Jacques Coon’s Drift Boat Build

Jacques Coon’s Drift Boat Build By Josh Coon

After seeing the clean lines and flowing curves of a Jason Cajune drift boat near Yellowstone River in the summer of 2018, Jacques Coon excitedly agreed to lead a build six months into the pandemic lockdown with his son and grandson. Read on and drift away...

In the summer of 2018, I saw a Jason Cajune drift boat in the lobby of the Sage Lodge located near the Yellowstone River, in Montana’s famed Paradise Valley. The boat was a modern take on the traditional Western river fishing dories that infused the clean lines and flowing curves of low-sided Montana skiffs—typically made of fiberglass at production scale. The boat would be equally at home on the water or in the showroom of a high-end furniture gallery. Two years later, while fishing on the Pere Marquette river (Michigan) with my dad, Jacques, and son Evan, I described the Cajune boat. Six months into the pandemic lockdown, Jacques was looking for a project and excitedly agreed to lead a build.

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

CAD rendering of the design, prior to start of build.

While Cajune does sell plans, I decided to design the boat, taking heavy inspiration from Cajune, but still allowing me the opportunity to customize the build. Using the computer-aided drafting  software Solidworks®, I began to shape the hull – tinkering with form, overall width, and length. River drift boats are flat bottomed with rocker on either end. The flat bottom allows the boat to float in very shallow sections of river while the rocker enables quick pivoting and positioning capability. After running water draft calculations, I settled on a 17′ 4″ long hull, which should only draw about four inches of water with a 1,200 pound load.

With these plans complete Jacques began to source the materials with help from Gougeon Brothers technical support. The bottom was made of a continuous sheet of honeycomb polypropylene plastic (Plascore®), which offers an extremely high strength-to-weight ratio. The first step was to cut the bottom to shape and apply a Kevlar® fabric using WEST SYSTEM® Epoxy (105 Epoxy Resin® with 207 Special Clear Hardener™ and 206 Colloidal Silica). The Kevlar was then covered by a fiberglass fabric for a sandable surface. The sides of the boat were made from two sheets of 3/8″ okoume marine plywood. The sheets were first scarfed together, then cut to overall shape, and finally coated with fiberglass cloth and epoxy. With the sides and bottom shaped, Jacques called on all his friends to assist with the stitch and glue assembly of the hull.

A unique characteristic of the Cajune style is the rounded transom—a key feature we sought to incorporate in our build as well. Having never done a rounded transom, this feature presented challenges. Jacques ultimately used 1/8″ okoume plywood by laminating three sheets consecutively to form the desired shape. With the transom installed, the rough hull was complete and Jacques began work on the gunnels. The recurve style sides mandated that the

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

The boat after primary hull construction. Note the rounded transom on the right, recurve sides, and Kevlar fabric on the bottom and chines.

ash gunnels be steamed for up to two hours followed by immediate clamping to the sides. An inner and outer ash gunnel were laminated in place on the sides to form the finished gunnel which measures approximately 1 1/2″ wide. The gunnels added considerable strength to the hull, which was now taking form. The stem, also made of ash, was next fabricated by hand to fit. The remaining trim pieces were of mahogany and comprised a transom plate, transom brace, and a small bow deck.


Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

Three generations: Jacques, his son Josh, and grandson Evan sitting on their drift boat.

Having completed the hull, Jacques next shifted his focus to building the seats and seat pedestals. The three pedestals are made of 1/8″ laminated okoume plywood. The oarsman seat was made to accommodate a portable barbecue grill and the others left open to serve as storage. The seats were made of white oak. Next, the interior deck and dry storage compartments were completed using ¼”okoume plywood that was strengthened with fiberglass cloth and epoxy. Strips of mahogany were then applied to fore and aft regions of the deck—both for strength and beauty. Finally, the cockpit sole was fabricated from 3/8″ thick mahogany and installed in a herringbone pattern.

With approximately 20 months elapsed since the conception of the build, Jacques had completed the overall project and the only remaining steps were finishing. He started by coating all wooden surfaces with epoxy and extensively sanded every surface of the boat, inside and out.

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

The boat after all major components had been completed. It’s ready for the application of finishes.

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

The exterior of the boat sprayed with automotive finish (Nightmist Blue) and covered with Dupont™ Marine Imron® clear.

In August of 2022, he sprayed the exterior of the boat with automotive finish (Nightmist Blue) and covered it with Dupont™ Marine Imron® clear.

Interior surfaces were also sprayed with the Marine Imron clearcoat. The interior cockpit sole was covered with Pettit® Tuff Coat™ in Steel Gray. This finish provides a durable, soft, and non-skid surface. To protect the bottom of the hull from rocks and scrapes that will inevitably occur when drifting down a river, a polymericb truck bed liner finish was applied to the entire bottom and chines.

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

The rounded transom, custom bronze hardware, mahogany transom brace, and custsom designed aluminum block.

The finished boat was trimmed primarily with bronze hardware: bow eye, hinges, and latches. The anchor system comprises a rope that is terminated under the oarsman seat and runs along the bottom through tubing and out the transom. The blocks on the transom were forged bronze and purchased from Jason Cajune. The blocks on the interior floor, below the oarsman and at the rounded transom, were designed by me, cut from aluminum, and anodized in a bronze finish.

The build was completed in October of 2022, almost exactly two years from the project conception. Jacques, Evan and I are excited to formally commission the boat in the spring of 2023 with its maiden voyage planned for either the AuSable or Pere Marquette, both famed Michigan trout streams. This boat, however, should be equally at home on famous Western rivers like the Madison, Yellowstone, and Henry’s Fork.

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

The oarsman pdedestal, mahogany deck, and Pettit® Tuff Coat™ in Steel Gray.

Jacques Coon's custom drift boat build.

Jacques Coon at the reigns.