The Cardboard Boat Book Story


For every book that has ever been written there is a story that goes along with it. The story is usually bigger than the book as the book is the culmination of the story that drove the creation of the book in the first place. The Cardboard Boat Book is such a book and whose story spans my entire career in the computer industry and a lifetime pursuit to complete a project that began 35 years ago. The story involves a dream, as well as a belief that these boats are truly seaworthy, and a desire to provide the world with something that has not yet been done like this before.

You are holding in your hand the completion of the story, The Cardboard Boat Book. This is a story of a college physics project that so engrossed my mind and soul that it has opened doors for me my entire career. From my first job in the computer industry, to starting my own computer company, to shutting down my company, from marriage, to divorce, raising children, heartbreaks as well as great joy along the way. From traveling all over the world, to working for some of the most interesting and successful companies of the 21st century, Who could have known that a college physics project and a cardboard boat would have done so much for one person? It is a story of dedication and perseverance to develop a simple solution for an intriguing problem. The boats themselves are an elegant, simple, and clever design, crafted from an unconventional boat building material.

In the beginning of this project the personal computer as we know it today did not exist. We used calculators, descriptive geometry, algebra, and trigonometry to design our ideas and put them on paper. The cardboard boat designs in this book were a product of those simpler times. After lots of testing on paper, and in the classroom, the design worked! It not only worked, it worked really well. I then expanded on the original idea and built them larger and stronger. Then one day I had the vision of The Cardboard Boat Book, something that just happened due to all of the time and effort put into the project.

I first proposed the idea of writing the book to my engineering professor. I envisioned the book being a college assignment to satisfy my elective credit requirements. He agreed to my proposal and I subsequently earned 15 ‘A’ credits for writing the book which allowed me to graduate with honors. This was the first success, or as I like to refer to it, 'Chapter One' of The Cardboard Boat Book. Little did I know at the time that this was the first of many chapters to come over the span of 35 years.

Chapter Two: I consulted with my technical writing professor as I wrote the book. Along the way she introduced me to a professional editor. The editor took such a liking to this idea that she brought it to the attention of a few publishers she knew. This exposure led to signing a contract with a publisher in Canada. This was another big win for The Cardboard Boat Book, but with this win came a new predicament. I was required to spend thousands of dollars to have the technical drawings professionally drafted for the publisher. As a young college kid I had no money to speak of except what was currently in my bank account and that would be gone in less than 2 weeks.

Chapter Three: It was at this time that the college purchased a number of new computers for the engineering program. The computers were an early predecessor to the IBM PC. They were specifically configured for one purpose, to perform computer-assisted-drafting. The configuration included a 3-Dimensional drafting program running on an S-100 Bus, Seattle Computing Products Q-DOS, a Visual 500 terminal, two 360k floppy disk drives and a small HP Plotter. I had an idea. Here was my solution. I am an engineer, and I could draw my own drawings with this computer. I could draft the drawings without paying someone to do it for me and I could learn how to use a computer at the same time. Little did I know that this would change my life forever and I would spend the next 35 years of my career in the computer industry from this day forward.

Chapter Four: It just so happened that the college purchased the computers a month before summer school break. I proposed to my professor that I use the computers over the summer to draft the drawings for The Cardboard Boat Book. My professor thought about it for a few minutes and then handed me the key to the computer lab and said, “I am going on summer vacation, teach me what you learn when I get back, see ya!” That was all I needed to get started. I barely knew how to turn on the computer let alone use it productively. Another thing, there wasn’t much documentation to even help me make sense of this thing. Did that stop me, no way! I had a vision and I kept moving forward. I proceeded to spend the entire summer working in the computer lab all day, every day, day after day. When I learned how to do something I would document it. I spoke with the author of the software on an almost daily basis. I spent hours drafting the drawings for The Cardboard Boat Book and I learned everything about that early computer that I could, not for the sake of the computer but for the sake of drafting the drawings for The Cardboard Boat Book.

Chapter Five: Once summer was over and my professor returned from vacation he was pleased with the progress that I had made. The opportunities were now just beginning. Based on my new experience I found myself lecturing my own engineering class and managing the computer lab that school year under the supervision of my engineering professor. The college got word that a student was lecturing his own class and soon approached me and asked if I was interested in teaching a class in the evenings to practicing professionals on how to use the computer system. Of course I said yes and another new chapter of The Cardboard Boat Book was in the works.

Chapter Six: A few quarters of doing this and the next opportunity presented itself. I was recruited by a local start-up computer company to work for them and teach people how to use the CAD systems they were selling and also to assist their computer sales people by demonstrating the technology. I jumped on this like everything before it. Soon I found myself sought after as an instructor and a consultant in a fledgling industry surrounding the personal computer. Once again the plot thickened. I was recruited by a second new startup company to sell CAD workstations. I thought the last thing I wanted to do was be a salesman. To make a long story short, after 5 years as the top salesman for this company the company was sold, their business plan shifted, and I began looking for my next opportunity.

  • What happened to The Cardboard Boat Book in all of this? Well, the publisher in Canada went out of business before the book was published and they returned the manuscript and the drawings to me. I was saddened but I was so busy working with computers and learning about many different types of businesses and manufacturing processes from the companies I was selling to that I soon forgot about the book and it ended up in a box in my attic with all the memorabilia surrounding the project.

Chapter Seven: After 15 years of gaining experience in the computer business I was one of the successful computer ‘geeks’ in the Pacific Northwest. The original computer system I used eventually morph’d into the IBM PC, the XT, the AT, the 386, the 486 and beyond. Over the years MS-DOS®, and then Windows®, and Microsoft® grew up in my backyard. I eventually opened my own company selling CAD/CAM workstations and services to the top manufacturing companies in the Pacific Northwest. 

Three years later I began to wonder where the time had gone. After my first marriage ended I shut my company down and got a real job and struggled as a single parent for a number of years. Once again The Cardboard Boat Book facilitated the next step in my career. I now had so much practical experience working with computers that I landed a Senior position with a leading global technology corporation and wound up traveling all over the world implementing biometric identification projects for governments, law enforcement agencies, and large scale commercial implementations of the technology. This chapter in my story lasted for 10 years when I once again shifted gears and decided I wanted to work for the big company itself, Microsoft®, which is where I am today.

Chapter Eight: Around 2007 something began to happen to me. I woke up one day and realized how much time had passed and how fast life had gone by. I began to do some soul searching and realized I missed what got me here in the first place, The Cardboard Boat Book. My second wife, who is the love and joy of my life, began to suggest that I pull out the book and dust it off and publish it. After all, the book is one of those things that I had never completed and it meant so much to me. Why did I ever stop working on it? Simple, life got in the way and the book got put on the back burner. That was until now, until I was ready for it again, and until the software tools that are necessary to do it right were available, and until the world was ready for the first environmentally-friendly ‘green’ boat. I began to think the time is right, the time is now.

Chapter Nine: I pulled out my original manuscript, the computer drawings, and all the old memorabilia. I updated my page layout software, my technical illustration software, developed a simple website, and buckled down once again and learned how to use new software tools to begin the process of re-writing the book. I ran into challenges such as, the old CAD drawing database was so outdated I had to jump through hoops to convert the old data into a format I could use. Some drawings had to be completely re-drawn. I rallied all my resources together and with a new vision for an old idea I diligently worked to reproduce the book.

Chapter Ten: You are holding in your hands The Cardboard Boat Book, the book that created a lifetime career for one person. It is a story of dedication and perseverance to complete a project that began 35 years ago. It is now available to everyone in the world who wants to build their own environmentally-friendly boat from a recyclable resource.

I believe there isn’t anything half as much fun as messing around in a boat on a sunny day. The Cardboard Boat Book allows you to build your own boat for the price of the paint, glue, and tape required to put it together, it doesn’t harm the environment, and it is recyclable.

I am very proud to say with a smile on my face that “I finally wrote The Cardboard Boat Book!” I hope you have fun with this book and your boat and I hope you pursue your dreams. You never know what may come of them.

~Dave Friant