Firebug D I Y dinghy. By Peter Tait. Build a boat and learn to sail. Club race at Pleasant Point YC in Christchurch NZ.

   The FireBug is a 2.4m (8ft) DIY yacht for amateur construction. Dads, Granddads, Mums, schools, yacht clubs and community groups build them. It’s a great project, fun for all and when the building is done it’s learn-to-sail time.
   The FireBug Project was set up to foster amateur boat building skills and to get people, especially kids out sailing at low cost and there’s nothing better than learning sailing in a boat you have built yourself!
Proud FNC builders at the  Sydney Boat Show.    John Spencer, the famous NZ dinghy and keelboat designer, and Peter Tait came up with the design which is optimized for builders with little or no experience. It’s not a build-it-in-a-weekend shell, nor is it basic – it’s a proper boat with bulkheads and stringers etc so the builders pick up plenty of skills on the way. And it will be the quickest small boat on the harbour!
   To date over 900 sets of plans have been purchased in about 26 countries. Boats and small fleets of boats are appearing all over the world, mostly in Australia and New Zealand but some in really out of the way places such as the Republic of Georgia, the Falkland Islands and close to the Arctic Circle in Canada where the local sailing lake is frozen for most of the year.
   Early on it was Dad and the kids building at home, a good winter project with the kids learning by helping, but as time has gone on the successes have been much bigger than expected.
Lobsang and Troy, FNC builders at the Sydney Boat Show.    Yacht club builds have helped flagging membership. One club in Christchurch NZ built 20 boats and in the process gained 20 family memberships. The kids sailed the ’Bugs and Dad bought something more comfortable for himself.
   Schools in New Zealand were quick to start up building programmes and soon kids of all ages were building yachts in the classroom and loving it.
   Teachers were amazed – children who normally wouldn’t or couldn’t get on with regular subjects were wanting to work back after school and were calling by with friends to show them their cool boat. Schools which were remote geographically or from low decile areas had the best results.
   Indigenous groups too – a Polynesian 16-year-old wrote, “Never in a thousand years did I think I would ever have a chance to build a yacht!”
   In New Zealand the Ministry of Education funds FireBug building 105%, the 5% for any specialist tools which might be required.
   Community support groups have used FireBug yacht building to boost young people’s interest in learning and/or get them back on track. Some groups link up with schools or other learning institutions (such as Tafe in Australia) or sailing clubs. It’s ‘learning by doing’ at it’s best and it gives a second chance.
Ross Venner at the Concord Ryde Sailing Club.    The Forster Neighbourhood Centre (FNC) in NSW built two FireBugs using local kids with issues at home and/or at school doing the building. The boats will be used in Learn to Sail programmes.
   Four of the FNC builders provided the ‘labour’ for a live ’BugBuild at last year’s Sydney International Boat Show. A ’Bug shell was set up at the show and the builders worked live to finish it off. The kids rose to the occasion and did an excellent job.
   Funding for this build was provided by International and Awlgrip Yacht Coatings and after the show the boat was donated to the FNC to boost their fleet. Corporate companies enjoy the ‘feelgood factor’ associated with the FireBug.
   The skills picked up by this ‘learning by doing’ style of education aren’t only woodwork or technology-based and it’s not only for those wanting to be boat builders. It’s yacht building – yachts have high tech materials, metal fittings, marine glues and paints, names, graphics, plans and instructions to understand, measurements to make. Understanding and enjoying any of those aspects can lead directly into a career, trade or profession.
   Common enquiries cover skills and costs.
   “If I can build a bookcase could I build one of your boats?” asked one. Another said “If I can fly a Jumbo Jet could I build one of your yachts and teach myself to sail?” Yes and yes, the pilot weighed 105 kilos but that wasn’t a problem.
School builders Auckland.    The design is optimized for amateurs; with built-in features to keep things simple, eg the deck is dead flat, there is symmetry fore and aft, and there are automatic checks as you progress. Construction is from timber and plywood using epoxy glue and sealer. There are no difficult-to-source materials.
   Cost varies depending on what you make and what items you buy in kits but it’s commonly in the range $1,800 – $2,500 sailaway. The boat can be carried on a roof rack, hull weight is only 40kg.
   All materials are readily available and the marine industry has been very supportive from the beginning with discounted product and free advice. One supplier said, “Great idea! What took you so long?”

The Build a Boat Firebug project co-created by *Peter Tait of Firebug HQ, NZ, is now a fully funded initiative in schools in New Zealand where students get to construct a boat and learn how to sail it.