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Preview: DAVID B – One Boat, Two Hearts

January 14, 2016

A skilled mechanical tinkerer and a gifted naturalist/cook turn their combined talents to the restoration of an ancient salmon fisheries tug to carry passengers into Southeast Alaska’s coastal wilderness.

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– I have a wood cook stove here, that we bought new in 2005. And this one’s been pretty much one of the hearts of the boat. It’s got two hearts, the engine and then the stove here as well.

– This is the original engine of the David B. It’s a three cylinder Washington-Estep ordered in early spring of 1929 and built for the David B by Washington Iron Works and installed later that year. One of the nice things about this engine is everything is really accessible. You can see what everything is. If it’s making a funny noise, you can stick your head next to things and listen for where the noise might be coming from, which is something you can’t do as easily in a modern engine. You can also open up these doors down here on the side to look at the camshaft. We need to know what position the cam is in when we go to start it and we actually have to bar it over by hand to get it in the right position. These are the rockers that run the exhaust and intake valves, and this is the rocker that lifts up that fires the fuel injector, which is right here.

– When we were rebuilding the boat, we put the stove right here, so that the first thing you see on the David B is the stove. Okay, the cinnamon rolls are done, and I guess we’llsit them here aside for a few minutes and let them cool before I ice them.

– We’ll get started here making cheese grits. If I can, when we have people that come on and they really like to cook, I try to get them to teach me their favorite recipes, and so that’s a lot of fun. So this is a recipe that we got from one of our passengers. We got started in 1998. When we found this boat, we’d been looking for a boat to rebuild so that we could do charters and run up in Alaska.

– [Jeffrey] Christine and I had decided that we wanted to try to run a passenger boat and I knew that it was possible to do it. And Christine was really into the nature side of it and the cooking side of it and also just getting to go see a bunch of, go do the exploring and see all these new places.

– Jeffrey’s a real tinkerer and so he likes systems and he likes, you know, the electronics and the plumbing and the boating and driving and all that sort of stuff. So we put these things together that we really both like doing.

– [Jeffrey] So then we started looking around for a boat that we could buy that was old that we could put our own time and effort into and try to work our way into it that way.

– [Christine] We found this boat and it was really, really inexpensive because it was a complete wreck at the time.

– [Jeffrey] The engine was in running shape. The hull wasn’t in such good shape. And we knew that we’d have to do a bunch of work to it. But that was kind of the plan. We decided that we’d start with the deck so that we could have a boat that was dry underneath that and kept working our way back, taking everything off and replacing it as we went, doing all new deck and all new deck beams. And, you know, after all that work we actually showed up on our first trip as we planned.

– We started in 2006 running the boat as a passenger boat. And spend most of our summers kinda going between Petersburg and Juneau and taking people into places that’s wilderness where, when you drop the anchor most of the time we’re, like, the only boat there. Sometimes there might be a humpback whale, and then birds and bears come to the beach and it’s just, you know, you just sit there and it’s like, “oh my gosh I can’t believe we did this.”

– [Christine] So the David B was built in 1929 by the Lake Washington Shipyards for the Bristol Bay sockeye fishing. Boats like the David B were built to tow the fishing boats out to the fishing grounds. When their holds were full, the gillnetters would take the fish to the barges and then this boat would move the barges back over to the canneries. The boat was named for David W. Branch, and he was a manager for all of Libby McNeil, Libby’s salmon operations up in Alaska.

– [Jeffrey] So let’s take a little tour of the David B. We’re up on the foredeck. We have actually the original wind list driven off of a shaft that runs the length of the boat and off the front end of the engine. It has a big clutch here so you can control it on the deck. So the anchors that it was designed to pick up weighed 2200 pounds. We now have a 450 pound anchor on the one side and 400 on this side. We typically drop about a thousand pounds of chain on the bottom when we anchor when it’s shallow, and we go up from there if it’s deeper. We’ve never actually had the anchor drag on us. We’re sitting just after the foredeck, and this is sort of the mid-deck area of the boat. This trunk cabin here we built and we actually specifically made it this height so it would be nice and comfortable to sit on. We made a lot of decisions on the David B to make it look very traditional, but used enough modern materials that we avoided some of the traditional problems. And one of the big problems with boats is having deck leaks. So we actually have a layer of marine plywood that’s 3/4 of an inch thick. On top of that we have 3/4 of an inch of Douglas fir. And each of the pieces has the edge rabbeted off and has epoxy in it that has white pigment up here on the trunk cabin, and then on the deck we actually have the same system and it has black pigment, so that in the end, unless you know what you’re looking at, it’s pretty hard to tell that it’s not traditional. The shell of the pilot house, actually the inside and outside wall of it, is original. And out on deck here it’s pretty much the only thing that is original. The real amazing part about this pilot house are these drop down windows. It has these pocket windows all the way around the whole thing. We set up a lot of the stuff up here on the bridge in a way that we can see what’s going on with the engine while we’re running. We actually have a way to look at a sight tube for the engine coolant up here on the bridge, and then over on this side we have the gauges that show us the air pressure and oil pressure and fuel pressure and that kinda thing. One of the other critical details with this particular engine is monitoring the exhaust temperatures from the individual cylinders so you can make the engine run smoothly. We’re in a kinda funny mix between having antique things and also having to fit into the modern world. The engine has a lot of compressed air available, and so a lot of the engines from this era have lots of pneumatic controls for things. We have a pneumatic shifter, and so this unit right here is the shifter. It’s actually a standard stock shifting unit that I made some modifications to run what we’ve got. And then I did a bunch of copper tubing to connect that all up so that it would put us in ahead when I move the lever to the right spot and astern the other way.

– [Christine] So the David B has four cabins in it, four staterooms. Each one of ’em has a toilet and a sink. Each one has its own port light. We’ve got three cabins that have queen size beds, and we’ve got one that’s got an over-under bunk so we can accommodate six passengers. And we also have a shared head up forward that has a bathtub in it. We, you know, went from this boat that was a complete derelict to this wonderful place where we eat wonderful food, we meet amazing people, we go for hikes in the wilderness, we go ashore. And that just rekindles, like, this spirit of, like, “oh my gosh, the world is so big and amazing.” It’s been 10 years now and I can see doing it forever, you know, or as long as I possibly have the energy for it. That would be a lot of fun.


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