DIY Homemade Catamaran Sailboat from PVC pipe

RebelCat 1 - The Start of Something Big

The best introduction to the origin of RebelCat 1 is the video below. However, if your computer has no sound or you prefer photos and text, skip over the video.


Campsite view of ferry and island

Brazil, near Paraibuna. Just below my camp was a ferry which carried cars and people across the lake. It was diesel, smelly and noise, and the people who came and waited for it were also. I could see the island I wanted to go to, with a white sandy beach and thick jungle. So I got some materials to my campsite to make a raft. Two PVC pontoons, a deck and an oar should work, I thought.

Planning and measuring for the raft of pontoons

I cut the pipe into two equal lengths, capped the ends and finally settled on a width for the raft - just wide enough for me and hopefully stable in the water.

Putting the deck together with screws

The deck would have to hold the two pontoons together and not slip off of them, so I made six curved wooden 'feet' to sit on the pontoons.

 Varnishing the deck which hangs from a tree

Two coats of varnish on the finished deck. The deck is suspended from a tree on a thin nylon cord so it will dry without touching anything.

Tying the deck to the pontoons

The deck sits on the pontoons and is just tied with some nylon rope. And that's it. The raft that will take me to paradise - the vacant island I've been admiring from a distance for over a week - is now finished.

Oh, the traffic cones are just taped to the PVC caps with clear packing tape. They are absolutely necessary for the raft to move. Flat pontoons do not work well, because the front would just push water. Now they are like giant pencils, pointed and hydrodynamic.

Rowing the completed raft while standing on it

It works. I knew it would float me with no problem, because I calculated the amount of air in both pontoons - about 188 litres. Plenty for a raft. Notice it's more than half above water line.

Rowing was a challenge, because the raft tips easily from side to side. It was great for improving balance, and I got pretty good at it. A young man came by on his kayak and we traded 'vehicles' for awhile. He loved rowing my raft, and I liked his kayak.

Rotated the deck to make the raft wider

I got the idea to widen the raft to make it more stable, so I rotated the deck 90 degrees so the raft was about four feet wide. Talk about stable. I had to reach farther to row, but the stability was worth it. I rowed this little raft all over the reservoir, exploring all the islands and coves, for three months. My island was the only one with a white-sand private beach, so I stayed there. As I stood there rowing on a windy day, I noticed how the wind would push me along. That idea, combined with the wider and more stable shape, would eventually inspire me to turn this raft into a sailboat.

Converting the raft to a sailboat on the beach

All it needed was a sail, a rudder and a keel of some kind to keep it from sliding sideways.

I went to town and scrounged some scraps of wood, pieces of old furniture. A few more tools and I was making the conversion from raft to catamaran on my beach.

Here I'm screwing the tiller to the rudder. The large piece is the centerboard.

Cat upside down nearing completion

With all of the new parts varnished and dry, the cat is assembled upside down (minus the rudder, which I attach just before sailing)

The extensions on the back are necessary to make enough room inside the mast stays for the boom to swing, and so that the boom can be longer, giving the cat a larger sail area.

The centerboard is made like a 'T' and simply ties under the deck to screw-eyes.

The material for the sail lies to the left of the cat, the bamboo mast farther left.

Making the sail from plastic sheeting on the beach

I made the mast and boom from bamboo from another island. The sail is just plastic sheeting from a hardware store. The sail was about three meters/10' high and two meters/6.5' wide.

The mast is held up by four stays (nylon cord), two attached to those extensions at the back and two on the front spreader which connects the pontoons at the front.

The mast 'locks' on a step, just a button of wood, screwed to the wood that connects the front spreader to the deck.

Catamaran in the water completed with mainsail

The boom barely clears the back stays. The traffic cones are just taped to the PVC caps and taped closed at the nose. Very crude, but highly functional.

This cat is as simple as a sailing craft can be. There is nothing on it that can be taken off, without fatal results. Flotation, sail, rudder, keel, and a place to sit. Minimalist sailing on a low budget.

Me sailing the cat with mainsail only

A friend visited me on the island and took this and other sailing photos. The cat sailed quite well, considering I had never made a sailboat before. Flotation was minimal for an adult - notice I'm sitting in the middle of the deck. However, as an experiment, it was a total success.

RebelCat 1 parked in water with jib sail on

There was about one meter in front of the mast, so I made a narrow jib. It added a little speed and control to an already successful cat.

RebelCat 1 complete with both sails front view

RebelCat1 from the front. This perspective shows why catamarans are so fast. Two narrow hulls that cut through the water, lighweight deck and frame, and large sails for the weight.

Sailing RebelCat 1 with both sails

Slightly repaired double exposure (not a problem these days with digital cameras). This cat was a lot of fun.

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