Five years ago, Capt. Phil Barchet and his Whangaroa-based charter business Blue Water Adventures were happy catching plenty of fish from their custom-built White Pointer boat King Hit. Phil had been fishing his entire life and had run a successful business in Northland for over 15 years but there was something bothering him.
Every time he left or returned to Whangaroa he passed the same vessel. A vessel that was clearly strong, seaworthy, and well-designed yet sitting idle on its mooring beside the marina. As an engineer and commercial skipper, it nagged Phil that this boat was far too good to sit unused and uncared for. This was a vessel built for the open ocean and that’s where it should be.
It eventually became too much for Phil, so he set about finding the owner and finding out why such a good boat wasn’t being used. By chance, the mystery was unravelled. The boat had been purchased by an older gentleman a couple of years prior and he simply ran out of time and energy to use it. It turned out that the boat had a huge history in tuna fishing and the charter industry, known as one of the toughest and most seaworthy boats of its time and respected and admired by many.
Although not looking to change boats at the time, Phil recognised the opportunity to follow a different path in fishing and chase adventures in locations not accessible to lesser craft.
There was no doubt that the boat needed some work to bring it up to scratch but unfazed, a deal was struck, and the boat had a new enthusiastic owner.
The boat was Demelza, a 15m Frank Pelin-designed commercial vessel built in 1991 in Tauranga. She is exceptionally well constructed from steel and designed for extended periods at sea. Overbuilt in many respects and fitted with Gardner diesel engines (regarded by many as the best marine diesel ever made) she had all the ingredients of a mini battleship, a vessel that could safely take both Phil and others on adventures almost anywhere in the Pacific.
Hauled out for the first time before work got underway.
That was the start of a long hard road according to Phil, and although experienced on most aspects of marine refitting, even he underestimated the amount of work required to bring it up to his standards. In his words, Phil is a bit of a perfectionist.
“Everything must not just be right but better than right. Every aspect of the boat must be as bulletproof as possible, and nothing can be left to chance.
The first time he took the boat off the mooring, she would only do about 2 knots. There was a mussel farm growing on the hull, the engine was making a horrible knocking noise and there was a jungle of old wiring, plumbing and hydraulics that had to be sorted.
First on the agenda was to get under the paint and see what he was working with. He took her to Whangarei and sandblasted the hull and decks back to bare steel. What he found was a near-perfect surface underneath, so he set about cutting, grinding and welding parts that he wanted to modify and then followed with a commercial grade Carboline paint system.
About three months were spent on the hardstand not just painting but replacing many exterior components including a new shaft, says Phil. The shaft was OK but like everything else, it had to be perfect. A ridiculously expensive 3-inch diameter 5m long piece of 2205 grade stainless steel was purchased, tapers, threads and keyways were machined in Phil’s workshop, and then these were fitted along with a custom glass stern tube and cutless bearings.
Before the refit, the foredeck was cluttered and weathered.
The prop was re-pitched and tuned, and the shaft and rudder seals were replaced. The hull also went through a full ultrasonic thickness test to doublecheck for any hidden degradation. With a clean bill of health and a Maritime NZ (MNZ) underwater signoff, the boat was back in the water, looking sharp in her new paint and performing better than ever.
Next on the list was the engine. Gardner engines are known to be ultra-reliable – their lifespan often exceeds 100,000 hours. With the engine sitting under the saloon the only option was to remove the floor and do the work in place. No easy task but with a bit of Kiwi ingenuity a gantry was fabricated, and parts lifted one by one into the saloon for inspection and measuring.
The foredeck after hours of grinding and cutting is now a huge, useable space.
The knocking was found to be caused, as expected, by some damage to one piston but aside from that, and despite the 25,000 previous running hours, the rest of the components were near perfect. A new piston, a full set of rings, and a valve job on the heads were all that was needed but just to be sure Phil stripped, cleaned, and repainted every other component from fuel pumps to plumbing before reassembling and aligning the fresh power plant.
“The engine has run like a Swiss watch ever since,” says Phil.
The older style mechanical engines are, in his opinion, far superior in reliability to the modern electronic units. There is very little to go wrong with a mechanical engine – give it fuel, air, and compression and it will run, as opposed to its electronic counterparts which rely on computers and sensors.
The previous wiring was a huge birds nest!
The boat may not do 20 knots, but it will always get home and for Phil, that’s the priority. The boat was now as seaworthy and reliable as ever and focus was turned to fitting Demelza out for fishing the way Phil wanted. With a huge cockpit, wide walkaround side decks, and a large foredeck, there’s plenty of room to fish or relax for multiple anglers.
Ready for paint. Note the wide sidedecks - easy to walk around and fish from.
Down below in the forward cabin, eight large bunks provided ample sleeping accommodation, but the saloon and bathroom were somewhat cramped and needed a rethink. In keeping with his engineering background there was only one option; tear it apart and start from scratch and that’s exactly what Phil did. The interior was stripped out to a blank steel box and a revised layout was planned and fabricated with steel framing. The framing was then epoxy coated and the side wall cavities were filled with closed-cell foam for insulation (an interesting exercise pouring expanding foam into dozens of vertical cavities between the framing).
The prop is huge measuring almost 40” in diameter. Here it is about to be lapped onto the shaft taper.
The interior was then finished with ash veneer ply bonded directly to the framing and then trimmed with American oak, again custom machined in Phil’s workshop. New squabs and upholstery then completed the revised saloon. The bathroom was also made larger, fitted with a domestic toilet, and clad with a custom one-piece liner to waterproof the entire area.
A domestic shower was installed, complimented by a hot water system capable of supplying enough water for everybody aboard. During this phase, the entire plumbing and electrical systems were replaced with new gear and extra systems were installed for redundancy in the event of failure or the need for expansion. Attention then turned to the electronic systems. Phil wanted the best equipment that he could buy so it’s no surprise that he chose Simrad. The system is comprehensive and set up with a wealth of fish-finding, navigating and communication equipment.
Any piece of the equipment can fail, says Phil, so a backup for everything is in place just in case. A 3kW chirp and 2kW conventional transducer feed the three Simrad display units. Multiple GPS receivers, wind, and wave data, dual autohelm controllers, bird finding radar and much more, all come together in an integrated system that gives the crew the best chance to find fish and stay safe in the remote locations he visits.
This last season also saw the addition of real-time computerbased weather monitoring and forecasting plus full-time satellite communication and data systems. This has been a game changer according to Phil. The ability to check weather, currents, and sea states at any time enables the crew to stay safer, travel in better conditions and plan to get the most out of their trips.
Safety is covered with the usual slew of lifejackets, flares, etc. and backed up by a Solas grade liferaft, multiple EPIRBs (including an automatic float-free unit), and personal AIS transponders (locatable by radar) for anyone who needs to venture outside alone while underway at night. His aim is to never be in a situation where any of this gets used but, in the event, he wants it to all be there and ready.
The interior was then completed with a full domestic-sized oven and cabinetry to compliment the large outdoor BBQ and makes it easy to prepare and serve top-quality meals – an absolute must for groups that fish hard all day.
Note the size of the steel shaft tube and custom Vesconite shaft bearing, typical of Demelza’s construction.
Many other jobs were completed along the way – new exhaust systems, new marine-certified toughened glass windows, rebuilt hydraulics for the massive anchor winch and bow thruster, a cockpit helm station, and conversion of the fish hold to storage and crew accommodation. The list goes on and on.
Demelza has been returned to MNZ survey standards and with a 100-mile offshore limit – including the Chatham Islands – she is certified for adventure far and wide. Getting such a survey is a massive task and just finding a surveyor willing to take the job on is tough enough. Phil is quick to pass credit to David Nichols of Coastal Marine Surveys for working with him throughout the long process.
Demelza just before relaunch. Her open water design is clear to see.
On the list was also fishing tackle that was up to the task of day-in and day-out thrashing. From bait to swordfish catching, the boat is kitted out with Shimano gear. Rods and reels for every task are aboard and ready for guests to use without fear of breakages or failures.
“From where we started to where we are now is huge,” says Phil.
“We are still constantly making improvements, but we have a vessel that is safe, seaworthy, and able to comfortably fish wherever we want to go.
“With several seasons of charters to the Three Kings and beyond, Demelza has proven to be a great all-round platform for all types of activities. She is stable on the drift and at anchor, she pushes comfortably through almost any sea state, and she is as solid as a battleship. Exactly what you want when you’re going to war with big fish.”
Looking ahead there are more plans for improvement but for now, Phil just wants to go fishing. “We want to share the incredible experiences we are having and take other people on bucket list adventures. We have the gear, the experience, and the boat to do it, so why not give it heaps.”
Phil has some advice about fishing dreams: “The planet is changing and with it the fisheries. We may never see fishing and opportunity this good again so don’t wait for ‘one day’ – get some mates and book a trip now while you can. Life is too bloody short to just sit and think about it!”
You can find out more about Blue Water Adventures HERE.
September 2023 - NZ Fishing Media
New Zealand Fishing News Magazine.
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