Restore, Rebuild, Re-create, or Rehabilitate?

By Chris Chase, Project Director

Restore, rebuild, re-create, or rehabilitate? It’s one of the most common questions I get. What do you call the partial dismantling of old and replacing with new? The formal definition of the word “restoration” reads, “bringing back to a former position or condition.” The definition of “rebuild” is “to make extensive repairs to.” Both words, “restoration” or “rebuild,” could easily be used in a sentence describing the Western Flyer project.

Recently, someone referred to the Western Flyer project as a “re-creation.” Webster’s definition of re-creation is simple and, to the point, “to create again.” Because the Western Flyer already existed, the definition of starting with nothing and building what is essentially a copy of an original doesn’t apply to our project.

In fact, the most technically accurate term to describe our work on the Western Flyer is “rehabilitation,” which, according to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, is “the act or process of returning a vessel to a state of utility through repair or alterations that make possible an efficient contemporary use while preserving those features of the vessel that are significant to its historical, naval, architectural, technological, and cultural values.”

We also routinely get the question: “After such extensive work, is the Western Flyer still the Western Flyer?” Indeed, we have replaced nearly ninety percent of the original hull and twenty percent of the original house, which begs the question—at what point in the project does it stop being the original boat?

There is an old saying, “if you replace the handle on grandpa’s axe three times and the head twice, it’s still grandpa’s axe.” 

Western Flyer rehabilitation at the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op.

I think Leo Goolden, owner of the S/V Tally Ho, the hundred-plus-year-old restoration underway in Port Townsend, summed it up well in the following quote: “The average age of a human cell is seven to ten years, with a few longer-lived exceptions being the neurons in the cerebral cortex and the lenses in the eyes. So, a decade from now, I, like Tally Ho, will have almost all my parts fully replaced. And yet, I will still be me, and so will she.”

It’s a commonly held belief in the maritime community that if the work on the vessel is being done in the vessel’s footprint, the soul of the boat stays true. Many people worldwide have a small piece of the Western Flyer on their bookcase at home. If each of them built a full-size Western Flyer in their backyard, there would still only be one true Western Flyer. The Western Flyer was rehabilitated in Port Townsend, Washington, in the footprint of the original Western Flyer.

Historical homes worldwide are routinely restored, sometimes replacing nearly all the original structure. Because they have foundations and are connected to the earth, no matter how little of the original building remains, they are still referred to as the same house. After nearly two hundred years and well-funded restoration projects, no one questions whether Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is the house Jefferson lived in when he penned the Declaration of Independence. We say it’s Monticello, so it is Monticello, no question.

In the Northwest, there is a hundred-and-ten-year-old sailing schooner named Adventuress. Every stick of wood in her hull, deck, and house has been replaced, some multiple times. Both of her masts have been replaced, one hundred percent of her is new, but she is still the Adventuress.

The debate over what to call such an in-depth project will continue, but it would be hard to dispute that the soul of the Western Flyer has been, by definition, restored to her original condition for the next eighty years.  

Diagram by Chris Chase showing original (no color) vs. new (color)
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