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Restorations a long hull for boat lovers

Peninsula artist among local group resurrecting old vessels
Members of the Mud Bay Yacht Club (left to right) Robert Genn

It was a sight out of the past at Ward’s Marina last month – one that would gladden the heart of any enthusiast of early 20th century marine design.

The Mud Bay Yacht Club’s workshop – close to South Surrey’s Historic Stewart Farmhouse – was host to two historic projects of its own, at the same time.

Artist Robert Genn’s 1921 motorboat Miss Reveller was out of the water and up on scaffolding for a routine overhaul, side by side with the Banke family’s 1940s sailing yacht, Elusive, currently undergoing an extensive refit to restore it to the former racing glory it enjoyed with the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.

Credit the fact that the boats of long ago were much narrower in the beam than their nowaday counterparts, Genn said, for the double treat.

“If they were modern boats, you would only be able to get one in at a time,” he said, during an inspection tour before the Miss Reveller was relaunched at the marina on July 26.

With its long, lean lines, varnished mahogany and brass ‘bright work’ – including a well-worn wheel, antique horns, light and instrument housings, flat, wood-enclosed windscreen, and restrained flagpole, the 30-foot long Miss Reveller, originally described as a ‘launch,’ seems for all the world like the sea-going counterpart of an elegant early limousine or touring automobile.

But there’s a rakish, romantic, Jazz Age touch, too, most notable in its mingling of the demure ‘Miss’ with the more suggestive ‘Reveller’ and in Genn’s choice of a prow ornament – an antique water nymph not original to the boat, but nonetheless evocative in her bobbed hair and apparently unashamed nakedness.

Just what Miss Reveller got up to, back in the day, is a matter of conjecture.

“You can’t put a price on a man’s youth,” was the enigmatic answer Genn received from his uncle, Kenneth Genn of Victoria, when he attempted to buy the Miss Reveller from him for $1,000 more than 30 years ago (an earlier attempt, for $100, when Genn was still in high school, had been rebuffed with a vague “I’ll give it to you someday.”)

Genn believes the launch was named for The Revellers, a long-defunct Victoria fraternal club.

“It died out about 1940 – along with the boat,” he said.

The story was that he’d bought it in 1929 from a man in Nanaimo who had used it for rum running.

“It must have been a very low-end operation,” Genn said, noting that the boat never travelled above 30 km/h – especially with its original motor.

“In those days you’d tow a couple of cases in a basket and rendezvous with somebody off Orca Island or Bellingham. If you found you were being approached by the police, the only thing you could do was cut the line and leave the booze to drop down to the bottom. My uncle used to say he thought he knew where there was quite a bit of booze in Bellingham Bay.”

If he did, the secret went with him to the grave in 1984, along with his promise to leave Miss Reveller to Genn in his will – something that never quite happened.

When Genn finally rescued it from his late relative’s property, Uncle Kenneth’s “youth” had a large tree growing up through the bottom of it – and it was only through the understanding of surviving relatives, and the hard rebuilding work of Genn’s nephew, Brian, that Miss Reveller gained a new lease on life.

“She was built by Hoffar’s Ltd. in Vancouver,” Genn said. “They built 12 like it, and of the other 11, as far as we know, the last one died in Kelowna in 1947.

“If you go to Muskoka, in Ontario, you’ll see lot of boats like this, magnificently restored. But this is the only one I know that’s alive and living on the West Coast.”

No less enthusiastic about his boat, Elusive, is Andreas Blanke, who comes by his seafaring honestly – his father, with whom he co-owns the 34-foot yacht, or ‘haul,’ was a third-generation boatbuilder in his native Denmark.

He, himself, used to work on the famed Bluenose II, and also has a lot of tall ship sailing experience with a commercial cruise company operating in the Carribbean.

In a brief break from working on caulking between yellow cedar planks he described the way the Elusive “talked” him into buying it a year ago.

“It was in Horseshoe Bay, semi derelict and almost underwater,” he said. “I fell in love with it. I honestly tried not to buy it, but I kept seeing it on Craigslist…”

Now, he admits ruefully, he’s up to his elbows in a 25-year refit (“It’s probably about 25 years since anyone went the whole hog,” he said).

The project includes steaming new white-oak ribs into place, building new floors, repainting and refinishing the mahogany interior and brightwork, plus repairing the mast and overhauling the engine.

“I thought it would be fun to do varnishing for the rest of my life,” he said wryly of the labour of love.

But it’s clear he also takes a lot of pride in the streamlined Elusive, a “classic old sloop” designed by Bill Rhodes and built in the Haliday Yard in Steveston in 1948.

“When the war ended, all the gentlemen of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club who had donated their lead keels to the war effort went out and got themselves all new boats built,” he said, adding that Elusive was among a new generation of yachts that were raced on English Bay over the next decade.

A total of three of the original six hauls built for RVYC members in the late 1940s are still on the coast, he adds, one of them moored at the Pacific Maritime Museum.

“She has a proud racing history and the Banke family looks forward to more racing in the coming years.”

About the Author: Alex Browne

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