This man’s retirement project? Building a 40-foot boat in a barn

By Michael Hill

When 70-year-old Michael Danesi’s family said he was building a boat in his barn I thought a canoe, no big deal, until I walked in and saw it.

What do people say when they find out your building something as elaborate as this, this is not a canoe?

“I guess, wow is probably the first thing. The next thing they usually say is, ‘Am I missing something? Is the flood coming?” said Danesi.

It’s shaped like an ark, but it’s a 40-foot sailing or fishing boat called a Chebacco. Danesi bought the design online for $5 from the Smithsonian Institute.

“Actually, truth be told, the design was picked because it fit in the barn. That’s the main criteria,” said Danesi.

The barn. Danesi built it from the ground up. Then, in the early 2000s, he started collecting the big timbers and letting them air-dry in his yard for seven years. Some wood came from trees Sandy and Irene fell. He bought century-old equipment from auctions and had some bolts galvanized and custom-made.

Danesi is an engineer. He worked for the Defense Department at Picatinny Arsenal. He dreamed of building a boat in his 20s when he built boats. His wife Linda supports him 100 percent.

“To me it’s a small miracle,” she said.

In 2012, the dream began to take shape with a keel laying celebration. Since then, he spends 100 to 150 hours a month boat building, some with help from family and friends to clamp and install planks, for instance. Planks that require help to steam bend.

About half the work is manual labor. All of it is something else.

When asked is this somehow therapeutic in a way, Danesi said, “Oh yeah, basically it’s how I get most of my enjoyment out of life.”

Why do you do this?

“It’s a retirement project,” he said. “I love working with wood and I love boats so, it’s just a natural fit.”

Danesi started building his boat in 2012. It is now 2017. How long will it take him to “finish it”?

“That’s the $64 question. When everyone asks that question, I usually say five years, but I’ve been saying that for several years now. But five years may be a reasonable guess,” said Danesi.

Even from right now?

“Yes, and probably from next year. I don’t know, I guess that’s the real answer.” said Danesi.

Now, how will he get this boat out of the barn? He’ll build, of course, a door on the back end of the barn, then take it to the Atlantic for sailing.

“I would like to go to France myself, personally,” his wife said. “In this boat. I will have to get more nerve, but I will do it.”

“Building the boat really is the journey for me. If I get to sail on it once or twice that’ll be a bonus,” said Danesi.

A bonus decades in the making.