Building The Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop With John Harris



From Water To Land: Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop

A"Do It Yourself" Camper That Resembles A Boat That Was Designed By John Harris After Realizing He Could Take His Craft From Water To Land

The Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop [Courtesy/CLC]

John Harris wasn’t even old enough to drive a car when he decided he would find another way to get around: By boat.

At the age of 14, Harris went to his folks with his plan to get a vessel on the water, and their response – or more correctly, his response to their response – was the genesis of what would become his lifelong career.

“When I wanted my own boat my parents were like, good luck kid, go get a job,” Harris said. “So I decided to build my own boat, and I did.”

Boat building became a passion after he hacked together his first craft. His boat floated and worked, but what he came to realize was that the design and building of the craft was his new addiction that knew no bounds.

Today, Harris is the owner and operator of Chesapeake Light Craft, a shop that operates out of Annapolis, Maryland, and produces Do-It-Yourself kits for mechanically inclined boaters and, more recently, RVers as well.

“We opened the shop here in Annapolis in 1995 and the company grew very quickly,” Harris said.

Harris serves as the operator and the chief designer of the kits that the company sends out the door. He was the second employee of the business, when in the early 1990s he graduated college and started a job at a traditional boat shop. In the corner of that shop, the guys were building on sub-contract kits for a newly formed company, Chesapeake Light Craft.

“Building boats was all I ever wanted to do,” Harris said. “I paused to go to a liberal arts college to get a degree, but on the weekends I continued to build boats.

I had a nice portfolio when I got out of college.”

The company has shipped 30,000 build your own boat kits since its inception.  Boats include kayaks, sailboats, rowboats, paddleboards, powerboats, and canoes, among others.

Aerial View of The Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop [Courtesy/CLC]
Putting Together A Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop [Courtesy/CLC]

But in 2015, Harris had an idea. He saw some renewed energy in the teardrop trailer market and decided that he could also offer a DIY kit for that kind of product. It would be a slick minimalistic teardrop which he would sell to adventurers around the country who would rather build their own camper than buy it outright. In a sense, the teardrop kit is a kind of throwback to the way teardrops have traditionally been constructed, Harris suggested.

“So the audience that I identified had a lot of crossover with the people camping out of small boats, folks who are beach camping. Those people also like the idea of towing a small camper …,” Harris said.

Harris said he did some research and found a 1935 Popular Science article that described how to build your own teardrop. He knew he was onto a great idea that needed a reboot in the modern market.  

“This was always a thing that was a ‘do it yourself’ kind of thing. Especially in the 1940s or 50s, there were a profusion of designs of these things out there,” Harris said.

For his part, his design of the Chesapeake Light Craft teardrop is minimalistic to the core. The CLC Teardrop is a beautiful camper once fully constructed. It has the effect of being a boat sitting upside down, with the smooth calculated lines of the hull cutting through the wind down the highway.

Harris designed the kit with his boats in mind. The seams are tight, they have two layers of fiberglass all the way around to protect against dings, dents, and generally tough conditions on the road. Despite being a camper, Harris still talks about it like boat builder, referring to the “galley” module, for instance.

The base kit ships for $1,995, and that includes the machine-cut wood panels, the slot-together CNC-cut plywood female mold, fiberglass, epoxy, copper wire, marine acrylic windows, door and galley hatch hinges, gasket materials, pistons, and several more items. What’s not included is the trailer that the teardrop will be mounted on.

On The Road With The Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop [Courtesy/CLC]
Using The Back OfThe Teardrop As A Kitchen Area [Courtesy/CLC]
Sleeping Inside The Chesapeake Light Craft Teardrop [Courtesy/CLC]

It takes time, patience, and persistence to put one of these teardrops together. Since the product when on the market, the company has shipped about 100 teardrop kits. Early adopters have reported back that the average build time comes to around 250 hours.

 “I think the success rate has been pretty high” in completing the teardrops, Harris said. “We have worked really hard with our marketing materials to say, ‘hey this is what you are getting into.’”

Prospective customers sometimes purchase the teardrop’s build manual just to get a sense of what they are getting into. With 400 color pages, the manual is available in print or PDF for purchase, and it goes into intricate detail about stitching together this slick teardrop.

“Don’t be intimated by the size of the manual, we just haven’t left anything out,” Harris adds.

Obviously, building the CLC Teardrop is a significant commitment of time and effort, but to make things easier Harris and his crew are planning to offer courses to interested teardrop makers at the company’s warehouse.

The idea springs from the many classes CLC has offered to new boat builders, and when MRV the Buzz reached Harris he had just left a meeting where his team was planning how to pitch building classes to the teardrop customers.

For $5,500, the builder will get the standard teardrop kit, a trailer to bolt it to, and about 88 hours of hands-on building and instruction in Annapolis. At the end of two weeks, the teardrop will be fully assembled and only need sanding and finishing.

What Harris started on water is now moving to land. He thinks the price point of the teardrop kit will be attractive to those who want in, but can’t afford a pre-assembled version. In a way, that’s the whole point of CLC, those kits meant for water or land: Give the customer an adventure in building before an adventure on sea or land. In that way, it remains faithful to Harris’ origins in boat building. Putting it together, he recalls from his teenage and college years, was as fun as using it.

David Irvin

A graduate with a Masters Of Science from the University Of North Texas, David has written on many beats including crime and business for such outlets as the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the Montgomery Advertiser & USA. He enjoys RVing and surfing the Internet.

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