10 years of love, labor, turn into beautiful boat for Yelm couple

3,000-hour journey started in a cow pasture

Staff writerMay 7, 2014 

Mike and Brenda Waldrop love working with wood.

“We’re unskilled wood butchers,” Mike Waldrop said.

“We build everything that we see that we want,” Brenda Waldrop added. “Instead of buying it, we’ll build it.

Ten years ago, Brenda was driving when she spotted something off the road that she wanted. “I found the hull of the boat out in somebody’s cow field and I started looking at it. And I told my husband, ‘You know, if you’re going to retire soon, you need something to do.’ So we went up and talked to the guy and just bought it.”

The 33-foot hull cost only $2,400 dollars and was in relatively decent shape. The same couldn’t be said for the rest of the boat.

“The hull was beautiful, but the cabin top was pretty weather-beaten,” Mike said.

It wasn’t the couple’s first boat. They had already owned another wooden boat — a 20-footer — but this project was a new proposition altogether.

“The first thing we did was take care of the cabin top so that it wouldn’t leak anymore,” Brenda said. “It was all rotted out and everything. They’d used the wrong kind of wood so we had to strip out the whole cabin top and remake it.”

That was only the start of a project that would take the Yelm couple 10 years to complete.

“We didn’t figure that it would take this long,” Brenda said.

“It was in excess of 3,000 hours of work,” Mike added.

Boat restorations are “really a labor of love,” Kevin Gordham, a dockmaster for the Olympia Wooden Boat Fair, said. “There’s a lot of stuff you need to know, and it’s not necessarily hard work, but there’s a lot of it.”

In a playful nod to just how long the process took, the Waldrops ultimately named their boat the Donoyet.

“Anytime anyone would ask anything about the boat, ‘When it would be done? Where are we going to go?’ We’d answer, ‘Don’t know yet,’” Brenda said.

In many instances throughout the project, Mike went above and beyond regular boat design and restoration.

“I designed my own jacks and built them,” he said. “I got 7,000 pounds of lead and poured our own ballast. We also made our own smelters so we could melt the lead.”

“He also built the mast too, which is 48 feet,” Brenda said. “We had wood especially cut by a farmer out here in Yelm and let it dry for two or three years, and then he started to manufacture a 48-foot box mast.”

The intensive project came to an end this April, when the couple finally launched their boat into the water.

“It was very overwhelming because after all of these years to see it actually being put in the water, it was just … you’re awestruck,” she said.

“I saw it right after it got put in the water and went onboard. (Mike) has done a lot of nice work to it,” Gordham said. “He basically bought a shell and had to put a whole interior into it. Not too many people could do that.”

Once all was said and done and the boat was finished, what had been an abandoned $2,400 foot hull was ultimately appraised by John Miles, a marine surveyor with The Evergreen State College at $70,000.

For the couple, who have been married for 45 years, the project proved to be a rewarding journey.

“It’s been an experience, and we’ve certainly learned a lot,” Brenda said. “We’ve done so much of it together. You know both of us are in the boat.”

And what did Mike learn?

“You have to be dedicated to your wife first and the boat second.”

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