Restoring the Virginia V

The Virginia V has sailed the waters of Puget Sound for over 90 years. As a historic, steam-powered wooden vessel, she requires routine maintenance and from time to time more than that. Currently, she is in dry dock at Seattle’s Pacific Fisherman, on the ship canal in Ballard. The scope of work is of the more extensive nature. The bowstem is being replaced, along with some of the futtocks and about 30 planks and other work as needed. Foreman Chris Woodard explained that the scope of work changes from day to day as repairs proceed and other issues are discovered and addressed with the board that oversees all aspects of the Virginia V.

“The biggest challenge though,” said Woodard, “is getting the manpower to do the work.”

In an earlier Virginia V renovation The Northwest Carpenter covered twelve years ago, many of the shipwrights brought in to do the work were nearing retirement. Now they are retired and fewer workers are available with the skills needed to do this kind of work.

“The solution was to use a smaller crew,” said Woodard who is a shipwright by trade. Woodard began his career in the early 90s and has been able to work on a fair number of wooden boats. He started out as a helper working on boats in Alaska and at Ward’s Cove. This is not the first time he’s worked on the Viriginia V.

“We brought on a helper for this job,” said Woodard. “Taylor came directly from the Marine Carpentry Program at Seattle Central Community College. With the smaller crew, it has been interesting to teach Taylor the tasks we need done, and at the same time, keep the job moving along.

“Every single crew member has had a hand in teaching Taylor the trade,” continued Woodard. I have to say, I’ve enjoyed the teaching process and I think the other journeymen have as well.

“Attracting young people to this trade is hard,” mused Woodard. “Shipyard work is regarded as seasonal even though all kinds of shipwright and marine carpenter work is available year round. We work on wooden boats like the Virginia V and others, fishing boats, ferries, yachts, and interior renovations. We have a wide diversity of work that differs from vessel to vessel. You never get bored.”

Helper Taylor Tunison, took the six quarter boat building course at Seattle Central’s Wood Technology Center and is really glad to be part of the crew on the Virginia V restoration. He said he wasn’t feeling the whole college thing, and thought he would look into cabinetry work. Then he took a tour of the Wood Technology Center and he knew right then and there what he wanted to do.

“Working with the crew on the Virginia V has been great,” said Tunison. “I look forward to going to work every day. The guys are good about sharing their knowledge and this experience has tied it all together for me. I can definitely see myself doing this work as a lifetime career.”

Gordon Sanstad, a 40-year member of Shipwrights LU 1184, now part of Carpenters LU 30 is the boat building lead faculty member at Seattle Central’s Wooden Technology Center. He notes that theirs in the oldest boat building program anywhere in the nation going on 76 years. Originally Edison Technical School, and then Gompers, it was funded by Shipwrights Union 1184 and it’s employers until 1992. The union contracted with the college to keep the classes going.

They teach wooden boat building, new construction and repair, lofting, spar, mast and boom making, interior joinery, planking and spiling, caulking, and a host of other wooden boat building and repair techniques, some little changed in hundreds perhaps thousands of years.

“In the 70s we started to teach composites and laminates, first with standard open molding and then in 2000 we added closed molding and resin infusion, which the industry is now using in modern yacht building and repair,” said Sanstad who steered Tunison to Pacific Fisherman and the Virginia V. “The industry remains strong and most of our students get jobs.”


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