Friday, August 19, 2016

Glen-L Utility: Impressions so far

Now that my Glen-L Utility is finished, and I've had it out on the water a few times, I thought I'd reflect some on it's performance, what I got wrong, what I got right, and what I'd do differently.

How stable is it?

The Glen-L Utility is plenty stable. Early-on in my project, I'd heard an account of a builder who "almost fell out of the boat" the first time he sat on the back seat. Granted, his seat arrangement was the "standard" twin aft seats on the port & starboard sides. I can imagine a guy my size concentrating all his weight on one side of the boat, back where the hull sides are lowest... and yes, I can easily see how the boat would get off-balance in a hurry. For that very reason, I would not recommend building the twin aft seating arrangement, even though that is the original design. 

Glen-L Utility Design
The original 1953 design shows the Utility as having twin aft seats.

All that being said, let me assure you that the hull design of the Utility is quite stable and safe. It'll roll with you some when the weight is not centered, sure... but, due to the wide flare of the hull in the forward section, it actually gets more buoyant when it rolls slightly to the side, much like a dory. With the Utility, it pays to keep the weight centered and balanced. However, even though it rolls side-to-side somewhat, I've had no concerns about it turning over. In my opinion, it is plenty stable and plenty safe. 

I wouldn't try to fish from it while standing up, though.

How's the 8hp motor?

The motor on my boat is a 4-stroke Nissan 8hp (actually made by Tohatsu). With just me aboard, the little 8hp Nissan is fine. The boat actually turned out to be faster than I expected it to be. In fact, I'd say that 8hp is just about perfect for this boat, with only one person aboard.

The problems come when you've got a second person aboard. With a second, light, person in the boat, the 8hp motor's performance is fair. With a second full-grown adult in the boat, the 8hp struggles considerably. I'm hoping a different prop will remedy that.... we'll see. When I've had myself and another adult in the boat, I've wished I had a 9.9, if not a 15hp on it. In fact, somewhere in the Glen-L instructions, it mentions using a motor no greater than 15hp. I'd consider that wise.

Not all 8hp motors are created equal, however. I have also been in another Glen-L Utility, powered by a 2-stroke Mercury 8hp. With two adults aboard, that boat planed without any trouble.

Glen-L Utility with 4-stroke, 8hp motor
My boat, with a 4-stroke Nissan 8hp motor.

Glen-L Utility with 2 stroke, 8hp motor
Another Glen-L Utility performed better with this 2-stroke Mercury 8hp motor.

How does it row?

I'll have to get back to you on that. I'm anxious to find out, myself. I've got the oarlocks in place, but at the moment I do not have oars. Once I finally row it, I'll update this post.

Okay, here's your update! (May 29, 2017)

The Glen-L Utility is actually quite easy to row, and I'm definitely happy that I put the oarlocks on it. Now, a little caveat: Although it is fairly easy to row, it is not what you'd call a rowboat. Rowboats tend to be proportionately narrower, with a rocker in the hull, and glide through the water smoothly and easily. This is a planing-hull boat designed for outboard power. It is first, and foremost, a power boat.

That being said, you can raise the motor, put the oars out, and row with relative ease. You won't be the fastest rower on the water. Someone in a canoe will be able to run circles around you. And, if you have to row for a long distance, you're in for a workout.

But, if you like to motor your boat to your favorite little secluded cove on the lake, turn off the motor, and row around in the peace and stillness... this boat fits that role beautifully. In fact, I've done that very thing with my daughter aboard, and still dragging the outboard motor through the water, without it being much of a chore. On a large pond, or a small lake, you may not even need a motor at all.

Being a fairly wide boat, you'll need long oars. I bought 6-1/2' oars, for two reasons: That is the longest length that I can easily stow onboard, and that was the longest length available locally (at Bass Pro Shops.) They work pretty well. If you're expecting to row your Glen-L Utility frequently, you'd probably be happier with 7 or 8 foot oars.

How many people can you put in it?

I had originally started building this boat with the intention of taking myself and my two kids out in it. The Glen-L catalog states that it is capable of carrying 3 average-sized passengers. However, in 1953, when the boat was designed, an "average" adult weighed approximately 150 lbs. Simply put, I don't conform to that average, and neither does my oldest child. In spite of my original hopes and intentions, I simply would not feel safe putting three people in it. So, I'll say you can safely put two adults in it... or, maybe, 1 adult and 2 small kids.

What did I get wrong?


The biggest mistake I made was forgetting to cut side-to-side limbers in the aft sections of the floor battens. As you may know, a limber is a hole that allows for the passage of water inside the boat. The object is to allow any water that gets in the boat to flow to the back of the boat, and collect in the lowest center point. That's the point where it's easiest to remove water.

The frames themselves have limbers cut at each notch for each batten and the keel. This allows water to flow from front-to-back inside the boat. That part, I got right.

Limbers cut into the frame notches allow front-to-back flow of water alongside the floor battens.
However, I was also supposed to cut semi-circular limbers on the underside of each floor batten, at the back. These could have been cut with a simple rounded file, and would have created a passageway between the batten and the floor. These floor limbers would allow trapped water to flow from the sides of the hull to the center.

I totally forgot to do this. As a result, I'm only able to remove a certain amount of water with the bilge pump. (Granted, it does remove most of the water, but not as much as it could.) Collected water actually remains trapped between the battens at the back of the boat. This means I have to spend a bit more time scooping out collected water & sponging it up with a towel.

This photo, from fellow boatbuilder Carl's blog, shows a floor limber cut in the underside of a floor batten. This permits side-to-side flow of water. Carl is building an impressive 21-foot Glen-L Vera Cruise. You should check out his blog. (Thank you for the use of your photo, Carl!)

Without the floor limbers, water gets trapped in-between the battens & has to be removed manually.

And just to put your mind at ease about how that much water got in the boat... I PUT it there, with a water hose, to test the bilge pump. Out on the lake, I've had ZERO problems with water coming into the boat, aside from a little spray here and there.

Deck Beam

I was disappointed with the fitting between the deck beam and the deck. I'm not talking about the crown of frame #2, but rather the intermediate beam placed between frame #2 and the breasthook. I got the shape right, but installed it about 3/8" too low. Had I been more meticulous in fairing the deck framing, (namely, had I bothered to look on the underside of my test plywood to check the fitting), I could have caught this mistake and remedied it with a shim. But, I didn't.

My after-the-fact attempt to fill the resulting gap was a total flop. In the end, I decided to just leave the deck as-is. Sure, the fitting across the crown of the deck beam isn't great. However, contact with the strongback running down the center of the deck is good, and as a result the deck is plenty strong.


I shouldn't have mounted the oarlocks on the inwale. At the time, I chose to do this for aesthetic reasons, and because the side of the hull has such an inward angle that these oarlocks wouldn't fit properly. The resulting problem was that the oars hit the side of the boat, and got knocked out of the oarlocks. I wound up having to raise the oarlock horns with 1/2" mahogany spacers. In retrospect, I should have mounted the oarlocks on the outer surface of the gunwale, and made whatever necessary modifications to make it fit.

What did I get right?

I'm definitely pleased with my decision to build the seats differently than what is shown on the plans.

Although it's not always comfortable to reach behind me to operate the tiller handle, I'm glad I did not build the twin aft seats. For all but the smallest adult, I believe piloting the boat with only one person seated in the rear corner of the boat would be a VERY off-balance ride. With the full-width thwart across the back, it is definitely easier to balance the weight in the boat.

The way I positioned the front thwart several inches forward of what's shown in the plans was actually the result of a mistake. I'd cut the thwart too short, due to mis-measurement. Rather than cut a new one, I simply pushed it forward until it fit. This basically resulted in the forward passenger having to sit facing the back of the boat. However, the arrangement actually gives both passengers more leg room, and provides for better conversation since you're facing each other.

I'm also pleased with the way I built the center supports for the seats. If I dare say so, I think it's a more graceful look than the original plans, and I believe it makes construction of the seats easier as well. Yes, it's a matter of opinion... and plenty will differ. 

The center supports for my seats are based on the design I saw in a photo of a 1935 Riva outboard.

The height of the seats turned out to be comfortable, too. I've ridden in another Utility, in which the seats were installed level with the cutouts in frame #1. In my opinion, that's uncomfortably low. The center support for my aft seat is 8" high. The center support for the forward seat is 9" high. (The hull "drops" from back-to-front, so the 1" difference helps to keep the seats relatively level when the boat is in the water.) The thwarts themselves are 1" thick, and that height allows for fairly comfortable seating.

What would I do differently?

I would mount the back seat a few inches forward, so that it would partially straddle frame #1.

I had given some thought to mounting the rear thwart in this manner. In the end, I chose not to for a couple of reasons... One, I thought it would be too far forward for operating the tiller. Two, installation was easier to mount it just behind frame #1.

I wish I had mounted the rear seat in approximately this position, (indicated by the red overlay).
In retrospect, I wish I had mounted the rear seat so that it would partially straddle frame #1... just enough so that I could sit with my weight centered over the frame. Each time I've been on the river in my boat, I have nudged my way forward until I was sitting on the front edge of the seat. The boat seems to balance best with the weight centered and just forward of frame #1. It isn't far enough forward to make tiller operation much of a problem. 

The deck centerline seam

I would do one of two things differently on the deck centerline seam. If using the fiberglass tape again, (which I did, for its even & unfrayed edges), I would sand the fiberglass into near non-existence before varnishing the deck.

As it is, you can see the fiberglass tape on my deck fairly easily from certain angles. I wish I had taken the time to sand it much more. At the time, I was concerned about accidentally sanding through one of the plywood veneer layers.

OR, I would follow my original plan, which was to fiberglass the entire deck at once, under one wide sheet of fiberglass cloth, while butt-joining the deck panels together. Then, at least, the surface would be consistent all the way across, so the centerline seam should be less noticeable.

Batten-to-Frame connections

Over the course of this build, I have learned to trust the strength of marine epoxy. One thing I'd do differently is that I'd simply epoxy the battens and keel to the frames, and clamp them into place while the epoxy cured. I would not drill holes through both parts and screw them together. Looking back, I believe that was unnecessary. I would quite possibly also just clamp and epoxy the chines and sheers into place, and not drive screws through them & into the frames. That is precisely what I did at the junction of the chines and frame #2. I  believe the epoxy is plenty strong enough.

I'd still use screws on the planking, however.

In retrospect, I believe it was unnecessary to drive screws through the battens and into the frames. I believe epoxy alone would have worked just fine, as long as the battens were clamped firmly into place.

What materials did I use?

  • All the frames are made from mahogany. 
  • Frames #1 and #2 are sistered to a full-size backing made of 1/4" marine-grade douglas fir plywood. 
  • The transom is made of 3/4" marine-grade douglas fir plywood, with an outer layer of 1/4" BS1088 Meranti plywood. Transom frame members and motor board are mahogany.
  • The stem and breasthook are made from 3/4" marine grade douglas fir plywood, laminated together for a total 1-1/2" thickness.
  • Keel is made of 3/4" thick mahogany, laminated to two layers of 1/4" marine grade douglas fir plywood, for a total thickness of 1-1/4."
  • Floor battens, (including short "false" battens), are made of 4/4 mahogany.
  • Chines, Sheers, and deck framing are made from southern yellow pine.
  • Planking and deck are 1/4" BS1088 Meranti plywood.
  • Epoxies used are Glen-L Poxy Grip and Poxy Shield, and System Three Silvertip and Gel Magic.
  • All structural screws are silicon bronze. All other screws (for cleats, etc) are stainless steel.
  • Thwarts are made from 3/4" exterior grade AB plywood, laminated to 1 layer of BS1088 Meranti plywood.
  • Seat supports are made of 2 layers of 1/4" marine grade plywood (both Meranti and Douglas Fir, combined randomly) laminated together for a total thickness of 1/2". Mahogany blocking is added at both the top and bottom, on both sides.
  • All support blocking is mahogany.
  • Paints used are Aquagard Aquagloss in Seafoam Green, over Aquagard 190 primer; System Three WR-LPU paint in Whidbey white.
  • Varnish is Pettit Z-Spar Captain's Varnish 1015.


  1. Nice post mortem write up Mike. These are the kind of articles that future builders will find useful. During my build, I have been fortunate to avoid many mistakes through the generous sharing of information such as this by many builders. Thanks for posting.

  2. I'm planning to build a utility starting this spring. Your blog is a treasure of information! Thanks for the clear, easy to read writing. The blog should be mandatory for starters in boatbuilding!

    Greetings from Belgium.

  3. Nick, thank you for your kind comments! I'm happy that you've found the blog useful, and I believe you'll have a great time building your own Utility!