On the recommendation of a trusted friend and shipwright, we placed Celeste with Platypus Marine in September 2013. We subsequently negotiated sponsorship with them. In short, we only work with companies whose products we would use regardless of sponsorship.
Celeste was beautifully constructed and designed when she was built: her cold-molded hull was meticulously laid up and saturated with epoxy; her decks, cabin trunk, keel, and rudder were all sturdily built; and everywhere is evidence of the skill and workmanship of both her designer Francis Kinney and her builder Bent Jespersen. Celeste was also maintained excellently by her previous owner. He especially took care to keep the bilges completely dry—we’ve found some spare pieces of wood he kept there that didn’t even have a drop of moisture stain! Nonetheless, all boats come due for a refit after about 20 years and Celeste’s has been particularly thorough in view of the waters we’re hoping to explore. Thanks to our boatyard in Port Angeles, Platypus Marine, we’re setting off with a classic-looking yet robust and technologically up-to-date vessel.
We chose Platypus Marine because a shipwright friend of ours who’s highly experienced in cold-molded construction (he’s also one of the founders of classic boat site Off Center Harbor) recommended them as a full service yard that had already done excellent work for a classic sailboat similar to Celeste. We couldn’t have gotten a better recommendation: our project manager Stewart Hoagland has vast experience with wood and cold-molded boats as well as with navigating in ice; the teams who did each of our different projects have done meticulous, creative, and beautiful work; and – hugely important! – we’ve been able to use their facilities to work on Celeste ourselves.
Two big projects dominated the winter. Boats made of epoxy resin (plastic)—whether reinforced with fiberglass or wood veneers, as is the case with cold-molding—require new waterproofing below the waterline about every twenty years. Otherwise water starts to permeate the hull and eventually rot it. So our first project was to apply a new barrier coat to Celeste. Platypus stripped her entire hull of its paint and let the hull completely dry out in a heated shed for a few months. We had decided to apply two layers of GRP to the hull under the new barrier coat (nowadays cold-molded boats are made with GRP as their outer layer, although that innovation hadn’t yet occurred when Celeste was built). The fiberglass team at Platypus laid up the ‘glass so that the two layers under the waterline overlapped with the two above waterline to become four. They also applied a layer of Kevlar (the material used for shrapnel proof vests) at the waterline as a form of toughening for the sea ice ahead. Then it was time for the epoxy barrier coat, which was carried up about a foot into the topside paint for extra waterproofing. To complete this full hull refit, we had the topsides repainted and new bottom paint put on. Celeste looked like a brand new boat!
The second major project was repowering. Celeste used to have a 50 horsepower Volvo Penta engine, which obviously had done very well over the last 26+ years. Unfortunately, the engine was probably used to charge the batteries too much rather than simply for propulsion. The low loads of battery charging are actually bad for engines (see Nigel Calder’s great book Boatowner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual). We debated having our Volvo rebuilt, but determined that the cost was such that we’d be better off getting an entirely new engine, and one less notorious for having problems. We went with a Yanmar 3YM30 (read why in our earlier post) which required some modification to the engine compartment and bed logs in order for the prop shaft to line up correctly. We also had the engine control panel moved into the cabin, just inside the companionway, to keep it completely dry and maintain its electrical connections longer. The joiners at Platypus came up with an ingenious solution to the visibility issue and constructed a hinged and curved box for the engine panel to swing out and be easily seen from the cockpit. We liked it so much we had them build another for our radar!
Then there have been a bunch of smaller projects, including replacing the depth sounder (the original one didn’t work) and installing a kerosene/diesel heater. Celeste already had a forced-air diesel heater, but it uses electricity and we like to keep our power draws to a minimum. Our new heater uses no electricity at all: its fuel is gravity fed into the regulator and heats the boat simply from the stove and chimney, not through forced air. Installing it, however, took a lot of creative thought because every inch of Celeste’s interior already had a use. Seth and I were at a loss until we were backcountry skiing one day—you always have your best idea out in the open air!—and Seth thought of building an alcove for it that stuck into both main and aft cabins. The stainless steel alcove also distributes the heat and looks like it was always there! Platypus’s joiners and welders did a fantastic job designing and constructing both it and the fuel tanks that had to fit in a very small and awkward space.
Since we arrived in Port Angeles in May we’ve been working hard on a bunch more projects to get Celeste completely ready for the Arctic. Everyone at Platypus has been unbelievably accommodating and helpful—it’s been a wonderful experience. Huge thanks to Stewart, Marty, Clay, Cliff, Richard, Cody, Doug, JR, Amon, Gary, and everyone else!