The conclusion to this saga can be found on the page called "A trawler deal". This page describes the process of resurrecting a big old boat. It was a challenge at times (to say the least). Yet it ended happily with new owners and a bunch of great memories. What more can you ask of a boat?

Most recent update: October 2012

Then.......................................................First Haulout (Thanksgiving 2011)

Skipping right to the point: We've got a tiger by the tail this time!

Update in August 2012: Yes indeed. I've been silent on the big boat project for eight months, and with good reason. It was testing the very limits of my hubris, audacity and capacity for surprises, setbacks and dissappointment. It wasn't until the very end of my last visit, after six hard weeks of resurrection, that our boat got off her knees. It is now my pleasure to say that this dog will hunt!

Posts starting in October 2011 AD

One had to start feeling sorry for Roslyn. During the past several years, virtually every night her husband (that's me) would scan the Yacht World listings for the perfect trawler. All concepts were explored; steel, aluminum, wood, ex-commercial, ex-fishing, relatively old, relatively new and so on. The big Taiwan-built, floating plastic condos were about the only ideas that never quite seemed like us. Now, me being who I am, there had to be a challenge in it, and some soul deep down in the bilge somewhere. Sharing any boat with a wife whose opinion matters also necessitates a certain potential for creature comforts. I would narrow the search down and get the thumbs up or thumbs down from Roslyn. This ritual continued for so long that it ALMOST became an end in itself.

"Hey Rozzie, you like this one?"

"Let's see. That's pretty nice. Spacious galley and Master. Not too ugly on the outside"

Get the picture?

But, every once in a while, this screening process would reveal a jewel of some kind. So...OK, Let me bring you up to date. One boat surfaced periodically over the course of time and we finally decided to look under the hood. There was a fantastic story from the get go, and an interesting owner who, along with his dedicated side kick, had salvaged the boat from the brink of the bone yard. After a few emails and computer dating, Roslyn and I made the trip to Vancouver, cash in hand, just in case.

Quite often, in my world, it's amazing what a dollar can buy. Maybe that's because our taste for adventure is a little unorthodox. Be that as it may, we are now the proud owners of Despatcher, a 1928 Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) rum runner chaser. Yeah, that's a mouth full.

More details will follow as this chapter unfolds. The only time we had was for a quick happy hour to commemorate the sale with the previous owners, Pete and Christine, and a rehab of the bilge pumps to make sure she won't sink before Thanksgiving - the first block of time available for more careful exploration into the depths of what we have. What we do know is that Pete and Christine are the kind of folks you'd be willing to buy a project boat from, and that's saying a lot. Here are a few pictures and a copy of the writeup that accompanied the Yacht World ad.

Starting to get excited? That's OK. We're excited, which is enough for us. One perspective of Pete's is that a boat like this isn't really "owned." Think of us as the next custodians or guardians of Despatcher. Notice in the second pic that Pete was gracious enough to accept U.S. currency. Nice guy.

How much was it exactly? Count it. It's all there on the table.

These next pics show the two happiest days in life buyers and sellers

A few interior shots

Who wouldn't be drawn to this merky image of the good old days? As Pete described it:

80 YEAR OLD RCMP HERITAGE 50 foot RUMRUNNER CHASER Under the cover of darkness, she slid quietly into the cold briny waters of Coal Harbour. Secretly she had been waiting for this moment, for almost two years. She was a stunning sight, but not in a pretty way, this girl was majestic and not to be trifled with. Her time had finally come, and she was about to embark on a journey that would span over eight decades. They spared no expense building her, using only the best mahogany, oak, and technology of the time. The futuristic high-speed designs of Hoffman were finally ready to be put to the test. The date was April 12th 1928 and it had been nearly 2 years since they had started building her. Now, with Captain M.F. Macdonald at the helm, she was finally about to begin her noble duties protecting seafarers and landlubbers alike from her new home in the coastal waters of British Columbia. She was originally built on Esplanade Rd. in North Vancouver BC, by The S. R. Wallace Shipyards. This was not the famous Wallace brother’s shipyard on the water, but rather across the road in a small yard where no unscrupulous eyes would find her. She was built in secrecy for the Canadian Protective Services Department, their secret weapon against the rumrunners and opium smugglers of the late 1920's. M.P.V. DESPATCHER was soon to become the most feared vessel in the Canadian Pacific. Despatcher was 13.98 net tonnes, 48' long and 10'8 in beam, but with her twin 290 hp Sterling gas engines she could run at over 30 knots. She was painted an unspectacular medium olive green that camouflaged her easily against the green wooded shores of her time. She had a low silhouette in the water, which made her almost impossible to see at night. A huge machine gun was mounted on her fore deck. This plus a highly trained four man crew and her remarkable high speed made her more than a match for all but a few of the fastest rumrunners. Despatcher caught more than her fair share of criminals on land and sea, but at the end of the U.S. prohibition on alcohol, her services were no longer needed by The Protective Services branch of the government. She was transferred to the RCMP, where she remained in service until 1933. This is when she was retired from official government service and was transferred to the public. DESPATCHER was re-christened, and 64% of her ownership was sold to Mr. Herman Thorsen, of Vancouver on the 26th day of January in 1934. The other 36% as with all registered vessels, remain a part of Her Majesties fleet in case of war. Her name was changed, and she has since been known simply as “SPRING”. Mr. Thorsen kept “Spring” in the family for more than 20 years, and sold her in 1955. “Spring” had many owners, or rather stewards, living a much varied existence over her 80 years, She was a work boat to some a pleasure yacht to others and even a live-aboard for a spell. In April of this year, She was once again re-christened in an elaborate ceremony. With members of the RCMP, Customs Canada, friends and family, as well as 3 generations of the original Captain MacDonald’s family in attendance throughout the day, Spring as she had been known for over 70 years was once again bestowed with the noble name DESPATCHER. Blessings were given to all the gods of the sea and air. French Champagne was poured over her bow to insure favourable winds and seas for all time. Her original name in gold once again adorns her bow and mahogany transom for all to enjoy. We, the current stewards, have enjoyed her for years, but can no longer tend to her needs. We are looking for special people to care for DESPATCHER and give her the attention and dignity that this eighty year old vessel deserve. Along with DESPATCHER goes an extensive collection of articles, photos, and personal log entries from a time long forgotten. We believe this is the oldest floating RCMP vessel still in the water, and the only rumrunner chase vessel in Canada, making her worthy of special attention.

Synopsis of our Thanksgiving visit:

OK. We planned a fun Thanksgiving at the boat making repairs and setting the tone for future adventures. My old buddy Vern met me at the ariport with his wife Stephanie coming in later by train and our family crew consisting of Roslyn, Stephen and Diane arriving later by plane from their various worlds. Dylan couldn't make this trip unfortunately.

A book could be written about all that we experienced and all that we learned. Thanksgiving was fantastic with the ladies doing the cooking and the guys doing the dirty boat work. Roslyn and Diane also get credit for filling up a storage locker with stuff from all of the nooks and cranies. We repaired a bunch of immediate concerns and suffered through a grueling marine survey by a fine Shipwright named Paul. His assessment went something like this, "A conservative estimate for repairing Despatcher back to full and dependable (turn key) serviceability is in the range of $150,00 to $200,000 CDN, the completed boat in today's market having a fair market value of approximately $40,000."

What could be more perfect? If we repair her ourselves for around $10K in materials, we'll make over $100,000 (relative to having her rebuilt by qualified Shipwrights).

Vern and I took a breather from inside the bilge and agreed that this boat is no country for old men and any right-thinking adventurer should walk away, if not run. That conversation took place Thanksgiving morning in a light rain. There was no time left in the week for more philosophizing because dinner was coming up and I needed some time to show Steve and Diane a little of Vancouver.

Around 3AM Friday morning, I felt a strange resolve solidifying in my soul. Step one, we take the boat out Friday morning come hell or high water. Recall that high water is a slack tide!

If I got up at 4:30 and started working, that gave me about 5 hours to pull this ride together. Steve, Vern and I had already fixed the blown keel cooler, fixed the weak exhaust hoses, rezinced the shafts, added an additional bilge pump, swapped a broken shift cable, cleaned the cooling systems and replaced the blown starboard starter. The check list still included insuring that the engines cooled properly now (requiring the disassembly of the port cooling system two more times), adding an oil pressure gauge to port, building a shift bracket for starboard, finding and dipping the fuel tanks, stopping some more fuel leaks, finding out why the helm had no steering, fixing that and having a cup of tea with Diane.

At 10 o'clock with everyone aboard including six life jackets, we dropped the lines and headed to sea (maybe 100 yards or so). This might not sound like much, but Despatcher had not left a dock under her own power for at LEAST 15 years! This was confirmed Friday night over drinks with the previous owners (Pete and Christine) who knew the previous owners before themselves.

The morning was beautiful, sun shining, fresh mountain snow, seals in the river. It was glorious in a pitiful sort of way. Steve had his turn at the helm. There was so much going on, I never had time to even look at the gauges while under way. What a trip.

So.....where does that leave us?

Here are some pics taken of the 3 amigos on Thursaday and of that Friday morning. On Thurday we were trying to smile through our shock and awe at what lay in front of us. On Friday there was a tiny light showing at the end of a very long tunnel - see the look on our faces. Stephanie missed the photo shoot because she was doing the shooting.

Time will tell if we will fail. Right now, we're comfortably ahead of the game - certainly in no worse shape than the Firetruck or Carlson's Caddy at this stage.

BUT, as they say on Myth Busters, "Don't try this at home. We're professional fools."

Stay tuned. Rozzie has already booked me back to Vancouver in mid January. Maybe I'll take my chain saw and speed the process up a little.

By the way, we know Despatcher looks a little rough right now. That's why we don't have a whole slew of fancy pics. Keep your pants on.

Catching up from Thanksgiving:

Alright, it's August, which was M month for a trip this year on Despatcher. The trip is booked to start next week. It's only appropriate that I put a stake in the ground now. Should have been doing it all along. Should have been updating with pics of work in progress and signs of improvement and all that jazz. But this one really had me challenged in the following sense: As I cracked into every system, it became clear that Despatcher was closer to a mockup of a boat than a boat itself. Virtually no system was ship shape. Nothing could be depended upon except a faintly beating heart somewhere down deep. I'm not taking anything away from the previous owners. It's just that a boat is the perfect example of a system that seeks entropy (a constant collapsing onto itself).

I took five trips from Dallas to Vancouver between December and August, averaging about 10 to 14 days. These were full-tilt boogey, fourteen-hour days. The first trip  never got above freezing with about four inches of snow. the first three trips had drizzling sleet, snow or rain almost every day. It would sound ridiculous if I tried to describe the conditions. Let's just take the first trip. I borrowed Vern's van from Seattle, so I could haul materials and use the van as a work site. I didn't want to be running power tools, even battery powered tools, on the dock with other boaters around. So I would measure carefully, then cut pieces in the van, then carry them to the boat, then mark them again for another cut, then carry to the van, and so on. The first deck repair required nine separate pieces of marine plywood and six deck beams, all cut with curves and odd shapes. The closest parking was AT LEAST a quarter mile away. The marina had moved me to the farthest slip on the last dock. Vern, bless his ever loving soul, put in a few tough days himself, probably just because he didn't want to have to say "I told you so" without also being able to say that he did everything he could to help. During the first four trips, Despatcher was shrink wrapped and looked like the next picture.

There were some fun times, mostly the result of stopping a significant hemorrhage -  just before another problem came on line.

I can't really explain to rational souls why I didn't walk away and take my Waterloo. Something about this boat kept calling me back.

Finally on the most recent trip, the sun started to shine. During the past couple trips, the port engine had been acting up and there were a number of scary events in the river. In one case, I was out there in a three knot current by myself with a dead port engine, a starboard prop that was fouled in a dock line, no reverse on starboard, virtually no rudder and a bad leak in the steering hydraulics. It was a miracle that I didn't have to go down with the ship that time.

Eventually however, the list of mission critical stuff started getting small enough to fit on one page, then small enough to remember, then small enough to actually imagine finishing.

Roslyn met me at the boat, which she hadn't seen since November. She outfitted the kitchen and we spent a couple nights on board. We even shared in a pot luck dinner with another boater, Darlene. She and her husband, Gordon have a REAL boat. Yet they seem to like us anyway. For the pot luck, Rozzie brought Texas chile made in Despatcher's galley. Not a bad start.

Despatcher still was cranky. We lost the port engine again.  This time we had steering, so we got back to our slip without any panic. Now that reminds me of an earlier test run when I had to throw the anchor quickly after the engines quit in a seaway. I was letting out chain, and, all of a sudden, the last link slipped from out of the chain locker and headed overboard. I'm talking about the bitter end brother. Who doesn't tie off the anchor chain? I caught that last link with my finger and slid it onto the samson post a second before the chain pulled up tight. Turns out the next 100 feet of chain were not galvenized and had completely rusted into a pile of dust. The galvenized chain was sitting on top of the rust pile so I couldn't see it. Ah, but that's another story. One, thankfully, Roslyn didn't witness.

After Roslyn left, I spent a few more days working on the running lights and other safety requirements. On my last day, this old dog cruised the river like she wanted to be there. You should have seen the release of frustration, concern, resignation and skepticism flowing out of my soul and into the ever after!

We'll find out if Despatcher can actually make a destination, having picked out a few short trips for the family. My great finance colleague, Espen, has a house in Vancouver that he has offered as a sanctuary if things go South. But I'm back in the cautiously-optimistic range of emotions at this point.

Unfortunately, the state of affairs these past months has seemed so grim that I took very few pictures of the resurrection process. We will take more pictures on this next trip to show the "after." What can I say? This ain't no reality TV show with fake emotions, extra takes when things don't come out right and a guaranteed Hollywood ending. But my grandma used to tell me that it's a great life if you don't weaken. Sorry grandma. I'll admit to getting a little weak in places trying to deliver this baby.

There are probably thousands of good old boys out there who enjoy and are good at these kinds of challenges.  I take a certain comfort in being able to sit across the table from them and say, "Yeah, that was a close one." And, of course, it's never over till it's over.

The good news is that I'm "approximately on budget," meaning that expenditures haven't been totally obscene. The biggest surprise was when one rudder just fell off. After 85 years, the two inch bronze shaft simply failed and the rudder dropped into the abyss. We put two new stainless rudders on and have a helm, which, if anything is too sensitive now.

If we actually make a port and get back home again, you can call me Captain Rex.

Late August - after the family trip

Let me begin by saying that there were several silly emotional outpourings at points on this trip. In brief, Despatcher figured it out and showed her true colors. She cruised for appoximately 20 hours without mishap, only a few little adjustments and fixes that any good engine jockey could handle. The boys were great assets and cheerfully indulged their dad's fantasy of fixing a big boat and cruising it into the wilds.

Each morning we would assign tasks and get to it. My main focus was on finding the air leak somewhere somehow. The boys took control of the remaining wiring issues. The air leak turned out to be caused by a T in the fuel line designed to feed a diesel space heater. Once that T splice was removed the port engine never hesitated again.

By the time we left the dock for a real cruise to a foreign harbor, Despatcher had all of her navigation lights and equipment, all of her safety gear and all of her charts. We were totally ready for a coast guard inspection. We had practiced our docking, departure and warmup procedures along with line handling assignments and the "man overboard drill."

The first trip was to Steveston and we chose to take the outside route through the Straight of Georgia. After trying out best to work with paper charts only, we bought a Garmin chartplotter and all the charts for the West Coast of Canada in Steveston. For 500 bucks, you get a lot of information in a hurry. This leg took five hours and was a little over 20 miles if you knew where you were going.

Someone might want to ask what revs we were turning and all that kind of stuff. Well the tachs were reading about 1300 and 700, port and starboard. Obviously that's not right. Something was messed up on the tachs. I opened the hatch and could clearly see that starboard was turning faster than port when the tachs were synched. For that point, we went totally by feel. The engines felt happy at this speed and ratio. On calm water with no current, the Garmin showed us doing about 7.5 knots. Tide and current make a big difference on speed over land though.

We took the inland (river) route back to our marina, just to see something different. Lots of big boats in the river and immense log booms rafted up or moving behind tug boats of all sizes.

These next shots show Steve at the helm when some monstrous tanker went by. There's a shot of the two boys on the upper helm at Steveston. Finally there's one of Dylan on the upper deck. At 17 years old, he looks like he could actually do some hard work if he put his mind to it.

After the boys went back to their worlds, it was time for Rozzie and me to see what we could do by ourselves. One concept cooking in the back of our minds was to someday meet Vern and Stephanie somewhere on the water. It turned out that they were passing through on their way back from a month-long trip to the top of Vancouver Island. So we (somewhat ambitiously) set a rendezvous for a cove in Howe Sound.

Despatcher made the voyage in great time (about 25 miles in under 4 hours) and with little scariness involved. According to the weather channel, there were 15 to 20 knot winds in the Straight but we didn't notice anything alarming. Despatcher had been there before I suppose.

The next shots show us sighting the Viking Spirit and rafting up with her at anchor. A pretty special moment considering that this idea was a pipe dream from years ago, really.

After a great dinner and evening, the trip home was "cool runings." We stopped for a few hours at Gibson's Landing, just to check it out. By this time our docking was clean and crip. Roslyn was handling lines with confidence. Here's a shot of her talking to Stephanie on the VHS. Pretty soon the family won't need their old dad to get in the way. The next shot is of Vern and Stephanie after we rafted together. All smiles at this point.

We will add a few more shots taken by Stephanie of Despatcher running along side of Viking Spirit. I've never actually seen Despatcher making way over the water from a vantage point outside the boat.

Now here's a totally unrelated shot taken by Roslyn. There was this old, derelict navy destroyer sitting in a cove. We took a little ride in Vern's dinghy for a closer look. Somebody claimed that there was this far away look in my eye as we cruised along side. I have no idea what they were talking about. Do you?

We'll get some more pics of the trip eventually. And we've got a long list of improvements that would make Despatcher a little more comfortable. But, let's face it. Whatever happens now, Despatcher was an adventure worthy of the name.

If you're wondering what it finally cost when all was said and done, my answer to that sort of question is always the same. Billy the Kid never kept no stinking receipts. Also my Dad used to say that they don't give you back your greens fees either (after you're through playing a round of golf).

Late September trip - just the two of us

At this point, Despatcher is a happy girl. The hot water tank is in and the shower working. When Roslyn arrived, the boat was ready to roll. We hit some big water in the Straight (six foot waves that buried the bow a few times). After turning back into the River we holed up in what we later learned was "Coward's Cove," a cozy lagoon at the mouth of the North Arm. Aptly named for sure. Had a pretty sunset and fun evening of just hanging out. The mood was not far from what we used to imagine it might be like. There was steak on the grill and a celebration for Roslyn's birthday. It was our first time anchoring out and using the dinghy to row ashore. Next morning,on to Bowen Island for a great day. Weather - perfect. Here are a few shots of how our concept of a big old boat actually plays out. Pretty cute, huh?.

Can't say for sure if this is the end of the story. The rest will (hopefully) be fun adventures of a rather predictable nature. New to us but enjoyed by thousands of boaters out there every year.

Yet this project will be remembered by me as a hell of ride. It's a perfect example of something that isn't over till it's over.