Alec Spiller – Shipwright and Boat Builder

by John MacFarlane 2016

Alec Spiller

Alec Spiller (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Alec Spiller was born in Vancouver BC but moved with his parents in 1952 to Port Edward BC while still a small child. He moved to Prince Rupert where he grew up. He remembers travelling with his father up and down the coast where his father did business as a travelling accountant with Nelson Brothers, a background that indelibly stamped a passion for boats, fishing and the sea. Alec spent his teen years fishing the Northwest Coast of British Columbia and the Gulf of Alaska on wooden salmon trollers, seiners and bottom draggers.

Alec Spiller eventually purchased the Wahl shipyard and sawmill in 1970 and continued in the Wahl tradition building graceful "West Coast" fishing trollers, old style fishing sailboats and batten seam mahogany speed boats. A large part of his business was doing major renovations on the Northern fishing fleet including lengthening, wheelhouses, new sterns, and re–caulking. In addition some large sail training vessels were designed and completed out of wood using “East Coast” fishing schooner and sloop designs using lines from the collection of the classic designer Howard I. Chapelle and the Smithsonian Institute. He is now (2016) mainly a cargo surveyor assessing damage to cargoes for insurance purposes.

Spiller Family

The Spiller Family (from l to r) Alec Spiller, Bo Spiller and Teak Spiller in front of their project to lengthen and rebuild the Swell. Alec is the father of boat builders Bosun (Bo) Spiller and Teak Spiller and they worked together as Spiller Boat Building Ltd. before moving on in separate professional directions. (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Alec Spiller spent four years in the Royal Canadian Navy as a Seaman Bosun and after specialization he worked in the weapons department a radar technician.

In 1969 after his naval service Alec was employed at the Wahl Boatyard at Dodge Cove as an apprentice shipwright. He took time out to spend a year at the recently closed Butedale Cannery as a caretaker with the Canadian Fishing Co. Afterwards he moved his family to Dodge Cove, a small community near Prince Rupert BC and resumed his apprenticeship with the the Wahls particularly under Ivor Wahl whom he regards in hindsight as the most talented of the shipwright Wahls. The Wahls closed the Dodge cove yard and moved their operations into Prince Rupert and Spiller moved with them.

Ivor Wahl stayed on to act as a mentor to Spiller as he took over the business and carried on construction. This involved supervising the construction of four big freezer trollers, some speed boats. In 1975 Spiller purchased the Wahl Boatyard at Dodge Cove which he had to rebuild to get into operation. His first projects were some 26’ sailing fishboats. He did a number of re&nash;builds on boats squaring sterns and putting on new wheelhouses. He costructed four trollers.

He recalls that he ran a small sawmill to produce the specialized lumber and timber needed. His preferred material was the readily available (at that time) red cedar and yellow cedar. Other wood came from Beach–combed logs, from other cedar mills and some fir from down south and he used gumwood sheathing and mahogany decking and trim from Brazil. Once the hulls were completed the hulls were moved across the harbour for installation of the engine. Then the hull was returned to the Spiller yard for completion.

Spirit of Chemainus

Spirit of Chemainus (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Spiller moved his family to Chemainus BC. Alec started building the Spirit of Chemainus in Dodge Cove and shipped the partially built hull down the coast and completed it for SALTS (the Sail and Life Training Society). 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.

Chain Saw Keel

Chain saw keel constructed for the ill–fated British Columbian sailing ship construction project at Ladysmith BC (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

One project that was not completed was the construction of a sailing ship, the British Columbian, that was initiated in Ladysmith BC but later cancelled. The keel eventually ended up installed in the fishing vessel Cape James by Allied Ship Building in Vancouver.

Ocean Light

Ocean Light design rendering and half hull model (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Ocean Light

Ocean Light as recently rebuilt in a Mexican yard. (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Alec Spiller started building the Spirit of Chemainus in Dodge Cove and shipped the partially built hull down the coast and completed it for SALTS (the Sail and Life Training Society). At the end of the project the family moved on to Ladysmith where he built the Ocean Light for Tom Ellison, a Vancouver school teacher. When that job was completed they moved on to Sidney BC. Alec became a partner in Meadows Marine Surveys Ltd. and worked actively as a Marine Surveyor. He continues to work as a cargo surveyor mainly in Vancouver.

In 2001 the Spillers moved Spiller Boat Building to Mitchell Island and then on to Richmond BC at the Shelter Island Marina, renamed later as Commodore’s Boats Ltd.

Tug Rendering

Rendering of a Proposed New Tug Design (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Alec and Teak Spiller received a federal grant to develop a new approach to tug design. Teak, who recently received his 150 ton Master's Ticket is an aspiring boat designer. Together they have developed a tug design which uses fibreglass hardened epoxy hulls with very few metal components in contact with the salt water. Fittings that were traditionally metal are designed to be constructed of composite materials. His design is now being considered for construction.

Teak Spiller

Teak Spiller (Photo from the Alec Spiller collection. )

Teak Spiller was born while his father, Alec Spiller, was installing the teak deck of the Ingibjorg K so he was named Teak. Ingibjorg K was built in 1980 at Prince Rupert BC by Dodge Cove Boatyards Ltd. (by shipwright Alec Spiller who had purchased the yard in 1975).

Ingibjorg K

The Ingibjorg K under construction in the yard at Dodge Cove, Prince Rupert BC. Shipwright John Leakey at work on the frames. The little tugboat in the background was Alec Spiller’s first, and used in hand logging and harbour towing. (Photo from the Teak Spiller collection. )

In 1980–2004 Ingibjorg K was owned by B. Kiesman Enterprises Ltd., Prince Rupert BC. In 2004 she was owned by Justin Dickins, Prince Rupert BC. In 2011–2014 she was owned by Northern Princess Seafoods Ltd., Hornby Island BC.

Ingibjorg K

The Ingibjorg K 12.7m x 4.4m x 1.4m Wooden hull. 24.11 Gross Tonnage 10.57 Registered Tonnage She was powered by a 170bhp diesel engine (1980).(Photo from the Teak Spiller collection. )

Ingibjorg K

The Ingibjorg K (Photo from the Teak Spiller collection. )

Teak started in boat building in 1990 as a kid working with his Dad and his older brother Bo Spiller. He started refastening planks, and then moved on to corking when he was a teenager. He worked on weekends until he graduated from high school working as a tug skipper for Sabre Marine doing short harbour tows. He also did some beachcombing, hand logging and commercial fishing in his spare time. He went on to BCIT (the British Columbia Institute of Technology) to obtain his bridge watch keeping certificate. After working a short time with Princess Cruises in the Sky Princess he spent a year as a deckhand with British Columbia Ferries. He worked as a shipwright, surveyor and commercial fisherman (salmon and tuna in 2001 on the Ingibjorg K.) Teak worked with his brother Bo Spiller to establish Commodore’s Boats at Shelter Island Marina until 2006–2012 when he started his own crane business. Since then he has been working as a marine surveyor and taking courses for qualification as a Master Mariner.

Ingibjorg K

The Ingibjorg K (Photo from the Teak Spiller collection. )

Ingibjorg K

Shipwright Alec Spiller at work installing a tank on the beams of the Ingibjorg K (Photo from the Teak Spiller collection. )

Ingibjorg K

The Ingibjorg K (Photo from the Teak Spiller collection. )



To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2016) Alec Spiller – Shipwright and Boat Builder. Nauticapedia.ca 2016. http://nauticapedia.ca/Gallery/Spiller_Alec.php

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