Columbia family builds boat and family ties
The weekend project yields countless hours of memories and outdoor fun.
COLUMBIA, Mo.--Mike Ortbals probably will remember Father's Day 2003 for the
rest of his life. Chances are his wife and children will too. At the
beginning of the weekend they started building a family boat. At the end of
the weekend, they put it on the water for the first time.
The Ortbals family took on the project for several reasons. For Mike's wife,
Lisa, it was a way of honoring a guy she considers a world-class dad. For
the couple's children--Katie 12, Claire, 10 and Nathan, 6--it was a chance
to try something completely new and get a sense of accomplishment. Mike says
the project was a terrific way for him to spend quality time with his whole
Most families would build a boat in their garage or back yard. The Ortbals
built theirs under the awning at the Columbia Holiday Inn Select. They were
one of the main attractions for hundreds of outdoor communicators who
gathered in Columbia last June for the Outdoor Writers Association of
America's annual conference.
The Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation wanted a family to build a
boat during the conference to show how doable and how much fun it is. A
family friend who works at the Holiday Inn recruited the Ortbals because she
knew Mike enjoyed taking his children fishing for bluegill and crappie. Up
to that point, he had been taking them in a canoe.
The boat they built is a flat-bottomed 12-foot, wooden Bevin's skiff. It
came as a kit from the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. "We had to shape the
pieces of wood and fit them together," said Mike. "The kids did most of the
actual work. I bent the plywood sides into place, but they did the
hammering, cutting, planing and gluing. It was a neat Father's Day project."
As the Ortbals worked on their boat, writers, magazine editors, television
producers and photographers stopped to visit, take pictures and interview
them. Often they had boat-building stories of their own or shared childhood
memories of fishing trips with parents or grandparents.
They worked about 8 hours on both Saturday and Sunday. On Sunday evening,
the proud family launched their still unpainted boat in the Holiday Inn's
swimming pool to the applause of outdoor communicators from all over the
"We were all pretty excited about launching the boat," said Lisa, "The kids
were a little concerned that it might leak, but it didn't. I think they
really enjoyed all the attention."
The Ortbals eventually painted their boat royal blue on the outside and a
light cream color inside. It is less tippy than their canoe, and it is big
enough for Mike and all three children.
Mike, who manages the drafting department at Semco, Inc., in Columbia, is no
stranger to weekend projects. He and Lisa have owned a couple of
"fixer-upper" homes, so he has plenty of experience working with wood.
However, he said the kit and instructions are simple enough for anyone to
build with a few basic tools.
Lisa, who works as a neonatal nurse at Boone County Hospital, said building
the boat made this Father's Day one of the best ever. She said the
experience was such a positive one that their Cub Scout pack is considering
building another skiff and auctioning it off as a fundraiser. "It's a great
project," she said. "Kids don't get many opportunities to do something like
For more information about building your own boat, visit www.woodenboat.com/fbb.htm.
or contact the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, P.O. Box 25036, Alexandria, VA
22313. Phone 703/549-6715. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The group's
Web site, www.alexandriaseaport.org, has ordering information for the skiff
kit or plans.
- Jim Low -
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