Riders of the storm
We recently moved our boats, three of them, before the storm. My son James’ Norland 34’ “Atla” built in Sweden, a client's boat as well as my own. To get to a safe harbor ahead of a Hurricane Isaias and we didn’t want to wait until the last minue. We headed out 1-1/2 days ahead. The place that everyone told us about, Broad Creek, had a shallow entrance. I could get my boat, a Nonsuch, in fine. First it was 8 feet, then 7 then 6.5 feet and finally 5.6 feet before it finally got deeper. Jame’s boat draws 6.5 feet so it was a problem for him.
There was a man in a small flats boat towing a drag behind his boat for shrimp, a hand drag. I moved over to ask him if there was another way. He couldn’t figure out what I was doing and gestured for me to get away from him. So I cupped my hands over my mouth and yelled,” Is there a deeper channel?” He slowed down to help and hailed me to come closer. He said with all the rain we had with Frances last year, a lot of sediment moved down and shoaled up the entrance. Last year, Frances stalled over us for three days of heavy rain. Ancient live oaks toppled because even their massive roots couldn’t hold in the soaked ground. Trees floated out of the ground. We anchored in Merrimon in 9 feet of water and it was much farther from the docks than we planned.
There were three of us. David Foster’s Maine-type lobster boat was part of our fleet. We were like three ducks in a row but we hoped we weren’t sitting ducks for the hurricane. James’ “Atla” had two 25 pound Danforths with chain. David’s boat had a single 25-pound Danforth and one aluminum Force anchor, both with chains. My Nonsuch that I bought a year ago came with loads of chains and two Bruce, both 30 pounds. I had Bruce anchors before, a long time ago, on my Stonington motor-sailor, ”Sirius.” After dragging all over the Bahamas, I got fed up and left it on a dock and wrote “Free” with a Sharpie.
James and I had tested the anchors on my boat bringing her down from the Chesapeake, and had pretty good luck. I figured Bruce had improved over the years. I laid 60 feet of chain out then line, threw the engine into reverse and gave it a good rev up and the anchors were bit. We set the second anchor off the stern with lots of scope.
Now it was time to wait. On a hot windless day, we yelled from boat to boat like a tribe of sorts. Sitting down below with what little wind to be had through the hatch, we waited. Conor, who is on our crew, sat in David’s boat, James on his and me on the Nonsuch. We had prepared everything, we tied down, strapped, stowed everything on each of our boats. Then it seemed time stopped along with the air. We were waiting for Godot. Listening to the weather band on my radio seemed surreal. I got the latitude and longitude off the radio but there was no reality unless you have a large chart. So I felt like the two guys in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” Is he going to show? They say he’s going to show.
Isaias did show up, around midnight. It really started to pickup up around 1 a.m. It was howling. The seas started to build but under a full moon, between the bands, there was light. By 3 a.m. my Nonsuch, “Arawak,”was being pounded, lifting her bow out of the water. The winds clicking 50 mph plus. The free stayed mast would bend back and forth like a fishing rod and the boom would slack the mainsheet then snap it tight. I put two more lines on the boom and cranked down. By 4 a.m. I couldn’t see the other two boats. With a strong beam of light in front of me, I had towed those 30 pound Bruce anchors through the mud and the other boats were up front. I had dragged 2,000 yards. By 5 a.m., it was starting to calm. By 10 a.m., we were headed back to the dock.
I haven’t thrown my Bruce anchors on a dock and penned “free” on them yet but I see them on eBay or a marine consignment shop soon. I’ve never had the same issues with Danforths.
I recently spoke with my friend Cindy Purcell at Huckins in Jacksonville. She told me that their new boat is finished and their beautiful new yacht is looking for its new owner. With a new concept of why not have it all but in a size that doesn’t require a captain and crew. More intimate, more maneuverable and most importantly, more fun. That’s been the trend in housing with custom cottages built to fit the wants of the owner. Too many bedrooms and guests and kids are never going to leave. Same goes for yachting. I think Huckins and Burger have done a great job of designing these smaller yachts.
Being almost done with my new shop, we have been too busy on other people’s yachts to work finish on my stuff. It’s the shoemaker’s story. But we are getting close.
All of my previous boat shops were raw, unfinished, on the inside. R.S. Colson in Lubec, Me. was wooden frames and boards. Our place in Florida was rough concrete blocks and cement. The Myron Building in Beaufort was a standard metal building with exposed framework and vinyl insulation. All of these buildings had the same problem. Dust, lots of it, collecting and resting in places that you couldn’t reach with blowers or water until you decided to paint or varnish. Then the dust would rain down you, nonstop, like snowflakes.
This time, I wanted to build the ultimate boat shop constructed of steel frames and connected with bands of 2x8 pt, sheathed with ¾ pt plywood, insulated to the gills then sheet rocked on the inside. I hope this fixes the problems my other shops had.
This will be my last boat shop. Before, it was get it built and done. This time, let’s learn from the past and get it right. So we have taken our time to make this the coolest little boat shop.
The “Fox,” a 38' Bayhead Skiff, is a black hulled beauty. Her fuel tanks were leaking. Usually, you can cut them through the deck and just pull them out. The problem was the solid teak decks were in great shape and the tanks were designed to get the maximum fuel capacity, which meant they were installed when built and difficult to remove without destroying the deck. It’s that old saying, you can’t get there from here.
The entire deck had to come off and the end of the engine stringers and everything that could be pulled to the center, then out, to remove the old tanks and install the new. It’s all done now and it would be hard to tell where it was cut to do all this.
Paying for a stem twice.
In prepping to paint the Fox, we noticed that there was a little soft wood up on the stem. I tapped on it with a piece of wood. It sounded hard but right up by the planking, my fingernail went in. Getting a better tool, it sunk right in. The more we examined the area, we discovered someone had build a box over the rotten stem and removed enough rot to glue it in place. We removed all the rot to good wood, laminated a new top stem in place. There is two problems with how this was previously addressed. First, the box was a cover-up and allowed the rot to continue. Second, the owner paid for the stem repair twice. Let’s face it, there aren’t a lot of wooden boatbuilders around.
This year marked a number of changes as I turned 65. In addition to working on our own projects, I’ve been at Lauderdale Marine Center in Fort Lauderdale because Doug West wanted us to supervise lifting of all wooden boats. He knows how seriously we take wooden boat haulouts, from laser targeting to strategic strap locations to proper blocking.
In the last few months, even with Covid-19, Margaret and I have been on the road. Loading our car full of food and drinks, we drove 4,300 miles because we got a call about a leaking bow on an antique wooden boat in the Midwest. They went to pick up the boat with a 200 ton craine… Let me back up a little bit. The yacht is one of Ted Geary’s grand motor yachts. There are about eight of them that are still operational that were built in the 1920s and 30s. I know the yacht has 3” planking and solid, large sawn timbers but a crane?
So when the captain called and asked us to come, we drove rather than fly, to Milwaukee. Still stiff from the long drive, I climbed in through the forward bilges. No water. The captain said it only comes in when the boat is running. The next day, as we went out, I climbed forward. There, between double planking, where the inner screws where water ran in.
The rep from the boat yard was on board. He kept talking about lifting the boat with a crane. I asked two questions. Had he calculated the lift and at what degree to the weight of the boat and when was the last time the crane was serviced. He didn’t answer. On our return to the dock I studied the hull. Nothing. No cracks. I listened to the yard rep keep telling me that it’s under water. That made no sense to the captain or to me. Finally, I walked off the boat and got as close to bow anchor plates as I could. I noticed that the opening around the plats, the water had to be getting in though the fasteners. As for the need for hauling out the yacht, the yacht has been in a floating building with insulation boards layed on the water and heated so the boat is dry and it will seal.
My concern was no bedding. When I asked the man, he said they didn’t do bedding. What I like about this captain is he is not afraid to ask or learn. He’s been coming down and spending time with us in the winter and learning and helping with paint and varnish and even building boats. So when he calls with a problem, I’ll drop what I’m doing to help. Under his watch, the yacht looks the best that she ever has. It’s hard to find captains like Larry.
Since we were already in Wisconsin, we headed up to Green Bay to visit Margaret’s father Vince. He’s 96 and we want to spend every opportunity we get with him. This time we went off to Florida. If you want to test your compatibility as a couple, take a long road trip. I am a lucky man.
Getting into Florida, the heat was just sweltering. The “Honey Fitz” is in a big tent with a/c but it’s still in the 90s. My meeting was to set the standards for the restoration. We talked about Niven’s specs. I brought part of Lloyd’s specs that pertained and U.S. Coast Guard T-regulations relevant to “Honey Fitz” because she is an inspected vessel. At this point, we needed everyone working on the project on the same page. Boatbuilders are a motley crew. They all play to their own tune and we needed to be in harmony.
My involvement on the “Honey Fitz” project run by Brad London and Capt. Greg has been as a springboard, giving advice as needed and an outsider’s perspective. Another role I play is sourcing the right wood for the project, vertical grain Douglas fir up to 25 feet. It’s some of the most beautiful stuff I’ve ever seen.
After leaving the “Honey Fitz” I drove to the West Coast of Florida to pick out mahogany. I hand selected, sorting through 25,000 board feet of mahogany, to get the perfectly matched boards that the project needed. The metal warehouse that stored the mahogany was so hot that after two days of going through mahogany I lost 10 pounds and looked liked a coal miner because of all the wood dust that stuck to my sweat.
I had my fun on the “Honey Fitz,” rebuilding the hull. But this part will be the most visible and historically important. This project is to bring her back to 1954. Why that date? That’s when she was designated a presidential yacht. That’s when she was taken to John Trumpy and Sons and transformed from a commuter class yacht to a houseboat style.
I know all I have talked about is boats, boats and boats.
I have one more. Everyone knows how much I love Trumpy yachts. They’re the reason I decided on wooden boat restorations instead of just building boats. Trumpy Contract 426, built in 1965, a 60-foot houseboat named "Gemini" was in rough shape when we got her. I am not ready for the reveal yet but if Sam duPont was still around, I think seeing how his yacht is turning out will make him smile. Most of the interior is done. New stem, lots of painting, polish all the hardware, re-chromed down below. So wait for it. All will be revealed soon.
Until next time,