For Art’s Sake
There’s this house for sale on Canada’s Vancouver Island – magnificent location with glorious views – but it’s best-known for the yacht hanging in the living room.
One man’s junk is another man’s treasure, or in this case, another man’s art.
Situated on the eastern side of Vancouver Island, this large, sprawling home – eight bedrooms and nine bathrooms – was built in the 1880s. It has an eventful history and ownership has changed many times. But George and Koula O’brien – who bought the place in the late 70s – were responsible for its unusual piece of art.
By all accounts a colourful character with an impish sense of humour, George did a lot of work transforming what was a relatively derelict old building into a home. His pièce de résistance, though, was enlivening the grand front room’s décor with the hull of a 41’ 6” yacht.
He purchased the boat – a Cooper 41.6 – from Cooper Industries in 1979 and barged it over from Abbotsford on the mainland. It sat at the property until 1981 when he decided to incorporate it into the house.
Like the house, the hull too has had an eventful history – and something of a charmed life. It was manufactured in 1979 as a racing boat – the first of 20 such hulls. By a quirk of fate it alone was sitting out in the yard when a fire consumed the Cooper plant, destroying all the sister ships. The moulds were sent to Bayliner in the United States, where production continued between 1980 and 1983 under the name of US Yachts, until that company folded.
This surviving hull was never fitted with a keel or rudder and, in fact, never made it to the water. Buying an abandoned hull is understandable – it would make a great project for a keen DIYER and sailor. But why hang it in the living room?
It appears George hung it from the ceiling so that “people would always remember him for putting it up and not for some of the things he did in his life.” It’s safe to assume he succeeded in this quest.
In 1981 George hired a crane and built a wooden dolly to hold the hull. The builders – no doubt scratching their heads but holding their tongues – removed the west wall of the building and a front window on the east side.
Once the crane had placed the hull on the dolly, the contraption was pulled across the home’s original Douglas fir floors using a manual come-a-long, to the centre of the room. Using a chainsaw, the builders cut holes in the ceiling and floor. The crane dropped four large Douglas fir beams into position for vertical support.
Two similar-sized beams were slid in and attached to the upright posts, with a 40-foot steel I-beam fixed to the hull. The crane then lifted the hull so that the wooden and steel beams could be bolted together. The wall and window were replaced.
George, of course, was a sailor. He belonged to the Cruising Club of America and raced many different sail boats all over the world. The love of his life, though, was Endless Summer – an exAussie 12-metre America’s Cup boat.
Built for the 1967 regatta, she’d belonged to Sir Frank Packer (KA2) and was originally named Dame Pattie (after Dame Pattie
Menzies, wife of Australia’s longest-serving prime minister, Sir Robert Menzies).
George bought and renamed her and refitted her for cruising. There is a picture of KA2 hanging over the home’s living room fireplace – it shows George sitting in the back. Just before he died, someone asked George if there was anything he would change in his life. He replied: “I have done things no one will ever do again”. Indeed. It seems there’s little truth in the rumour that George and his wife cycled through scores of home cleaners – all evidently found dusting from scaffolding far too difficult and dangerous…
LEFT & BELOW When the wine’s gone to your head, lie back, look up and pretend you’re a fish with a flair for fine art.
BELOW RIGHT Above the fireplace is a large photo of the Aussie 12-metre KA2. George is sitting near the stern.
RIGHT The home boasts magnificent sea views.