|Building the Sandi Lee|
Watsonville, Ca.- Just when
you think that the world is about to spin off its axis,
well, you happen to meet a couple like Lee and Sandi
Freeman of Deltona, Florida.
At times, world events seem
to want to swallow us up, and after September 11th,
everything seems a little less certain than it once was.
However, if you spend any time with this pair, suddenly
life becomes a little more reassuring.
Lee is a senior engineer who
helps to develop software for a large communications
firm and his lovely wife, Sandi, is a retired director
of a convention service company. Together, and I mean
together, they are building a boat. Not just any boat,
but a pontoon houseboat that is 48 feet long and 14 feet
So we are talking about a
serious project here, an endeavor that began on June 4th
1999 and continues to keep humming along.
The sound of
hammers fill the air while laughter flows with ease.
It's true; occasionally someone gets glue stuck in their
hair, but progress and funny stories are all part of the
Lee is the first to point out
that Sandi was not only instrumental in the conception
of the project, but she has worked side by side with him
since day one. They have spent a number of evenings
after working on the Sandi Lee, picnicking on the shores
of the Intercoastal Waterway, enjoying each other's
company, and dreaming about the day they put their boat
in the water.
Their children are grown and
married, yet they do lend a hand when visiting their
folks. Family members have been instrumental, but by and
large this has been mostly a two-person project.
JG: What's your
background as far as boating is concerned? Are you a
former Navy man, or lifelong sailor?
LF: I was in the Navy
during Viet Nam. I served aboard the Destroyer USS
Eaton. Since I was seasick most of the time, I never
thought that my interest of boating would carry on like
it has. Sandi and I both love the ocean and nautical
things. In our younger days, we both owned smaller
boats. In the early 1990's the boat building bug bit and
the result was a 20 ft. houseboat that we named the Fair
Havens. The construction of this first boat gave us a
lot of experience in building the Sandi Lee.
JG: Actually building
a 48-foot boat seems like an overwhelming task to most
of us. How did you decide on a pontoon boat? What type
of plans did you work with for the design?
|LF: Our thoughts were
that living on a boat would be something we both would
enjoy, so we looked around for a new houseboat. We were
totally overwhelmed by the price of a boat that was the
size we needed to live on. So we decided, "Money we
don't have, but we do have a lot of sweat!" It was at
that time we decided to build from scratch our own boat.
Since the first boat was built from plans supplied by
Glen-L Marine Design and we liked them, we started
looking at their boat plans. They sold a 40 ft. pontoon
boat plan that we used to build the hull. Of course we
added 8 ft. to the length and 2 ft. to the width to
accommodate the cabin Sandi had in mind. Shortly after
starting the hull we saw a picture of a riverboat in a
magazine and we decided instead of a plain houseboat we
would build a riverboat. So we used Glen-L plans for the
hull, and the cabin was designed by us.
JG: You started making
the first pieces of the Sandi Lee in June 1999, what did
you start cutting first?
LF: We cut the stem,
which is the curved part of the bow. We remember that
day well. It was June 4th and that was the anniversary
of the day Sandi and I first met.
JG: I take it that you
started by making the pontoon building form, how did
LF: Actually, we tried
to cut out and store as many pieces of the hull and
cabin that we could in the garage. Because of the
Florida sun and rain we built all the major components
before building the form. We chuckle sometimes and tell
people that we are building a 50 ft. houseboat in our
garage. Well sort of.
JG: How was it
building and fitting the pontoon bulkheads?
LF: Except for being
repetitious, building the bulkheads was very easy. As a
matter of fact we built a form to build the bulkheads
JG: Did the transom
LF: Yes, the transom
was constructed after all the bulkheads were
JG: How did it go
with the jig for the intermediate frame and the
LF: The jig allowed us
to quickly assemble the frames and insure each one was
JG: I am assuming this
project quickly outgrew your garage. How did it work
building your own dry dock?
LF: The funny thing
about the dry dock was that we built it in an area where
we didn't want to park our previous RV. We didn't want
to kill the grass! It doesn't make sense, because as you
can see the grass is dead now. The important thing about
the dry dock was insuring it was level. We also built a
sturdy frame, so that when the boat is lifted on to the
truck for transport, the dry dock would be lifted too as
support. We plan to just cut the legs off and put the
whole thing in the transport truck.
JG: How difficult was
it installing the first of your
LF: It was not hard at
all. This was one of the times our family came up to
help. And since everything was pre-built, it really was
like laying out an erector set.
JG: Walk me through
the process of framing your hull. I understand you got
some help from your daughter and your son-in-law?
LF: We measured out
where the frames would go on the building form. We then
set up the frames on the form and held them in place
with scrap wood. After everything was set up we ran the
2 x 4 keel down the center. The keel held everything in
place and true. We then put the side longitudinals in
place. The entire hull was fastened with epoxy glue and
hot dipped galvanized screws. Within two days we had the
hull framed in, ready for sanding.
JG: Was installing the
pontoon sides next?
LF: Yes. This went
fast and was exciting, because the large pieces of
plywood allowed us to see progress. The funny thing was
that once you put glue on the plywood, you had to
install it right away. Naturally we would always check
the local weather forecast. There were many times we had
to finish installing plywood while we were dripping wet.
Of course the forecast always called for sunny and warm
JG: How did the tunnel
LF: The tunnel
planking was harder than we anticipated. It meant
continually climbing over the hull cross beams. This
also was a job that our children helped us with. Our
daughter was very good at climbing over the beams. What
she didn't know at the time was she was several months
JG: The thought of
starting to fiberglass is daunting to many people. Was
that next when you finished the tunnel
LF: First we sanded
and filled all the screw holes with putty. Then we
fiberglassed the hull. Fiberglassing the hull was not
really hard, just very time consuming. This was one area
where the building of our first boat gave us valuable
JG: How did the
painting of the hull go?
LF: The only difficult
part of painting the hull was the bottom paint. There
were so many brands and types of bottom paint that the
selection of the proper paint was mind-boggling. This is
where the West Marine Advisors really helped us. Using
information from the West Marine catalog, we prepped the
bottom and applied modified epoxy paint. Before
launching we will need to redo this part.
JG: How did you come
up with the design for the interior of the boat?
LF: Sandi and I had an
agreement. The outside was mine and the inside was hers.
We visited houseboat manufacturers, went to houseboat
conventions and looked through houseboat plans to get
ideas. The final floor plan was Sandi's design. The
hardest part for me was prying any space for
incidentals, like the helm and engines away from her
JG: What was the
process in designing and making the cabin sides?
LF: The idea for the
outside design actually came from the fairy boats at
Disney World. We thought the design looked "riverboaty".
We built the cabin sides in the garage so they could be
assembled on the hull later.
JG: I believe the next
step in this adventure were the "I" beams for the roof.
How did that work?
LF: They didn't. While
installing the first "I" beam one of them blew over and
hit me on the head resulting in a cracked beam. So we
gave up on the "I" beams, and resorted to solid
JG: I know you made a
modification to the design and added a third pontoon.
What was the reason and how did it go?
LF: The third pontoon
is probably overkill. The hull was designed to carry the
weight of the Sandi Lee. However, since the start of the
project Sandi had expanded her second deck cabin to
include the pilothouse and a lounge area.
So while the
figures kept telling us the pontoons would carry the
additional weight, we kept thinking "what if" we were
wrong. So to be on the safe side we added the third
JG: In December 2000
you turned the hull, what was that experience
LF: Awesome! We had no
idea if the hull would hold up. We had planned out how
the crane would turn the hull so thoroughly that it only
took an hour and a half. During that time our street
became congested with onlookers. The crane operator was
impressed at how strong the hull was.
JG: Can you take us
through the process of putting the sides on the
LF: The sides were
built in 8 ft. sections. Totally completed, fiberglassed
and painted in our garage. Sandi and I had tried to
precisely build each section so it would fit together.
We had to get help to lift the sides up and put them in
place. They were bolted to the hull much like a house is
constructed. The neighbors were astonished at how
quickly the sides went up.
JG: How did it go,
putting up the bow cabin frames and the roof
LF: The roof beams and
cabin frames were just like building a house with the
exception that everything was glued and screwed together
instead of nailed.
JG: From the photos
the Sandi Lee was looking very impressive, how did the
work go for the bow and stern porch?
LF: The bow and the
stern porch walls are plywood covered with fiberglass.
We had the windows cut at a local glass shop out of ¼
inch safety glass. We framed this in and the final
product will have rope trim around it. The bow porch
post helps support the roof, which is covered underneath
with aluminum soffets. We had a lot of fun building the
Sandi Lee sign for the stern porch. It's really just
plywood, fiberglass and molding.
JG: I know you've been
doing a great deal of work on the cabin since last
spring, what's your crew been working on?
LF: The crew of the
Sandi Lee (that would be Sandi & Lee) has been
working on the interior cabinets, electrical wiring,
plumbing, bed frame, vanities, trim work and painting.
Once again we had more sweat than money so we built all
the cabinets from scratch. This made them light and very
JG: How soon, do you
believe, before the Sandi Lee will be ready to go into
LF: Our goal for the
main boat is August. Our plan is to finish the main
cabin and then build the second deck cabin. When we haul
the boat to the river we would like the crane to lift
the second deck cabin and place it on the Sandi Lee.
There have been so many interior projects to complete,
that we are now very excited seeing it all come
JG: What has been the
most challenging aspect of this project?
LF: Keeping Sandi from
adding 8 more feet to make it 56 ft. and convincing her
that I do need space for water tanks, gas tanks,
batteries and everything that makes a boat go. The most
challenging part was putting the sewage holding tanks
in. This was due to the fact that Florida outlawed Type
1 MSD's after we built the pontoons. We were going to
use this system to treat the sewage. So, we had to put
large tanks in small spaces that we had not planned to
JG: What has been the
LF: Working together
and the interest that other people have shown. We have
received emails from Belgium, Nova Scotia, Peru,
Australia, and Chile, just to name a few and of course
all over the USA. They keep up with our project and that
The plan still calls for an
August launch but you never can tell. Sometimes there
are delays within a two-person boat building company. At
least one thing is for certain, with Sandi and Lee both
on the job, the world is once more spinning in greased
To read more about the building of the
Sandi Lee, be sure and checkout http://www.mkt-info.com/sandilee/
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