The "MER-NA" last of the Blanchard Dreamboats.
For more than six decades, the N.J. Blanchard Boat Company produced some of the finest yachts, sailboats, and motor boats in the Pacific Northwest. Blanchard had built his business on manufacturing large custom motor yachts and stylish sailing vessels. It wasn't until the early 1920's that he decided to mass produce a standardized cruiser. He joined with designer Leigh Coolidge to create his own perfectly proportioned 36 foot "Dreamboat" The first of these standardized vessels hit the water in 1924.
The Blanchard Dreamboats were built using western red cedar planking over white oak framing. Their keels were constructed from Douglas fir, and the hulls were fastened with iron boat nails. The interior, pilothouse and other bright areas were made from teak. He was able to build 25 stock cruisers before the Great Depression began, and this is where the story of MER-NA begins.
She was the last of the Blanchard Dreamboats to be built--her keel was laid just as the Depression hit. She was sold at the first ever Seattle Boat Show to Mervin and Naomi Troyer ("Mer-Na"), who had just been married. Unfortunately, they never took title to the vessel, as they had been divorced by the time the boat was completed. The Blanchard was hailed as the outstanding exhibit at the show‚ by Pacific Motor Boat magazine. Mer-Na came equipped with everything they need to hit the water: a nine foot lapstrake dinghy, life jackets, fenders, a set of dishes, drinking glasses, silverware, a compass, horn, docking lines and other necessities.
Of the very few Dreamboats that still exist, Mer-Na is certainly the most original and most celebrated. She still carries her original nine foot dinghy, as well as her authentic crystal light fixtures, cast iron stove, brass faucets, bronze deck hardware, and original burgundy mohair upholstery. She has won many awards over her life, including Best Preserved/Most Original Boat at the 2004 ACBS Lake Minnetonka Rendezvous. Mer-Na, as celebrated as she is, is still a seventy plus year old boat that benefits from vigilant owners committed to keeping her shipshape.
Current owners, Denny and Mary Newell, are making sure that Mer-Na receives the care and attention she deserves. They bought Mer-Na in 2002 and relocated her from the Pacific Northwest to Lake Minnetonka in the heart of Minnesota. Minnetonka is a 14,000 acre residential lake just 20 miles west of downtown Minneapolis.
Mer-Na enclosed wheelhouse offers the Newell an extended boating season in the chilly Minnesota spring and fall. As it has worked out, Denny and Mary can often be found cruising with their friends well into November, sipping beverages in shirtsleeves while a hot meal cooks on the stove.
To ensure that they could enjoy this treat for many years to come, the Newell sought the help of Mahogany Bay, noted vintage boat restoration experts located on Lake Minnetonka. This partnership has led Mer-Na to be carefully cared for year round. As Lake Minnetonka freezes solid each winter, all boats must be removed from the water for storage each year. The challenge of lifting a 70-plus year old boat, gently, every fall and spring, is just where the fun begins!
The boat is set down on Mahogany Bay Hostar air-ride trailer, and is transported to the Mahogany Bay restoration facility. As with all Mahogany Bay full service customers, the boat is winterized, prepped for storage, and evaluated for service/maintenance needs.
Over the winter of 2003-2004, extensive maintenance was done by exclusive Mahogany Bay partner St. Paul Shipwrights, including re-corking and re-caulking the entire bottom, removing and plugging obsolete through hull fittings, and inspecting/replacing the through hull fittings still in use, as well as replacing the butt blocks, and adding sea-cocks for safety. At this time, the engine room was thoroughly cleaned, inspected and re-painted with 3 coats of bilge paint.
As with many vessels of this age, the electrical system had seen many modifications over the years, and the Newell agreed that the system should be substantially rebuilt. Approximately 90% of the wiring was replaced, with new tinned wire and appropriate connectors. The primary fuse panel was replaced, and all systems were re-wired with appropriate gauge wire. The original ice chest was encased in six inches of rigid foam insulation, and compressor and evaporator were added, creating a stealth refrigerator. The boat had no 110 volt system originally, so appropriate galvanic isolator, GFI, circuit breakers, and a 2000 watt/100 amp Xantrex inverter/charger were added. A 23 gallon auxiliary fuel tank was added, along with new fuel manifold and filters.
While Mer-Na acclimated beautifully to her new environment, by the 2007 boating season, rust was beginning to appear on the topsides in quantity, and it was decided that the time had come to expose all the iron boat nail heads, examine what was going on, and pursue a course of action to make sure Mer-Na would last another seventy years.
The hull was completely stripped of paint, gunwales to keel. All filler was removed from all nail heads. It was decided that the existing nails would have to be left in place, but that an additional 4000 hot-dipped galvanized screws would be added to the hull, each in close proximity to the existing fasteners, in order to maintain the integrity of the planking.
As the hull was exposed, it was determined that the garboards would need to be replaced. As often happens, once the garboards were removed, more problems were found. The ultimate resolution was the replacement of twelve feet of keel, which was replaced with an oak beam from the same supplier who provided the wood for the U.S.S. Constitution restoration. (he wasn't quite sure he had anything that small as was needed for Mer-Na) Both garboards were replaced, along with a total of ten other planks. New frames were bent for the forward four stations, as well as four frame sets being sistered under the engine.
After considerable research, the team decided the best preservation strategy for the existing iron boat nails was to grind the oxidation off, then seal the heads with an application of WEST system epoxy, and then to fill with WEST, as well. The team decided the WEST would serve as the best sealant, and while it was a relatively permanent application, future repairs would likely entail cutting the planks out anyway, due to the iron boat nails. Then the bottom was primed and painted with CSC Micron. The topsides were painted with Z-Spar Gloss Enamel.
All this was accomplished between the end of October, and the end of December, 2007. The boat is in storage for another month or so, but the Newell's are very much looking forward to having Mer-Na back in the water for the 2008 season, and looking forward to enjoying Mer-Na for many years to come.