A Grand Banks masterpiece

“Le Voyageur” awaiting hull repairs and a new paint job under Gayle Roundabush’s ownership.

Now in New Zealand under the ownership of  John Crighton, Le Voyageur has come a long  way since her beginnings on the  Great Lakes of America.

First manufactured in 1967-69 for an American marine company, she was built in Junk Bay, Hong Kong by a family of builders whose boat building history dates back more than 300 years.

The 46ft Grand Banks Alaskan Trawler, is a specialised masterpiece.

Josephine Sea

In 1969 her keel was laid and sailed on the deck of an ocean-going freighter to Detroit, Michigan. Here she was fitted with a Yanmar generator and communication electronics. A professional captain then sailed her through the Great Lakes to Duluth, Minnesota, western Lake Superior, for delivery to her first owner, Thomas K Carpenter.

Thomas came from a family of Lumber Barons that logged most of the white pine that existed in the north-western tier states. Carpenter named the boat Josephine Sea after his wife, before selling the boat two years later. According to the log books, the sale took place due to Josephine falling through the open galley floor hatch.

The log book details her time at Duluth well, and the only damage indicated at this time was a description of hitting a submerged rock off the coast of Isle Royal. She needed a new propeller and drive shaft as a result.

Her second owner was a retired Coast Guard officer who  moved the boat to Bayfield, Wisconsin - a small town located  near the apostle Islands, within Lake Superior. Little is known about this ownership other than relatively few hours were put on the engines.

Josephine Sea’s third owners were a pair of business men who decided to charter the boat for the Radisson Hotel in Chicago. They were unaware of the maintenance costs involved in owning a boat of this kind and, in the end, deemed the venture unprofitable.

However, during their ownership the boat had a complete exterior paint job in a competent boatyard which gave her a new lease of life, and caught the eye of her next owner.

Le Voyageur

John Smoot purchased the boat in 1984 and renamed her Le Voyageur. For John this was the beginning of a great adventure, as he had never captained a boat of this size or sailed on a body of water as big as the Great Lakes.

John set about obtaining his Coastguard captain’s licence right away, and then his masters. During his time with Le Voyageur they traversed the length of Lake Superior (300nm) four times and sailed across it (55nm) eight times.

His favourite trips on-board were traveling the southern coast of Canada, of which he describes as a boaters paradise.

Le Voyageur spent many hours around the Apostle Islands - a group of 14 islands, grouped from five to 20 miles apart. This area provided her with plenty of shelter if any unexpected rough weather arose. Le Voyageur was kept at a marina in Washburn, Wisconsin.

The boating season on the Great Lakes is from May to mid-October, and a good year may give another two weeks on either side. For the remainder of the time, boats need to be out of the water to avoid damage from the freezing waters.

For this period under the care of Smoot, Le Voyageur was kept outside in a cradle and covered with a lightweight cover. Obviously haul in-out and storage costs are significant for the boat owner, and the spring launch involved two days in travelift slings. This allowed the hull to adjust from six months in a cradle to then take on water.

This process meant that once Le Voyageur was underway it would take three-to-four hours before the cabin doors would close properly and drawers slide freely.

Classy Lady

In 1997, Gayle Roundabush of Georgia, South Carolina, became the new owner, and changed her name to Classy Lady. With John Smoot still in the Captain’s seat, the two men left the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior and travelled east to the channel and through the Keweenaw Peninsula. This journey took them to Classy Lady’s new home at the Detroit yacht club, Belle Island Park, Lake St Clair.

Shortly, under this new ownership with Gayle Roundabush at the helm, Classy Lady began her journey away from the Great Lakes. She entered the Illinois River, water south of Chicago, and found her way onto the Mississippi River.

The big river took them all the way to New Orleans and then out into the Gulf of Mexico. It is here, in 2005, where Classy Lady came face-to-face with Hurricane Katrina before finding shelter and safe port in Mobile, Alabama.

Roundabush then steered Classy Lady 350 miles inland along Black Warrior River, and eventually found Tuscaloosa Marina. It is in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that Gayle required medical attention. As a consequence, the boat was left idle in the fresh water marina for two years. This is when Gayle decided to sell and placed an advert on the internet.

John Crighton, 7920 miles away from Tuscaloosa in the small town of Waiuku, New Zealand, spotted Classy Lady’s advert and took the opportunity to go and check her out. John had recently missed out on another boat named China Doll of the same make, so did not want to waste time on this one.

On first inspection everything on-board the boat looked reasonable, until John managed to put his finger right through the engine room hull. Classy Lady, due to sitting in fresh water with no paint, no maintenance and only four hours of sunlight per day, had major rot in her planks. Not to be deterred, John began heavy negotiations on the asking price, and on November 25, 2007, became the new owner of Classy Lady.

Bon Voyage America

The major Rot in the planks of the Grand Banks sides needed to be patched up before her departure from Tuscaloosa. Captain Greg Sadowski, from St Louis, and his crew were engaged to deliver Classy Lady to Savannah, Nth Carolina -  14-day voyage out of Tuscaloosa, to the Gulf of Mexico, around the tip of Florida and then up the coast to Savannah.

Here they stumbled into delays as the Stevedores refused to lift Classy Lady because of her age and hull condition. She sat in Savannah for three months while stevedores and agents negotiated the problem. Gailyn Menefee, a friend of John Crighton’s, intervened. Finally a special cradle was made for Classy Lady and she was lifted onto the container ship Cap Martin, destination New Zealand.

What ensued from here for Classy Lady involves a name change, a total rebuild and a fall from the scaffolding surrounding her that would put John Crighton into intensive care for several months.

Update on progress, next issue…


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