If you didn’t know any better, you’d be hard pushed to imagine that the mangy old hull minus a bow or stern attached lying around one corner of Gordie Nash’s workshop, along with a cabin in another corner and a myriad other parts strewn around would eventually become a competitive racing boat.
It was 2002 and Nash had bought a boat that was otherwise headed for the dumpster. Its main bulkhead was rotten and to replace it would be more than the value of the boat, which gave Nash the opportunity to buy it for a steal. Replacing the main bulkhead wasn’t a problem because he planned to move and change it anyway.
Nash, who lives in Sausalito, spent some four years reviving the
Sausalito boat builder and sailor Gordie Nash inspects the bow of his boat Arcadia on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2012, in Sausalito, Calif. He saved the old boat from the dumpster and completely rebuilt it as a modern race boat. (IJ photo/Frankie Frost) Frankie Frost
boat, a Santana 27, which he renamed Arcadia. While rebuilding an old boat was an affordable way for Nash to own a competitive racing boat built to his needs, he also wanted to show that old boats with a good hull can be made into modern racing boats.
“Most of the time when we talk about rebuilding a boat, we’re talking about wood boats,” Nash explained. “Rebuilding a wood boat is to return it to its original configuration. However, fiberglass boats can be more easily modified in their hull shape, cockpit, decks, interior — you’re not stuck with the frames like an original wood boat.”
When a boat gets to 50 years old or even before that, whether fiberglass or wood, it needs major work. Bird Boats, for example, are wooden boats that are 80-plus years old now being restored to their original form.
“They’re great boats — they need to be saved, rescued and rebuilt,” Nash said. “We can do the same thing with a fiberglass boat that can be improved upon without the stigma of destroying its tradition.”
Nash’s criteria for remodeling an old boat included a good hull shape and a keel that could be unbolted. Gary Mull was a Bay Area boat designer whose concepts appealed to Nash and it was a Mull design (the Santana 27) that Nash chose for his “recycle” project.
“Mull was really designing boats that sailed well,” Nash said. “A lot of people think that you can’t change things — the way that a boat is designed is the way it is — but Gary was more open-minded.”
Long before he got stuck into the Arcadia project, Nash shared his ideas for remodeling the hull shape and modernizing the rig of a Santana 27 with Mull. Nash recalls Mull drew his own idea for a modernized Santana 27 on a placement over lunch one day.
“I took his idea and concept which were similar to mine and got started,” Nash said.
Rebuilding included a plumb bow, adding a sugar scoop transom to extend the waterline length and a lifting bulb keel.
Another goal was to ensure Nash and his wife Ruth could double-hand the boat so during reconstruction, Nash put a box in the cockpit for Ruth to stand on to try out different winch positions and heights in relation to her size, as well as to set the tiller up so he could drive as well as run main and backstay with ease.
Six years down the road, he’s still pleased with the result although he agrees that you can always do a second one better. Nash rebuilt a lot of the parts on Arcadia several times to perfect it.
“The first year we sailed the boat we broke stuff,” Nash, 63, said. “Some races we didn’t finish and others we limped across the finish thinking, ‘got to change that’ and the list grew at the end of the race.”
Arcadia won’t plane like ultra light boats so there’s no real reason to increase her sail area, said Nash, but it has enough to perform well in moderate conditions — 10-14 knots — which is where its hull shape best performs, borne out by Nash’s consistent racing success. By year-end he’ll have sailed 32 races on Arcadia, scoring about second in class based on average per race. Not bad for an old boat.
Local sailor David Bacci from Sebastopol has also recycled old racing boats to get exactly what he wants in a boat — performance with as few crew as possible. He concurs with Nash that finding the right hull is key. Bacci’s latest project is an Express 27, which he bought as an unused hull that had purportedly been kicking around the Bay area for some 30 years.
“Fiberglass boats are lasting a lot longer than people thought,” Bacci said. “It’s cheaper to use something existing if you use the right hull — modify a good hull with a new keel and rudder, you have a new boat.”
Nash’s advice on recycling an old boat, “Pick a boat and know how much money you want to spend. Each boat I looked at was an opportunity for a dollar. Fiberglass boats sitting out there are available because they don’t look modern. They’re well built and already structurally sound. Make them into what you want.”