A Surfer Boat?

Image: A Surfer boat

Have you ever had an event in your life where destiny played a hand? Man, I can’t shake these boat blues … what the heck is a Surfer Boat?

Back to the boat blues. We were looking for a little run-about to replace the Moody Blue. Now this should have been fairly simple – there are lots of used boats out there for sale. Surely at least one of them would fit our needs. I must admit, at first I was a bit unrealistic. I was hoping for a small aluminum crew boat for under $15,000. I quickly found out that aluminum boats don’t sell for less than $50,000. So much for that idea.

What did we really need? We wanted a small, 20′ to 24′ seaworthy boat that could get us across the Johnstone Strait safely. Neither of us like screaming around with the wind in our teeth, so a closed, dry cabin was also important. We also needed a sturdy boat that could be used as a small work boat, able to tow our herring skiff, carry supplies and lumber when necessary, and be a good platform for foraging and fishing. We were hoping to find something with an older, reliable engine that we could maintain ourselves (e.g., we didn’t want a “plug-and-play” engine that can only be serviced in a shop with specialized electronic equipment). Maybe we are asking for too much?

This is where destiny stepped in. Even though there were lots of boats for sale, very few of them were in the 20′ to 24′ size range. Anything under 20′ long is just too small to use safely on the Johnstone Strait. Anything over 24′ long is just too big and too expensive – we are, after all, trying to downsize! The few boats for sale that were about the right size didn’t really suit us in many other ways. We were working on ppotential compromises when I glanced over an ad for something called a 24′ Surfer. I almost passed by the ad – at first sight, the photo of the boat looked like many of the typical “sporty” boats we had already seen, and which had not been very suitable. But there was something about her lines …

I called Ken over, and said “What do you think about this boat?”. I expected him to pass it up as just another lightly built, unseaworthy craft favored by sports fishers, but he too paused and pondered the boat. If you took away the blue canvas sunroof over the stern, she might almost look like a crew boat …

I did some research on Surfer boats, as neither Ken nor I recognized this make of boat. Apparently, the Surfer 24 was built by the shipwright Russ Tinkler, at Surfer Marine Limited out of Comox B.C. in 1979. This model is a deep-V boat, with hand laid-up fibreglass. There were a couple variants of the model – among them a cabin cruiser (such as the one in the ad we were looking at) and a crew boat made for Macmillan Bloedel crews working on Vancouver Island. We asked around about the reputation of Surfers, and all agreed that they were very seaworthy and designed to handle our local waters. Maybe there was more to this little boat than meets the eye?

We kept looking around for boats for another couple of weeks. I felt that it would be good to have a few potential candidates on our list so that we could look around and make some comparisons. However, we could only find two others that seemed even vaguely in the “ball park”, and were unable to contact the boat broker with the listings for these boats. All my searches kept coming back to the Surfer 24. The price seemed too good to be true, and I wondered what the catch was. So, we set up an appointment with the owner, and headed over to Campbell River.

When we first saw the Surfer 24, it was hauled up on a trailer in the owner’ back yard. The price was “as is, where is”, and the owner was motivated to sell for personal reasons. The boat was named the “Olivia K“, and appeared to be clean and well maintained. The engine, an old 350 Chevy, had been recently rebuilt, and seemed in good condition. However, there were a couple of problems:

    1. The boat and the trailer came as a package. Unfortunately, we had neither towing capacity nor a place to keep a trailer. This also meant that we would be unable to sea trial the boat before a possible purchase.
    2. The engine wouldn’t start. This was a big “show stopper” for me, as the last thing we needed was another boat with a dead engine.

The owner assured us that the boat had been running only a few months earlier. Ken checked things over and found that the batteries were dead and that rainwater had leaked into the engine compartment, corroding some of the electrical system components. Even with a fresh battery to jump start from, the engine still refused to turn over. Ken felt it might be the starter or starter solenoid, but couldn’t be sure. Without further testing, there was no way of knowing what else might be wrong. Sadly, we decided to pass up on the boat, but I did leave the owner with our contact information, in case the engine problem could be resolved.

I left Campbell River figuring that our search for the right boat was not yet over. Both of us liked the look of the Olivia K, but we just weren’t willing to take a chance on a bad engine. However, the story wasn’t over yet. It seemed the Olivia K wasn’t finished with us, and we were destined to meet up with her again.

A week later, the owner of the Olivia K gave us a call to let us know that a mechanic was checking the engine over. Another week went by as parts were ordered and the Easter weekend passed. Three new batteries and a starter later, the Olivia K was running again. The owner wanted to know if we were still interested, as some Cortez Islanders were also keen on the boat. During those two weeks, nothing else had shown up on the market that looked as good as the Olivia K. Yes, we were still intereste!

We found a friend who wanted a boat trailer, arranged a tow truck to get the Olivia K to the water, and on April 6th, became the new owners of the boat that wouldn’t give up on us. Since then, she’s needed a bit more work to fix up the water damage, but I think she is a fine addition to our “family”. I don’t think she will remain the Olivia K, but until her new name comes to us, that’s what we’ll call her for now.

The fleet

Image: The fleet.