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Pacific Yachting cover story August 2009
Pacific Yachting cover story August 2009

The Return of Passat

Margaret and I had started our married life together living and cruising aboard the Nova Scotia-built schooner, Ayesha, which we had purchased in Cape Breton in the late 1960´s.  What better, we thought, than a honeymoon voyage to the West Indies?  Take a year, maybe more and then return to respectable nine-to-five jobs after the adventure is over.

The trouble with boats, of course, is that they have a way of taking charge of things and, for us, the adventure (and boats) never quite ended.  A couple of years ago, and some forty years and twenty-seven boats later, we decided that it was time to take up the liveaboard lifestyle once more before old bones and related afflictions waved an admonishing finger in our direction.

No sooner was the decision made, it seemed, than while walking the docks in Port Townsend, Washington, we came across an old friend.  She was the Passat, a 45-foot teak ketch built in Germany in 1951 and a vessel we had cared for as young marina owners in Maple Bay in the early 1970´s.  Named after the four-masted barque Passat, this diminutive namesake took shape in Neindorf, across the water from the square-rigger whose towering presence must have inspired the second Passat´s designer and builder, Ernst Evers, in these early post-war years.  (The original was one of the famous German Flying P-Line sisters - Pamir, Peking, Preussen, Pommern, Potosi, Padua and Pudel - which ushered in the twilight age of commercial sail during the first half of the twentieth century.)

It appears that the new Passat´s builder had taken inspiration not only from the name of the great nitrate clipper but in the enterprising nature of her owner, Ferdinand Laeisz, who before becoming a shipping magnate had been a successful hatter, distributing his hats even in South America.  Ernst Evers took his new yacht to California, on speculation, we believe, and her new owner became Allen Kempe of Santa Barbara.  In 1957, Passat was purchased by James Genge of Victoria, arriving in Canada "per own power" according to the Customs Entry for May 13th of that year.

When she came into our lives in 1972 she was owned by Victor Mesley of Chemainus and he made it clear that only the best was good enough for Passat which sported a beautiful butternut interior with two revolving armchairs.  Then, in our mid-twenties and relatively penniless we could only drool over her acres of teak, bronze vents and German craftsmanship, never dreaming the chance might come one day to own such a vessel.  When she left the marina we lost track of her except to learn that she had been sold to an American and later that she had suffered a disastrous fire and had been completely gutted.  Now here she was looking reasonably healthy despite some cosmetic neglect and some planking issues in the area of her handsome canoe stern.

We contacted the broker and learned, sadly, that the asking price was beyond our reach.  However, a couple of months later we discovered that Passat´s price had dropped dramatically and might justify the cost of a stem to stern restoration.  With an offer accepted, subject to survey, we retained the services of Captain Brian Beckett of Victoria who probed the bilges, tapped the planks and even removed fastenings at several selected locations of the hull.  Despite the long list of jobs that resulted from the inspection, Brian was basically pleased with the vessel´s condition and so we arranged for Passat´s vendor, John Murdoch, to deliver her to Canoe Cove Marina just north of Sidney, where she was to be hauled, de-rigged and trucked to Mark Wallace´s boat shop on the Saanich Peninsula.

From John we learned that he had purchased Passat after the fire and had commissioned a boatyard on the Columbia River to rebuild the whole interior accommodation from fo´c´s´le to lazarette with berths for seven.  Tired of chasing deck leaks, John had installed a Bruynzeel ply and epoxy deck over the original teak.  The result was a very solid, waterproof structure on which, John assured us, “you could drop a cannon ball”.  To our eyes, however, cannon ball-proof or not, the decks had lost the character we remembered and we determined to remedy that without sacrificing their water resistant qualities.

I suppose that given enough time and skill one person could tackle the restoration we envisaged for Passat, but lacking both we parceled out the jobs as we checked them off the list:  new running and standing rigging, a new mizzen mast and boom, new jib roller-furling gear, stripping and powder-coating the main mast, and shortening the main boom - these were all undertaken by Brent Jacobi and Ryan McMillan of Blackline Marine Inc. in Sidney;  new teak decks “vacuum bagged” over John´s cannon ball marine ply, new stern post, pilot house restoration and related woodwork were to be done by shipwright, Mark Wallace and his crew of Brendon Dickinson and Chad Ghesager; a complete new suit of sails by Doyle; interior upholstery, sail covers, awnings, curtains etc. by Margaret; new dining table, plate lockers, book shelves etc. by yours truly; wooding of the entire hull, re-caulking of topside butts and seams, repainting hull and varnishing caprails by the two of us.

The project began inauspiciously.  With masts unstepped, Passat was safely loaded onto the boat mover´s trailer at Canoe Cove Marina for the short ride down the highway to Mark Wallace´s shop.  Following behind the trailer and travelling at some speed I first heard what sounded like a shotgun blast and then witnessed a shower of sparks as Passat´s impressive weight of eighteen tons proved too much for the ageing trailer which cracked in two and headed for the ditch.  Fortunately no damage was done except to the trailer which was repaired sufficiently to deliver its weighty cargo to the boat shop and has never been on the road again.

Mark Wallace, to whom we entrusted the bulk of Passat´s restoration, has earned an international reputation as a wooden boat shipwright, especially with his restorations of the William Fife-designed six meter racers Ca Va and Saskia II.  It was a pleasure to watch him remove Passat´s partially deteriorated stern post, use is as a template for a new laminated piece, and then replace it without taking off a single plank.  The new decks were laid over John´s Bruynzeel ply and epoxy without sacrificing its watertight integrity by a process known as “vacuum bagging”.  Essentially no fastenings are used to lay the new planks; rather, they are placed in a soup of epoxy under a plastic tent from which the air is extracted.  The vacuum causes the new planks to press against the sub-deck with enormous pressure and once the epoxy sets up the vacuum is shut off and the planking is held firmly in position.

Being the responsible shipwright he is, Mark spent time poking around the Passat inside and out, and discovered that the keel which we had thought was solid was essentially a steel box with ballast cemented in place.  One of the seams appeared to have lost its weld and when I asked him if he thought it was serious he responded in his characteristic fashion:
“Don´t really know.  Could last ten years like this.  On the other hand, could fall apart tomorrow.”

Dropping the keel was not as simple as it sounds.  Mark and crew had to remove three water tanks, a diesel tank, and a lot of interior joinery to get at the keel bolts.  The water tranks appeared to be in great shape but the diesel tank looked a little suspect.  I asked Mark what he thought.
“Don´t really know.  Could last... on the other hand....”

That was it.  Templates made and a new tank constructed.  In the meantime Mark recommended the new keel be made of lead.  Designer Paul Gartside was given the job of making the calculations and the result was a smaller but aerodynamically superior keel which would sit lower in the hull.  While Mark got the mould built, Margaret and I rushed around buying up tons of scrap lead from every dealer in Southern Vancouver Island.

When the day came to melt the lead and pour it into its concrete mould we rented a number of propane bottles and “tiger torches” to get the scrap lead hot enough.  Things went well until about two in the afternoon when the lead was just about ready to pour but the tanks ran out of propane.  Next day with extra tanks and extra torches we started again and this time were rewarded by the sight of what looked like liquid silver pouring into the mould to form Passat´s new keel.

Almost a year to the day she arrived at Canoe Cove, Passat was relaunched at the same spot.  Fresh paint, gleaming spars, spotless new decks - all signaled that the old girl was embarked on a fresh voyage and a new lease of life.

With great excitement, Margaret and I moved aboard and undertook our maiden voyage to Ladysmith Harbour, Passat´s new home.  That night it snowed.  Most of southern Vancouver Island lost power.  Friends called, worried about our well-being.  With battery-operated lights and a cozy wood stove for heating we couldn´t help feeling a little smug.  We were independent of land-bound disaster, afloat once more and surrounded by varnished teak and mahogany.  Not unexpectedly, it was a lot like a second honeymoon.

Side Bar

The restoration of Passat would not have been possible without the following competent firms and individuals:

Marine Survey:  Capt. Brian H Beckett, International Offshore Marine Surveyors, Victoria

Yacht Brokerage:  Steve Burrows and Dave Carleson, Mahina Yachts, Pt. Townsend WA

Marine Design:
keel; Paul Gartside, Paul Gartside Ltd. Sidney
pilothouse etc.; Mark Wallace, Mark Wallace Shipwright, N. Saanich

Haulout and Launch:  Canoe Cove Marina Ltd. Sidney

Boat Transport:  Don´s Boat Transport, Victoria

Spars and Rigging: Brent Jacobi, Ryan McMillan, Blackline Marine Inc., Sidney

Decks, stern, pilothouse and related shipwrighting:  Mark Wallace, Brendon Dickinson, Chad Ghesager; Mark Wallace Shipwright, North Saanich.

Sails:  Peter Jacobson, Doyle Sails BC, Nanoose Bay

Electronics and central heating:  Randy Boyle, Yachtfitters, Ladysmith

Fuel tank:  Edwards Welding Ltd., Victoria

Tropical Hardwoods:  Coastal Pacific Forest Products Inc., Chemainus

Lifeline and Davit halyards:  Mainstay Rigging, Saanichton

Insurance:  Len Osterlind, Reliance Insurance Agencies Ltd., Vancouver

Pacific Yachting cover story, August 2008