A New Bottom

I put out some feelers through a couple wood boat schools. I offered free airfare, free room and board, a stipend pay, and a guaranteed shot at crewing on a boat in Bristol Bay, all in exchange for a week’s worth of bottom work on the old Sunlight III. Unbelievably, no one wanted to take me up on that offer.

Weeks passed, then one day our home computer crashed, which may seem unrelated, but the guy who came out to fix it realized he and I were distantly related through my third-cousin and Master Shipwright Mike Vlahovich.

He told me all about how Mike was rebuilding old fishing boats on Chesapeake Bay, and the foundation he started, the Coastal Heritage Alliance, to help further restoration projects on both the East and the West coasts. He was even rebuilding the old purse seiner Shenandoah in Gig Harbor, Wash.

Well, this was a no-brainer here. Surely Mike would have some wood boat freak under his tutelage that would jump at the chance to go fishing in Alaska and work on my rotten old boat in the process. So I looked up his Web site, and shot him an e-mail.

What I got back was the equivalent to winning the wood-boat-repair lottery. Mike himself was interested in completing my project, and wanted to bring his son Anthony along to hopefully go fishing in Alaska. Mike said my project fit right in with the mission of his foundation — to keep “heritage” boats in service and fishing well into the future. I didn’t really understand what he was talking about at the time. I was just so unbelievably happy to have him behind my repair project, I was beside myself.

Mike and Anthony came up on May 27 and dove right into the project. The Sunlight III didn’t know what to think of all the positive attention she was receiving this season — I was tinkering around with replacing the engine, and Mike and Anthony were down below reefing out the old cotton and driving the new stuff back in with the sharp >PINK!< >PINK!< >PINK!< of the corking mallets.

In addition to recorking 75 percent of the bottom, Mike fashioned, from some UHMW I shipped up, a new stem guard that transitioned into a keel shoe for the forward portion of the keel, and he fixed the hole that Sid bashed into my transom, just above the waterline, during a TV-crew transfer in the 2006 season when the guys were filming the National Geographic documentary.

After Mike went home on June 2, 2007, I realized that since we still had a long way to go on the engine repair, we could afford a little bit more boat repair time. I had Anthony crack into the rotten port stern corner that got beat up when the crane fell on it during the fire that burnt down Peter Pan Warren Camp in 2001. It was really loose and desperately needed a fix. Anthony was uncertain he could do the job, but Dock Boss Tom and I assured him he could only improve the situation, and we were both confident he could do the job, which he did. In fact, when he finished it off with the new guards, it was a sight to behold. Anthony did a fine job indeed.

When the boat finally hit the water after the midpoint of June, Anthony was first to stick his head through the lazarette hatch to see if it leaked, which it did, but just a fraction of what it did before. Anthony was a bit shocked at the amount of water coming in (which was NOTHING!), and all who knew what had been before got a good chuckle out of Anthony’s misplaced concerns.

At last, the Sunlight III was in the water and ready to roll for the 2007 season!


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