Boat builder: ‘It was my sanctuary’ |

Boat builder: ‘It was my sanctuary’

Sun News Service photoAfter Danny Webb's wife died, he spent the next 19 years the building a 46-foot sailboat in his southern Nevada County back yard.

NEVADA CITY “-When Danny Webb’s first wife, Charlene, died of a brain tumor in 1988, he needed something to help deal with the pain.

“I thought, I need a hobby,” Webb said recently from his home south of Grass Valley.

The hobby turned into the building of a 46-foot sailboat that took 19 years to complete in his southern Nevada County backyard. It’s now floating in a Berkeley marina, awaiting its maiden voyage.

Webb, a lifelong construction worker, also has built two homes by himself. Considering the work he put into the boat christened Gypsy Soul, “I could have built 20 homes, maybe 30,” Webb said.

For this project, however, he had an unexpected partner. He met his second wife, Marilyn, in 1990, and she helped him for the next 18 years.

“He was working with two young kids and didn’t have much of a chance to work on it, except for weekends,” Marilyn Webb said. “But we got to plan everything out for the boat and even designed the interior.”

Danny Webb’s love of boats and the water started in his youth when he helped a man build a tugboat to ply the Mississippi River, which flowed by his hometown of Blytheville, Ark.

Five years in the U.S. Navy followed by ownership of his first sailboat in San Diego made him a dedicated sailor.

The Gypsy Soul started when Webb found a hull in Granite Bay. He brought it home, righted it and then had to break the mold off before he could start building the interior.

The vessel mostly was made of fiberglass and wood. Webb hauled in more than 7,000 pounds of lead for the ballast and spent much of his time in special suits to ward off the toxic materials he was dealing with.

The worst part was “fiberglassing,” Webb said. “It’s ugly, smelly and itchy.

“I wouldn’t recommend building a boat to anybody. Just buy one,” because finding pieces for a boat can be an arduous task.

“We bought a mast in Minden (Nev.), and then a guy called and asked if we wanted to sell it,” Marilyn Webb said. “It was too large anyway and wouldn’t have worked, he would have had to chop it down.”

The first engine for the boat was being built in Sacramento when the man crafting it went out of business. They found another one and considered themselves lucky, although the two misfires were about the only major problems in the project.

“The only way to do a project like this is to do it on your own land, because once I put it in the water, it was 10 grand,” Danny said.

To get a 46-foot sailboat out of a rural back yard and down a narrow country lane in late October, the Webbs hired a crane. The crane lifted the 25,000-pound boat onto a low-boy trailer, which transported it three hours away to the San Francisco Bay marina.

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