October, 2003

Rising tide, floating concrete

In a perverse sense, perhaps the best action The Royal Vancouver Yacht Club ever took was to preempt the Scott Point moorage site, thus forcing the SaltSpring sailors of the day to cast about for their own permanent home. Captain Peter McMillan (a Master Mariner) trustingly - the club did not formally exist at the time - put up the down-payment for the purchase of our present site, one more centrally located than that at Scott Point, and more open to future growth. Peter became the club’s second Commodore, following incorporation.

The first set of club floats was constructed on the property of Richard Larson on Canal Rd. The work began in the spring of 1978. The undertaking is best thought of as a small-scale industrial operation. The float design was adapted from that of floats seen in Marina del Rey (California) and the Thunderbird Marina (N. Vancouver).

The Larson property was located at 300 Booth Canal Rd. Their parcel consisted of a flat area, where a log-house (Fig. 1) the Larson’s were building is located, and a gentle slope running down to Booth Bay (Fig. 2). The workers regularly met in the Larson home for coffee, drawing up pencil plans of the work-to-be-done on the top surface of a husky wooden table. The decision to go ahead with the float-construction project was made after a lengthy discussion (Fig. 3) The first step was the construction of - in effect - a manufacturing facility. A four-stage platform (Figs. 4, 5), each stage after the first lower than the previous one, was built on the slope, with a ramp running along one side (not shown), over which fresh concrete could be brought by wheelbarrow. On the other side of the platforms there was installed a pair of wooden rails on which rode a carriage (a modified car chassis) ( Fig. 4). In effect, the rails and carriage constituted an incline railway, running parallel to a then-existing right of way (now vanished).

Two metal casting-forms (Fig. 6) were constructed, such that they could be ‘knocked’ down after each float was completed. Each metal casting-form rested on a dolly consisting of a strong floor mounted on rollers (Fig. 7). Each dolly in turn rested on a platform stage. Styrofoam blocks (see below) were inserted into the casting forms and then a ‘wire’ cage was laid over the styrofoam (Fig. 8). Concrete was poured over the four sides and the top (Fig. 9). Some of the figures involved in this project are shown in Figs. 10, 11. The wire cages were welded together - a number of members perforce learned how to weld - in the shed behind the present clubhouse and then transported over to the Larson property by truck.

When a float was completed it was rolled off the platform and onto to the adjacent railway carriage (see Fig. 4). Next the carriage was ‘walked’ down to the water, restrained by a cable fitted to a donkey engine (Fig. 12).

The concrete used in the construction of the floats employed a special aggregate (lighter than regular gravel) called ‘Saturna Lite’ obtained on Saturna Island (Fig. 13). In the same way, a trip was made to Lulu Island to obtain the styrofoam blocks integral to the float design (Fig. 14, 15). These blocks were stored in the Larson boathouse until needed (Fig. 16). The styrofoam blocks had to be cut to the correct size before being inserted into the casting forms (Fig. 17).

A completed float weighed about 800 lbs. (Fig. 18). It was soon realized that in order to speed up production it would be necessary to hoist each float off of the carriage, remove the carriage, and then lower the float onto the mud flat. In this way the carriage could be reused without waiting for the tide to come in.

An A-frame hoist was constructed near the low water mark at the end of the wooden railway (Figs. 19, 20, 21). Construction of the platforms, railway carriage etc. took about a month. Obviously a good deal of thought and effort went into the design and building of this custom assembly line.

A float was constructed as follows. Styrofoam blocks were cut from the larger commercially produced styrofoam blocks, using a precision hot-wire device (Fig. 17). Two Styrofoam blocks were accurately placed end-to-end inside a metal casting form, using small pre-made concrete spacers. A space of about two inches was left all the way around between the Styrofoam blocks (in the centre) and the metal casting frame, on the outside.

Then a strong metal ‘wire’ cage was inserted into the metal casting form and suspended above the Styrofoam blocks so as to enclose the top and four sides (Fig. 8). These curtains, made of wire and metal rods (akin to rebar), were assembled at the club site and transported by truck to the float construction location on Booth Bay.

Once the Styrofoam blocks and metal curtain were securely in place, and the appropriate surfaces suitably lubricated, fresh concrete was poured into the casting-form from wheel-barrows, thereby covering the Styrofoam blocks on four sides and on the top. Thus the metal curtain was embedded in the concrete, the upper surface of which later became the walking surface. Before the concrete on the top surface dried it was levelled (Fig. 9) and riffled to create a non-skid surface.

After the concrete had ‘set’ the metal casting-form was disassembled and re-assembled on one of the two vacant platform stages. Hence, in this float-construction assembly-line, at any given time, two stages of the platform had metal casting forms ready for float construction, and two stages had completed floats. Then a carriage was brought up the railway so that its upper horizontal surface was accurately flush with the platform on which the float sat (Fig. 4). A couple of savvy chaps pushing on one side of the float could roll it onto the adjacent moveable railway carriage. Part of the work crew and three attendant ‘supervisors’ appear in Fig. 10.

The moveable carriage was then lowered gently down the slope (using a donkey engine) until it reached the water (Figs. 12, 18). If the tide were out, the A-frame was employed to lift the float off of the carriage (Figs. 20, 21). Four of those involved in the overall project appear in Fig. 22.

Next the carriage was pulled back up the hill, while the float was lowered down onto the tidal flat. When the tide came in, the float was jockeyed out into deeper water, while traversing a rickety walkway (Fig. 23), and tied to the growing fleet of completed floats (Fig. 24). While the floats were in sea-water the concrete continued to ‘cure’.

After some three dozen floats were completed, they were lashed together (Fig. 25) and towed out to the mouth of Booth Bay using a small shallow-draft boat (Figs, 26, 27). Then Roger Cooper used his tug to tow the flotilla around the north end of SaltSpring Island and down to the SISC premises in Ganges Harbour (Fig. 28). This operation was performed twice, to move all 74 floats from Booth Bay to their present site.

Yet another side-trip was required to obtain metal components for the docks. It was learned that the radio antennae on Sidney Island were available for scavenging. So a team of volunteers went down there and obtained the needed materials (Figs. 29, 30).

Completion of the docks, sufficient to accommodate about 40 boats, required the services of a commercial pile driver (Figs. 31, 32). This was the only significant contribution to the construction of the docks not carried out by the members themselves. But once the pilings were in, club members did the remaining work (Figs. 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41). When the docks were completed - on time and under budget - it was necessary to clear the brush from the clubhouse foreground to gain access (Fig. 42). Then the stage was set for a club picnic (Figs. 43, 44)

The above abbreviated account is meant to provide some insight into the overall project, its scale, and the care and thought that went into it. Many details are omitted for the sake of brevity. What stands out in this—the first major construction project of the nascent club—was the high degree of cooperation, dedication and effort evinced. Short of this ‘pulling together’, it is doubtful, given the club’s small size, and limited resources, that it would have survived.

I am very grateful to the many individuals, including Don Baxter, Kerry Butler, Tom Butler-Cole, Cliff Carey, Norman Iverson, Peter Lake, Jeanette Larson, Ken Last, Dick Pattinson and especially Richard Larson, who jointly provided the stimulus and the material without which this chapter in the club’s history could not have been written.

Further contributions welcome!
If you are able to identify someone or something of interest in one or more photos, or if you have additional information of any kind relating to this project, please contact me. Likewise, if you have a photo of Terry Jenkins, Brian Jones, Don McCardia, Authur Milner, Wayne Pearce, Wilf Peck or Don Wagner, please let me know at jprothero@saltspring.com.

John Prothero
SaltSpring Island

A list of the many people involved in the project follows:

Frank Bannon (34, 36) Ken Last* (3, 6, 7, 22, 25, 33, 38)
Don Baxter* (3, 9, 12, 20) Don McCardia*
Bob Blundell (10) Peter McMillan* (3, 4, 8, 9, 13, 19, 22, 30, 38)
Kerry Butler* (18) Bob McCaffrey (3)
Tom Butler-Cole* (3, 9, 12, 13, 18, 19, 20, 22, 35) Arthur Milner
Cliff Carey (3, 8, 9,13, 22, 35, 36) Harry Morgensen (6)
Bas Cobanli (3,11) Richard Pattinson (13, 35, 36)
Gary Dahlgren (17) Wayne Pearce
Bob Hanson (7, 9, 12) Wilf Peck
Karl Hoeller (3, 38) Les Ramsey (7)
Terry Jenkins Jim Sinclair* (3, 30, 37)
Brian Jones Roger Smith* (3)
Peter Lake (29, 33, 34, 35, 38) Doug Thomas* (7, 10)
Jack Langdon (13) Don Wagner
Richard Larson* (13, 19, 27)
* Employees of B.C. Ferries       ( ) Fig. References

Non-club members who lent a helping hand: Jan Andreasson, John Bennett, Joyce Black, Bruce Crombie, Ray Hanson, Mick Jones, Tom O’Donnel, Tim Stratholt.

Special roles: Terry Jenkins—designed and supervised construction of the inclined railway and the A-frame. He also designed and built the jigs for bending steel and welding the wire cages.

Note: All figure identifications are to be read from left to right.
Notation: An expression such as "name (?)" means that the name of the person identified is uncertain. An expression such as ",?," means that no name has as yet been put forward for the respective person appearing in the figure.