Off The Beach – The Making of Tansy Lee

June 09, 2016

Tansey Lee with Mike AndersonDriving over the Long Beach bridge next to Marina Shipyard during the summer of 1983,my eye caught a shapely sweet looking varnish hull. I had noticed her before and had imagined that she was already spoken for.

I decided to investigate and on closer look. It was evident she had been in the water before. She had no mast, interior or house. A Yanmar diesel sat on mounts below.She became a mystery worth pursuing.

A police document in the front office stated that on July 18th a public auction would be held for “one 23-foot partially completed wooden hull.” My heart soared. I wanted to make that lifeless hull into a small affordable cruiser.

I had to win at the auction, which meant gathering as much money as I possibly could in two weeks. I scraped, dug and borrowed from family and close friends. I pooled $7,000.00. Not bad for a guy who barley has 40 cents in his pocket most of the time.

I asked three men who knew wooden hulls to survey the boat. Robert Dorris, Larry Pardey, and Lyle Hess all concluded she was sound and built like an ocean voyager. They said it was worth buying if it stayed within my budget.

Then I needed a name. In 1982 I was fortunate to visit Tristan Jones in New York city. He was recuperating from a major operation and finishing his book “Steady Trade”. A chapter in the book was about his first skipper, a man named Tansy Lee.

After reading about him I wrote Tristan requesting approval to name the hull after his mentor. I was impressed by both men’s good sense of justice, basic life principles and great seafaring histories. I received not only approval, but an illuminating blessing from Tristan Jones.

Such an honor to name the boat after a good man. So I had a blessing, an honorable name, and a dream; from here all that would be required was desire, sacrifice and a lot of hard work!

Oh yes, I had to win at the auction.

Auction day arrived and I was ready. I had done my homework and had money in my hand. I felt anxious and excited about the event that could direct my future.

My major opponent was the yard owner and my plan was simple; be aggressive and counter-offer immediately to let others know that I was serious. My plan worked. The yard owner bailed out at $2800.00, someone else made a last ditch effort at $3100.00, I countered at $3200.00; going, going, gone!

I had just bought a “carvel planked”, mahogany on oak framed hull” and a seven-horse power Yanmar diesel all sitting in an oak cradle.

I immediately sold the diesel for $1400.00 making my total outlay for the hull at $1800.00. Friends said that I scored the deal of a lifetime, and I believed them. I signed the papers, grabbed my deed, kicked up my heels and left.

The first order of business was to build a boathouse. I wanted to protect the hull from the elements, though she had been sitting outside for three to four years completely neglected.

The following three weeks were spent moving, arranging and framing out the boathouse, installing fiberglass roofing and performing acrobatic contortions as I installed tarps along the sides of the building, all the while listening to comments like, “You could have already had your interior in, “Planning on staying a while?” And best of all “It never rains in California”.

The boathouse was definitely worth the time and trouble. I could leave tools out and return at any time to resume work.

My friends Larry and Lin Pardey dropped by one Saturday morning to see how things were going. After a lengthy discussion of what I wanted in the boat, I concluded that one of the first projects meant stepping backwards.

The interior arrangement I wanted meant the deck beams aft would be exposed. They were cut out of Douglas fir, whereas the rest of the beams were hewn Honduras mahogany.

Larry suggested cutting the afterdeck and re-building. I’m sure he saw the hesitation in my face as I visualized myself breaking out the skill saw and cutting out a third of the deck, especially he knew I had little experience replacing or fitting deck beams.

Larry offered to come by the following weekend to help me out. He kept his word. Out came the skill saw, and off came the deck – and back came that sick feeling of being way over my head.

Afterdeck of Tansy Lee

This left a large opening aft and offered a good opportunity to install a bilge stringer, another big project that looked impossible.

Larry taught me a technique called “Spiling” for installing the bilge stringer and from then on I was less intimidated by upcoming projects.

Tansy Lee Bilge Stringer

The chain locker and main bulkhead came next. These projects lasted until to the end of 1985.

My technical training came from hands-on experience starting in March of 1982, at South Coast Marine in Costa Mesa California. During this time, which lasted about one and half years, I was fortunate learn new techniques and the use of tools, but more importantly, I had begun a tutelage under fine carpenters Robby Irvin, Jeff rice and Steve DeGroote.

Building the deck of Tansy Lee with Larry

The amount of time involved in each part of a boat building project can be deflating, especially if you haven’t done it before. This was something I was to learn over the next few years, along with the real value of time and money.

Next, I channeled my energies into the interior of Tansy Lee.

It resembles Lin and Larry’s first boat, Seraffyn, except for the aft section, where I installed a Port Orford cedar tub or wet locker. This takes the “camping” out of cruising and makes a small boat livable.

Not only can we take a hot shower when it is dark, cold or raining, but it doubles as a good storage bin for wet gear, buckets, shoes, and it’s a place to soak your feet or wash your clothes. By making it removable, I’m able to have a small shop next to the stern post.

To port and starboard are two six-foot long quarter berths and settees. The galley is on the port side and the icebox to starboard. Forward is a double-berth and hanging locker. A slide-out table attaches to the tub face, sits atop the step and is secured by a cleat on both the forward and after side. This makes the table strong without any other stays to hinder valuable room. It stows under the cockpit by two runners aft of the tub.

The two lockers alongside the tub house the showermate, bilge pump, and two twelve-volt batteries, which supplies power to the CD player. I had to remove one floor timber and replaced it with a metal floor, which gave me enough room to install a 2.5gal sump tank that is then pumped overboard.

Her furniture is of ash tongue and groove trimmed in teak, while the cabin sides are of teak. The color combinations are highlighted by burgundy velvet cushions, soothing to the eye and cozy.

As the months went by, my life became a cycle. To start a new project meant sitting in my “thinking chair” and making a plan. To carry out the plan required buying the materials fitting the piece of wood to where it’s suppose to go, then install, finish, and start the whole process again.

Some days my projects moved along just fine and the feeling of accomplishment was high; then there were those days when nothing went right, like falling down the stairs or sitting in a pile of glue.

Tansy Lee’s hull is called a ‘Bluemoon” designed by Thomas Gillmer. She is 22feet 10 inches LOD., has a beam of eight feet 10 inches and draws four feet. Her deck arrangement, house and new rigged was re- designed by Robert Dorris.

Tansy LeeBob has watched over me since the early days with my first boat and spent hundreds of hours encouraging me with this project. Building the mast, boom, and bowsprit were the last of the major woodworking projects and possibly the most physical.

Tansy Lee’s 5.5 inch round, hollow spruce spar stands 37.5 feet above her mast step. This let’s me carry a hard dingy on top of the house as well as have a good light air rig. The hollow sections are filled with tin foil which act’s like a large radar reflector.

While shaping and sanding, there were moments when I wondered why I just didn’t buy an aluminium mast like so many people suggested. The answer was simple; continuity and cost. You don’t put an aluminum spar on a wooden boat, just like you don’t put a wood spar on a fiberglass boat. Plus, the cost of an aluminum spar would have been $2,500.00, whereas the wood only cost me $450.00.

More importantly, I learned how to build a mast.

The sails were built Thanksgiving weekend, 1986. Sailmaker Tom Linskey and I locked ourselves in one of the sail lofts, where we spent the holiday weekend building Tansy’s three working sails. Ounce again I was fortunate and received a hands-on lesson in sail making, from layout to hand stitching grommets and finishing off. Tom saved me at least two-thirds the retail cost, but beyond that, it was pleasure to work with such a talented guy.

Launch day was approaching fast. I had set dates twice before, but this was to be it… August 29, 1987. My plan for the standing rigging was to hand-splice one-quarter inch stainless steel wire with solid bronze thimbles.

The only problem was I didn’t know how to do it and time was running out. In came master rigger’s Joe Soanes, and “Ham” Hamacher. They made 32 splices in record time and, before I knew it Tansy Lee was close to going into the water.

Building Tansy LeeLaunch day eve, I stayed on the boat. I finally had time to stop, relax, and reflect over the past three years.

Looking through volumes of photos, I saw people who directly or indirectly contributed to the Tansy Lee.

I was thankful to everyone who stopped by to keep me nourished physically, and mentally and those who worked in the same rent a space boatyard for loaning me a tool, a bolt, or that last can of dolphinite…

A very special few helped me with the mountains of sanding, varnishing and paintwork.

The following weeks seemed to be the real test of my patience.

It took at least that long to complete the rigging details, hand sewing, sewing sails, then bending them on.

Mike on the Tansy LeeWhen that elusive day arrived there was hardly a breath of air, typical for Newport Beach. Thanksgiving weekend, 1987 would have to serve as her maiden sea trial.

The weather report stated “gusty winds below the canyons”. That means Santa Ana winds, fierce offshore winds that blow between October and December typically in Southern California.

For past three years had been dreaming of this day. My sailing partner and I had arranged a day off and were going no matter what kind of weather there was.

As Tansy left Newport Harbor breakwater, the winds mysteriously died and a steady 12-knot westerly breeze filled in. With crystal clear skies Tansy Lee was full and by on a starboard tack She was like a young stallion, cut loose, with a bone in her teeth.

We sipped warm drinks while scrutinizing her every performance, all the while enjoying the freedom.

Waves of joy pumped through my veins, triggering uncontrollable burst of laughter. Fulfillment through accomplishment – this was my reward, and being underway was what it was all about.