of narrower nesting boats—one for a paddling companion—that would fit alongside each other in his van. He started with the same 51″ length for the center section, and opted for an open stern section.
Rather than have both ends nest in the middle, the bow section could fit in the stern and it would nest in the middle section. The new scheme allowed the boat to be 12′ long. With the greater length, Tom could reduce the beam from 30″ to 23″. He worked out the geometry on paper first, and then made a full-scale cardboard model. He built one boat to the design for sea trials. The boat performed well, so he built a second. Both fit behind the second row of seats in his van.
Since launching the 12-footer he has logged 860 miles in it, and has paddled in every state on the East Coast. The only change he would make to the design is an accommodation for a window in the center section for underwater viewing in the clear waters of Florida’s springs.
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