Many people asked me if the project was on stand by since there has been no updates lately. So first, I would like to apologize for the delay. During Covid, I found myself under a lot of pressure. I am sure everyone can relate. It has definitely been testing us in all directions. Emotionally, financially, etc. I won’t lie, I wish I was warned before Covid... Because I definitely would have postponed this boat haul out.
Before you ask, I have to say that I am still happy I took the project. But lord, did it ever cause me stress. I had to be very creative with money sourcing during the initial, full lockdown of this pandemic. I was not working, I still had to pay for my usual bills and on top of that, I had to pay for boat materials, labour, land storage, etc... It was heavy. Very heavy.
Pacific Traveller in her glorious days
The first topic I would like to dip into today, is exactly this: Finances.
I say "dip", because I won’t get into very specific numbers. Most of these are personal deals I made with contractors and businesses, but I can certainly give you some pointers and rough numbers. I will warn you right away: if you can’t afford buying a boat in good shape, don’t get into a wood boat project. Their cost is most definitely the same, if not more.
If you were to consider to take on a project like this one, I would highly recommend you find a shipwright (and more than one to compare their prices) and get a rough estimate for your project. I say rough, and keep in mind it’s also going to be rough to hear. If they say it’s going to be 20k, get ready for 60k. Nobody ever knows what’s hiding under old wooden planks until they actually start to tear things apart. Wood boats are very scary when it comes to budget planning. So be on your guards, and be ready to be stuck with the worst case scenario your shipwright will give you. There is a lot of stories of people starting wood boat refits and stopping half way, even before half way... Boats for sale fully stripped, etc. Very common.
The photo attached under was the first week she was hauled out. All of the original commercial fishing gear and rigging was still onboard, the only thing they did was to remove the starboard (dock side) sheathing and ground plate, where the black areas are situated. The colour black comes from the tar felt that was under the sheathing and plate.
She had no frames lefts forward of the stern blocking, but nobody could tell from the outside, of course. We just knew, from looking at the frame heads above deck level. The second photo is after we opened her. No surprise, they were gone. On the third photo, you can see the old foam from the fish hold. It was completely soaked.
First week out back in January 2020
A close view of the starboard hold's soaked foam
I warn you, don’t get fooled when looking for shipwrights. It is a fading trade and finding a good one is quite hard, because they are booked up months ahead and charge anywhere between 40$ and well over 100$ per hour, depending on their training, experience, skills and reputation. I guess asking your local chandlery for good, reputable names and local facebook groups should give you a pretty good idea on who to contact. It seems like most people who touch a wood boat call themselves shipwrights, so make sure to ask for references before you go ahead with anyone.
Now, prices. You’ve all asked for it, here they are.
First, you have to know that changing frames and planks ideally require two shipwrights, because someone who do not know anything about the trade would be completely useless as a helper. One plank of fir can cost 150$+ (rough) and it takes multiple hours to trace, fit, plane, steam, install, fasten, install the plugs, plane, sand to a finish product. So remember that a crew of two, to install one plank will cost you anywhere between 150$ (plank) + 5 hours if a good crew of two work on it, so 10 hours of labour total. Anywhere between 400$ and 1000$+ for just the ONE plank. This example is an approximate of course, in the scenario where they had their tools set up on the job site already. If they have a good go at it and they have been working on the boat for a while, they will probably be much faster than that.
Fir plank with freshly glued plugs.
For stainless steel fasteners, I believe I already spent well over 1000$ so far just on them alone. For the costs of wood (only for starboard side), we used yellow cedar frames, fir planking under the water line, some red cedar planking above the water line and one big shear plank was make out of yellow cedar. This should cost me around +/-3500$. Port side might be less, because we expect and hope for less to replace on that side. Bulwarks alone should be similar costs or even more since they are long, thick beams. So I expect to spend about 10k in wood only for the hull refit. This is just for the hull.
The Gardner 6LX between the two fuel tanks in the low overhead engine room.
A marine mechanic cost around 100-150$/hr, so if you have engine work to do, expect to spend that if you don’t have the knowledge to work on it yourself. Mechanical issues usually don’t take one hour to fix. It’s a lot of troubleshooting, so it can get pretty extensive in that department. I had my fuel injection pumps rebuilt for about 2k and I am not sure yet how much more I’ll have to spend on that engine. Surprise, surprise. But look how pretty my injection pumps are now! Lloyd from Action injection in Nanaimo did them.
I will talk more about finances another time, but I want you all to realize that a project like this one is definitely not for everyone. I am sure you have an idea already but I really, really want to stress this in this update. I understand that dreaming of converting a cool, old wood boat sounds like a pretty neat idea for the handyman/adventurer that you are, but this type of work is a whole different, next level than converting a van, a truck, or renovating a house. It’s nuts.
The big thing is that they aren’t “just a boat”. Boats have souls, ships are alive. They keep you safe at sea. They are part if your life and they deserve to be treated the same way you would treat your own wife: with dignity, respect and love. Working on a boat is like getting engaged. It’s a big, expensive commitment, a hell of a roller coaster ride and it cost a lot of money, I bet this is why they are called her/she.
There is a good reason why retired, financially successful men generally refit old classic wood boats. I guess they have the piggy bank dialed in, the time to go for it and know (or at least should) how to treat a woman right.
Pacific Traveller with her lines out, trolling.
Now on the emotional side of this, the delay in posts was definitely due to a complete disconnection, and it was much needed. I had to make peace with the events to keep a healthy, positive view on this refit. I worked like a robot for almost three months during lockdown. I attacked the galley, then stripped the antennas/electronics, did some engine room work, electrical. I ate, slept, and worked on that boat for way too long stretches and I got very sick of it.
Wire cluster in the house when stripping electronics.
I left Nanaimo (and the boat) early june to go back to work up north in Alberta. Since it’s a 20 hour drive to go back to the boat, going there for a weekend was never an option until this contract was over. But I am okay with it. I am resetting my love button for the Traveller, and working on the piggy bank like the older dudes I’m competing with.
Let’s get to it.
Lots of you asked about the engine room.
Tanks looked good. Fuel was surprisingly nice, clear and the smell was very satisfying. I even did a burning test. There was no trace of bacterias in it, but they might be hiding at the bottom like usual, who knows. I will of course be extremely careful with monitoring the filtration system when I first run it. One way to find out if your tanks are infected with bacterias is by getting your fuel filters plugged quickly and frequently. Then, it would become a must to get them tanks cleaned up and the fuel filtrated by professionals. I do want to avoid calling them right now, because they would charge anywhere between 2500$ and 6000$ for my boat, and because I still have quite a lot of fuel in my tanks. They can hold about 1200 gallons total. To give you an idea, I could probably do Vancouver Island to San Diego without stopping with that much fuel. A test I will most likely do one day.
Back to the engine. It is an old Gardner 6LX, the one that came with the boat when it was first launched. A very quiet, super slow RPM, diesel engine. I spent countless hours scrubbing the rocker arms with a teeny tiny wire tooth brush. I used PLID, a Canadian “anti-corrosion penetrant spray” and with the little brush, I scrubbed. Hours of scrubbing. They were covered with a thin rusty film, but not pitted yet. I did an oil change on the engine and the oil I pumped out was super milky and grey-ish. This indicated me there was probably water inside and explains why the rocker arms rusted. Maybe having no cap on the stack outside made this happen. Sure did not help, anyways.
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The BC ferries route was closed between Departure and Horseshoe bay during the pandemic, and the ferry was docked in Nanaimo the entire time. The surrounding boaters along with the ferry, made noise with their horns, pots and pans to thank front line workers, everyday at 7pm. It was amazing to be able to witness this selfless act of empathy, a true community effort like we have never experienced before. It made me smile day after day, and I soaked it all in while it lasted.
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During Covid’s peak, I started picking at the cabin roof because it was mostly free and I did not need anyone to help me do it. It made it a perfect lockdown project. Tearing it appart was a painful task. I got stung by a yellow jacket when opening the soffits and ended up at the emergency, my hands were so swollen from doing pry bar for hours. The smell coming out of that old rotten roof was quite horrible as well, yuck. I saw a couple crawling, multi-legged bugs make their way back in their hiding spot as I was disturbing their house. Oh, lordy lord.
During my lockdown meditation, I took the decision to change contractors to continue the refit. This was a personal decision based on many influencing factors, which I will keep private so please respect this and don’t bother asking. The important is that I found a good fit to continue the project with Dawn Johnston from Gabriola island and Hamish Mayhill from Victoria. Both are skilled, trained, experienced shipwrights and they are fast, efficient workers. They worked together a lot and I also had amazing references about their work. They have indeed been performing a very impressive, high quality, quick pace job so far. Unfortunately, I have been away since they started working on the boat, but they never failed to update me with a dose of daily photo updates.
Here are some of the before photos of the roof.
One of the original nails I pulled out of the roof. The old canvas waterproofing membrane.
I quickly realized the entire complete roof needed to be worked on, how surprising. So I just removed everything soft and rotted. I ordered 3/8 inch 10ft fir plywood sheets because the roof is almost 9ft wide, that had to be a custom order because plywood is usually 8ft long only. I wanted to do two layers of plywood like it was previously built. I decided on two layers of 6oz fiberglass cloth and epoxy rather than polyester to seal it all. I made this decision after consulting multiple, reliable sources. Epoxy is a lot more expensive than polyester but it will be worth it down the road.
This part of the refit was 1000$ in epoxy, 1000$ in 10x4ft fir plywood, 400$ in fiberglass cloth, some fasteners and two weeks of two shipwrights salary working together on it.
The roof was previously made the old fashioned way with a soaked + stretched heavy cotton canvas and lead pain with many many layers of paint to seal it all. I never heard anything about this roof getting replaced since it was made back in 1966, so if this was the original one like I think, darn was it ever effective! 54 years of waterproofing with a simple cotton canvas. The plywood was in very good shape in the middle of the cabin, but starboard side was rotted out and the aft section was completely gone (there was a leak inside the cabin on starboard side).
What explains this issue in my opinion, is water pooling in the lowest point of the roof’s camber the drain being installed further aft, towards the aft end of the roof where it gets higher in elevation.
If you know anything about fishing boat physics, you will understand that when you are loaded with fish or cargo, the entire boat’s aft will sink lower. This will reduce your freeboard, increase your draught and ultimately affect the way the boat generally sits in the water. Now back to the roof issue, I realized the drains were positioned perfectly for a loaded scenario, in order to drain. I like the sound of having a hold filled with fish at all times, but it is not realistic. I believe this is the main reason why this roof was so bad in those specific areas.
The yellow cedar beams holding the roof were completely rotted on their starboard butts and I was well aware new ones would have to be scarfed in. I knew I needed more expertise to do this, so I left them as is. I stripped everything I could and got ready to have a crew of skilled people jump in on this at some point. I did my part to save money, because paying a shipwright to demolish is a very concerning way to spend a substancial amount of money in my opinion.
You get the picture.
They started off by tearing the rest of the cabin’s roof appart in order to repair it all. Not an “out of the water” priority, I am sure you would agree with me, but it had to be done right away since I exposed that darn roof myself. Covid project! It was also a shorter job from start to completion, perfect for us all to get a feel on how things would work out between everyone.
Many beams were scarfed as predicted and the structure was completely re-built were needed before laying down the new plywood on it. They sealed it with the epoxy, soaked in the fiberglass cloth, and added a good layer of primer on top to protect the epoxy from the UV rays.
Having a leak and worry free roof is a pretty amazing feeling. I asked them to make the roof water tight only. I will get to fine details like trims, installing the oil stove chimney and engine stack later on. Priorities are under the water line right now. See progress photos here.
Beams getting ready to be scarfed. Repaired forward section. View of the construction zone from the inside of the cabin. The roof was extended further aft for more protection in rough or rainy days. Getting ready to lay the fibreglass cloth. Final look, after sanding and one coat of primer.
After the roof got sealed, they were able to move on to the bigger jobs. The hull was left open during covid, with exposed ribs. The look of her was starting to weight on everyone at the yard, myself included even 2000 km's away. Dawn and Hamish buttoned up starboard all the way up to the (future) bulwarks. They used some wood the yard had handy for above the water line planking, red cedar. We discussed about the different options in essences of wood and I preferred continuing with fir as it it a more durable and much harder essence. But since I was not going to deal with any long lining hauling or cannonballs in the future, we agreed it was okay to use red cedar above the waterline. They started to rebuild the stern blocking and she looks so skookum now!
See the progress photos here.
Keeping the bullwarks is important to keep the original curves of the ship.
The new planks looked amazing let alone, but once the primer was applied, it really took shape and she looked like she was fitted with a beautiful hull again. It almost felt like the entire covid months, she was bare naked and now she finally got some clothes on and got her dignity back. It’s very satisfying and motivating to see this side all white again.
Probably the most satisfying photo I have seen so far.
I will do another update when we hit another milestone, until then, feel free to share this blog post and ask me questions if you have any. I will try to answer them as quickly as possible!
Next time, I would like to chat about
Plugging the nail holes on the hull planking
The cutlass bearing on the shaft
Loosing my mind over the oil stove
The making of the new galley (An entire blog post about this itself)
The satisfying stripping of the electronics
The not so satisfying stripping of Cetol making me senile
The exhaust/asbestos issue
New, sexy electronics
Please feel free to comment and suggest other topics you would be interested to read more about. Until then, stay away from trouble.
Chat soon! ⚓️