I was strangling in my job and my life. I found myself grinding my teeth before going to work every morning. I drank myself into a solitary stupor every night. I'd worked myself into an unendurable present and a grim death spiral. I could see no real way out but a complete break in occupation, lifestyle and habits. What was a more divergent lifestyle from a chair-born computer management job than that of a mechanic? I'd once been a bench tech and found that I had the knack. I took night school classes in welding, diesel engine repair, automotive spray painting, servo control systems, basic fiberglass repair and HVAC.
I included a change in location with my break. I'd always wanted to move to the north-west where I could experience both the mountains and the sea coast on a daily basis. After several months of research using the Internet from work the Puget Sound area became my targeted home. I was full of hope, expectation and excitement.
Quitting my job and securing a decent reserve was just a matter of perseverance. I found a crappy little Isuzu Trooper for sale in the paper. It needed brakes, tires, shocks and an oil pump, but then it was good to go. It had a box hitch already mounted. I installed a trailer light harness, bought a six foot cube trailer, loaded up and took the slow lane west.
I got a job at the docks and a cheap apartment in Bremerton, across the bay from Seattle proper. I had more money in the bank than I thought I would have from my accumulated vacation hours. After the last six years of only taking sick days it all built up.
I found a gutted 48 foot long steel-hulled tug boat with a twenty foot beam. She'd had a run-in with a low bridge and lost. The gross profile had a broad bow and a flat, high stern. She had a nasty beat in the drive shaft that the owner couldn't shake. I stole the hulk for 14 thousand. For another ten thousand I leased a construction slip for eight months with 100 amp metered electrical service. It became my project boat. I took weekly pictures of my progress, inside and out. Rather than keep them in electronic form only, I printed the photos and mounted them in an album, annotating the photos on a sheet of paper on the facing page. I worked eight hours a day at the docks and six hours a day on the ship stripping it down. Let me tell you, it was a grind. However, the pounds fell off of me and I stopped drinking.
In 1990 I bought a copy of Turbo Cad and started laying out the ship. That took over a month to get it right. All the electrical runs were planned and the fresh water, grey water and the black water runs as well. I gave an engineer at work a couple thousand and a copy of my.DXF files to evaluate the plans under full-blown CAD with beam analysis, then give me a critical survey of it. I got the okay to build to my schematic and bought a TIG welder. I was about to make that first cut.
The hull was already dry-docked, so first thing I ripped out the steering gear, propeller, drive shaft and shaft support blocks. I rebuilt the stern to accommodate a hydraulically controlled and powered water-jet. The Caterpillar engine had low hours and would push it along fine. It boasted 330 horsepower. I cut a run through the hull for bow thrusters and installed the support hardware.
I had the engine, lower deck, all the tanks and the keel's ballast pulled out. Then I sand blasted the inner hull and treated every flat, crease and crevice with an organic rust-stop paint. Next the hull got a sprayed-in two inch coating of polyurethane insulation. The stuff was sticky as hell when applied and adhered wonderfully to the paint. Then the keel ballast weight, the tanks and the runs for the tanks were bolted back in. My next step was to install and secure the hydraulic pump and all the big hydraulic lines to power the stern drive and the bow thrusters.
I had designed a bow-to-stern wiring pan for below the lower deck that could be accessed by hatches. That went in, then the lower deck. The engine was installed along with all the mechanical room subsystems such as the battery farm, separate engine starting batteries, the genset, a blower system, the bilge pumps, the battery charging system, the power inverter, the service disconnect boxes, the oil filters, fuel filters, the fire suppression system, the HVAC, the water pump, the water heater and a little bitty water maker. Some of the pieces and parts came out of salvage yards. A lot of the interior wall paneling came to me that way. The cat diesel was a generic marine engine so spares were not hard to come by. Properly mounting all the service runs was more time consuming than installing the systems themselves, even though I took my time to lay out the mechanical room with an eye towards maintenance. All the monitoring and control lines that fed up to the bridge had to be properly labeled and terminated at each end.
Next went in the head along with a fairly large (7'x4') tub and a hand spray nozzle. Across the passageway was a stores locker, then a stairway up to the top deck and the master berth just inside the bow. Watertight bulkheads separated the engine compartment from the passageway and the passageway from the stairs. I made sure that all the passageways and hatches were wide enough to accommodate the furniture and what came next.
The storage locker hosted a small (5 cu. ft.) propane/110 Volt chest freezer, a washer/dryer combination and a lot of shelving with cages to keep the goods from taking a flying leap while at sea. The freezer was mounted as close to the centerline as I could get it, and the shelves for the bulk canned goods were laid in there as well. Do you know how much crap you can store in a five cubic foot deep freeze? It's scary! If the IQF meat portions are prepared with condensed stowage in mind they are frozen between two plates to keep them relatively thin. This doesn't work for roasts or whole birds, of course, but it does wonders for chicken parts, steaks and chops.
Another wiring pan went in just under the top deck. All the hatches that accessed the wire trays had synthetic gas-proof seals to make the trays separate fire zones. That way they didn't screw up the bulkhead isolation.
Top deck hosted the raised pilot house, the galley and the salon. A pair of waterproof doors opened off the stern onto a bolted and welded-on steel mesh deck to allow for European-style, high density docking, and access to the ship's boat that hung on davits above the salon. It was a fourteen-foot high-walled self-righting aluminum craft with a 3/4 cabin to protect the helm, powered by a 45 horse Yamaha outboard. It was a sturdy little work boat that would get me anywhere I wanted to go without an argument.
I wanted plenty of light so six 24-inch portholes were mounted below deck and six were mounted in the salon and galley. Instead of mounting halogen cans everywhere I screwed in LED light strips.
Once I got the hull painted with a few coats of epoxy and a final layer of flo-coat I got the zincs bolted on and the ship floated. The hull up to the top of the rail got painted a darker forest green color and everything else an orange-yellow. It was all done in a nice, tough epoxy that wasn't supposed to chip. The pilot house windows were 1/2 inch tempered glass. All the exposed metalwork around the port holes, pilot house windows and access ways were done in marine stainless steel, along with the screws holding them. I'd seen ships that had standard steel screws used to fasten the shielding in place. The rust marks were obvious and avoidable. The only thing that was painted white were the radar mast and the lifeboat davits.
I stole the pilot house design (and some of the parts, if the truth be told) from a 41' Seahorse that had been scrapped, thus the name of my ship, the Seahorse. I liked the look of the forward-leaning glass and the layout of the bridge. I hand-welded the superstructure out of 3/8 inch T651 low-corrosion, high strength sheet aluminum. I leased a water-jet cutter to cut the sections and TIG welded them together. Rather than out-source the bending of the sheets I cut everything at matching angles. Thank God for that CAD program and CAM integration with the cutter or I would have screwed up the complex angles on the support frame in nothing flat. At over 800 bucks for a 4x8 sheet my materials costs were high enough without fuck ups. I scuffed it all up with a wire wheel and applied liberal coats of epoxy paint inside and out, sprayed polyurethane foam all over the interior until it was three inches thick then laid in the various runs and the interior wall panels which covered them. Again, the inner panels got the epoxy paint treatment.
The hull was extended an extra three feet up to form a bulwark rather than running posts and chains. I felt it gave more protection and looked better, despite the weight penalty. (I learned the number one secret to CAD/CAM integration. Define your zeroes and work from them. As long as everything is talking the same units of measure and you don't lose registration, it's damned hard to screw up once that's under control.)
Instead of building in a breakfast nook I made use of a deep breakfast bar design. It made good illumination easy with LED light sets screwed underneath the cabinets. The deck sole had multiple coats of epoxy paint with a little sand added to the final coat. It was rough on bare feet and soft soled mocs, but it gripped wonderfully well when wet. The bow deck and the helm were made safe the same way. The mechanical spaces were soled in expanded steel mesh to avoid any grit in sensitive systems.
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