Tom Bissey, from Decatur, IL, grew up with a lake nearby and his family always had power boats. He was active in Sea Scouts as a teenager and and involved with the local Yacht Club, crewing on Lightnings, Thistles & Snipes. In 1975 he moved to CA. Tom first learned about the tall ship in November 2013 when he went to visit Burkell Plumbing, around the corner, and saw the tent while driving by. He walked in, met Richard O’Keefe and asked if he could volunteer. Sam Marx signed him up. He has been a carpenter all his life but this was his first time, from the ground up, being involved in boat building. If he had done this project 40 years earlier it would have changed the trajectory of his life; He would have chosen a career in boat building or another marine trade! He said he has learned so much from Alan, Franz, Richard, Barry, etc., people who are very precise in their building. He started out doing planking, scarf joints and every kind of carpentry, helping with the rails and bulwarks, deck beams and the structure of the ship. He had the most fun bagging and glassing the cabin structures. Camaraderie has also been a big part of the experience. Many volunteers, like Rebel and Jerry, are excellent carpenters and Tom has also learned from them. Tom plans to continue volunteering with maintenance and upcoming projects like building the new dock. Tom and his wife Judy (also a volunteer) want to do some traveling when Covid is over.
Jerry Koch, from Green Bay, WI, sailed on the Great Lakes from age 12. His father and he built a Lightning class sailboat. They did a bit of racing, but mostly went out with friends or took it on camping trips. After 10 years working as an urban forester, he quit his job and took off cruising the Great Lakes for 2 years on a 40 ft sailboat. He still returns there every summer to sail with an old friend. He then worked with Palmer Johnson in Sturgeon Bay, installing boat hardware (cleats, & winches) and manufacturing spars. He helped deliver one of the ships he built from the Lakes, out the St Lawrence to Marseilles, a voyage of 2 months. 6 years ago, he was at the Arts Festival and saw MT when just 6 frames were up. He went the following day to volunteer, realizing it was the opportunity of his life to help build a ship! “If I listen and observe, this will be like going to boat building school”. He learned from Richie O’Keeffe and Franz Baichl, gaining confidence in his skills through this experience. He partnered with Tom Bissey. They developed a routine with certain tasks like glue ups and worked well together. “We tend to think alike and catch each other before making mistakes”. Nowadays Jerry likes going in once per week to help finish up building the interior and do some maintenance. He is also building a 12’ Scamp (NZ design) for cruising, after selling his first build, a 16’ Skeery, a design from Chesapeake Lake Craft. In addition to volunteering for COTS, he volunteers with CASA, helping a foster child he sees several times a month.
Jon Allen,”Rebel”, was born in Chicago. WWII brought the family to Ross, CA. His father was in the Navy and got a commission working in SF on Naval ships repairing steam propulsion all around the Bay, Hunters Pt, Mare Island & Vallejo. Jon moved to Sausalito in the 60’s, where he sailed a bit on his father’s friend’s boat and did some boat maintenance. He became a licensed General Contractor. Another tall ship volunteer, Chas Denicke, called Jon to let him know about the tall ship project a week before the keel was delivered. Jon recalls he signed up May 28, 2014 and has been dedicated to the project since then. Early on, he reminisced about trying to figure out what was in the mind of the shipwrights since there were no plans for him to see. Though there were plans for keel, frames and planking, the rest was designed as it was built. He will continue to help finish building out interior items, maintenance and modifications. Jon’s next adventure will be just enjoying life! Lots to do even though he cannot travel, continuing his projects and hobbies.
Volunteer profiles compiled by Sylvia Stewart Stompe, from her interviews with the volunteers.