What I know of Minerva
47 ft. wooden ketch built in 1932.
Minerva was designed by George H. Wayland, a naval architect working out of San Francisco at the time (his engraved plaque adorns an overhead beam at the companionway). She was built in Cal Pines California by George Blagland, and launched in 1932. I haven’t seen it on a map, but Cree Partridge of Berkeley Marine Center assures me that Cal Pines is/was located just outside of Calistoga California, so Minerva is a Bay Area boat. A 1932 silver dollar rests under her mizzenmast supporting the completion date, but confounding the issue, a 1926 penny is tacked to the bottom of the mainmast. This led me to believe, right or wrong, (until another reasonable explanation is presented to me, I’ll continue in this belief) that she was commissioned in that year. The fall of Wall Street and the ensuing depression is my only reasoning why it may have taken so long to design and build her.
Minerva is 47 feet overall – on deck, with a waterline length of about 39 feet. She sports a bowsprit, projecting another 5 feet forward which carries two forward stays standing side by side. The additional 5 feet don’t officially add to her overall length, but does come into play when renting a slip, as a boat is supposed to fit within her slip and since marina managers charge by the foot, they typically enforce that rule. In addition, it isn’t very courteous or safe leaving a big stick about head height hanging over the walkway of the dock! Being rigged as a ketch with a stays’l, I sometimes call her a stays’l ketch when in a romantic spirit, but I’ve been told that is incorrect and improper; oh well, I allow myself a little poetic license occasionally. According to the story Wes told me, she was originally designed with a beam of 14 feet, but some thoughtful soul had the foresight to measure the railroad tunnel that Minerva needed to traverse during the overland voyage to her launching and determined that she was limited to a maximum breadth of 12’6” if she was to keep the paint on the sides of her hull. As a result, she is, well, a lot of things. For one, she’s pretty fast. Nearly 80 years old and she’s shown me 10 knots close and broad reaching. By no means a sled, but hey, she’s a lot more comfy than what I’ve heard some sleds to be.
I’ve seen a copy of a document that proclaims she carries 1000 square feet of canvas under full sail. However, as the mizzen mast rigging and chain plates are currently in need of replacement, I don’t fly the mizzen sail lest I lose the mizzen mast. But with a single reef in the main, a reacher (a small, high cut jib) and stays’l only, with no mizzen, she gives me a steady 5 ½ – 6 ½ knots reaching into a good breeze.
She is traditionally planked with 1 ¼ inch fir over 2 inch oak frames. A full keel with solid lead ballast boosts her dry weight to around 20 – 25 tons. One surveyor estimated her at 69,000 pounds, but I believe that an exaggeration. Her mainmast stands approximately 60 feet above the waterline and mizzen about 50. A wooden spoked wheel turns an Edson worm gear steering mechanism, which in turn, of course, turns the rudder.
I assume she was designed to race only due to the bunk arrangement with which she came to me: the forward state room accommodated two single bunks, one to port, the other to starboard; the saloon boasted a single and pilot berth to starboard with a single to port that would slide out to make a narrow double; and a quarter berth to starboard, aft of the saloon and opposite the companionway and galley. Between the forward stateroom and saloon was a small hanging locker to starboard and to port the head with, of course, the head, but also included a decent sized shower with salt and fresh water plumbing as well as the usual accoutrements.
Although I don’t know much about her early years, one of her lifetime achievements came in 1951 when Minerva raced in the Trans Pacific Race (Trans Pac) completing the 2,250 mile voyage from Long Beach California to Honolulu Hawaii in 13 days, 8 hours, 18 minutes, and 59 seconds finishing in ____ place in her class. She was owned and raced at that time by _________. In addition, she has reportedly circumnavigated the globe twice to date.
Wes Stroehecker bought and sailed her from San Francisco California to Portland Oregon somewhere about 1990. There he and his family enjoyed cruising, venturing as far as Puget Sound I believe. He refastened the hull, below the waterline, in 1995 with galvanized screws (square shanked, iron boat nails were her original fastenings).
I found her sitting in fresh water under a full canvas cover on the Columbia River in 2000, fell in love and bought her. During the pre-sale survey, we found not only 12 cracked or broken ribs, but the top third of both masts were dry rotted. The masts were rebuilt as a condition to purchase and re-stepped. I recruited a crew to help sail her from Portland to San Francisco, filled her fuel and water tanks, and headed down the 75 miles of Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. But due to inexperience and several mistakes, the most crucial being having a time limit, 15 miles from the infamous Columbia River Bar I ended up putting her on the bottom of the river! After remaining under 32 feet water for 3 days, she was refloated and towed to Ilwaco, Washington for repairs. A mechanic I hired to pickle the engine advised me that the engine was worn out and not worth the expense of his work. The shipwright I hired to repair the 8 inch hole I put in her hull replaced 5 of the broken ribs and sistered the others. He also found 9 of 12 fastenings of the exhaust through hull fitting to be rotted away completely leaving just a little more than ghosts of the three remaining fasteners, only fragile threads of metal, the only means of keeping a 4 inch hole at the waterline closed to the sea. We of course, replaced the entire assembly. Over the span of six months, one of the crew and I spent many long weekends and a couple of vacations cleaning out the mud, sand, oil, and debris, refitted a fresh Perkins 4 – 154 diesel engine and generally got her in fair enough shape to try again, but due to time restraints, decided at the last to have her hauled overland by truck to Berkeley Marine Center in the San Francisco Bay area. There we re-stepped the masts and continued readying her for sail. After another 6 months of steady work and gleaming with a new coat of paint, Minerva once again found herself floating in her original home, 69 years later!
For our first sail on the bay, we sailed up Raccoon Straits to the inside of the Gate, across the slot to the San Francisco Waterfront for a leisurely downwind sail to the backside of Treasure Island where I found while walking the deck, 2 of the 8 chain plates that support the mainmast were extended 2 inches higher out of the bulwarks than normal, simply from the stress of a 20 knot breeze! Later, during another refit, it was discovered that half of the bronze chain plates were rotted through and separated where they had been buried inside of the bulwarks. All things considered, I thank my lucky stars that we didn’t make it to open water back in 2000, but, alas, that much more work was needed to bring her back to the condition she deserves.
In 2003, I began refastening the deck working on weekends, when the cold winds of San Francisco allowed. I finished replacing the fastenings of the 1-¼” thick teak deck, forward of the cockpit, in 2005. The cockpit area remains to be refastened and is on the list. All of the bulkheads were built of, or covered with, plywood, but the glue from 1932 didn’t stand up to 3 days under water and delaminated. All of the bulkheads have been removed, save for the three main bulkheads which were built of two opposing diagonally fitted layers of 1” x 6” fir planking and skinned with 3/8” plywood. This plywood has also been removed with the other bulkheads. For six months while Jonathan, my son, was attending college in San Francisco, he lived aboard in the stateroom. He and his girlfriend at the time ended up caving in one of the two apparently water damaged single berths in the stateroom, so now both have been removed and replaced with a narrow double to port. Cabinetry will one day fill the starboard side of the stateroom. The hanging locker has been replaced with a combination work station and chart table. The pilot berth has been removed making the starboard berth in the saloon a roomy double with storage below, the sliding double to port, in the saloon, is now a fixed single with storage below and behind the back rest. Wes had cut away the forward section of the aft quarter berth to install a tiny navigation station that I wouldn’t have fit into even 30 years ago. That small imitation of a nav station, as well as the balance of the quarter berth has been removed and a new electrical panel installed. The balance of that area is now used for storage of sails, a small generator, and assorted paraphernalia while still leaving room to crawl into the lazerette, under the cockpit, for maintenance and additional storage.
In 2009, I was told by my co-workers that I needed a vacation, so after weeks of dreaming of traveling Europe, planning, and investigating prices, I determined that my disposition would best be served by spending that small fortune on Minerva rather than on two weeks of being a tourist. So once again, she and I visited Berkeley Marine Center for another 6 months of work. During this time, one of her 1 ½” bronze keel bolts was removed as a representative to determine their condition. It was perfect, replaced and all keel bolts were then torqued to 450 ft. lbs. All through-hull fittings were examined with one getting replaced, but only in order to remove the attached seacock; all seacocks were serviced; one small section of hull planking was replaced due to worm damage; and the rudder gudgeons were examined. These were the items I had on my wish list for this haul out, but I hadn’t spent the money set aside for the work, so, with much more work needing to be done, we moved on to the chain plates. Steve Hutchinson, the local wood boat guru, felt he could replace them into their original locations, which is sandwiched between the planking and the frames, something I had thought impossible without removing the planking. He was right and did a marvelous job, along with his apprentice, David. Because of the amount of money I was now pouring into this project, we stopped with the mainmast, leaving the mizzen for another day. But once the chain plates were replaced, it only seemed natural to replace the 20 year old standing stainless rigging, so we pulled the mainmast out to put her into the “mast yard” and Jay Butler, also a contractor at Berkeley Marine, installed all brand new shiny and strong standing rigging at the main. In addition, he provided new whisker stays (supports the forward end of the bowsprit against lateral movement) and a solid wire bob stay (prevents upward travel of the bowsprit, opposing the tension of the head stays). In addition I was able to purchase a few blocks at his dealer prices to replace the decrepit blocks for the running rigging on the main. A new halyard for the mainsail, new topping lift and running backstays were installed as well. During the weeks of waiting for the rigging to be made up, Steve and I went over the mast and basically rebuilt it too. Except for a few bronze fittings and the sail track, every piece of equipment on the mast was replaced or rebuilt. I even went so far as to having the chrome removed from the bronze winches, after which Jay’s son polished them and the gooseneck fitting to a brilliant shine. Several new coats of paint with polished bronze fittings and new standing and running rigging made the mainmast truly staggering to behold! Jonathan had been working on Minerva for a few weeks and had sanded the varnished teak transom to bare wood and after 7 coats of varnish it too gleamed. He also scraped and sanded the cabin sides and painted a coat of primer on them. I had removed all of the wood bungs pushed out by rusting plank fastenings, cleaned and treated the fastenings, Creplaced the bungs and sanded and painted 7 coats of paint on the topsides of the hull. The bottom, the hull below the waterline, got 2 ½ coats of fresh bottom paint after a thorough sanding done by fabulous friends. Despite the fact that none of the teak trim was worked on, except for the transom, and none of the paint above the hull was addressed, except for a coat of primer on the cabin sides and the mainmast, Minerva was absolutely gorgeous, well, except for the mizzen mast. It had been blackened from the constant slapping of the original stainless steel wire halyard. One day before launching, I made a comment regarding this to Cree who demanded that we pull the mizzen mast and paint it too! Courtesy of Cree’s demand for excellence as a boat builder and of course his generous heart and soul. This is one of the reasons why I always return to Berkeley Marine Center when Minerva needs work, but now that I’m down south that unfortunately can’t happen very easily, which is a real bummer cause I really enjoy all of those folks there.
I don’t know if you can readily tell how much I miss the people up there in the Bay Area by my ramblings here, but putting these memories into words brings all of the many fine people who have gone to such great lengths to inspire and help me get Minerva ready for sea.
More later, perhapsJ