“We don’t want a house; we want a boat!”
That was the beginning of what was to be many years of long nights and longer weekends. My husband Wes and I had decided it was time to buy a house. The problem was, nothing we looked at was remotely appealing. Our frustrating searches didn’t last long and we would be distracted by what we always loved doing—looking at boats.
We’d had trailer boats and even a 28-foot Carver, but this next adventure was likely going to be our home. We had a rather loose plan that we would live aboard and work from the boat while cruising. We found numerous used trawlers for sale, all beyond our pocketbook and often requiring extensive work. A rainy Sunday July 1999 found us paging through newly purchased boating magazines. I was reading an article in PassageMaker. “Look at this,” I said to Wes. “This guy built his own boat.”
The next day at lunch, Wes repeated that line to our son Wes III.
Our son’s reply? “You’re crazy. That’s an insane amount of work!” However, a week or so later Wes III replied, “Let’s talk about it.” And so it went for the next seven years.
ALL IN THE FAMILY
Wes Quigley II and Wes Quigley III, or “III” as we call him, own and operate WHQ Woodworks, manufacturing high-end interior architectural millwork. They are experienced designers and builders, with projects ranging from residential kitchens to church interiors. Wes’ electronics, building and engineering background and III’s creative design and woodworking talents form an extraordinary team of knowledge, skill and artistry.
So began the building of Miss Ruby, a custom 42-foot raised-pilothouse trawler.
Wes began preliminary design, with hull concepts taken from PassageMaker articles and other online research. Using AutoCAD, he was able to start the process of designing our “home on the water.”
My husband’s drawings led to a 42-foot Downeast hull design with a full skeg that would offer protection for both the propeller and rudder. The traditionally designed cabin layout included a raised pilothouse, aft saloon area and forward stateroom. We knew we wanted to have full walk-around decks, a boat deck on which to carry a dinghy, a pilothouse with tilt-out windows, a queen walk-around island bed and lots of portlights. There needed to be easy access to the engine room, which was to be spacious enough to allow us to maintain the engine and have access to all other major systems.
Wes discussed our project with John Hutchins of Downeast Boats and Composites, a boatbuilder in Penobscot, Maine. Hutchins suggested a hull designed by Arthur Barry of Rockland, Maine, and recommended we talk with Thomas Bernardi, a nearby marine architect familiar with the hull.
By September 1999, the preliminary plans were completed and we brought our drawings to Bernardi for review. “I need you to check our plans for weights and balances,” Wes said. “Particularly keep an eye out for anything we’ve got wrong.”
Bernardi looked at Wes and laughed. “I’ve never had anyone bring drawings to me before. Usually, I’m the guy that does the drawings.” For a minimal fee, Bernardi thoroughly checked out our plans. The only suggestion he made was shifting the fuel tanks toward the stern.
With John Hutchins we discussed the logistics of building the hull and made arrangements to sea-trial hull number 1, a lobsterboat that was actively fishing. On a gray, chill day in late November, the sea trial left us totally exhilarated.
In January 2000, III went to Penobscot to work with Hutchins and the crew at Downeast Boats and Composites as they waxed and polished the leased 1975 mold.
Between January and March, III spent about five weeks laying up the hull and participating in the hatching and joining of the two halves. Wes took drawings of the engine room bulkhead, which all the Quigleys helped make under Hutchins’ tutelage. The hull arrived in early April 2000 at its new home in Connecticut, where it was housed in a newly erected hoop house across the road from the WHQ Woodworks shop. Wes and III also fabricated a gantry and railway from scrap steel to assist with heavy lifting and other needs.
As the two men stood in the empty “bathtub,” there was an anxious time of, “OK, now what?” Quickly, the laser level and plumb bob came out, and centerlines and bulkhead layouts were drawn inside the hull. Now they had a starting place. Fiberglass panels were fabricated and cut to fit numerous bulkheads below decks, creating compartments for the shaft, fuel tanks, water tank, engine, bow thruster and other specified areas.
In June, the chest-tightening moment of cutting the first hole in the hull for a Side-Power SP95T bow thruster came along. This was soon followed by other holes for the exhaust port, propeller shaft and rudder. All required extensive fiberglass work and were faired out and finished with gelcoat. Because the hull is balsa cored, all holes had to be cut, de-cored, and filled with epoxy to prevent moisture from entering the core.
After extensive research, a 450 hp, 9-liter Scania turbo diesel was selected as our power unit and delievered in August. Wes and III wanted a reliable engine that is easy to maintain and suitable for continuous duty. Scania, a Swedish company whose engines are well respected in other countries, was just breaking into the North American market, and many of the Maine lobsterboats were having good results with their products. The engine shaft is 2-1/4-inch Aquamet 22 and turns a 32-inch, five-bladed bronze prop driven by a Twin Disc marine transmission. At 1400rpm, Miss Ruby will cruise at 9 knots and burn about 4 gallons of fuel per hour. Her hydraulic steering uses a twin ram system with an engine-mounted hydraulic pump.
Eager to participate in the project, son-in-law Jeff Swords, an accomplished small aircraft fabricator, built the two 325-gallon aluminum fuel tanks that arrived in September. Miss Ruby had become a family affair.
Before any placement of equipment, the inside of all compartments were ground smooth and painted white with a post-applied gelcoat. Using the gantry with a chain fall, both the engine and the fuel tanks could easily be lifted and guided into place.
Work on the superstructure began early in 2001 with the building of a plywood plug from the pilothouse doors forward that would be the basis for a mold to make the actual boat part. The plug gave us all a chance to see what the boat would look like and to make changes before investing the time and effort of making the actual part. The design was important to all of us. It took three months to build the plug of plywood (much like a movie set) and to fill, fair, paint, buff and wax it to the perfection required to lay up the mold.
A timber cradle and railway—complete with scavenged bulldozer rollers—was built for the hull so that it could be moved outside the boat shed. This was done to make room for laying up the mold. The plug was lifted from the hull and lowered to the ground, and the process of making the mold began.
It took another month to lay up the mold and add the appropriate bracing. Once the tool was hatched from the plug, two huge plywood wheels were attached to the mold to turn it upside down in place to make the actual boat part. It was ingenious.
This part, consisting of the pilothouse, trunk cabin and side decks, was laid up over the next two weeks. When the part was removed from the mold and the hull brought back in, we suddenly found ourselves with a pilothouse.
I can say from lots of experience that fiberglass work is grueling and requires keeping a daily schedule. Friends dressed in Tyvek suits and respirators braved the sweltering heat to lend a hand. Major fiberglass work continued well into 2002, as we made molds and parts for sides, decks and roof sections. In all we used 4,451lb of resin—that’s about 50, 55-gallon drums—and 3,152lb of cloth, as well as countless paint rollers and throwaway pans.
An amazing change took place with the installation of the windows in April 2002. Suddenly, it felt like we really had a boat. All of the windows were custom-made to our specifications by Diamond Sea Glaze of British Columbia.
The teak weather decks came next. Eight-quarter (2-inch) rough-sawn teak was vertically sawn into 5/8-by-1-1/4-inch planks and bent by hand to fit the curves of the hull. One board on either side was epoxied down each day, using angled sticks to hold each in place. Nylon washers were used as spacers, and 40lb cement blocks as weights. After three painstaking months the spacers were removed, and 120 tubes of deck caulk were used to fill between the boards.
Mahogany gunwales were fabricated and meticulously fitted from bow to stern, using hundreds of clamps in the process. The gunwales were then varnished with six coats of clear gloss varnish. With that, 2002 drew to a close.
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL
Though they often continued to work together, over the next five years father and son would spend individual time in their areas of expertise: Wes in the engine room or doing electrical/mechanical work, and III concentrating on cabinetmaking and interior millwork.
Because we hoped to cruise in both New England and the South, we decided to have both heat and air conditioning aboard. A Hurricane Model CO45D diesel water heating system was installed, along with an Isotherm water heater with an addtional heat exchanger. Two vacuum-flush MSD systems were installed, with a blackwater tank on the starboard side of the engine room near the genset.
Wes designed a complex fuel system with dual Racor fuel filters and a priming/transfer pump for immediate switching if the first filter failed or became clogged.
On Dec. 30, 2003, friends and family heard the engine run for the first time—a perfect finale to the year.
With winter upon us, work moved to the shop. Woodworking began with casework for the helm, and for the next few winters, this became the norm as galley, saloon, pilothouse and stateroom interiors were designed and built.
WESLEY’S INNER WOODWORKINGS
III’s artistry and skill shine in every aspect of the Miss Ruby’s interior. The cabinetry is cherry, with beautiful inlays of a Gothic-inspired compass rose. There are 33 inlays, each handcrafted with 39 individual pieces. In addition, there are 133 corner inlays. Fluted corners of bird’s eye maple add lovely detail, as do the arched mahogany doors and casings. Solid mahogany beams surround panels of off-white upholstered headliner, giving the rich effect of coffered ceilings. The 5/8-inch-thick soles of mahogany and maple were all constructed in the shop, then fitted and finished on the boat.
An open-plan galley is part of the saloon area, with a table and settee that convert to a full-size bed. A wall of cabinets nesting under the pilothouse couch has drop-down doors, adding counter space and revealing a drawer area for dishes, cookware and food. Another holds a bread machine, a microwave oven and a drawer for flatware. The Force 10 three-burner LP gas stove with oven is under the counter, and a section of Corian countertop lifts to protect the wall above. There is also a deep sink and a Nova Kool refrigerator-freezer that fits nicely under the counter.
In the pilothouse, the helm is a captain’s dream. The layout has a simplicity that is remarkable, particularly when you notice all that is so easily visible from the single Stidd helm chair. Engine gauges can be seen with a downward glance. Below the lift-up panel is an example of the artistry and care given to the electrical wiring on Miss Ruby.
Behind the helm is an L-shaped settee, with a file drawer beneath. A full chart drawer and a drawer for navigation equipment are at floor level. Steps lead up to the boat deck over the saloon area, while steps by the helm lead down to the single stateroom.
The stateroom has a warm feel as you enter the cherry-paneled area. Shelves on either side of the island queen platform bed provide space for books, photos and treasures. A large hanging locker space is forward, and the trunk cabin height allows enough headroom for sitting in bed. There is also a laundry closet with a washer/dryer, hanging storage and access to network electronics. The head has a large shower, vacuum-flush toilet, Corian-topped vanity and a charming medicine cabinet.
OFF THE CHOCKS
On a very emotional day in June 2007, Miss Ruby was loaded on a truck and transported 50 miles south to Derecktor Shipyard to be launched. This process entailed wide-load and over-height permits, two escort vehicles and two state police cruisers. The convoy wound through small towns, shut down highways and crept under bridges. After a heart-stopping two hours, Miss Ruby was at the water. Eight days later, after final fit-out of hatches and mast, Miss Ruby was lowered into the water for the first time. “Hallelujah! She floats!”
The completion of Miss Ruby brought an amazing sense of satisfaction. It had been a labor of love, as many friends said, but this wasn’t the end. Before the end of summer 2007, Wes and I moved aboard full time-—no more house, and no more stuff. What a sense of freedom!
A GIFTED LIFE
Our kids and grandkids gave us quite a send-off as we headed for Port Jefferson, New York, on our maiden voyage. Our plan was to be on Chesapeake Bay for the fall. We cruised the East River and had an exhilarating 11-knot ride past the Empire State Building, United Nations and the Woolworth Building to the Battery. Tears welled in our eyes as we gazed at the Statue of Liberty. What a privilege to have such an experience.
Such were our first months on the water, exploring new places, gaining knowledge, learning new skills and always meeting new people. Over the years, III and his family have taken the boat for a week to a month in the summer while Wes and I have taken their house, car and dog; using the time for medical appointments and visiting friends and family in Connecticut.
Wes and I cruised Miss Ruby for five years from Maine to Marathon, Florida, and spent a fabulous two years on the Great Loop, including a year on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. Our travels span 23,000 miles on the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico; countless rivers, bays and sounds; and three of the Great Lakes. Last summer Wes and III added solar power to Miss Ruby, and over the winter we had her hull painted. After 12 years, her red hull was badly faded.
Ah, yes. How was Miss Ruby named? I named her. A grand lady from the beginning, we knew she would have a dark, ruby-red hull. In 2000 Wes and I were coming up on our 40th wedding anniversary—our ruby anniversary. It was only fitting.
Wes and I ended our cruising time on Lake Champlain last August when he was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away in January 2013. We had 51 incredible years together. Now I live on Miss Ruby during the summer, cruising with III, Courtney and their two little pirates, Sam and James. When not cruising, well, this boat has lots of brightwork that always needs a bit of varnishing. And there are plenty more tales of our cruising adventures to be told.