Bo (Bosun) Spiller – Shipwright and Craftsman

by John M. MacFarlane 2014

Bo Spiller

Bo Spiller on the Job at Commodore’s Boats (Photo from the Nauticapedia Collection.))

Bosun (Bo) Frederick Spiller was born in 1973 at the remote town of Butedale BC on Princess Royal Island. As a young man his Dad, Alex Spiller, was a Boatswain in the Royal Canadian Navy. He and Bo's mother were employed at Butedale as caretakers. Afterwards they moved to Dodge Cove, a small community near Prince Rupert BC. After his navy days his Dad had apprenticed as a shipwright under Ivor Wahl in Prince Rupert BC at the Wahl Yard. In 1976 Alex Spiller purchased the Wahl Boatyard as a going concern. Bo spent his early years hanging around boatyards, shipwrights and boat owners. He couldn't avoid picking up skills and knowledge and with a name like Bosun he would seem to have been predestined for a career around boats.

When he was twelve Bo’s family moved to Chemainus BC. Alex started building the Spirit of Chemainus in Dodge Cove and shipped the partially built hull down the coast and completed it for SALTS. At the end of the project the family moved on to Ladysmith where his Dad built the Ocean Light for Tom Ellison, a Vancouver school teacher. When that job was completed they moved on to Sidney BC where Bo completed school. His Dad became a partner in Meadows Marine Surveys Ltd. and worked actively as a Marine Surveyor.

While he was in school he began working after school and on weekends with the well–known shipwright Peter London in Sidney. He did helper tasks for London and did some seam caulking for the first time. He was encouraged to try a range of tasks while Peter London kept a close eye on his activities. Bo says he learned a lot there under the cranky but highly skilled shipwright Peter London.

At age 16 he moved back to Prince Rupert and did two years working at McLean’s Shipyard doing repairs and maintenance. By that time McLean’s, he notes, had stopped building new vessels and were in the maintenance and repair business.

When his Dad moved back to Prince Rupert he went to work managing Port Edward Marine (the ex–Nelson Brothers yard) for owner Al Shepherd. Bo joined him doing corking, moving boats and other shipwright helper jobs. At this time Spiller became ticketed as a Marine Mechanic – his Red Seal certificate still displayed on his office wall. His biggest job at that time was replacing the stern on a boat under his own supervision. Chafing under parental supervision Bo wanted to get out on his own and at age 19 he went into business for himself with Spiller Boat Building (now Commodores Boats Ltd. Capitalizing on his welding skills be bought a Mig welding machine and rented a storage locker for his tools next to the travel lift at the Northern Native Fishing Company. Specializing in mobile repairs he developed a clientele among the Vietnamese crab fleet who kept him busy.

When he wasn’t working on boats he did some commercial fishing half–time for the next 7–8 years (mainly halibut and cod, but also some salmon. He he worked as a deckhand on the Angela Lynn (for 4 years) under Angus Tobin who undertook charters for the International Pacific Halibut Commission in Alaska. He served in the Nalle fishing halibut and in the Mystic Era fishing salmon.

In 2001 he moved Spiller Boat Building to Richmond BC at the Shelter Island Marina, renamed later as Commodore’s Boats Ltd. He has a significant footprint there, with a large ‘Quonsett–style’ building for a shop and office with large vessels on either side and, as–needed, he rents space out in the Marine work yard for specific boat projects.

Commodores Boats

The main shop area and office. Note the Martha K. at the far left, and the Silver Mist on the right side behind the saw mill. (Photo from the Spiller Collection.))

Commodore’s Boats is a full–service, all hull materials yard that can cope with just about any conceivable job related to yachts and working boats. It is also a family business – his wife Jaquie runs the office and his kids help out and learn on the job in the family tradition. He has a good staff of tradesmen, including 4 competent shipwrights, a marine mechanic, a welder, and several good helpers. He works on jobs primarily at his shop but can be induced to work off–site all over Vancouver and on Vancouver Island – mostly with wood which he loves. When I was visiting he had two large vessels on cradles outside on which the staff were undertaking serious through–hull fitting work.

Commodores Boats

Inside the Covered Work Area Showing Project Underway and Major Tools (Photo from the Nauticapedia Collection.))

"No one has been actively commercially building heavy wooden boats anymore on the BC coast for quite some time," he reflects with a note of sadness mixed with the reality of the business. "But," he notes, "there are still a lot of wooden fish boats, tugs and yachts that need re–building, repair and maintenance." While he takes on all sorts of work he says that "restorations are the best most satisfying jobs."

He gets his wood from a number of different sources. He has a contractor, S. & J. Lumber who has located a small mill right on his site to mill logs into lumber. Some of it comes from a Parksville source (Beaufort Forest Products Ltd.). His edge–grain red cedar comes from Albion BC. He lets the large planks dry for two years, while the smaller stuff dries for a year.

He is working, in his spare time, on a personal boat project. He has a Monk–design hull originally built in 1965 that he has reconstructed from an empty shell. He has constructed a 1940s–style housework that will allow almost year–round use in the wet BC coastal climate. It is well underway and he expects to complete it early next year.

Commodores Boats

Bo Spiller’s Personal Project Based on a 1965 Monk–designed Hull (Photo from the Nauticapedia Collection.))

Dredge No. 4

Dredge No. 4 a heritage museum vessel at Dawson City YT under restoration. (Photo from the Spiller collection.) )

His biggest job, so far, was the rebuild of the forward end of Dredge No. 4 a heritage museum vessel at Dawson City YT for Parks Canada. The project ran for three summers (2010–2012). She is a big dry–berthed vessel, 3,200 tons, and required major timber framing by a specialized crew. There is still more work to be done and Parks Canada is waiting on more funding.

Yellow Cedar

Lord Nelson III under restoration showing replacement of stem in yellow cedar. (Photo from the Spiller collection.) )

The other major jobs that he is proudest of were the rebuild of the tug Swell (2004–2005) and the Viking King (2003). On those project he had up to 20 workers all devoted to the work. At the time I interviewed him this summer (2014) he was well advanced on the Silver Mist rebuild and had just started on the rebuild of the Yellow Cedar.

Silver Mist

Silver Mist an old fishing vessel under restoration showing aft cabin framework. (Photo from the Spiller collection.) )

Commodore’s Boats Ltd. is located at 6911 Graybar Road, Richmond BC V6W 1H3. Bo Spiller, General Manager, can be reached at 604–247–2628 (604–24–7–BOAT)or bo@commodoresboats.com . See the website at www.commodoresboats.com

Commodores Boats

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2014) Bo (Bosun) Spiller – Shipwright and Craftsman. Nauticapedia.ca 2014. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Spiller.php

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