August 2017

Reader Built Boat



PETIT BATEAU patiently awaits a grandchild.photographs by Bruce Holaday

PETIT BATEAU patiently awaits a grandchild.

Bruce Holaday got an early start with boating. His father ordered a $50 pram from the Sears & Roebuck catalog and turned Bruce loose with the boat on a clear-water lake in Indiana. Bruce spent his boyhood summers in the company of ducks, turtles, muskrats, and fish. The experience of independence and of being in command of his own vessel stuck with him; the prospect of a grandchild got him thinking about his childhood and the important role a boat played in his growing up.

Bruce, now living in Oakland, California, and the director of an environmental non-profit, wasn’t a skilled woodworker so he decided a kit boat would the smoothest sailing to a successful build. He found Joel White’s Shellback Dinghy in the WoodenBoat Store catalogue and ordered a kit for the sailing version of the boat. The Shellback is 11′ 2″ long, has a beam of 4′ 5″, and carries a standing lug sail. In the past quarter century it has earned a reputation as an easy boat to row and sail. With a recommended capacity of 1 to 3, it could carry grandparents and an infant grandchild, and would be a good boat for a young boy or girl to strike out on his or her own as Bruce did when he was a child.

Bruce sails the boat from a ramp across from the Coast Guard base in Oakland.

Bruce sails the boat from a ramp across from the Coast Guard base in Oakland.

The kit had all of the pieces shaped and ready to assemble, but Bruce found many ways to make the boat distinctive, from a brass name plate inside the transom to a copper plate on the breasthook to surround the painter’s padeye.

The launching of PETIT BATEAU preceded the arrival of a grandchild, by a long shot.

The launching of PETIT BATEAU preceded the arrival of a grandchild, by a long shot.

Bruce launched the boat and christened it PETIT BATEAU, but he was a bit ahead of the grandchild schedule. Without the boat to occupy his free hours, he felt boredom settling in and cast about for another project. He settled on writing a children’s book about the boat the fun of being a young skipper. He found a publisher in South Bend, Indiana, not far from the lake where he first took command of the Sears & Roebuck pram.

The book, A Boy’s Boat, was published in March, 2017. Bruce describes the book as “the story of eleven-year-old Jack and PETIT BATEAU, the 11-foot-long dinghy that Jack’s grandfather made for him. During Jack’s summer of learning how to row, sail, and scull the boat, he comes to know all the creatures of a small cove, the joy of warm sunny mornings on the water, as well as the darker shades of nature and the challenges they present for a small boy and his small boat.”

While this is the scene Bruce has been hoping for, the boy is not a grandson, it's his office manager's son.

While this is the scene Bruce has been hoping for, the boy is not a grandson. It’s his office manager’s son.

There is no grandson Jack. The book, like the boat, is ahead of the grandchild schedule. Bruce’s daughter is engaged to be married in October, and the arrival of a “Jack” or a “Jill,” if here is to be one, may still be a long way off. He may have to come up with something else to stave off boredom. PETIT BATEAU can keep him company while he waits and hopes.End of article


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  • Michael Colfer says:

    I have a set of plans for a Shellback that sits in its original box in the knees holding up spare lumber in my shop. I have built a half dozen boats since these plans came into my possession, and I do not know why the boat has not yet been built. It is one of two sets of plans that are on my “one of these days” list. (The other is the 20′ Atkin Sharpshooter.) Your article raises the question once again, Bruce. The Shellback is a very pretty little boat. Able, as well. Thanks for posting. Good article.

  • Basil Cabrera says:

    What a beautiful boat !

  • Bob Randall says:

    The shellback’s a very nice-looking boat, and is on my building wish list. Also, thanks Bruce, for getting the gender correct. There’s a small sloop moored near us in Sydney named PETITE BATEAU* which drives me crazy every time I see it.

    *A feminine adjective with a masculine noun—Ed.

  • Just found this article—sweet! Great build and storybook in anticipation. My story is a bit different. My parents boat was ARIES, so their sailing dink was named LITTLE STAR. LITTLE STAR became the first rowing mentor for all the grandkids. Upon my parents passing, LITTLE STAR was passed down to me, the youngest daughter, the only boat restorer, sailor, and captain. So upon my daughter starting her family, I told her that LITTLE STAR would one day be handed down to my granddaughters. The first one is 18 months and the second still in the basket, but we have a date on Sept 15th to begin the 4th generation in the same boat!

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