The Gaff Cutter "Spray"

It's sometimes odd how circumstances in our lives can precipitate events we'd only dreamed of.   As I approached my 40th birthday in 2003/2004,  I would pick up a path I'd left behind,  27 years ago.  As a Sea Scout in San Francisco in the late 70's, I was introduced to sail-powered wooden boats.   I had not pictured myself owning a "real boat" until I'd retired, but circumstances in my life challenged me to rethink me life objectives and a "quest" was launched.

My search brought me to a forlorn looking little cutter in a quiet San Francisco Bay backwater.  This little boat's last owner had passed away after suffering from Alzheimer for many years.  Someone had looked out for her and removed her rig, placing her under a covered berth protecting "Spray" from the heavy Marin County rains.

"Spray", San Rafael Creek, Oct 2002

"Spray" is a Bill Garden designed Gaff Cutter, built in Seattle, Washington at Maritime Shipyards, in 1958 by Krist Martinsen.  She is an interpretive replica of British Channel Cutters as would be found in the 1800's.  

"Spray"  Shilshole Marina, Seattle 1961  


"Spray" is a variation of a Garden cutter design known as "Africa".  Garden had spent some time in the early-mid 50's designing a series of small Gaff Cutters.  WoodenBoat magazine featured several of his small cutters in Issue #68, page 98, back in Jan/Feb 1986.  "Africa" was designed and built right around 1955, and is seen here with a bone-in-her-teeth, and a Christmas Tree on her topmast as was the custom.

"Africa" late 50's


"Africa" 2006

  Having "Spray" enter our lives was not going to be as simple as it looked on the face of it, because with "Spray", comes a long line of people involved with her, and her "siblings".  Remembering that "Africa" was her older sister, another person to introduce in this story is Bill Koral.  When I first found "Spray", I made inquiries of her lineage on the WoodenBoat Internet Forum.  By the most fortunate sequence of events, Bill Koral answered my note, explaining that he knew much about this boat, seeing as he apprenticed for her builder, Krist Martinsen.  Bill sent me contact information for Krist Martinsen.


Bill Koral, Oct '87

Bill Koral had worked for Mr. Martinsen after "Spray" was built, but noted that each morning, he'd take coffee at Krist's kitchen table, and would see a photo of this little cutter.  Bill had decided track down "Spray" having an interest in buying her and found her in Sausalito, CA in 1987.  Leaving a note on the boat, the owner who lived in Sacramento (Mr. Earl Stokes) mailed Bill saying he was not interested in selling her.  When I found "Spray" in '03, Mr. Stokes had passed on and the boat was un-rigged and layed up in the berth she was found in.

  By the time I happened across "Spray", she had led a hard life.   Fortunately, I was able to contact both her designer, William Garden, and  her builder Krist Martinsen who were both very helpful in providing the background as presented here.  Her story comes "from the horses mouth" in both correspondence, and first-hand telephone conversations with both Krist and Bill.  The story behind "Spray" is also a window on both mens' careers.  Here is Krist Martinsen's recollection as he wrote in Nov, 2002:

....I think the year I finished her would have been around l958 . I built her on weekends and some nights after work I would go down after dinner and put in 2 or 3 hours.  I had her basically done and sailing in 2 years. I don't  have any of the drawings for her and I don't think Bill  Garden has either as we took a little cutter called the "Africa"  and firmed up the bilges and gave her a little more freeboard. We also changed the stern from a transom to a horseshoe stern---this made her look like a little halibut schooner. Bill G had his office at the time at Maritime Shipyards were I worked building some yachts of his design and I lofted the boat on their loft floor and started it there.  Those changes were just out of Bill's head and I made them on the floor, hence no plans except those that he might have of the "Africa".   In your photo's that you sent it looks like the boat had been locked up tight as it looks like all the fastenings inside started bleeding rust. At that timeit was common to use galvanized nails, bolts, etc.  They normally wouldn't do that if there wasn't a lot of sweating inside.  It's very important to have lots of air movement and hopefully keep inside temp. same as outside. Keel boats are galvanized iron made to order in Seattle.  Again iron keel iron bolts.  Today with stainless so available I suppose that would be okay, however when you pull one you can see what 44 years looks like and if not horrible stick with iron.  Yes, we would love to meet you some time. I believe I sold her in about 1968 to a young man who only had her for a year and then sold her to Ron Saling, who sailed her down to Calif. on his intended trip to New England.----but plans change and he had to get back there in a hurry and again sold her in San Francisco.

Friends of Krist Martinsen, having heard of her recent "rediscovery", forwarded photos to me of her newly launched.


"Spray" as she looked in October/November 2002.  These photos are taken in San Rafael, CA, at San Rafael Yacht Harbor.  "Spray" was stored in a floating covered-dock, for about 5-7 years.  Many people looked after her subsequent to her most recent owner's demise, the roof of the floating dock  keeping the considerable S.F. Bay Area rainfall water off of her decks.

Her quality construction of  1" thick Alaskan Yellow Cedar planking, and decking has held up well over the years.  Knick the surface of any plank, and the bright Orange-Yellow of Alaskan Cedar shows through, as well as the very pungent characteristic odor.  The reputation Yellow Cedar has as being very rot resistant is very evident in Spray and I believe was influential in her holding up as well as she has for so long.

White Oak and Galvanized  iron fasteners however, do not get along, especially after 45 years of service.  This was very obvious at both the turn of the bilge, and at the frame heels.  While the floors were also built of the beautiful tight-grained Yellow Cedar, the badly swollen and rusted carriage bolts used to secure them to the frame heels rendered them too damaged to salvage.  Interestingly enough, the 1/2" iron drifts used to "toenail" the frame floors into the Douglas Fir keel, were in almost perfect shape as they were levered out to remove the old to make way for the new.  This suggests that iron, Fir, and Yellow Cedar, in the absence of White Oak,  can make for a very long lasting wooden boat. 

What to do about bringing Spray up to the task of  reliable and regular service?  The White Oak frames were barely connected to the floors, and several had cracked through at the turn of the bilge.   Most of the iron nails below and above the waterline were actually still in pretty good shape, but once again, at the turn of the bilge, they had wasted away to almost "pinpoints".  Clearly a refastening was in order.  I examined several methods from complete frame removal/replacement, to "dished scarf", to partial sistering, and finally, full length laminated in-place frame sisters.  The latter method seemed the best compromise in terms of time spent, and resulting strength.  While the old frames had almost all wasted away at the frame heels, most of the oak retained its strength and integrity elsewhere.  The solution included trimming back the frame heels to clearance new White Oak floors (8/4" Vertical Grain), laminating in new 2" x 1 3/4" White Oak full length sisters from sheer to keel using epoxy adhesive, and refastening using Silicone Bronze screws.  #12 screws were driven into both new sister frames, and the old frames, using 2 per, and 1 per plank-to-frame interface respectively.  Many will ask, "what about the iron nails?, won't the bronze accelerate their corrosion?".  In considering the almost impossible task of removing the nails (which essentially would require chopping out all of the old frames), another tack was taken.  Instead, the Boatwright I selected for her major repairs and I decided to set all the nails deeply (at least 1/2"), and backfill them with epoxy thickened with microballoons.  The epoxy would form an effective water resistant "bung", and the microballoons reduce the density of the epoxy to resemble the wood surrounding it.  This is very helpful in fairing the hull as the sander doesn't "hangup" on a highspot of hard epoxy.  The idea in backfilling these nails was to render them irrelevent in the electrolysis interplay of bronze and iron.  If seawater does work its' around the epoxy seal, the nail is no longer being relied upon for structural support, so the worst case is some rust stains (4 years later, this is still not an issue).  2,500 wood screws later, the hull was now theoretically stronger than she had ever been. 

While we were tearing into her, I also decided to replace several planks that were repaired some time in her past.  A collection of short (~5-8') planks at the waterline on the starboard forward quarter were torn out.  5 new planks using the longest stock I could find (16') were then spiled and hung, respecting the convention for butt-block placement for maximum strength.  The hull had been wooded-down to find all nail and screw positions.  Since most of the paint had been removed to find fasteners, and the fairing that was related to the 5 new planks, finding and restriking the old waterline was a challenge.  Complicating this task, was the revelation of an older, water line which seemed to reflect the ballast of the boat from different engine/interior combinations.

Once the major structural work was completed, a thorough job was done fairing the hull for repaint.  The old caulking was raked out the the seams dressed for re-corking with cotton, and caulking with polyurethane sealant.  A careful sanding with 80-grit was final preparation for oil-based primer, then 2 coats of Kirby topside paint.  I chose a "Bottle-Green" bordered by a gloss white bootstripe to set off Red-Vinyl Bottom Paint.


After an intense 5 weeks for this rebuild, "Spray" was relaunched and rigged for her first sail in aproximately 15 years.   The goal was to make it for the 2003 Master Mariner Benevolent Society's Annual Regatta on Memorial Day.  "Spray" competed in the "Gaff-2" category and a great time was had by all.
Color Change and Mast Rebuild
While the "Bottle Green" hull color was very appealing at the time, the heat absorbing aspect of dark matte hues was amplifying un-needed drying to the topsides during summers.  The rig was also in need of total looking over as I had no idea what was under that white paint job.
The stick was pulled and all the spars were transported to me backyard as I knew that was going to take time.
Spray is hauled every two years for bottom paint and topsides refresh.    Here she is with highly oxidized paint in the middle of the prep.
The new color was very controversial amongst the "Old Salts" in the boatyard.  I wanted to keep the green, but the lesson was learned on the benefit of lighter colors.
The annual Master Mariners Benevolent Society Wooden Boat Show was coming the next spring, so the whole winter was dedicated to getting the spars in shape.  The mast was wooded down, checked for weakness and or decay (little to none found thankfully). 
Fittings were cleaned, checked for cracks (none found) and polished.
The mast was sanded using an invention of my late father, Joseph G. Mifsud, a San Francisco Machinist.
Refinish included 11 coats of Epifanes Varnish.
After pre-rigging, it was back in the boat.
There she is.
The cabin sides, hand-rails, hatches and deck where then wooded down to prepare for the "vanity" treatment of Mahogany Stain, Oil and Varnish where appropriate for the show.