Restoration of "Seabee", a Grampian 34
by Robert Zeller
As a boy growing up on the Jersey shore it was only natural that I would one day own a boat. My brother and I had an 8 foot aluminum john boat and we covered every inch of the Sandy hook Bay and Navisink River. Then the family came and a short stint in western Pennsylvania with no boat. But work became slow so it was time to move back home and to a new old boat. My dad gave me the sailing bug when he purchased a Mayflower sailboat. It was a plastic bathtub with a sail but I was hooked. When a friend told me he had the same boat upside down in his backyard and was willing to part with it I could not wait. That was the start of my journey to my present project. After the Mayflower I went to a 12 foot Hobie holder and then to a 22 foot Oday. We loved the Oday but soon grew out of it. Another friend had a Grampian 26 in his yard. He had a house further down the shore and could no longer keep it at the house because the canal had lost its depth. So another trade was made. He got the 22 that he could keep at his dock and I got the 26. This boat had sat for 13 years and needed help. After a long winter she was put right and we sailed her for a few years.
While delivering a friend’s 22 Catalina for some repair work I came across my next boat. At first glance I knew I had to have her. She was a 1978 C&C 26. (the same size but with an inboard diesel and wheel steering). I sold the Grampian and begged and borrowed the rest. We sailed her everywhere. I spent every minute bringing her back to almost new condition. We stripped her bottom down to glass and found a perfect bottom. After barrier coat and 3 coats of ablative paint there was nothing left to do. It took 5 years but I soon got board.
Then one day cruising the internet I found the Grampian owners web site. I was impressed with the hull of the 26 I had (it was bullet proof) and soon found my next project, a 34 foot Ketch with an aft cabin. The price was right and I worked out a deal with her owner. I am a navy reservist and soon had marching orders for Iraq so I needed to get her home. She was in the previous owners yard and I had made arraignments for moving her in April before the ground thawed. we moved her to a boat yard in Road Island and I had sold my motorcycle to buy a rebuilt engine and had plans to replace the engine, step the masts and sail her home. That’s when the fun started. It was a 5 hour drive from New Jersey to Road Island but I made the trip every Friday night. We slept on the boat and worked all day and night. After removing the engine I crawled into the engine compartment to paint and found the bulkhead that the steering gear was bolted through had rotted away and decided it could not be repaired in time to make the voyage home. I had to arrange for a truck to bring her home. $1500 later she was home and I was off to Iraq for a year.
That entire year while lying in my sleeping bag, all I could think of was my family and that boat. I changed the layout 50 times until I decided on my plan. When I arrived home I found banner stretched from stem to stern reading “Welcome Home”. It was like she was happy I was home so I could start her refit. I spent many hours just sitting in the main salon thinking about the job ahead and then made my final decision. I went in the shop and came out with a saws all and proceeded to “Gut” the interior. Within one day I had a bare hull. It was like a blank canvas to a painter.
I laid out the new interior on a napkin and got started. My wife was scared of heights and reluctant to climb the ladder to get inside but braved it all to help when I needed it. She said she would rather write the check to the marine store than climb that ladder one more time but did both happily. It seemed to be the only time we spent together for the year SEABEE lay in the driveway. I am a Navy Seabee and thought that was a fitting name and we also liked the name BAYBEE for the dink. After replacing the bulkhead for the steering gear I installed the new engine, Fuel tank , wired up everything using the original instrument panel with new tachometer and gauges and changed the propeller( the original was the wrong hand).
In the spring the motor fired up like brand new and I moved on to the aft cabin to give me a place to sleep while we sailed. When the warm weather started to come around we started to prep for paint. After sanding until my hands were raw. we found a patch in the hull and a patch in the cabin top. I had never been good at body and fender work so a friend came to the rescue. He was my room mate over seas and he said he was good at body work. He started in with a grinder and soon there was a giant hole in the side of my boat. After hanging one piece of fibreglass he said he would be back to finish. I could not wait. Before he came back I had finished the glass work myself and faired and painted the entire boat. What a change. From a dull, mould speckled hull to a deep green and shinny beauty. With gold vinyl striping used on fire truck lettering from my nephew and a cream colored deck and cabin, she looked like new.
Again I had to find a trucker to move the boat and found a local guy who said “No problem. I move boats that size all the time”. When the day to move came he said” Oh, that’s too big for me to move.” Now what! I called Brownell System(the company who delivered her from Road Island) and they had a truck coming north from Florida and could bring her the 3 miles to the marina. It cost me a small fortune but was happy to pay just to get her to the marina. I work as a millwright in a sewerage treatment plant and have become friends with the contractor who does all our crane work and he came out to step my masts. When I went to pay him he would not take any money from me. It really pays to make friend when you can.
At the marina we changed all the old through hull fittings just in case, changed all the keel bolt nuts and gave her a quick coat of paint below the waterline. The day came to launch and with a lavish renaming ceremony and many bottles of cheap champagne (SEABEE got the only expensive bottle), after 15 years she was afloat again.
We sailed all summer revisiting all the places we sailed as kids. My kids are both grown and leading their own lives and my wife loves the boat when it’s in the water (not so high to climb). This winter on the hard found me during lunch breaks and weekends at the yard replacing all the cabinet work and all the electrical system. All that’s left to do is the trim and some plumbing. Ha! I finally have the project of a lifetime. It should take me till retirement to finish. Hopefully