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Loved Boat
Seven Bells rang Andrew Himes' chimes - and found a devoted caretaker for life

The aft cabin underwent extensive restoration, including new plumbing and electrical as well as new cabinetry and upholstery. Interior teak was also refinished, and Andrew Himes installed a modern galley on the port side.

Andrew Himes didn't think he needed an old boat. Sure, he'd always loved the romance of wooden boats and the sea, Horatio Hornblower tales and Patrick O'Brian novels, but the idea of actually buying a vintage vessel hadn't sunk in.

He had a friend, though, whose dad brokered boats and showcased old wooden watercraft on a Web site. Himes took a look; then he took a trip to California to see Seven Bells.

Turns out, Seven Bells needed Andrew Himes.

The 43-foot bridge-deck cruiser was built in 1929 by the Stephens Brothers of Stockton, Calif. R.B. MacBride, a Dodge salesman, bought the boat for $12,000 and called it Bobanet.

Its name, ownership and role changed several more times over the years, including a stint during World War II as an antisubmarine net-tender near San Francisco. By the time Himes got to Seven Bells in 1998, its years were showing. He paid $28,000 for the worn-out boat — and has since spent several times more than that restoring it.

"She was in terrible shape," says Himes, who lives in Seattle and directs Project Alchemy, a nonprofit group that provides technology support to grassroots organizations. The boat had been sitting at a California dock for five years. "The woman who owned her hired a man to come down and turn on the engines for 20 minutes a month."

Over the Seven Bells' refinished teak deck flies the pennant of the Classic Yacht Association.

Seven Bells was trucked to Seattle and moored on Lake Union. The original upholstery made of cloth and springs was moldy and rusty. The wiring and hoses were shot. The structural boards under the deck were rotted.

Himes had no idea what to do.

"Fixing this boat up was like going to college," he says. "I had to learn about electronics, piloting, navigating, diesel engines. Even if I did less than 10 percent of the work myself, in order to have it run I had to have all that information handy."

Himes dug up original blueprints and documentation — and called in the pros.

Steve Vogel of CSR Marine on Lake Union restored the teak foredeck, laid new teak side decks and overhauled the interior. Tim Paull of MDM Upholstery, who is more accustomed to custom hot rods, re-created — in rose red — the original leather diamond-upholstered cockpit cushions. Tom Stangeland built a dining table for the aft cockpit of teak inlaid with black wood, all bordered to keep supper from sliding when the swells kick up. For the bridge deck's chart-table top, an intricate example of the inlay technique of marquetry, he used the original blueprint to create an image of Seven Bells from seven kinds of wood.

Above: The extensively restored Seven Bells, a classic cruiser built in 1929 by the Stephens Brothers of Stockton, Calif., plies the waters of Lake Union. Left: In the pilot house, the original teak wheel was restored.

Rotten hull ribs were replaced; propeller-shaft logs rebuilt; 49 miles of wiring woven in; a new electrical system installed. Walls, cabinets and berths were sanded, painted and varnished — eight or nine coats on the gleaming decks. Old gas engines had been replaced earlier with two hulking diesel engines, which allow inland cruises at 9 to 10 knots.

Still, original details remain: The walls and windows; a silver Stephens Bros. nameplate near the wheel on the bridge deck; an antique butterfly hatch above the forward stateroom.

Himes has added touches of his own. Antique lace doilies cloak portholes in the berths. Ceramic tiles with molded sea creatures line the modern galley. Tiny dolphin lamps in the aft berth are cast from original Stephens Brothers moldings. A hideaway rolltop drawer near the galley opens to reveal a keyboard.

Then there's the cannon. No boat is complete without one, Himes says. Seven Bells' weapon of choice is not exactly threatening. It's a toy-size cannon that rests in the galley pantry and has fired only once, in fun, on New Year's Eve.

In the fore cabin, original cabinets and berths were sanded, painted and varnished. Himes added personal touches such as the antique lace doilies that cloak the portholes above the berths.
The view from the newly enclosed cockpit looks down to the aft cabin. Above the cabin is the Seven Bells' 8-foot wooden dinghy.
Every boat needs a flag, too. Seven Bells' is custom-made. In each corner of the sea-blue flag is a white circle, representing the four dinner plates of The Tupperware Discussion Group. (Himes and his wife, novelist Alix Wilber, have dined with two friends every Wednesday night for years. Their only rule: No one may at any time discuss Tupperware.) In the center of the flag, seven golden bells circle a giant whale — Moby Dick. Himes' obsession is slightly more benign than Captain Ahab's.

"It's hard to get one piece of the boat looking fantastic and have something next to it look only OK," Himes says. "Every antique store I go into, I can't help finding something. You do want better. You want everything to look perfect."

Seven Bells comes close. Less than six months after the restoration, the craft sailed to the Classic Boat Festival in Victoria, B.C., and took home the prize for Best Restored Power Vessel.

Later this week, Himes sails with other members of the Classic Yacht Association to the La Conner Vintage & Classic Boat Show, where 40 to 50 classic and vintage yachts are expected, as well as a couple dozen classic speedboats and several steamboats.

"The awards are nice," Himes says, "but I don't think of this as my boat. I think of myself as the caretaker. Human beings are not members of the yacht association; the boats are. It's almost as if we all take care of our boats as part of a public heritage. I want to share it with a lot of other people — for me that's the greatest pleasure."

Though Himes and his family have not lived aboard Seven Bells for more than two weeks at a time, Himes says they're always running into people who know about the boat. The Seven Bells Web site, at, has elicited tales, too. Himes says he connected with an 88-year-old man in Florida who had owned Seven Bells for a spell and rebuilt part of it after a collision with a metal buoy. .But the string of ownership and owners' tales is likely to end with Himes, who didn't know he needed an old boat until he heard the call of Seven Bells.

Says Himes: "I don't expect to get rid of this boat before I die."

If you go

What: La Conner Vintage & Classic Boat Show, featuring Seven Bells and dozens of other vintage vessels; boat manufacturers' tours; marine displays; marine art exhibits; food, arts-and-crafts and entertainment booths.

When: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Aug. 11-12.

Where: Tours of 1919-68 boats will be at the Port of Skagit County-La Conner Marina; boats will sail through Swinomish Channel, La Conner.

Admission: Free.

For more information: Contact the La Conner Chamber of Commerce at 360-466-4778 or 888-642-9284. Web:

Sandy Dunham is a Bonney Lake freelance writer. Barry Wong is a staff photographer for Pacific Northwest magazine.

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