Mole Pages - Boats, airplanes & other passions by Matthew William Long

Bolger Brick “Tetard”

A first-time amateur boatbuilding project

Revised July 2007
©1998-2007 by the author, all rights reserved

Click on any image to see it full size.

What is it?

A Bolger Brick is a small, homebuilt sailboat of extremely angular proportions--boxy would not be unkind.  Phil Bolger, who designed this craft, named his creation Brick, hence it is a Bolger Brick.  This particular Brick that I built was named "Tetard," meaning tadpole in French, by my wife Agnes, who is French.  We hope that this little tadpole of a boat will lead to larger frogs in the future, and that's not a joke about the French!

Philip C. Bolger of Gloucester, Massachusetts is the prolific and now quite distinguished bad boy of boat designers.  During a career spanning some 60 years, he has designed everything from dinghies to cargo ships.  While quite capable of traditional designs, including the replica of the 18th century British frigate H.M.S. Rose, he is best known for simple, functional craft which have made him the guru of amateur boatbuilders worldwide.

This article is a slightly revised version of my first web page completed back in the spring of 1999, when I tried to put down on paper my thoughts looking back on my first homebuilt boat project.  I have included notes on the design, the building experience, and a few photos.

Tetard first took to the water at Hopkinton Reservoir in Hopkinton, Massachusetts on Labor Day, September 7, 1998.  I no longer own the boat, having moved overseas, but last I heard little Tetard was still doing yeoman service.

This article is dedicated to Phil Bolger, Dynamite Payson, Jim Michalak, Bernie Wolfard, the gang, and all those near and far who encouraged me in my project.   Special thanks go to my parents for letting me take over their garage for the summer of 1998, and for the gift of the sail, which I suspect was also intended speed my exit from the garage.

Of course, I also have to thank my favorite crew member, my wife Agnès, for all her support.  Somewhere I have a photo of her, underneath the overturned hull of "Tetard," shining a flashlight through the gaps in the chine so I can whack in a few more nails.  Now that’s love!


Why is it square?

People are often surprised that such a renowned designer as Phil Bolger would design such a simple and frankly funny-looking boat as Brick.  Bolger himself had this to say about Tortoise, Brick's equally-square little sister, in Harold H. “Dynamite” Payson's book Build the New Instant Boats:

"It would have made a cat laugh to watch me designing this wee boat, because I kept trying to get more curves into it.  Every curve made her more expensive, or bulkier, or took away capacity, so I ended up with the straight lines as the only way to do it.  I called Tortoise 'Sandbox' at first.  I changed the name when I found she deserved more respect than I had expected."

Brick uses daggerboard through brackets on the side, an outboard rudder, and an off-center, unstayed (no supporting ropes or wires) mast.  The result is a completely open 4' x 8' (1 m 22 cm x 2 m 44 cm) playpen with unparalleled lounging space for such a small boat.  We only ever sailed ours with two aboard, but Phil says it can handle "four men and a big, frightened dog," and I believe him!  Back in 2002, new owner Lincoln Ross had this to say, "Tetard is alive and well.  Had four or five boys and myself out in it at a birthday party for a friend's kid the other day. Should have worn earplugs. Found out that one splashing oar (carefully wielded) trumps several squirtguns if you're standing in the water."  Sounds like fun!

Brick’s sail rig is a sprit-boomed (the boom crosses the sail rather than running along the bottom), leg-o’-mutton (tall triangle), laced to the mast with individual ties, and simply lashed in place.  You don’t raise or lower the sail--you brail it up (roll it up against the mast) for short stay(see the first photo above with the nice lines...and the boat ain't bad, either).  You simply spool the sail on the mast for storage.  To drop the sail in a hurry, you pick up and lower the mast, sail and all.

Brick has one glaring defect--Bolger freely admits that the high-sided, seatless boat makes a lousy rowboat.  So bad, in fact,that I stopped carrying oars and even removed the oarlocks from Tetard.  Some owners have had better luck with a folding stool as a rowing seat, but with my non-standard folding rudder (see below) in the up position, I found that I could make enough headway by sculling (wagging it back and forth) to maneuver those last few yards to the dock.  There is always the leeboard for an emergency paddle.

Brick has been called "the best possible use for three pieces of plywood," and I couldn't agree more!

Can I build a Brick?

Yes, you can!  Unfortunately, I didn't keep much of a log or take many photos during the building of my Brick.  I began back in the fall of 1997 in a Brookline, Massachusetts woodworking class--Rebecca, the instructor, kindly tolerated the boatbuilding eccentric--but I didn't get much done.  Setting up, cleaning up. and waiting for tools took up much of our limited time, and the stationary bench tools were ill-suited to large sheets of plywood.  I later learned to move the tools, both power and manual, and leave the parts stationary on a sawhorse.

Speaking of tools, I found a cordless drill, circular saw, and sabre saw to be the most useful power tools.  Other than that, you’ll need a few hand planes and scrapers and all the clamps you can get!  I wouldn't bother with a table saw--a ripping guide on a circular saw works well enough, and can do a lot more besides.

I mostly built Tetard over summer vacation in 1998, as I was a teacher back then.  What little I know about building boats I learned from Dynamite Payson's books, Jim Michalak's online newsletter, and the great magazine Messing About in Boats.  The rest was just learn-by-doing, sometimes making bonehead mistakes, like nailing a transom frame too close to the edge of the plywood before beveling it.  I had to push the nails back out with a punch, tearing up the plywood, to avoid the saw-meets-nails machine-gun effect.  Luckily, Bondo and paint hide all sins.  I also highly recommend using very thin--1/4" (6 mm) or less--laminations of perfectly clear wood to make the bottom skids.  Mine were made of 1/2" (12 mm) spruce left over from the spars, and they broke in several places each.  I fastened all the pieces down with drywall screws, filled the gaps with Bondo, and encapsulated the the skids with fiberglass tape and resin.  Again, hooray for Bondo!

My first boat was a learning experience,so I kept the materials cheap:  luan plywood, pine lumber (spruce for the spars), Weldwood plastic resin glue, fiberglass tape, polyester resin, and magical Bondo.  I did spring for silicon bronze nails and fittings from Jamestown Distributors and a genuine Bohndell sail from "Dynamite" Payson.  Paint was Ace Hardware latex enamel glossy exterior paint over oil-based primer for latex paint,  My paint job came out awful because I tried to hurry it with thick coats.  It’s definitely a mistake to ruin your work with a lousy paint job.  You can't see the runs in the photos, thank goodness!

The only modification I made to the boat was a folding rudder (see photo at left) which I cobbled together after the first one broke, ending our VERY WINDY first day's sailing.  I used some scrap plywood for the fixed portion, and salvaged the broken original to make a folding blade.  Agnès and I had found it very hard to launch the boat off the beach with the original one, since it required waist-deep water to put in.  The new one drew little more than the hull, and allowed steerage way until we got going.  It was held in place with a bolt and a wing nut--just reach down and adjust the friction.  The daggerboard sits in the guides with a pin through the gunwale and board and into the guide.  Pull the pin and down it goes!

You can do the same 

In the end, this project was great fun, cost little and started me in the hobby of amateur boatbuilding.  Whether a Bolger Brick, or some other design, if you are thinking of building a boat, just get started!  You’ll be glad you did.

Brick plans scans used by permission of Phil Bolger & Friends.  All rights reserved.