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.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY LAWRENCE SCHÄF­FLER

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.

THE PROJECT

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…

WORDS BY LAWRENCE SCHÄF­FLER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY BRIAN DANYLIW

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.

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