Vessel Profile: F/V Stillwater Improves with Every Upgrade
Every year, numerous Northwest boats are sponsoned, and many go back into the water looking like a new design. But some owners go even further, putting their boats through a conversion process that slowly but surely changes the boat into something so far removed from the starting point, it literally takes your breath away. The boat I'm talking about is the F/V Stillwater, owned by John Roos since 2005 and based in Charleston, Oregon.
Stillwater began its life in the early 1990s as the F/V April Dawn, owned by John Warner. The boat was a half-built crabber/troller originally 41 feet by 14 feet, sitting by the water at Moss Landing, California, fitted with a 671 Detroit Diesel. Warner finished the boat, added a small 10-KW genset, and fished it until 2000. That was when a boat moored next to him had a faulty battery charger that ate out a big piece of the bottom of the April Dawn, sending the boat to the bottom.
Warner pumped it out, got the engine running, and took it into Giddings' yard in Charleston (under the original owner Don Giddings) to have it patched up. This became the first of several yard visits where the work list expanded once the boat was on the ways. Warner decided to lengthen the boat by adding 9 feet to the stern, making it 50 feet overall.
John Roos bought the boat in 2005, knowing that it was too narrow and needed to be sponsoned to pay its way. He took it to Fred Wahl in Reedsport, Oregon where once again the scope of the project increased significantly. "While dangling from the crane I had a crazy idea of raising all my decks 18 inches! At the time this seemed crazy but I ran it by the engineer and we came to the conclusion it would also allow us to open up all voids, turning it into a widening job, not a sponsoning."
Wahl actually cut off the bow and added four feet to each side, to make it 22 feet wide. This more than tripled the hold capacity from 15,000 to 50,000 lbs.
Roos also had the yard raise the engine room ceiling to offer more head room, making it easier to repower with a 400-hp John Deere, and a 65 KW genset.
"Finally, the boat was re-named Stillwater, and we finished the job in time to start the winter 2005 crab season on the Oregon Coast. This made an incredible difference as to the hold capacity and fuel capacity as well as overall stability of the boat," John recalled, But after a couple years of "driving around in the elements," Roos contacted Ray Cox, who was then the owner of Tarheel Aluminum and is now the owner of Giddings. "He came down to my boat in its slip and we talked about putting a tophouse on." Roos had a blackcod season ending in a month and a crab season starting one month after that.
"So what we came up with was to take a bunch of measurements and he would pre-fab it while I was catching my blackcod and then we would drop it in place while the boat was in the water and I could still make crab season," Roos explained. The new tophouse provided a much better view of the pots alongside. "That worked out OK and was the start of my dealings with Ray Cox. We have always had a good working relationship."
In 2015, Roos decided to get into shrimp. The Stillwater was outfitted at Giddings with new poles, booms and winches. "The crew learned a lot that first season," Roos says. "Most importantly, the John Deere didn't have enough power to keep the shrimp nets floating in a head wind."
The boat was pretty much a "fair weather" shrimper, John admitted. So in 2016, he brought it back to Giddings for more work. Naval architect Bruce Culver of Tacoma who often consults for Giddings, re-designed a new, deeper keel to give some grip on the water, and a new bulbous bow. Changes were needed in the engine room to accommodate a 640-HP Cummins KTA19M3 with a new Twin Disc Transmission. The forward engine room bulkhead was removed and the engine room moved further into the bow, along with the existing 65 kW gensets to run the 40HP IMS reefer and a new 100 kW genset.
This took over the fo'c'sle cabin, so the freeboard was raised around the foredeck creating an enclosed whaleback cabin for the crew berths. The extra 300 HP required the doubling of the drive shaft diameter from 2-1/2 inches to 5 inches, and the fitting of a new 57-inch four-bladed prop from Rice, and a new 58-inch Kort nozzle. All new hydraulics and electric pumps and alarms brought the engine room right up to date.
With the hull opened up forward, Roos felt this was the best chance to finish the conversion by adding another 8 feet to the stern, bringing the length to 57 feet, 10 inches by 21 feet 10 inches.
This increased the hold again, bringing the capacity up to 70,000 lbs. and raising the fuel tankage from 5,000 gallons to 8,500 and the freshwater to about 500 gallons. However, it also meant more work to remove the rudderpost, rudder and steering system and re-install them further aft.
This all took more time than expected, and the boat was re-launched in early September with a stunning new lavender paint job. At this point, John decided to do the rest of the finishing work himself at his slip. The boat's complete transformation had occupied more than 15 years and cost a lot more than he had ever imagined, or the yard's had ever bid, and it will take several years of good catches to pay off the cost. He still knows it will be worth it in the long run, and looks forward to many productive years at the helm.