Classic 1929 pilot-house cruiser

This Stephens Brothers boat was built in Stockton, CA, one of eight or nine boats using the same blueprints.

Purchased by the United States War Shipping Administration in 1942, the boat served as an anti-submarine net tender in San Francisco Bay during WW2. The boat was fully restored in 1947 and then again in 1998 after purchase by its current owner. The hull is of Port Orford Cedar, the house is teak, and the soles are fir. The fourth-generation engines are Yanmar diesels. The lace curtains were a gift made by a friend’s elderly mother in Milan, Italy.

Seven Bells painting

Seven Bells - poem by Elizabeth Rice Handford, 2002

One bell--
Wild cacophony of sound,
Onus of duty, earth-bound.

Two bells, three--
Strident voices make demands,
Clanging noises, begging hands.

Four bells, five bells, six--
Life is real--hurry, scurry!
Life is earnest--flurry, worry!

But seven bells!
Lines loosed, engines thrum,
Tide chuckles against the bow.
Come, oh, come away with me now!
Succumb with me
to the magical mystery
of Seven Bells!

Short History

Seven Bells has an overall length of 43 ft., is 11.6 ft. across the beam, has a 4 ft. draft, and its gross weight is approximately 20,000 lbs. The hull uses sawed white oak frames with Port Orford cedar carvel planks. The boat has bronze fastenings, a teak deck and trim (bright work), plumb bow, and a flat transom. Seven Bells' official number listed in Coast Guard documentation is 229189.

Between September of 1998 and April of 2000, Seven Bells underwent a complete restoration, including structural hull work, new or reconditioned decks, new plumbing, electrical and electronics systems, refinishing of exterior and interior teak, new cabinetry, upholstery, soles and overheads, hard dodger added over aft cockpit, and engine refitting.

On June 17th, 2001, Seven Bells was selected for the People's Choice Award at the Bell Street Rendezvous on the Seattle waterfront. On September 3rd, 2000, at the Classic Boat Festival in Victoria, British Columbia, Seven Bells was awarded the prize for Best Restored Power vessel. In August 2001, Seven Bells was runner-up for the People's Choice Award at the LaConnor Vintage and Classic Boat Show. In July 2017, Seven Bells won the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival People's Choice Award.

Seven Bells is a member of the Classic Yacht Association. Owner: Andrew Himes, Seattle, WA.

 

1929 Construction

Seven Bells was built by Stevens Brothers in Stockton, California, and was launched at 3:30 PM on November 20, 1929.

Designated Hull #574, the boat was originally named Bobanet, and was built to contract for R.B. MacBride, the owner of a Dodge automobile dealership in Modesto, CA, for $12,000, including a down payment of a 1929 "Dodge Senior Sport Model Sedan," a car valued at $1,985. The boat's gross tonnage was listed at 18, net tonnage at 16, and the boat was originally driven by two Scripps F-6 gasoline engines (replaced in 1990 by two Chrysler-Nissan 72-hp diesel engines).

1929 Seven Bells Launch Day Photos

 

1929 magazine ads for Stephens 43' Cruisers 

Construction photos taken between June 15 and November 20, 1929

Stern framing Planking deck
Hull framing and bulkheads Hull interior
Keel framing Bulkheads
Bulkheads and bow framing Hull shaping

Original statement from the factory describing the boat

Description and brief specifications of Stevens 43-foot twin-screw motor cruiser

1. In General

The boat is a raised-deck, bridge-cabin, moulded cruiser with two separate sleeping compartments, one in the forward stateroom which has two single built-in berths with kapoc mattresses on springs. The after main cabin is provided with two hinged seat backs, the backs of which make upper berths, thus making the bottoms of the seats available also as berths. Both cabins are provided with toilet rooms, hanging lockers, etc.

The power plant is two F-6 Scripps or Grays-8 motors, installed under the bridge cabin and accessible through large hinged hatches. All controls of the engines are carried to the control cabinet upon which is mounted the teakwood steering wheel, control levers, switches, and all instruments mounted thereupon in consolidated instrument panels. Just after this instrument cabinet and set into the bridge cabin floor is a cast bronze socket into which the portable steering seat can be set. Just forward of the instrument cabinet on the port side is a built-in teakwood chart locker.

The bridge cabin is entered on both sides with sliding doors, and has ample ventilation through two hinged windows that open forward and through the doors on either side. At the after and of the bridge cabin is a built-in seat with a deep spring-filled cushion and upholstered back. The galley between the bridge cabin and main cabin is fully equipped with a Rock Gas stove with ample lockers, drawers, bread board, ice box, etc. A ventilating locker is built above the stove with an outlet through the roof. This locker can also be used as a warmer when meals are being prepared.

The materials used are selected of the best commercial quality up to the purpose used and the workmanship is all of the very highest type. All permanent fixtures such as toilets, wash basins, ports, hardware, are all of standard modern type in quality, or as particularly specified.

2. Delivery

Delivery of the boat will be in the water at Stockton, California.

3. Acceptance

Acceptance of the boat will be when delivery and a three-hour trial run have been completed in the water at Stockton.

 

Fire at Seattle Marina in 2002

On the evening of Friday, May 17, 2002, the Seattle Marina, where my 1929 classic Seven Bells is moored, went up in flames, destroying 37 boats, over 30 of which sunk. Ten of the boats destroyed were live-aboards, and over half of the destruction was of older wooden boats, including several genuine and irreplaceable classics.

By the merest whisker of fate, Seven Bells escaped safe and unharmed, though it could not have been a closer shave. Seven Bells was the very last boat out on the edge of the survival zone on the eastern pier of Seattle Marina – every boat past ours was destroyed. Fortunately, our boat will sail again after they clear out the wreckage of burned and sunken boats around it. Interested in a boat ride?

Seven Bells was six slips from the end of the pier. The fire started on a houseboat at the end of our pier, and then spread explosively and immediately – within a few minutes – to engulf a houseboat and five other boats immediately adjacent to each other. It then stopped momentarily, prevented from further progress by a corrugated metal firewall, leaving only a single boat, a 1954 wooden boat that belonged to Jolene and Stewart Williams-Hunt, between the fire and Seven Bells.

Jolene and Stewart were live-aboards who had already gone to sleep when the fire erupted and barely escaped with their lives, fleeing down the long pier in the darkness as explosions shattered the night behind them. As the fire grew on the east pier, one of the firefighters reportedly untied Jolene and Stewart’s boat – which was not on fire at the time – and pushed it out into center of the marina, apparently to create open water between Seven Bells and the flames. When Jolene and Stewart’s boat collided with a flaming wreck, it too caught fire, burned to the waterline, and sank. Another of the boats on our pier had been blown by the wind across the marina to the west pier, where another twenty or so boats burned and sank.

I arrived at the marina just before 10PM after a call from my friend Tim Ryan, the owner of CYA member Marian II, a 1928 Lake Union Dreamboat that is the nearest slip neighbor of Seven Bells on the landward side. I rushed right past the crowd, through the police and fire lines, and out onto the dock until I could see that the fire department had successfully set up its farthest hose on the end of the finger dock to which Seven Bells was moored. (In the aftermath of the fire, a number of people have politely expressed their concern that I might be a complete idiot.)

The fire was at its height at 10PM, with flames roaring over fifty yards in the air, and dozens of vessels fully involved. I could see five or six boats, including Jolene and Stewart’s 1954 restoration project, floating freely and burning fiercely in the gap between the two long piers of the marina. There were small flames licking the roof of the dock immediately above Seven Bells. Within a few minutes of my arrival, the Chief Seattle fireboat arrived after nearly an hour’s journey from Elliot Bay and through the Ballard Locks. With the combination of the fireboat, a police boat with some firefighting capability, and the water hoses run out on the docks from the land side, the tide of battle was finally turned and the fire was contained. By 11:30 the fire was fully under control.

I returned the next morning to a scene of strangely neat devastation. About a third of the dock space had burnt, and 30 boats had simply slipped beneath the water’s surface, leaving the sense that a quiet and extraordinary exodus had taken place. Only a few badly burned hulks still floated in a black scum of oil and ashes to indicate the extent of the destruction, and stunned survivors, my fellow boat owners, walked slowly through the parking lot sharing their tales. Jolene and Stewart told how they had barely escaped with their lives, wakening to the sound of close-by explosions and the vast incandescence of fireballs, running down the dock past Seven Bells in nothing but a bathrobe and a pair of shorts. They had lost everything in the holocaust, clothing, memorabilia, records, and treasures like Jolene’s beautiful old violin and Stewart’s mandolin.

A couple of Seattle fire fighters escorted me out to Seven Bells, which I saw to my amazement was apparently without any damage – nothing burned or melted, no blistered paint or bubbled varnish, no ruined canvas or parted lines or broken hardware.

In the days since the fire, I’ve gotten scores of calls and messages from friends and strangers, near and far, asking about Seven Bells and our neighbors, expressing their love and compassion, their prayers and hopes that we will be safe and that this lovely old boat of ours will float far into the future.

I’ll always remember standing on the center dock of the marina in the midst of the inferno, watching as Seven Bells hovered on the verge of destruction and explosions echoed in the darkness every few minutes, and thinking that even such a treasure, no matter how beautiful, was nowhere near as important as the safety of my friends and family, and the work we all have to do in the world on behalf of justice, healthy communities, and human dignity.

 

Andrew Himes is the owner of Seven Bells

History and Specs

Seven Bells went through at least twelve owners before being purchased by Andrew Himes in August, 1998.

The boat's first owner, R.B. MacBride, sold Seven Bells in 1931 after just two years. The boat changed hands several more times before being purchased by the United States War Shipping Adminstration on July 11, 1942. As a federally-owned boat, Seven Bells likely spent the remainder of World War II as a patrol boat keeping an eye on San Francisco Bay and California coastal waters. The boat was returned to private hands after the end of the war, and then had at least six more owners through the 1990's. It was owned through the 1950s by Ernie Mills, whose daughter provided the photos below.

Original Bill of Sale

 

Specifications

Dimensions

Length overall 43 ft. 0 in.
Beam 10 ft. 6 in.
Draft 3 ft. 0 in.
Length of forward stateroom and toilet 11 ft. 3 in.
Length of bridge cabin 8 ft. 2 in.
Length of galley 4 ft. 3 in.
Length of after cockpit 6 ft. 4 in.
Length of main cabin 8 ft. 3 in.

Mechanical/Electronic

Engines Twin 4-cylinder inline Yanmar 56-horsepower diesels installed in 2011.
Radar/Charting Ratheon integrated LCD display
GPS Ratheon Raystar 112 GPS Sensor
Depth/Temp/Speed/General Data Display Ratheon Raydata Multi-function Display
Steering Hynautics Hydaulic Steering System, Morse Controls
Autopilot Autohelm ST 5000
Anchors 1 Bruce, 2 Danforth
Electrical system Inverter, 110V AC/12V DC
Radio Raytheon Ray 220 VHF

Hull

Topsides and bottom 1 1/8" Port Orford cedar carvel-planked
Decks Teak fore & side & cockpit
Floors 1 3/4" oak, 7" centers
Frames 1 3/4" x 1 1/2" white oak 7" centers
Deck Beams 1 1/2" 1 1/2" fir
Stern Varnished teak
Keel Fir
Superstructure Varnished teak
Interior Upholstery, carpet, teak fronts
Bulkheads Marine plywood bonded to hull
Fastenings Bronze screws
Stem Sided Oak
Rudder 2, steel
Masts Varnished wood

 

Seven Bells escaped destruction in massive marina fire at Seattle Marina,May 17, 2002.

Blueprint

blueprint

 

 

Videos

YouTube: 

Bill of Sale, 1929

Stages of Seven Bells' restoration - 1998-2000

Before the work began...

Andrew Himes found Seven Bells in San Francisco Bay and purchased the boat in September of 1998 for $28,500. At the time of the purchase, the boat was in poor condition and a lot of work was required to save the boat. No varnish had been applied in several years, and the previous owner had abandoned the boat to the elements. Fortunately, the engines would start, and the boat was moved from San Rafael to Richmond.

Initial work: Jeff Rutherford's Boatyard in Richmond, CA

By the fall of 1998, Seven Bells needed a lot of work, as you might expect with an antique wooden boat. The boat was essentially sound but had suffered from several years of relative neglect, so the boat needed a good deal of cosmetic work, plus structural and mechanical repairs. Some wood in the hull and rear cockpit needed to be replaced, and Jeff Rutherford's Boat Shop in Richmond, CA built a new hard dodger over the cockpit and did substantial additional custom woodworking in the interior to make the boat's space more usable. In addition,Frederique Georges led a thorough sanding and varnishing of the brightwork, Anders Johansson of Swedish Marine in Richmond installed new electrical and electronics systems, and Michael Lord rehabilitated the engines and upgraded various mechanical systems.

In November-December, Frederique and Mampouya put on several coats of varnish, sanding lightly between each coat. Most of the carpentry and plumbing was completed, including rebuilding the head in the bow, removing the aft head to provide more storage space and light, and installing a radiator heating system. An especially challenging and rewarding job for Jeff was to build and install the hard dodger (the teak roof over the cockpit behind the rear cabin). Finally, Anders led the work of ripping out the old wiring and fixtures for complete replacement, and then beginning the installation of new electronics and steering systems (radar, sonar, autopilot, charting).

The major tasks in October were preparatory: removing all soft or rotten wood (including a virtually complete demolition of the aft cockpit; removing all the old electrical system -- wires, switchbox, lighting fixtures; removing the bonding system that had contributed to some wood damage near metal fittings; sanding the entire superstructure and brightwork down to light, fresh unfinished teak; repairing and replacing broken windows and windowframes.

Final restoration by CSR Marine in Seattle

Seven Bells was transported from San Francisco to Seattle by Dennis Markin of Rio Linda Marina on December 17, 1998. The boat then had its bottom painted at CSR Marine before a Christmas launching on Lake Union. Spring 1999 in Seattle, Tim Ryan and Steve Vogel at CSR Marine on Lake Union led the final stages of the restoration project.

The work at CSR included restoring the teak foredeck, laying new teak side decks over the badly deteriorated existing decks, and undertaking a major restoration of the interior -- especially the aft cabin and galley. In addition, Paul Grove installed a new high-powered alarm system to keep tabs on oil pressure, the raw water engine cooling system, the bilge pumps, and fire or smoke.

Steve Vogel, with help from Paul Life and others, rebuilt the cabinets, soles, floors, and overheads, and Frances began the painstaking process of applying several coats of varnish to the soles and aft cabinetry.

Tim Ryan fit the new dinghy, fresh from Seattle's Wooden Boat Shop, to the boat's newly reconditioned davits.

Tim Paull of MDM Upholstery, a premiere hotrod artist, worked to recreate the original leather diamond-upholstered cockpit cushions and the berth mattresses. >Tom Stangeland, furniture-maker to the stars, built a new teak dining table for the aft cockpit. And then -- for his piece de resistance -- constructed a new top for the chart table using a technique of wood inlay known as marquetry. This project involved using an original 1929 blueprint for Seven Bells to create an image of the boat by fitting together jigsaw pieces of seven different kinds/colors of wood.

Frederique and Mampouya sanded, painted, and varnished the walls, cabinets, berths, and ceilings in the fore and bridge cabins.

In the aft cabin and galley, Steve, John, Chris, Paul, Rick and others worked to replace rotten or cracked ribs on the hull, replace floor joists, rebuild the propellor shaft logs, and build new fir soles (floors).

Steve and James built new curved teak members at the places where the fore and side decks meet on both sides of the boat. 

Frank Ford redid cabinets and hardware in the fore cabin, and rebuilt the settee in the bridge deck cabin. Michael sanded and faired the decks after Steve and others had repaired, prepared, and sealed them. The fore decks have been routed, sanded, and recaulked, and new teak decking has been added to both sides.

Inside the cabins, the soles (floors) of all three cabins were replaced, new berths and cabinets were built, and the galley was refurbished and re-equipped.