A new-old 25' launch

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Davis Dry Dock
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A new-old 25' launch

Post by Davis Dry Dock » Mon Oct 12, 2020 4:12 pm

Hi everybody,

I'm happy to be able to say that after years of dreaming and planning, and a good dose of serendipity, I'm in the very early stages of putting together a new steam launch.

Nearly a year ago, Greg Simpson got in touch to say that he'd become aware of an interesting pre-1900 wooden hull in the US that had come close to being burned (!) and then, in the hands of new owners, almost became the basis for some furniture projects (!!) but happily before that came to pass some doubts started taking root. Advice was sought on the internet and finally the decision was made to save the hull. Not long after that, I agreed to purchase it with the understanding that I'd only be able to drive down to the US and complete the transaction in the spring (2020). Well, needless to say that things didn't quite turn out as originally arranged, but the hull is now safely across the border and stares at me every day when I pull in to work!

Current plans include sourcing an engine and building a boiler, and bringing the hull (hulk..?) to a specialized craftsman for repair while I continue to read, start to build and seek out advice.

Here goes nothing!
Happy Fall, everybody.

Davis Dry Dock
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fredrosse
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by fredrosse » Tue Oct 13, 2020 7:18 am

Beautiful old hull, love the traditional form. What is the intended restoration method? You could sink a small fortune of labor into replacing things as original, or spend far less encapsulating the hull in fiberglass. Both methods have their advantages and troubles.
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by gallanach » Tue Oct 13, 2020 10:16 am

I would proceed with extreme caution, in England a traditional Thames boat builder could easily charge over £100 K to restore a 25ft hull. I know of several cases of owners ( including myself ) totally falling out of love with a launch when invoices for work far exceed the original quote and any potential resale value. It is possible that you could find a craftsman able to do the work at a lower charge but remember it will take a very long time. Alternatively learn to do the work yourself and "bodge up" the hull and get it on the water. Remember every wooden boat has a bit of rot in it!

Best of luck
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by Davis Dry Dock » Wed Oct 14, 2020 3:09 pm

At this point, the only thing I'm sure of is that I've just stepped onto a steep learning curve!

Seriously though, the plan is to take the hull to a shipwright for a thorough evaluation.
Gallanach, I'm sorry to hear that your experience with an original boat didn't work out, restoration of anything can sometimes be a tough, tough slog.

I did consult a several key people before taking the plunge on this one, and ultimately decided it was worth the risk that I might collect the hull and decide not to proceed with it, or not right away. It was just too beautiful an item to pass up. Also, unlike the UK or even down in the US, despite a rich history of small wooden boats in Quebec, there's a real lack of preserved examples, so this is my attempt to try to push back against that reality. It's possible the project will help me better understand the scarcity...

It will be important to find the right craftsperson, and because I'm not in a hurry to get on the water I'm comfortable adjusting my timeframe to match what comes along with this hull.
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by Mike Rometer » Wed Oct 14, 2020 3:45 pm

Go for it, you never know what can be achieved 'til you try! Life is a learning curve, and the day you stop learning someone is standing by with a screwdriver and a big lid.
Retirement is about doing what floats your boat!

A BODGE : - A Bit Of Damn Good Engineering.
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by RNoe » Wed Oct 14, 2020 4:35 pm

I hope you succeed in restoring that classic hull.

I had to give up on restoring a small 15 ft. long wooden steamer hull. I had neither the wood working skills to do it myself, or the funds to have a local boat yard do the work. The repair estimate was over $20K (US), and that was ten years ago! I did find a fiberglass replica of that same Poulsbo hull, and acquired it.

I will watch with interest as you progress with this project.
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by PeteThePen1 » Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:10 pm

Well done. Congratulations on saving the hull.

The thoughts of other posters are wise, but I notice that nobody has suggested a slight alternative to restoration. What about documenting the hull in as much detail as you can and then perhaps getting a wooden boat builder to build an exact copy. It might better fit your financial resources while the original would still be available for some better funded organisation to restore, assuming that you have the storage space for two big boats. Your copy, with the steam plant installed, might well inspire such an organisation to get on and save some heritage.

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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by RGSP » Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:29 pm

There's nothing really difficult in restoring an old hull to seaworthy (or at least riverworthy) condition, but it does need a lot of time, thought, and effort, and I would say a covered working space for it. Nobody could really blame you for filling in the worst holes, replacing a few frames, and then putting a layer of epoxy-glass over it all, IF you're intending to use the hull like that.

As others have said, restoring the hull to "new" condition is a very skilled job, and expensive, and furthermore is dubious from the point of view of conservation, because a lot of slightly rotten but original timbers will need to be thrown away. As Pete says, documenting the hull is as important as saving it, and possibly more so. Just preserving what is left of the hull (e.g. putting it in a barn somewhere, out of the rain and direct sunlight) is a highly praiseworthy thing to do, and building something new to the same hull shape will not be that expensive if you do it the right way.

If you want inspiration, look up "Norfolk Wherry 'Maud'" whose present owner restored to sailing condition mostly single-handed. She was deliberately sunk as river-bank reinforcement some 50 or more years ago, and now looks to be in well-used but basically good condition, with a loaded displacement, I would guess, of 50 to 60 tons. Admittedly, anaerobic mud from a tidal river is actually quite a good preservative, but it needed a lot of nerve and determination to get her sailing again.
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by RGSP » Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:44 pm

RGSP wrote:
Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:29 pm
There's nothing really difficult in restoring an old hull to seaworthy (or at least riverworthy) condition, but it does need a lot of time, thought, and effort, and I would say a covered working space for it. Nobody could really blame you for filling in the worst holes, replacing a few frames, and then putting a layer of epoxy-glass over it all, IF you're intending to use the hull like that.

As others have said, restoring the hull to "new" condition is a very skilled job, and expensive, and furthermore is dubious from the point of view of conservation, because a lot of slightly rotten but original timbers will need to be thrown away. As Pete says, documenting the hull is as important as saving it, and possibly more so. Just preserving what is left of the hull (e.g. putting it in a barn somewhere, out of the rain and direct sunlight) is a highly praiseworthy thing to do, and building something new to the same hull shape will not be that expensive if you do it the right way.

If you want inspiration, look up "Norfolk Wherry 'Maud'" whose owner restored to sailing condition mostly single-handed, though she is now supported by a charitable trust. She was deliberately sunk as river-bank reinforcement some 50 or more years ago, and now looks to be in well-used but basically good condition, with a loaded displacement, I would guess, of 50 to 60 tons. Admittedly, anaerobic mud from a tidal river is actually quite a good preservative, but it needed a lot of nerve and determination to get her sailing again.
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Re: A new-old 25' launch

Post by Davis Dry Dock » Mon Oct 19, 2020 12:40 pm

RGSP wrote:
Sun Oct 18, 2020 1:29 pm
As others have said, restoring the hull to "new" condition is a very skilled job, and expensive, and furthermore is dubious from the point of view of conservation, because a lot of slightly rotten but original timbers will need to be thrown away. As Pete says, documenting the hull is as important as saving it, and possibly more so. Just preserving what is left of the hull (e.g. putting it in a barn somewhere, out of the rain and direct sunlight) is a highly praiseworthy thing to do, and building something new to the same hull shape will not be that expensive if you do it the right way.
I do appreciate the suggestions, and though I don't yet know exactly what's going to happen I'll just reassure everybody that after the initial survey the hull will definitely be thoroughly documented.

However, the idea of donating the hull to an organization that might take it on is probably not viable. I'll start by pointing, again, to that difference between North America and the UK. While in the UK finding a suitable group would be a question of which is best suited etc. etc. whereas here it would be much slimmer pickings. There are a few boat museums, but several of them have warehouses full of historic wooden craft waiting for somebody to pay for a restoration and if nobody comes forward they are sometimes disposed of. Generally speaking, not nearly as much importance is given over here to the heritage skills needed to maintain historically important objects so, for instance, even some boat museums don't have qualified people to take on the appropriate restoration of a historic hull. Not only that, but I believe there are two fully restored naphtha launches in different museums down in the US which haven't seen water in many, many years.
My idea is to (if possible) go through with a sympathetic running restoration. Though this will result in some loss of original timber, returning the boat to a running state will probably be of more service to the wooden boat community than another hulk in a back barn would. Again, in the UK the inputs to this equation would be very different so the conclusion would be as well...
I also feel fairly comfortable with the concepts of different levels of restoration and/or conservation, since I'm lucky to have spent the last 10 years working in the field of architectural preservation.
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