When we spoke by phone to arrange a visit, Eric advised me to take the scenic route to his property. After punching the address into my GPS, I set off north, driving past snow-dusted farms and roving livestock. It is early December, and another Colorado winter is well on its way.
The most surprising part of my 45 minute drive from Boulder is the terrain. When the Rockies’ spiked peaks smooth out and disappear into the eastern plains, the effect is dramatic, giving Colorado the impression of an all-or-nothing proposition: shred powder at Winter Park one minute, set a land-speed record on a motorcycle the next. Since there’s no navigable water anywhere in sight, this is certainly not a place one expects to stumble upon a vintage motoryacht.
But that is exactly why I am here, pulling my rental car into Eric and Kim Paulsen’s farm, perched at the foothills of the Rockies, just west of Loveland. For six years, the brown-and-red-stained barn below their house has been the land-locked residence of a 1968 Grand Banks 42 Classic.
Eric’s roots are in the Midwest, but he’s sailed just about everywhere he’s lived, from Lake Superior’s Apostle Islands, to crewing on a Hinckley 64 in the Caribbean, and delivering yachts from San Diego to Cabo. He couldn’t get enough, making it all the more intriguing that he now lives here, a thousand miles from open water.
But Eric seems a full-fledged Coloradan now. He is—or was, rather, when his girls still lived at home—a stay-at-home father. His wife, Kim, commutes daily to Active Interest Media’s headquarters in Boulder (parent company of PassageMaker), leaving Eric plenty of time to fiddle with household projects and other hobbies of interest.
With a near-empty house, I can imagine the temptation for some to sit back in a recliner and watch reruns of “Happy Days,” but not here. Paulsen is a brewer (and a good one, at that), a vintner, he grows his own grapes and hops, and, like his father and grandfather before him, he is a skilled woodworker. For all his diverse interests, Eric is most enamored with his wooden 42-footer that sits a stone’s throw from his front door.
The reason for acquiring the boat should strike a familiar chord. Eric tells me he has always admired boating for its capacity to “constantly change one’s perspective.” So, with a goal in mind to find a project that he could complete himself, Eric started searching for 40-foot project boats.
He found one 1,100 miles away in Santa Barbara, California. It was a 1968 42 Classic—sporting the aft-cabin style that has, over the course of decades, given way in popularity to the Europa’s single-level saloon and cockpit. The beauty of the Classic’s layout, though, is obvious: If you’re a cruising family—not just a cruising couple—the Classic features separate fore-and-aft living quarters, and in far superior cabins.
After haulout and inspection, the boat (hull #58, for the curious) showed the usual expected wear. She also suffered from neglect, left out in the elements with little to no protection that an old boat deserves. The marine survey reported dry rot in the bunged teak decking, flybridge roof, and housetop above the aft cabin. The planks were going, too, and would need to be re-splined.
Inside the saloon, a college-era futon replaced the factory-installed dinette. No reason is known for this alteration from the original. Small teak bits that puzzle-pieced into the basket-weave parquet floor were also coming unglued. But for the most part, the insides were in decent shape. Eric reasoned that for the asking price, the work in front of him was manageable. Kim and Eric took the plunge and arranged to have the boat trucked to Colorado in 2008.
When she arrived, the shipping company offloaded her onto wooden blocking adjacent to the barn. Eric knew beforehand that the unaltered edifice wouldn’t house his new project. The following summer, the Paulsen family and friends set to work: The post-and-beam barn was re-engineered so that double sliding doors would fit the boat’s maximum beam. After Splinters moved in, you could say Eric’s measurements were exacting: She came to rest with just three feet of overhead clearance and 10 inches on either beam.
Eric raves about Dan Gooding, the owner of the shipping company the Paulsens hired to move Splinters from California, and then, 18 months later, into the barn. “When we determined that the wooden hull supports would slip on the concrete floor, Dan and his wife stayed and welded custom steel supports,” Eric said. “Since this caused them to miss their next delivery, they even stayed and house-sat for us while we visited family over the holidays. It worked out quite well.”
By the time I visit, seven years into the project, Splinters is further along than her outward appearance suggests. Joined on a tour by the Paulsens’ dog-on-loan, Bowser, I inspect the craftsmanship and skill that Eric has taken in every detail. Most notable is the master cabin. Eschewing the original design that situates a queen-size berth on centerline, Eric has moved the berth to starboard and increased its size and usefulness. The joinery work in this, the one nearly finished cabin in the boat, is seamless, as Eric shows a skilled hand at finish carpentry.
Splinters Photo Gallery
He admits that the most fun he has had with Splinters is the woodworking and furniture construction. I ask him what he dreads the most. Without hesitating, he points to “the endless repetition of sanding and the difficulty of squeezing into tight spaces.”
As Eric works to redesign the systems of the boat, he is continuing his progress toward refitting the interior, and will work from aft to forepeak. Other significant hurdles in front of him: rebuilding decks and bulwarks, configuring the flybridge, and ensuring that Splinters will be operating with some of the latest systems, without being overly reliant on shorepower.
Eric wants “to set the boat up to be as green as a twin-engine diesel trawler can be.” Ideally, he would like to install a diesel-fired hydronic system to heat the boat and supply domestic hot water, running only on 12-volt power and a small amount of fuel. He also wants to replace the genset with a third, high-amperage alternator that can charge a large house battery bank as well as the start batteries. Other additions will include solar panels, low-voltage LED lighting, and a propane cooker that will take the place of a microwave and coffeemaker. The refrigerator and freezers will run on 12-volt evaporative-plate systems with keel coolers.
Other than his self-taught craftsmanship skills, the most remarkable thing about Eric is his attitude. I would think that after so many years of wear and tear—both physical and mental—the number of hours would have a cumulative, overwhelming effect on his spirit. Instead, he seems upbeat and optimistic that Splinters will be ready within his initial timeframe.
I have to ask why he doesn’t seem frustrated by the amount of work still in front of him. “I’ll be honest,” Eric replies, “I do look forward to the day when the boat is surrounded by water instead of concrete.”
Once Splinters is complete, the Paulsens plan to commission the boat in Seattle or Anacortes, Washington, and cruise from Puget Sound to Alaska. But first, there is plenty of hard work to do.
And, as for this boat, seemingly misplaced in the middle of America’s heartland? “Some of my neighbors have started calling me Noah,” Paulsen says with a grin. “They want to know when the flood is coming.”