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by Robert Hale – Vancouver Island, British Columbia - Canada

I am, to steal a word from Dave Gerr, a nautophile and never pass up a chance to tour a marina or see a neat boat that I have espied. So it was with “Mary Elizabeth.” This little beauty, a John Atkin “Maid of Endor” gaff sloop, was moored at one of our local marinas, the fresh water marina in the Courtenay River. She was a swan amongst ducklings. Black hull, white decks, varnished wale strake, varnished mast and booms and a lovely long bowsprit poking some six feet beyond her almost plumb stem. I did think the deadeyes and lanyards were a bit of overkill. If you go to the John Atkin website you will find articles on “Maid of Endor,” regarded by some as John's finest design.

So it was a short time later that I saw the boat on one of my regular marina walks though this time with a 'for sale' sign. One thing lead to another and “Mary Elizabeth” passed into my hands. I felt the boat was somewhat rundown & neglected but seemed sound. Some TlC would be in order eventually.


The engine, a MD5A Penta, didn't start easily and the cold start mechanism is just a handle you pull that pours more fuel into the cylinder thereby raising the compression ratio. And when it did start it smoked away for a good ten minutes until the excess fuel was burned up. But it ran and oh what a thumper. I surmised a ring job was in the cards somewhere along the line. I was also concerned about the fresh water moorage and moved the boat to the salt water marina.

I sailed around these parts, Salish Sea (Georgia Strait north) and Desolation Sound, for a few years then thought it was time to renew the caulking, rebuild the motor and do some fix-ups. I'm a tinkerer and always striving to simplify the complex or redo things my way. The boat was duly hauled home and parked in the backyard out behind the workshop.

This was some years ago and what with work and kids and a wife and a house that needed finishing the boat project was somewhat neglected. Late last year I got fired-up and took a serious look at what I thought needed to be done to improve the boat. There were some details I just didn't like in the original build. The list got bigger by the day: caulking, deck paint, varnish, engine rebuild, new cockpit drains, strengthened deck collar, new bowsprit and gaff, etc. I contemplated building a hollow mast but have abandoned the idea for now. I occasionally make dinghy masts that are hollow using the birds mouth method. A mast 28' long is a different matter. I figure at glue-up time you need help in the order of one person for every 6' of mast.

The boat was well built by Harold Johnson in Campbell River in 1965 and a builders survey came with  the boat. It is built to conventional standards: fir and gumwood backbone, oak ribs, yellow cedar planking, plywood and dynel decks and mahogany cabin and trim and a North Sea exhaust. The engine had been rebuilt as I found the receipts onboard. I'm not sure what the engine rebuilders divined but they installed a fresh water cooling system along with a clutch operated Jabsco pump. You had to start the engine with the pump clutch disengaged as the starting motor did not have the umph to turn over the engine and the freshwater pump at the same time. Once the engine was thumping you could cut in the pump. 

All the fittings are bronze except for some wood cleats and there are two big 6”X19” bronze oval opening ports. The rig is as detailed by Atkin: a gaff sloop with two headsails and a genoa. The mast is a solid laminated fir pole held up by 1/4” galvanized rigging. Rudder is outboard.

This is quite a slab of boat for 20'3”. It is 18'6”on the waterline, beam is 7'8”, draft is 3'4” and displacement is  in excess of 3000 pounds with 1100# outside ballast the 400# inside trim ballast. A ton and half dinghy! 

The boat sails very well in light to medium air as it has 335 square feet of sail area composed of the main of 214 square feet, a jib of 67.5 square feet and a staysail of 53.5 square feet all of which is supplemented by a 169 square foot genoa set flying. In stronger going you have to take a reef in the main but it smokes along nicely off or downwind. One of my perverse pleasures is sailing fast downwind into an anchorage with the anchor cock'a'billed and checked by a light line to the cockpit. Once I have reached my desired anchoring spot I let the light line go releasing the anchor (7.5 kg Bruce) which has been preset for scope and chocked off to the bitts. Once the rode is deployed and the anchor bites the boat rounds up smartly into the wind while I casually stroll forward and drop the headsails, then the main, all the while whistling a casual tune to hide my thumping heart. If this didn't work I could be very embarrassed and possibly aground. This manoeuver is impressive when the boat rounds up though it is gentle given the weight of the boat and I am familiar with most local anchorages. I read once where the old fishing schooners used to test their ground tackle and gear by sailing on a fast reach and then dropping the anchor and all the rode. If the boat rounded up and the bitts, chain and anchor held then the gear was considered adequate. I bet the Bluenose II would never attempt this. I digress.

This is the boat with the rudder in place.

The Refurbishing

Rounds one and two were pulling the engine and reefing the caulking. The engine went off to my neighbour, Gary Hamilton, for a complete rebuild. Gary is a marine engineer and the handy kinda' neighbour you want.

Reefing the caulking was just one of those jobs where you invent new tools out of old files.

Then I started with the bowsprit. I have an aversion to bowsprits that curve downwards or do not follow the projected sheerline. I tried to correct this without cutting through the rail cap.  The old one, a 4” round fir projection, was looking a little worse for wear so I vertically laminated up a new one of fir that measures 3” thick and 4” wide tapering somewhat athwartships at the pointy end and about 10' long. I had new stainless tangs welded up as the 'sprit has whisker, bob, and forestay and provision for a tack fitting. The anchor roller is bowsprit mounted and an impressive piece of cast bronze weighing about 10 pounds.

Then I tackled the deck exit for the mast. This I reinforced with a marine plywood deck doubler epoxied in place then a round mast collar with a lip for the mast boot and a ½” space for wedges.

The fuel tanks were next. They were mounted under the deck and outboard of the cockpit seats, completely inaccessible and I could detect a small leak. I decided to pull the old tanks as I thought they were leaking, too large and the fuel delivery system too complex. The MD5A Penta is a sipper when it comes to fuel and a few gallons is all you need for a summer cruising season. It took myself and my small friend, Logan 'the goat' Holm, a morning to undo and remove the tanks (plus lunch and giving up two sheets of 5/8's tung and groove plywood subflooring). Access to the tanks was from the over the top of the galley counter which was only 18” below the deckhead. It was a squeeze hence my small friend. In the final extraction process he pushed from a fetal position in the lazarette and I pulled from the galley side. What I thought were two battery sized tanks became, on extraction, two plastic tanks about 36” long and 8” square at the fore end tapering to about 6” square.

How to use this vacated space is still open to thought. I may add a couple of round access ports to gain some storage though access and finding stuff would be somewhat awkward (the reach, rummage and feel method).  This space needs to be well protected as it is open to the inside of the boat.  Sealing it off at the ends would make this a safer storage area then I could improve the access. To be considered.   
The new tank (as presently envisioned) will be a one foot cube of welded aluminum that will be placed in the lazarette and completely accessible including a large inspection port. It should hold about 6 US gallons. I'll reuse the vent fitting and try to recycle as many of the old fuel lines as possible along with the fuel filter, a Racor EX200FG.

I made new spreaders of laminated mahogany a la Herreschoff in his cruising designs book and gave them a nice 5 degree upward cant. I abandoned the wormed, parcelled, served and leathered rigging wire for mast tangs, 1/2” galvanized rigging screws (I'd like bronze but $$$) and 1/4” galvanized wire with bronze socket ends.  I have been experimenting with these sockets. You “brusherize” the wire at the ends for about 1.5”, clean with solvent and then pull the “brush” into the socket seat, seal the end where it exits the socket and pour in epoxy. Sealing is critical as unthickened epoxy will run out of the socket. Slippery stuff. To test my experimental models I hooked the wire up to my truck, made the other end fast to a tree, engaged four wheel drive and pulled. If the wire holds it is considered a successful test. I have been asking around about various socket epoxies but have come to the conclusion that epoxy is epoxy and other than additives it is all the same root. So I am using Industrial Formulators cold cure. I may thicken it somewhat to reduce its viscosity and discourage leaking. There is lots of internet stuff on sockets, rigging wire and epoxy. I could use lead instead of epoxy and may try it. It seems that “brusherizing” and cleaning the wire is the critical part of the procedure.

The cockpit was something else to be considered. There were two fixed seats that are open underneath and two cockpit drains but they are not in the corners, rather they are  inboard of the seats and about 28” apart. This is plain weird. And the first time I used the Whale pump it discharged into the cockpit along with some oil in the water which made things slippery and ugly. This will be changed. I suppose I'll plumb the whale pump to a new thru hull.

I took the cockpit seats apart and will rebuild them. I propose to seal the space underneath the seats from the cockpit and make a water tight locker on each side. I'll build a lip around the rim of the existing framework that extends upward about 1/2” to 3/4” upward and that will leave a drain space around the box about 1” wide. The seat will hinge up for access to the locker and it will sit on the raised rim with some gasket material to help keep it dry inside. The starboard side locker contains the engine controls but they only take up a space about 6”X12” though the hole the control wires pass thru is about 3”X6” which I will reduce to a 3/4” hole with a water-tight flange. Who would put an 18 square inch hole in an open cockpit? I think the guys who did the engine rebuild. And it wasn't even a nicely done hole.

The tiller will be modified to hinge upwards inboard of the traveller. I have also had a halyard spider made as the old pin rack was four potential leaks where it was bolted thru the deck. Making belaying pins on the lathe is a rather pleasant winter job with the old #4 Jotul wood stove crackling away. I debated leading all the halyards back to the cockpit: throat, peak, jib, staysail and genoa halyards along with the boom uphaul but couldn't get my head around all those lines leading thru fairleads at the base of the mast, over the cabin top then installing a rack of cam cleats. Seemed like a lot of stuff. But I may do it yet. Certainly the boom lift would be nicer close to hand so I may terminate that along the boom and over the cockpit so I can reach it easily. Needless to say the sheets all lead aft but there are no winches. I'd like to get a couple of small bronze ones even if I just use them for snubbing the sheets.

Some other small changes will be sealing the mahogany cabin sides at the deck and then extending the deck paint up one inch from the deck, then the varnish. The cockpit coamings are minimal and one is slightly warped but it looks like more work than I'm ready to do. I'd like to add some davits out the stern as an extension of the coamings but the davits would have to be hinged to keep my marina fees down. And the proportions would have to be perfect or I'll be disturbing John Atkin's slumber. I'm also building a boom gallows replete with the name, “Highland Lass” carved in. Carving name badges is a pleasant passtime though I am not a very good carver. I will install the gallows posts when I have more information with the rig installed.

I have spent some time with the scale ruler estimating shroud and stay lengths, more pleasant winter time activities as I watch the snow waft down.

I drilled out the existing cockpit drains with a 3 -1/8” hole saw and plugged them with 3” marine plywood 'pucks' and epoxy. I've only to drill the 2” holes for the scuppers and install them. It worked out nicely as the cockpit floor is 5/8” plywood and the pucks are 1/2” so the scupper is precisely level with the floor when installed. The 'pucks' are supported from underneath by marine plywood patches, glued and screwed.

I guess that is about it. I think I have discovered over many years of sailing and boating that I enjoy equally working on boats and sailing them. Just to prove my nautophilia I have a Shellback dinghy in frame with the bottom on, I am learning to scarf plywood and I'm refurbishing an 8' Davidson dinghy too. My 26' powerboat has a Nutshell pram in the davits. Something has to go.

This is my boat in the water....M. V. Hobo....built by the NW School of Wooden Boat Building in 1996 or so. I am the third owner.

My davits in the stern in the up position.

The Nutshell Pram fully loaded.

And then there is Arch Davis's peapod to contemplate. Life seems to short.

Further proof of my madness. Life without boats is not life. I have a Nutshell pram in my powerboat davits and a stitch & glue Bolger/Payson boat in the backyard. Stitch and glue is not my favourite building method. Too inaccurate.
This is sort of the idea of my madness. Davidson dinghy in the foreground, Shellback dinghy in the back ground, new gaff in clamps and the usual mess of stuff. Hanging from the ceiling to the right is the new bowsprit and over on the left is the mast, boom and new jib boom out of yellow cedar. Tell me I'm not mad....
You will note my plywood hockey pucks. I only need to drill some 2" holes and drop the scuppers in.

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