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A True Trawler Yacht

They came in swarms from builders in the United States and Asia in the early 1970s-the fiberglass boats called trawlers by builders and brokers who wanted to project an image of seaworthiness and strength.

The truth is, most of them resembled trawlers only superficially. But boaters loved them then and still do today. For many, they are the perfect boat.

About the same time, however, a builder far from California, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore created a truly perfect trawler yacht, one that unquestionably sets standards for seaworthiness and strength.

In a shipyard in Malahide, Ireland, a small seaport community that is a suburb of Dublin, a company called Southern Marine sent to sea a small fleet of trawler yachts called Malahides. Ranging in size from 52 feet to 68 feet, they are strong, massive yet graceful, enduring, go-anywhere boats.

Heavily built, with thick planking of Norwegian fir, teak, oak or iroko and laminated framing the size of bridge timbers, they have raised pilothouses, round bottoms and canoe sterns. Their classic hulls are the same as fishermen use year-round in the North Sea and in the coastal waters of Scotland and Ireland.

While American and Asian builders launched light, hard-chined, semi-displacement boats for inland and coastal cruising, Southern Marine produced trawlers fit for every ocean.

Southern Marine did not screw builders' plates into pilothouse bulkheads and did not number hulls before they splashed into the sea for delivery on their own bottoms to buyers in the United States and Europe. The boats simply were called Malahides and identified by their names, Ursa Major, Jimmy, New Love, Glimmer, Cobra II, among them.

Unfortunately for the world's ocean cruisers and the growing community of powerboat passagemakers, economic conditions that would doom Southern Marine and the Malahide line were gaining momentum even as the yard began work on the first of its trawlers.

Fuel prices were multiplying throughout the world, the result of politically contrived shortages in petroleum products; inflation was galloping through the United States and Europe; and fiberglass trawler-type yachts were becoming increasingly popular because they were cheap (and sometimes cheaply built). They were inexpensive to operate, and buyers succumbed to the sales pitch that glass was easier to care for than wood.

The first Malahide was launched in 1972, the last about 1978. Approximately 30 were built and, so far as anyone knows, all are still afloat in the world's prime boating waters. Some are battered and worn, while others are in good original condition. At least one has been given a costly refurbishing.

Despite the promise indicated by marketing at boat shows in the United States and Europe, the end came quickly. Ask Myles Stapleton, the naval architect who designed all the Malahides and who today builds homes in the Dublin area.

"The yacht business was gone because of competition from the Far East, and we were priced out of the market. We stopped building yachts and went exclusively to commercial work," he recalled in a telephone interview.

"The Grand Banks Alaskans (wood boats, ironically) sold for less delivered in the U.K. than it cost to build a Malahide hull. The Alaskans were light and had a hard chine and that's okay, because that is what was wanted.

"But what a difference-it's like the difference between cheese and chalk."

For Southern Marine, it was almost like Camelot-one brief, shining moment of challenge, excitement, accomplishment and pride.

In The Beginning

One of Ireland's oldest communities, Malahide always had boat builders at work on its shore.

One was Southern Marine, which operated a general boatyard in Malahide, doing mostly repair. Sometime in the 1960s, two retired British businessmen who needed something to do began buying surplus Admiralty boats and converting them to recreational use. Southern Marine did the work.

It wasn't too long before the businessmen, Jack Fielding and Alfred Tyaransen, bought the yard.

The supply of retired Admiralty boats began to dry up, Stapleton recalls. Those available were in poor condition, and it soon became apparent it would be cheaper to build new hulls. "And so we said, 'Let's start from scratch,'" Stapleton adds.

At a time when an economically unified Europe was only a dream, the Malahides represented perhaps the last and best work of leading wood boat builders in several nations.

Because Southern Marine initially did not have the capacity or experience to build from scratch, it turned to other builders. Six hulls were ordered from a fishboat builder in the small seaport town of Hemnesberget, Norway, which lies above the Arctic Circle. Six others were built by the Navalia yard in Villa Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal, now a popular resort area on the Gulf of Cadiz.

The finished hulls were towed to Malahide for installation of engines (Gardner, Kelvin or Rolls Royce for European customers and usually Caterpillar for U.S.-bound boats) and other finishing work. Nearly all had single engines; a few had twins, and a couple had two engines on one shaft.

Getting to Ireland must have been challenging. From Portugal, the route is north in the Atlantic Ocean and across the Bay of Biscay, a notoriously difficult place for ships. The Norwegian hulls simply faced a crossing of the tumultuous North Sea and the North Atlantic.

The Norwegian-built hulls were 60 and 65 feet long. They were given a distinctive North Sea styling, with a towering pilothouse and reverseraked windscreen. There is a mast and boom in the well deck and another aft.

Design details varied slightly from boat to boat, according to buyers' whims, Stapleton said.

Some had Portuguese bridges, while others did not. Some had wing decks outside the pilothouse doors, others did not. At least one had an aft pilothouse, with a lengthy trunk cabin forward.

One thing was found on all the Norwegian hulls-deckhouses fabricated of aluminum.

That aluminum house is a real plus today, 30 years after launching. The flow of rain that rots boats usually comes in around windows, doors and deck fixtures and, unchecked, percolates down into beams and framing. That's less apt to happen with an aluminum house, so those North Sea-style Malahides probably represent the best bet on the market for those tempted to shop for an old Irish yacht.

Malahide called the 65s Polar Bears, while the 60s were known as Beavers.

As for size: The 65 named Ursa Major draws 9 feet, has a beam of almost 20 feet. Her garboard strakes are 2.75 inches thick and 12 inches wide, and the planks are 25 to 30 feet long.

Above the waterline her planks are 2.5 inches thick and 6.75 inches wide. Frames are 6 by 6 inches; her beams and stringers are laminated 6 by 7 inches.

The 375-horsepower Caterpillar D-353TA rests on stringers 8 by 12 inches.

Counting an estimated 40 tons of concrete and iron ballast, her gross weight is 109 tons.

On Ursa Major, the planks are of Norwegian fir, which is a type of pine. It is so dense and heavy that when she was hauled a few years ago for repair of damage from bumping a rock the shipyard crew needed a mechanical hoist to pick up one plank.

Those North Sea-style boats look a lot like the Romsdahl yachts built in the 1960s. The big Krogen and Nordhavn yachts sold today share similar lines. Bill Garden, the famed Seattle- Victoria, B.C., naval architect, designed several similar yachts early in his career.

When a yacht cruises the world's oceans, there are good reasons to have a pilothouse high above the deck and set well back from the bow. Good design bows to function and doesn't fade away.

The boats built in Portugal were something else. Their hulls look much like those built in Norway, with a big bow and a canoe stern, but the lines come from fishing boats used in the coastal waters of Ireland and Scotland. The Portuguese boats are lighter, have a more traditional deckhouse design, are built entirely of wood and range from 60 to 66 feet. The pilothouse is reached via a few steps, not the ladder used on the North Sea-style trawlers. They often are said to have a Mediterranean styling above the shear.

Stapleton's design for the Portuguese-built Malahides, which were called Penguins, remains so fresh that the 30-year-old boats look almost new today. One of them is moored in Anacortes, Washington, following a two-year refitting, and marina visitors generally think it is a new boat.

Southern Marine eventually built all-wood Malahides from scratch in its own yard and in other Irish yards, but it had to import shipwrights from Portugal, Stapleton says. They followed the Mediterranean styling; the smallest was 52 feet, the largest was 68 feet. (An owner in the Mediterranean has advertised a 70-foot Malahide, but that must be a 68 with a dive or boarding platform added to the transom.)

Navalia, the Portuguese yard, built several boats from the Malahide plans and sold them with a Navalia builder's plate in the pilothouse. After finding a 54-footer at a marina in Bellingham, Washington, I concluded that they look much like the real thing but vary significantly in detail and may not be as well built. They are Malahide look-alikes, but they are not Malahides.

Southern Marine closed in 1982. It was all over. Camelot was dead.

Apartments, condos and a marina occupy the site today.

Sister Act

Joyce Gauthier, a Seattle physician who had done some sailing on small boats, in 1995 bought a 65-foot slip in a condominium marina on the city's Lake Union. Someday, she dreamed, she would own a boat that would fit the space.

Until then, she thought, she would rent the moorage and let someone else help pay for it.

Her tenant was the owner of Ursa Major, the 65-foot Malahide that was the first boat delivered by Southern Marine when it was launched in 1972.

She probably has the most interesting history of any Malahide. Researching her past, Gauthier quickly learned a major player in Mafia drug running once had owned Ursa Major. Scores of bales of marijuana and other drugs would be lowered through hatches cut into the foredeck, and later, far out at sea, the narcotics would be loaded aboard fast motorboats for delivery along the East Coast.

The Malahide, looking like a placid mother duck in a pond, attracted little attention from law-enforcement officers initially. Ultimately, she was seized in the Bahamas but was returned to her gangster owners.

It may seem incongruous, but the Mafia took good care of her. She was grounded once and burned out an engine. The dope runners had her repaired and repowered. Ursa is in good condition today because of that care, plus the TLC of subsequent legitimate owners and the added benefit of having an aluminum deckhouse.

It would be months before the yacht reached Gauthier's marina because of the owner's physical, financial and legal problems. After it was in the moorage, the same problems would make him an absentee owner.

The owner's absence and neglect distressed Gauthier and her sister, Cami Cass, and they began taking care of Ursa. After a while, Cass moved aboard to give the yacht the close and personal attention it needed.

Finally, U.S. marshals seized the boat when the owner could not make payments. It was hauled away and chained to another dock. The two women had to fight for permission for Cass to go aboard for her personal things.

They could have let it go. But they had come to love the old Irish boat. The only way to save Ursa Major and the indignity of a marshal's sale would be to buy her.

Gauthier approached a leading national bank in Seattle, looking for a loan that would rescue Ursa. The bank's reaction: A woman wants to borrow money for an old, 109-ton wooden boat? Don't be silly.

Finally, she found some understanding women loan officers at Key Bank in Seattle. She got the money and brought Ursa home in the summer of 1997.

Finding insurance was equally difficult. For a wooden boat? Owned by a woman who has no experience aboard a 65-foot boat? Ha! Joyce Gauthier emphasized there always would be a skipper with a 100-ton Coast Guard license aboard, and she got the insurance she needed.

For a while, she thought the previous owner would buy the boat back and repay her investment costs. But that didn't happen, and Ursa Major was all hers.

She was overwhelmed. She was in denial. "I was a very reluctant owner," Gauthier remembers. "I didn't tell anyone."

In early 1999 she finally was able to acknowledge ownership.

"I finally decided to take responsibility for her, to adopt her into my life, to adopt her officially and finish the restoration," Gauthier says.

And then she began looking for ways to pay for it. She could not afford to keep it as a plaything, so chartering became the obvious option.

She worked with Richard Friedman, of Bellingham, Washington, owner of the 60-foot, 90-ton Malahide Explorer, also a charter yacht, to learn the business.

(Explorer was the sixth boat launched at Malahide, the last of the Norwegian hulls. Friedman and his wife bought the boat on the East Coast and spent several years bringing her to the Pacific Northwest, where she was placed in charter in Southeast Alaska.)

(Not a lot is known about the Malahides. No records were retained when Southern Marine closed. Friedman has the best connection with Malahide history. When he bought his boat he found a scrapbook of photos taken during the construction of several of the Malahides in the Irish city and, apparently, in Portugal.)

In 2000, Gauthier took business Friedman could not accommodate, and in 2001 her promotional efforts began to pay off with cruising customers. The boats occasionally cruise together when a charter party is too large for either boat.

It's quite a sight to see the two venerable Malahides "steaming" side by side out of a small harbor in Southeast Alaska. (I have had the privilege. See the related story, "Wilderness Adventure.") There's Ursa Major, all white, but with a distinctive varnished bulwark cap at the bow. And Explorer, with fresh white paint on her hull and sparkling green bulwarks.

At full speed, maybe 9 knots or a little more, they churn up a significant wake. From my viewpoint, in a 12-foot aluminum skiff, it looked like a tidal wave approaching. It was only 200 tons of yacht.

Gauthier believes ownership of the Malahide is more than just taking care of a nice yacht and keeping charter customers happy. She feels a need to share the character and tradition of a yacht that represents perhaps the last great effort of wooden shipbuilding.

"She is only beginning her career in chartering and so is young, yet old, and epitomizes the best the wooden-hulled yacht builders could do in their last hurrah," Gauthier says.

And Seattle is a safe place to preserve her, Gauthier adds, because craftsmen who know wood and understand wooden vessels are still on the job in yards around Puget Sound.

Gauthier continues to dream about the future. Watch for the boat someday soon in Alaska's Prince William Sound and the Sea of Cortez in Mexico.

Looking Around

Despite their size, boarding a North Sea-type Malahide is easy. One step up and through a bulwark gate gains the deck.

Turn aft for the classic canoe stern, the place where the mind's eye can see ladies in frocks and gentlemen in blue blazers sipping champagne from long-stemmed glasses. On the Ursa today, it's more likely to be the place where the crew hauls shrimp traps aboard. The cockpit of the Explorer is fitted for serious fishing.

A hatch on the port side leads down to the engine room; an adjoining ladder heads up to the sun deck. A doorway opens forward to the saloon, with a dining table, settees, bookshelves and an electronic entertainment center.

Farther forward on the starboard side is a shoebox galley, small but equipped to turn out meals for a crowd.

To the port is a door to the side deck. That covered deck is about 30 inches wide, making movement around the boat easy. In the entry, a ladder goes straight up to the pilothouse, which has a captain's stateroom and a lot of space for guests. Forward of the galley is a second dining area.

Also forward of the entry is a stairway leading down to three staterooms and two heads.

Crew quarters are farther forward, reached through a scuttle on the well deck.

Ursa Major is in strikingly good original condition. She has varnished paneling and heavy deck beams overhead. The hatches added by the drug smugglers look a bit out of place but add welcome daylight to the staterooms below the main deck.

Gauthier has slowly been making improvements- new paint on the upper deck, replacement of some of the caprails, repair of the laminated and varnished bulwark cap at the bow-while stocking Ursa with gear needed for a successful charter operation.]

A previous owner gave Explorer a new look by building an on-deck master stateroom and head on the well deck. It allows passengers with disabilities to cruise without needing to climb ladders or steep stairways.

A New Look

A couple of years ago, Tim White was looking for a project to keep him busy through a long Pacific Northwest winter.

He found Alamir, a 1973 Malahide built on a 64-foot Portuguese hull. The all-wood yacht had a score of obvious problems. White got the price down low and bought her.

Then, after assessing the work that was needed, he bought a boatyard in LaConner, Washington, and moved the yacht onto the hard and covered her with a temporary shelter.

The deckhouse was rotten. The forward deck, the subdeck and the underlying stringers and framing were rotten. The stem was soft because water had leaked through fasteners in the black iron hawse pipe. She had more problems than one could count and turned out to be a twowinter project.

She had been moored in Ensenada, Mexico, for 13 years. "She just rotted away," White recalls. "I saw her in Seattle. Everybody thought I was the dumbest ass for buying a rotten albatross.

"They humored me, and now I think she is absolutely incredible."

Aside from replacing soft wood, White and his crew rebuilt the flybridge, fabricated a custom aluminum radar mast and rebuilt the interior.

Now called Sovereign of Malahide, the yacht has a magnificent and modern galley and new staterooms forward for the owners and guests. White's young children revel in their hideaway bunkroom beneath the saloon and reached by a ladder.

White gave the boat new cabinetry throughout, but nothing he has done has strayed from the classic styling and materials found in the original Malahides.

He added things Stapleton and the staff at Southern Marine didn't, couldn't consider: a washer-dryer, a 4,000-watt inverter, an air-circulation system to keep the boat dry, Category 5 wiring in every space for high-tech entertainment, email and Internet surfing.

Her original engine was a Gardner diesel. Now she has a 220-horsepower Caterpillar, which was serviced and painted. He added a second generator to the engine room and cleaned and painted the room until it sparkled like a surgery.

Access to the engine room is through a door on the starboard side deck and then a ladder. Only slender people will work below-the hatch is so small that anyone with broad shoulders or a big backside will have trouble climbing down.

Sovereign of Malahide has roll chocks, but no stabilizers. White wired her for a bow thruster but didn't install one. Although he is relatively new to boating, White seems to have quickly absorbed the techniques of handling a large yacht in a crowded marina.

It is obvious that White did not worry about the cost of such an extensive and dramatic overhaul. "I told the guys (in the yard) that I did not want to be an apologist for a rotten, stinking boat. I wanted this to be special, to have people come on board and enjoy it. If you enjoy it, my satisfaction is that much greater.

"I paid no regard to the economics," he confesses. "I just did it right. Maintenance will be easier."

The exterior was stripped to bare wood, the hull caulked, the plank lines regrooved. She was coated with epoxy, faired and primed and painted with Sterling products. It is that perfect paint, sparkling varnish and the new teak deck forward that lead marina visitors to conclude that the Sovereign of Malahide is a new fiberglass boat.

White thinks it's better than fiberglass. "Once you get it current, it takes no more money to own a wood boat than a fiberglass boat," he says. "It's easy to fix areas of small rot, but if you've got to fix osmosis damage on a fiberglass boat, pack your lunch and bring money."

White paid about $135,000 for the boat, but won't say what he spent on the overhaul. However, not far from his moorage, Northern Marine builds ocean-going fiberglass yachts of similar size that sell for several million dollars each. "I'm in for only a fraction of that," he says.

"I think it is an incredible boat," he said after a lengthy and detailed tour. "I would not hesitate to drive this any place in the world."

White does need to be careful with his Malahide nor worry about extensive repair work. In fact, he sold the shipyard about the time his rebuild project was completed.

A Boat For Us?

A boat as large as Ursa Major may be too much for a couple to handle easily. At sea, no problem. But a third hand probably would be welcome while coming into a moorage or picking up a buoy.

The person at the helm is not able to pop out onto the deck to help with lines in a marina, and if there's no one on the dock to take a spring line, landing may be difficult if wind or current are opposing.

Experienced cruisers may be able to deal with this. Others may want to find an extra crew member; there is plenty of space aboard any of the Malahides, and there should be many volunteers.

Although only a few dozen were built, Malahides show up in for-sale listings occasionally in the Pacific Northwest, Florida and the Mediterranean.

Tim White is right. A large Malahide trawler yacht may be purchased and completely refurbished at far less cost than building or buying a new fiberglass yacht of the same size. It is a good design, strongly constructed. I won't get into the cost-of-maintenance argument, other than to say that it mostly depends on the owners' level of attention and care, and the expertise of the craftsmen who do the work.

A Malahide is not necessarily a better boat than one made of resins and fiber, but I agree with the owner of the Sovereign of Malahide. I'd go anywhere aboard one.