John Leyde built his home on the hillside just above a small lake in Arlington, Washington, so he can’t be faulted for thinking about boats. If you were to visit him, you’d be thinking about boats too, because his long, tree-shadowed driveway will take you past his bow-roof shop and a boat or two before you even get to his front door. And if you were to come by boat, you’d find two rowing skiffs on one side of his dock and an electric launch in a shed on the other side.

Photos by and courtesy of Pat and John Leyde

As work begins, Valor zooms in with a magnifying lens, while River seems a bit less interested and gives in to a yawn, even though it’s almost noon according to the clock on the back wall.

John has been building boats for decades, among them the steam launch E. SCOTT HAMMOND, which he shared with us in 2018. Of course, he already has more boats than he needs, so has to rely on his friends and his family to provide the “necessity” to build another one. A few years ago, John’s friend Gary let slip that he wanted to build a boat, an Adirondack guideboat, and in no time at all John cleared a space in his shop. Then every Tuesday for 16 months, the two got together to build ATNA.

With the wood stove softening winter’s chill, Grampy (in red hat at rear) and grandsons start marking the panel shapes on an extended sheet of 1/4″ plywood.

Last fall, John was getting anxious about winter coming on. He had put his steamboat to bed for the winter and was without a project to carry him through the cold months that he likes to spend puttering in his woodstove-heated shop. His grandsons, 11-year-old River and 9-year-old Valor, came to mind. How could two young boys not want to have a boat of their own? Getting the okay from their parents was easy. They recognized the educational value of the project and the value of spending time with Grampy. The boys just wanted the boat to be able to accommodate their golden doodle, Winston. John’s patient wife, Pat, drove the hardest bargain: If another boat was going to be built on the property, one of the others had to go. Exit one plywood sailing pram.

The assembly of the hull starts with the two bottom panels getting stitched together.

The boys lived less than a half mile across the lake and John envisioned them rowing over to visit, so he looked around for designs for small, easy-to-build rowing boats. Sam Devlin’s Bella 12, the bigger sister of the Bella 10, fit the bill, and John ordered the plans. The boat is available as a kit, but he rightly decided that building from scratch would teach his grandsons more and give them a greater sense of accomplishment, turning a pile of plywood and lumber into a working vessel. He was proven right on the first count as soon as the project got started in late December. Marking the shapes for the bottom, side, and transom pieces on the plywood required working with fractions, a topic they were studying in school.

Unfolding the bottom was a milestone worth celebrating. It’s unclear what Valor’s club hammer and River’s splitting maul have to do with the job at hand.

River and Valor were only available on Saturdays, once their weekends had been freed up by the close of the soccer season, so during the rest of the week John did much of the power-tool work, like cutting out the plywood shapes, for safety’s sake as much as to keep himself happily occupied in his shop.

With spreaders holding the partially stitched hull open, the boys get their first glimpse of something that is beginning to look like a boat.

The trio stitched the pieces together with plastic cable ties instead of wire, assuring the edge tools would stay sharp if segments of stitches remained hiding in the joints. The boys were introduced to working with epoxy when “spot welds” were applied between the cable ties, and again after the ties were removed and the seams were taped with fiberglass.

River, left, and Valor are all smiles as John gets them started on painting, the final stage and their favorite.


The string of Saturdays stretched from December and finished in the middle of April. The boys told John that the best part of building the boat was the painting, probably because it didn’t involve fractions or sanding hardened epoxy, and that the best part of the whole project was spending time with Grampy—music to a grandfather’s ears.

On a sunny April day, the Bella 12 and crew emerge from John’s workshop.

The boat was launched on the lake and christened FORTNITE, not because a time span of two weeks had any significance, but because it is the name of a video game that River and Valor enjoy. Neither of the boys had done any rowing to speak of, but they quickly took to it. John can see that given a summer with the boat, they’ll be on their way to becoming adept watermen.

When Valor and River both take to the oars, they can get FORTNITE scooting along.

River and Valor are still occupied with school, continuing their education through the pandemic with a distance-learning program. While they’re doing homework, their father, Michael (John’s son), slips from shore aboard FORTNITE to do a bit of fishing. John also “borrows” his grandsons’ boat to go rowing.


John and Pat can invoke grandparental privilege and take the skiff out on the lake.

Come next winter, John may have to decide which boat currently in his fleet will have to go. River and Valor, taking after their grandfather, have decided they want to build another boat.

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