Andrew Allan of Strait Marine

Boat whisperer.

Nestled at the mouth of the south arm of the Fraser River, just east of Steveston Village, is an occasionally bustling shipyard where fishers, sailors, pleasure boaters, dreamers, and the occasional heron converge. Even though the relentless march of condos has arrived at its borders, the tangled maze of fishing nets, gantries, traps, and repurposed, green-painted B.C. Packers’ offices still offers an increasingly rare glimpse into the region’s maritime heritage. Past a gleaming, royal blue hull on blocks is a three-storey shed constructed almost entirely from shipping containers. It’s an ingenious merging of design and practicality, and as it turns out, it’s a hint of things to come.

Interior boat finisher, serious fixer, and all around marine enthusiast Andrew Allan, who’s as happy running the 50-tonne travel lift as he is wielding a bench plane, could also qualify as a marine-grade father confessor. The old adage of boat ownership is BOAT—“break out another thousand”—and Allan, manager of Strait Marine, has seen it all. Except that in these inflated times you might as well multiply that into tens of thousands. Or more. In Vancouver, owning your own boat is as natural as wearing Gore-Tex or sipping lattes outside in January. If only it were so simple.

Allan, who once considered attic-living in his container built shed (“the view of Mount Baker’s pretty good from up there”), says when it comes to buying boats, heads—not hearts—should always prevail. Whether your newfound passion is a decommissioned West Coast trawler or a 60-year-old classic Monk cruiser, the trouble with buying a boat, says Allan, is that too few people really think about the true cost of ownership before taking the plunge.

Many will track down their dream vessel—maybe even thinking they’re being astute by purchasing an older craft for less—without any thought as to what may be required for repairs or regular maintenance, let alone stylistic changes, for reasons that range from cosmetic (new owners often wish to place their own mark on a vessel) to a true desire for seaworthiness. “As a rule, people have no idea what they really want to spend on their dream vessel,” he confides. “Chances are they’ll start with the notion of finishing the outside, from the rubrail up, replacing the non-skid surfaces with custom patterns and repainting.” However, once the exterior’s complete, the interior, which now appears tired, will also come under scrutiny as the owner yearns for fashion-conscious counter space, more modern trim throughout, curved teak, and possibly even redesigned windows. “More often than not, the price goes through the roof and can result in a jaw-dropping number, which always comes as a nasty surprise,” Allan says as he gestures toward an immaculately finished modified swim platform, worth somewhere around the price of a Volkswagen Jetta. The devil is always in the details; he points out not only the extended support struts below but also finishing touches that include customized hardware in the form of flush-mounted stainless bolts.

A 20-year-old craft, even if not necessarily a classic boat requiring a bulk carrier’s worth of TLC, can all of a sudden take on a more dated look. Just a nip here and a tuck there is likely to flag the need for some much more major work.

Despite the cautionary tales, Allan’s yard has its share of satisfying projects, including being part of the complex restoration of the historic Lady Van. The much celebrated C.E. Nicholson–designed 40-foot sloop was originally built for a syndicate of racing enthusiasts by Vancouver Dry Dock in 1928 and brought here from Seattle. What remained of her was discovered by noted sailor and designer Don Martin, who worked with the Boatbuilding Heritage Society of B.C. to restore the derelict championship R series vessel to
racing form.

While the considerable reconstruction was undertaken by Jespersen Shipworks of Sidney, Allan and Strait Marine oversaw her finishing, clear coating, and rebeautification and prepped her for shipment to Saint-Tropez, France, where she competed very successfully, displaying her newly regained splendour, in one of the world’s top regattas.

One of Strait Marine’s current projects is the refinishing and repowering of a 40-foot offshore powerboat, destined to reach speeds of 85 knots, or 100 miles an hour. In this case, though, “the client knows exactly what he wants—and fully understands what the work is worth.” As for buying that dream boat? Like many other luxuries in life, Allan says, “You might just be better off renting for a season or two, at least.”

Post Date:

March 18, 2013