Restoring a Classic Trawler

It took one man 11 years to restore a 51-year-old Grand Banks. Now they are both back on the water.
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“If I’d known what I was getting myself into, I probably wouldn’t have bought the boat in the first place,” says Eric Paulsen. He is referring to Splinters, a 1968 Grand Banks 42 Classic that he and his wife, Kim, acquired in 2008. They were looking for an option that someday could serve as a liveaboard, cruise-aboard retirement boat. Like many other restoration aficionados, Eric was drawn to the 42 Classic for its “great bones.”

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In the late 1950s, Grand Banks Yachts launched its first 42-foot hull from a nondescript yard in Junk Bay, Hong Kong. The most prolific of these designs, the Classic, featured separate aft and forward trunk cabins and has become an icon for coastal cruisers. With distinctive workboat lines penned by esteemed naval architect Ken Smith, the Classic was an economic cruiser as sturdy and handsome as she was practical, safe, comfortable and affordable.

Before the company ceased production of the line in 2006, Grand Banks had delivered more than 1,500 of these hulls worldwide. With many of the Hong Kong–built woodies (built between 1958 and 1973) still cruising today and impeccably maintained, it’s not hyperbole to say that the future of coastal power cruising changed forever with the introduction of this classic.

Though Splinters had been languishing in a California marina for a few too many years, suffering from rot and other problems compounded by neglect, Eric and Kim could envision her someday joining the ranks of those impeccably maintained Grand Banks Classics. They pulled the trigger and trucked the boat to their home, 1,000 miles away in Loveland, Colorado.

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An existing barn on the property was retrofitted to serve as Splinters’ mile-high home during her restoration, which Eric planned to tackle himself. She had already been housed there for seven years when I first saw the boat in November 2015, surrounded by patches of snow and dry mountain air. A commanding presence in the barn, the boat fit within mere feet of the timber-frame rafters and support posts.

A good deal of labor was necessary to get Splinters seaworthy again. Eric started by stripping the hull, recaulking and splining the planks, sanding, epoxy coating, and rebuilding the house and decks that had been devastated by rot. Eric took on all the work, but he had a family, too, so the project proceeded in fits and starts. Splinters became the talk of the small town. One neighbor memorably referred to the project as “Noah’s Ark,” which inspired my first story on Eric’s restoration that was titled “Noah’s Work.” Says Eric, “It wasn’t just the neighbors who felt that way. Most of our friends and family thought I had gone nuts.”

This 1968 Grand Banks 42 Classic was restored in the owners’ barn in Colorado.

This 1968 Grand Banks 42 Classic was restored in the owners’ barn in Colorado.

On one hand, I couldn’t believe all the work that Eric had done himself over the past seven years. On the other hand, I could see where his friends, family, and neighbors were coming from. Despite his optimism and positive attitude—and the staggering amount of work he had already accomplished—it was hard to imagine this project coming to a conclusion. He still had so far to go.

Over the next three years I received periodic messages from Eric with photos showing his progress, but it wasn’t until Kim’s job moved her to San Diego did the light at the end of the tunnel start to shine like a beacon of hope. The pending move was all the motivation Eric needed to push forward and finish what he had started so long ago.

Eric Paulsen and Splinters in their new San Diego homeport.

Eric Paulsen and Splinters in their new San Diego homeport.

Eleven years and a couple of months since the boat was first trucked to Colorado, Eric and I are discussing his—as well as the boat’s—journey, as she now sits in a San Diego slip. Eric sports a bronze California tan and the thrashed and bandaged fingers to prove that his work, like that of any boat-owning do-it-yourselfer, amounts to a never-ending list of tasks. He looks relaxed, though, and when asked about the project, almost seems surprised by his own accomplishments. “I don’t think it’s quite settled in,” he says. I ask Eric what the high and low points of the restoration process were. He pauses to think. Then with a smirk, he says, “Obviously, launching the boat was a high point.”

“But before that,” he continues, ”I think that when the furniture was finally taking shape inside the boat it started to feel like more of a finishing project than a construction project.”

He made the salon table out of live-edge Western maple planks from a sawmill in the Pacific Northwest.

He made the salon table out of live-edge Western maple planks from a sawmill in the Pacific Northwest.

As for the low point, Eric describes heading down to the barn in Colorado in freezing temperatures, with two pairs of gloves on, endlessly sanding, scraping and sawing. Though I never sensed that he despaired, the progress was slow, and that in itself can encourage doubt. But here, as we sit in the salon with the boat jostling in her slip, those doubts are just memories. Today, all that is left is a custom piece of art, gleaming under many fresh coats of varnish.

“I think I might be a little surprised at myself, that I stuck with it as well as I did,” he admits.

“You know,” he says, laughing, “maybe it’s a lack of brains. Maybe I should have just thrown in the towel and done something that was more productive with my time. I don’t regret any of that time, though. I really don’t. And having this boat now in the water underlines that. Sticking to it has really paid off in the long run.”

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The Paulsens decided to leave many of the traditional Grand Banks touches intact, including the classic helm wheel, teak cabinetry and the parquet cabin sole that Eric has on his list to refinish. But there are also personal touches throughout the boat. Eric fashioned galley and head countertops, plus a stunning leafed salon table out of live-edge Western maple planks that he acquired from a Pacific Northwest sawmill.

Eric and Kim had mutual disdain for the standard L-shaped galley, so they decided to sacrifice some storage by cutting the return off to open up the space in the salon. Instead of a chair in the aft port corner of the salon, Eric built a bench that houses a freezer so guests have a reading nook high enough for them to see out the windows.

And there are other personal touches. Kim discovered that a hoop from a whiskey barrel made the perfect frame for a mirror in the master head. They also stain-tested a number of light-colored fabrics in order to balance out the dark interior wood. The only other significant alterations they made were adding flybridge and salon furniture built-ins, and changing the master cabin layout to reorient the berth athwartships.

The Paulsens left many of the traditional Grand Banks touches intact on their boat, including the classic wood helm wheel.

The Paulsens left many of the traditional Grand Banks touches intact on their boat, including the classic wood helm wheel.

Eric is humble and self-effacing; he doesn’t blog or boast. But he deserves to be fiercely proud. He recognizes, however, that without Kim’s support it would have been impossible to finish, or unlikely to finish while maintaining a marriage. Today, the two are living onboard and while Eric irons out the wrinkles—a sticky hanging locker door here, a fuel filter problem there—he looks to the now-attainable future of being able to cruise to Catalina and the Channel Islands, or ultimately even to Alaska.

But for now, there is still some work to do. Those fingers won’t have a chance to heal just yet.

This story first appeared May/June 2019 issue of Passagemaker.