Curaçao Family Build Yacht

The van Grieken family under the hull. Photo Alexine Hollander

Most people take up gardening or amateur photography in their spare time. Meet Chris van Grieken; he’s building a 40ft yacht in his shed.

A contractor by trade, Chris toyed with the idea of designing his own boat for years. An avid sport fisherman and a perfectionist, his pet peeve has always been commercial yachts with their one-design-fits-all mentality. Then he came across a YouTube video of a guy building a metal DIY Chinese sailboat. “I figured; if this guy can do it,” he said, “then so can I.”

Chris didn’t just start blindly. It took him two years to design the boat and plan the different construction phases. His goal was for the vessel to resemble fishing boats made locally in Curaçao only sleeker. More importantly, his design included the details he found lacking on commercially produced yachts.

Throughout the process, he worked with Marc Shlaes from Enviboats who did the overall boat design, and Chris Swanhart from Donald L Blount & Associates naval engineers for a sturdy and streamlined hull. He has been building the yacht with help from family and friends since September of last year and posts videos regularly of his progress. His projection is to have the vessel seaworthy within three years. The finished product will be a 40ft fishing yacht with two 315HP engines, capable of reaching top speeds of 30 knots. The interior will be a plush family boat, while the exterior is set up as the ultimate fishing machine. Because the hull is being cold-molded, the full load displacement will only be 23,000lb. The bottom of the hull consists of three layers of 8mm Douglas-fir marine plywood, and the hull’s sides are made of three layers of 8mm Okoume marine plywood. The layers, glued with epoxy and laminated in different directions, give the boat the perfect weight to strength ratio. After the epoxy cures, all fasteners are removed.

 

Chris in front of the construction shed. Photo Alexine Hollander
Chris in front of the construction shed. Photo Alexine Hollander

 

Even with his construction background, Chris says he is amazed at how much he has learned. “It’s been a great experience and it’s funny to see how creative we’ve gotten in the process.” They discovered that household vinegar is an effective way to clean epoxy off your body and off tools instead of harsh chemicals. “Our shoes’ soles got clogged with epoxy making us slip and slide all over the place; now we tape sandpaper to the soles.”

 

The young crew. Photo Alexine Hollander
The young crew. Photo Alexine Hollander

 

But it’s not all work and no play; there’s plenty of amicable bantering going on combined with serious mano a mano debate with the crew in between applying sheets of fiberglass or sanding. Chris’ two kids are often there to help. His 16 year old son works almost every Saturday and his 14 year old daughter is the expert epoxy mixer of the bunch. At any given time, there’s up to ten people working on the boat, weekends being the busiest days. “My wife Jenn brings her famous ham and cheese oven baked sandwiches slathered with her secret sauce and we make a mad dash for them, dropping tools as we go!” Singing and dancing go hand in hand with spray painting and all helpers get a shirt with the logo Job Site on it as a souvenir.

 

Jenn and her famous ham and cheese sandwiches. Photo Alexine Hollander
Jenn and her famous ham and cheese sandwiches. Photo Alexine Hollander

 

There have been a few mishaps: Chris’ comical fall off the hull (which they have on video), and a finger that was almost severed. “That’s par for the course. There’s sure to be some blood, tears and sweat but it just makes the journey more exciting.”

The hull is almost finished and scheduled to be turned over the second week of June. “I’ve already worked out the details. So far, the most challenging part has been steam-bending of the prop tunnels but thanks to the support of Marc Shlaes we were able to tackle it.”

 

The hull takes shape. Photo Alexine Hollander
The hull takes shape. Photo Alexine Hollander

 

Once the vessel is finished, she will be towed to the coast where she’ll be hoisted by crane and lowered into the water. “The yacht will be operational by the time she hits the water because everything will be triple checked before we let her go. So, once the motors rev up, our real adventure begins!”

One thing Chris hasn’t figured out yet is what to name her … maybe Job Well Done!

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