Sidney Neighbourhood News

Old age and treachery keeping Eric afloat

Eric Jespersen and the 50-foot wooden yacht his boat building company restored for a client in Australia. - Steven Heywood/News staff
Eric Jespersen and the 50-foot wooden yacht his boat building company restored for a client in Australia.
— image credit: Steven Heywood/News staff

Eric Jespersen and his boat building crew out at Canoe Cove Marina are putting the finishing touches on a restoration project that has taken two years to complete.

Working for a client out of Australia, Jespersen Wooden Boat Builders has completely restored a 1960s-era Monk yacht. Jespersen says when they received the boat at the beginning of the job, it had sat for years, was waterlogged and much of the wood on board was cracked. The first challenge, he said, was to dry it out — which took up a lot of time.

“It was a major project to get it sound and up to snuff,” said Jespersen, who has been a boat builder since 1969.

He started with his father, Bent, who ran the family business at the time. Eric grew up around boats, not only building and repairing them, but racing them as well.

It’s a sport that has taken him around the world — and most recently, around Vancouver Island in the Van Isle 360 race on board his six-meter vessel Emma.

Back in the mid-1980s, Eric took part in two America’s Cup yacht races. He would later partner with Ross MacDonald in the 1992 Olympics, winning a bronze medal in Star class sailboat racing. He still races of course, alongside his own teenage son and now-retired father. He said he’s off to Europe in a few weeks for some more competition on the high seas.

In other words, Eric comes from a strong line of mariners and uses his experience and skill (or as he put in regards to racing, “old age and treachery”) when it comes to restoring and building wooden boats at his North Saanich boathouse.

He has built a reputation for quality and it shows in the restored yacht at Canoe Cove Marina. Shining wood highlights the project — which is a long way from how the boat looked when it first arrived.

“It should be boat show quality now,” Eric said.

The final installations are almost done and the interior fabrics are expected soon. The yacht will then be shipped to Sydney, Australia — a task for which Eric said he had to make special preparations.

“To ship it for a long time in hot temperatures, we had to make sure it was dried out and we used structural resin for the cracks and separations — we made it look like it was original.”

The client has been happy with the work, Eric said, having visited  the shop three times over the last two years.

The restoration was one of Eric’s larger projects.

A typical job — such as building a wooden boat from scratch — takes about two years, he said.

The time isn’t a huge factor when customers commission him to build it, he continued, but it does have to be balanced by the fact most of his clients are retired and are fulfilling a dream to own their own yacht.

Make no mistake, building a boat from the hull-up is a luxury and Eric noted that the industry has faced tough times in recent years.

His traditional market, the United States, saw a decline in orders as the Canadian dollar reached par with the Greenback — then even more so when the economy struggled after 2008.

“It’s a difficult business just to jump into,” Eric said.

He noted, however, his experience and skill — not to mention a good reputation in the industry — has kept his business running. He rebuilds and repairs boats as well, staying afloat in-between the big jobs.

Yet, for all of its challenges Eric said the business isn’t stressful, as most of his clients are in it for the pleasure of owning their own yacht.

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