Theirs was a relationship that bloomed over a shared love of sailing and boats. Now, after spending their adult lives together – and on the sea more often than not – Ruth and Garrett Jolly, having restored a succession of oceangoing boats, have returned to Ruth’s home territory of Napa County to build one of their own.
A 35-foot-long craft has been taking shape for nearly three years, including the last five months at the Napa Valley Marina. When completed later this year, the Rediviva (Latin for ‘revived’) will become a tribute to the days of wooden sailboats, and the latest example the do-it-yourself spirit of the 26-year-old Jollys, who are documenting their project in their blog Salt & Tar and a YouTube video series.
“The goal is to go as far as we can, and see as much as we can,” the dreadlocked and tanned Garrett Jolly, who married Ruth in 2012, said Saturday morning aboard the unfinished boat off Milton Road south of Napa.
Inspired by boatmaking techniques left behind by the move from wood to advanced materials, the Rediviva will be the sixth vessel owned and restored by the couple. Unlike their previous boats, it will be almost entirely the Jollys’ creation, its structure assembled from scratch, in part from trees they chose from woodlands in Washington state.
For the couple, creating an ocean-going craft almost entirely with their own hands may be the ultimate expression of a skill that is at once their work, their pleasure and their hands-on classroom.
“To me, restoration was my school,” said Garrett. “We bought boats for next to nothing, or got them for free. My mindset is that if it’s gonna be cut up, I can’t screw it up any worse. I would buy it and tear into it and see how it was put together, see the concept of what makes a wooden boat work. So over time, I learned by doing.”
The goal for the couple’s latest effort is that “if it were the 1800s, this still wouldn’t look out of place,” he added.
Garrett, who sailed his first 8-foot craft as a 10-year-old in Morro Bay, and Ruth first met as 15-year-olds when their families happened to be vacationing in Aruba at the same time – although a sailing excursion they would have shared was canceled due to a boat problem. Too young for driver licenses, the teens nonetheless began seeing each other as regularly as they could, taking the train for as long as 10 hours each way between her home in the North Bay and his on the Central Coast.
“Over time it became a lifestyle that we shared,” recalled Ruth, whose family came to Napa when she was 7. “We bought our first boat at 17, together.”
The couple’s first sailing boat lacked an engine and took a beating as its new owners battled 40-knot winds to take it from Santa Barbara north to Morro Bay. Despite that bruising start, Garrett and Ruth persisted, sailing to Mexico after moving in together as 18-year-olds. Despite earning a college degree, Ruth committed fully to the seagoing life, working a succession of restaurant jobs to help support the couple’s boat restoration and sailing.
“That was a crazy time of school and working full time, and I wanted nothing to do with it anymore,” Ruth recalled Saturday outside Napa. The couple is funding the Rediviva’s construction with a temporary chef’s job at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena, as well as a Patreon online fundraising account.
“A boat can be a lot of work, but out on the ocean, everything slows down. That’s when I had a realization that I could do this forever. To get someplace completely on your own power, that was something I had ever experienced before. It wasn’t about what I wanted to do when I grew up; it was what I wanted to be.”
Even the couple’s hunt for raw materials showed their determination not to take the easy, store-bought path. Their search led them to a Craigslist advertisement for lumber scrapped from a demolished 1940s schoolhouse, which netted them bargain-price wood from the school’s rafters and gym bleachers (whose seat numbers are still visible inside the bow). A long-dead Douglas fir, still standing in a Portland park, found new life as outside planking for the Rediviva’s hull, and the Jollys also acquired an engine, portholes and windows saved from other boats.
Sixty-seven acres of logging land in White Salmon, Washington belonging to a friend supplied the masts and spars. The woods also became their first workshop, as the couple spent more than two years laying down their boat while living in a travel trailer on the property before moving the vessel to Napa Valley Marina.
When complete, the Rediviva’s snug and currently bare-ribbed confines below decks will nonetheless contain a bedroom, bathroom, galley kitchen, dining room and two guest bunks, driven by solar power and illuminated by a combination of oil lanterns and LED lighting.
Ruth and Garrett Jolly’s plans with their throwback vessel may include revisiting seas and towns they visited in Mexico on previous boats, as well as striking out for more distant landmarks in Hawaii and Alaska – and crossing oceans toward Asia, one of the few adventures still on their to-do list.
“We’re too spontaneous for plans; we make ideas,” said Garrett Jolly. “And the idea is to see as much of the world as we can.”