Robert Braggins, 80, was employed as a woodworker for most of the first half of his life. In the early 1970s, when Braggins was in his 40s, he decided to take on an entirely new project: a triple-hulled catamaran in his back yard.
It was a 38-foot long, 24-foot wide boat made of wood, glass and fiberglass. Powered by a combination of sails and diesel, the craft eventually took Braggins and his first wife on a three-year journey throughout the Pacific.
“Probably the most interesting thing I ever did is to build a crazy boat in my back yard,” he said.
Born and raised in Seattle, Braggins had lived in Washington state his entire life. He made his home in Kirkland when he began work on his trimaran.
His shipbuilding knowledge was mostly self-taught, and what he didn’t know he asked from friends with the same shipbuilding interests in the Northwest Multihull Club.
The wood crafting came naturally, but learning to work with fiberglass was easy enough, Braggins said.
“When I was finished, my wife Marial and I took the master voyage to Juneau, Alaska,” he said.
They sailed up the western coast of Canada until they reached Juneau. They lived out of the boat for a winter and Braggins took a job as a car salesman to support them.
At winter’s end, they picked up and headed south down the coast. But once they reached Seattle, they decided to pass it by and go down to the Mexican coast.
“After we went down to Mexico, we decided we’d go back to Seattle,” Braggins said. “But we decided to go by way of Hawaii.”
So Braggins and wife ventured the trimaran away from the coast and deep into the Pacific. They navigated by the stars and the position of the sun, a skill Braggins had read up on when he was building the boat.
When they made it to the islands, Braggins got a job right away.
“A couple of young men walked up to us shortly after we landed,” he said. “They asked me ‘Did you build that?’ and I said yes. And they said to me ‘Our boss wants to talk to you.’”
Braggins made a living from crafting native Koa wood into cabinets and furniture.
He and his wife stayed in Hawaii for two seasons. On the way back, they sailed through a school of Mahi Mahi, ensuring they had fresh fish to eat on the way back to Seattle.
Years later, Mariel died and Braggins sold the boat. He moved in with his second wife Gloria. For a period when the new couple lived in northern California, Braggins helped build a second trimaran for a friend.
“I taught him how to build a boat,” Braggins said. “Eventually, he built boats professionally.”
The first boat he built is still seaworthy and currently holds port in San Francisco.
“I got plans for another catamaran right now,” Braggins said. “But I’ll probably never do it.
“Well, I suppose I could. Got the tools, got the space.”