Tony Chipilov is a guy whose knowledge of boat construction was limited to “watching too much Project Dreamboat,” and whose only experience with boats was “always wanting one.”

After enjoying a vacation boating in the Florida Keys with his wife on an inflatable, Tony wanted more. When presented with the sight of a forgotten dumpster wreck, he saw an opportunity. After speaking with the owner of the dumpster lot and working out the specifics of ownership (no VIN numbers were visible), Tony arranged to apply for a “homemade” title. With the help of five friends, who joined him in wrestling the boat onto a trailer, the boat was relocated to his Broward County garage. Starting with evicting colonies of ants and termites and their rotten plywood buffet, it quickly became apparent that there would be nothing worth salvaging here other than the hull itself. Tony began a demolition project involving Tyvek suits, masks and hundreds of pairs of rubber gloves.

With the deck and cap removed and only a bare hull remaining, sitting before him was the bones of what he hoped would get him closer to his dream, the freedom of running the mangroves and flats, chasing the next bite with his wife. Now, how to build a boat? Tony quickly familiarized himself with the resources available online. He spent a lengthy series of nights watching YouTube videos, and through boating forums he found advice and encouragement from others more experienced with this process.

Beginning with 3⁄4-inch marine plywood glassed on both sides, Tony dove in and constructed a new transom. Learning as he went, as soon as he completed the transom he became aware of composite materials and decided that the remainder of the project would be constructed of 1⁄2-inch H60 Divinycell and 3⁄4-inch Honeycomb. To replace the stringers, Tony made forms out of wood and applied them lengthwise along the entire bottom for the three stringer sections. These forms were filled with expandable foam which would provide the pattern to glass over after removing the wood forms.

Glassing over the foam with chopped strand mat and 1708 cloth and bonding them to the hull provided a solid foundation.

After mapping runs for wiring and rigging out of PVC, the deck was templated and completed using composite boards along with the same cloth as the stringers.

Tony had decided that the original runabout style would not be practical. His vision of a decked-over flats skiff would be more suitable. Planning for such a layout required a diagram for the interior deck space allowing for enough storage, a 12-gallon fuel tank, console, etc. On his computer, Tony worked things out to be certain he wasn’t overlooking anything. Interior spaces not required for storage compartments were filled with foam for flotation and support before glassing the framework together. Finally ready for a deck cap, this was starting to look like a boat.

Tony described to me how he might have been discouraged at times and how he wondered if he had bitten off more than he could chew. But, a picture at his desk of the clear blue waters of a no-name flat in the Keys kept him on point. With each hiccup along the way, Tony imagined his boat in this picture on a beautiful day.

After installing the deck and cutting in hatch openings, the fun projects that are the most rewarding were within sight. But first, with a 15-gallon air compressor, DA sander, $19 angle grinder, Dremel tool, and ShopVac in hand, it was time for fairing and sanding. Using a gallon and a half of gelcoat fairing putty, all joints were filled and inconsistencies in any flat surfaces were addressed and corrected. More Tyvek suits and gloves followed and the refined surface was made ready for color.

With the grinding eventually behind him, a blank canvas waiting for paint stared back at him. A sprayed finish was decided upon and with a new gelcoat spray gun, 3 gallons of High ISO White Gelcoat along with 2 gallons of Duratec high gloss gelcoat additive in hand Tony was prepared to spray his first boat and had enough material to allow for any surprises. The results were remarkable and Tony admired the brand new flats boat in front of him ready to rig.

Installing a teak rub rail and some interior trim followed along with a console he bought at a marine supplier. The boat was wired for lights, electronics, an audio system and a BayStar hydraulic steering system was installed. Four watertight hatches were added on the deck along with stainless folding cleats.
To finish off the project, Tony used LED-lighted switches and navigation lights and installed his sound system and a Simrad GO7 multifunction unit. The only work he didn’t do entirely on his own was installing the engine. After much deliberation, he decided to mount a new 60-horsepower Suzuki on this little 14-footer and he enlisted the help of the dealer to hang the engine.

Throughout the process Tony kept coming back to how structurally solid the boat was. “Solid as a rock,” he told his father, as they were taking her to the water for her maiden voyage. His father responded, “It will probably sink like one.” All of this work was done on blind faith. Tony had never seen how the boat sat in the water or ran. I have to wonder what it must have felt like to complete such a formidable project entirely unaware of what you’d end up with. Not at all fazed by the possibility of failure, Tony headed to the ramp to find out.

What might have initially appeared to be a bit of overkill in the power department was far from it. The boat handles the power with ease providing an easy 27 mph cruise and 41 mph top speed. The day we filmed we were met with a bit more breeze and a lot more boat wakes than I would have preferred but Tony’s little skiff ate the chop and every wake up with enthusiasm.

We wrapped up our shoot and Tony loaded the boat onto the trailer, on his way to Islamorada for the maiden trip he’d been picturing in his mind all this time. Tony was about to make his dream come true.

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