The Back Story

July 20, 2012

Boat Tales

I get a lot of cool email thanks to the blog: I’ve heard from people we’ve met in passing; been given ideas about places yet to come; we’ve been given tips and kudos; and occasionally even been told off; I’ve heard from people who know of my ancestors; and people who think they might be related; I’ve been asked for boat advice, cruising advice, parenting advice and writing advice (and been given loads of the same); and I’ve loved reading them all. But possibly my favourite letter so far came from the grandson of the man who originally built our boat:

Have I found my granddad’s boat—Dreamtime?” the email from Ireland started.

Learning the history of a boat can be a tricky thing. Being mobile, rename-able, paint-able and in our case completely renovate-able—it’s easy to lose track of a boat’s history. Especially once they’ve sailed through a few owners.

Ceilydh--shortly after buying her
We knew a few things about Ceilydh (ex-Dos Cerveza (sigh), ex-Dreamtime). We knew she had been built in a small yard on Gabriola Island and launched in 1987. We knew she cruised to Alaska at some point in her early life. Then we knew the owner died at some point and the person who bought her tried to charter her as a party boat to indifferent success. By the time we found her in 2004 she was mossy, mouldy and a refuge for wasps.
moss and heaps of 'stuff' showed her neglect
but the pretty varnish (old settee area--now main bunk) showed she'd been loved
 As we brought her back to life we learned things—we met Richard Woods, her designer and consulted him on our modifications (he suggested the cabin was too boxy—we agreed, but we’re tall). We met Grey Davis—who worked in the yard where she was built and learned about the construction methods and materials.

All excellent stuff.

But if you’ve ever owned a boat you know they are so much more than systems and construction techniques. You know that the galleys hold the memories of meals cooked underway, and celebratory dinners when you hit that special anchorage. The settees hold the echoes of tall tales and stories told. The wheel holds the imprint of white-knuckle moments and sublime bliss. The decks hold the stamp of hard work and quiet contemplation.

"My Granddad’s passion was sailing - more specifically - he loved Catamarans. He knew Richard Woods from his time in the UK - and that's why he chose the Meander design. Before Dreamtime - he owned a 25 foot Cat.

I remember being shown home movies of the launch of Dreamtime. The launch was at a place known locally as "The Brickyard" on Gabriola. Roads had to be closed to enable her to drive the short distance from Grey's yard to the launch site.”

 Her first big voyage was to Glacier Bay, Alaska. My Granddad, Nan, two cousins and myself all set sail for a 3 month trip. (A trip I hope to repeat some day with my wife and 3 kids!!!)

I have some wonderful memories of my time with my grandparents on board Dreamtime. I know when you found her she was a little sore on the eyes - but when my Granddad was alive - she always looked great.”

While these memories might somehow be part of the boat, I think things like the echo of long-ago laughter is usually mistaken for wind in the rigging. It takes being told the stories for a boat’s past to come back alive.

 “You may notice a little damage on the Starboard Dagger Board - this was caused by an error in navigation - and a 4 hour wait until the tide came in (my Granddad's excuse was that the chart was out-of-date!!!!)

Does the fresh water erupt like a volcano when you fill it up? - Apparently this was due to no breathing holes being present in the tanks - it was always a good joke to let someone fill her with water and watch them get a good soaking!”

Working hard
 Perhaps I’m a bit of a hopeless romantic, but it makes me feel good that we rescued Dreamtime and gave her a new life. And I love the images I now have of her early days—of three cousins and their grandparents on a life changing trip to Alaska…

Curious how many people know the histories of their boats? Any stories out there?


  1. The people we bought Kintala from told us that the owner before them had an incredible boat log but he decided to keep it. I so wish I had the thing. We can't seen to trace it back any farther than that.

    S/V Kintala

  2. I would love to know Totem's history! Multiple owners, possible circumnavigation...we are so curious. How fun to learn more of Ceilydh's history.

  3. We recently finished completing our boat's genealogy. The widow of the original owner (1978) lives in Friday Harbor and we are going to see her when we're up there; she has old photos and stories...
    Before Del Viento, she was Dream Catcher, Texas Swan, and Second Wind.

  4. I love this. Our blog also brought emails from the previous owners and we discovered many things about her including 150k sea miles and three circumnavigations under the keel.

    Every time we step aboard we can feel the love and adventure imbued in the boat. I'm convinced they have souls.

  5. Fantastic stories! I love that you are going to meet the original owner Michael. And Tate! So cool. I went to your blog and looked at the history you have--and I completely agree with your thoughts. Amazing.

  6. I loved this post! We have managed to get bits and pieces of our boat's history, but nothing chronological - it's a bit difficult considering our boat is 54 years old. We did meet the son of one of the previous owners in Tribune Bay some years back, got an e-mail from someone who lived aboard her on the mainland and Rick found records of her participation in Swiftsure for 8 years in the 60's (in a book)- I would love to know more about her...

  7. Very cool, Kyra. Emailing you with a question.

  8. We bought Savannah from the infamous Jim Howard...he was meticulous with's always fun reading his logs. Very cool letter for you!