Wooden Warrior

Jilly and our Portuguese Water Dog, Maio, aboard Rainbird in Montague Harbour, BC.

by David Skelhon

Three years ago, my wife, Jilly, bought a 33′ Bill Garden designed, pilot house sloop Rainbird. As far as we can determine, she was built in Canoe Cove on Vancouver Island in the late ’70s by Gerry Anderson. She is cold moulded using red cedar, with fir-ply bulkheads, decks and cabin sides. Her interior is highly functional with ample storage – nothing fancy but built with thought and care as a live-aboard vessel. A Dickinson Pacific stove is the cosy centre-piece, making this an ideal boat for the Pacific North West. Gerry Anderson carried out Bill Garden’s vision to perfection.

Having built several wooden boats and repaired and refitted many others, I am struck with the care, perseverance and passion that builders lavish on their projects. Many are undoubtedly works of art. No two will ever be the same – even when from the same stock design – as each will be imbued with the essence of its builder.

Flip open the latest edition of Cruising World (July 2012) and you will find an inspiring article written by Thies Matzen, about 30 years of adventure aboard Wanderer III. As any sailor worth their salt will of course know, this traditional wooden boat belonged to that most famous cruising couple, Eric and Susan Hiscock. The Hiscocks had this 30′ Laurent Giles design built for them and launched in 1952 and subsequently made two leisurely circumnavigations and wrote the classic sailor’s bible, Cruising Under Sail.

Matzen and his partner Kicki Ericson have since sailed their humble boat both to the tropics and the stormy temperate climes, including a two month trip to Antarctica. Matzen sums up his reasoning for living with this small but capable boat for so long: “As a traditional builder of wooden boats, I like to show such craft aren’t just pretty to look at. They are made to sail too. They are not just romantic but astonishingly functional. Something as basic as Wanderer III, after 60 years and 290,000 miles under sail, is still up for anything.”

Like Wanderer III, Rainbird is astonishingly functional, having been lived aboard for 30 years and cruised extensively in the Pacific North West. I often wonder about the original builder. Putting together a boat like this requires extraordinary vision, dedication, skill, perseverance, understanding from loved ones and of course a big chunk of cash. Had he spent years saving and planning? Was he building full time? Was this the first boat he built or indeed the last? Does he ever wonder where she is or how well she is cared for?

Taking on Rainbird is like being being handed a torch kindled by the designer and brought fully into flame by the builder. As current custodians we have to nurture the flame to illuminate our future voyages of awe and adventure.

Rest assured Gerry Anderson, wherever you are, Rainbird is still loved and well looked after. You did a fine job and it’s appreciated. And, like Wanderer III, she is, “still up for anything.”

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1 comment
  1. Terry Turnbull said:

    Rainbird is certainly built in Victoria by Gerry Anderson, I first saw her when I was just a kid. Gerry and my god mother had began dating a time after her husband had died of cancer. I still email fairly regularly to check on them(they both live in the north part of Sidney out towards Swartz Bay) and we visit every year. I recently sent them an add for another boat he built, Ocean Child, a 40 plus foot catch. Also beautifl, (and wood) but quite different from Rainbird. I remember looking at her hull (Rainbird) as a kid basically and not believing it was made of wood, so smooth and perfect looking. Anyways loved reading the story and hearing about Rainbird again, I have wondered often what became of her!

    Take care and hope for many happy safe cruises for your future!

    Terry Turnbull
    Nanaimo BC

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