Blakely’s Dispatch: A Construction Adventure Part II

Blakely Island, WA remained beautiful, sunsets breathtaking, eagles soaring and the Salish Sea sparkling. In the second part of our construction adventure, at the beginning of September, we were still under construction. The master bedroom, bathrooms and kitchen would remain usable, so we decided to stay in the house. Despite the challenges, I was intrigued to see what it would take to build an additional new entrance and roof on an island with no ferry access.

Forms ready for concrete

The next step would be pouring the concrete. An unforeseen delay, due to driver shortages and a heavy summer workload, kept the concrete truck from reaching Blakely for more than three weeks. This gave the team the opportunity to prepare more forms for what would have been a second pour. After passing a second inspection of the remaining forms, we were ready for the concrete.

The concrete truck couldn’t go around the house because of the trees, so an arrow would have to go over the house (a benefit for the flat roof soon to be replaced?) and, of necessity, cross the bridge to reach the shapes at the water’s edge. This meant that the deck planks had to be removed.

The board is disassembled.

If you remember the first episode of this tale, you will remember that we entered the house by walking around the house, under the bridge, up the stairs and entering through the bridge. This being no longer possible, we climbed through the front door using a makeshift ramp. Getting luggage and groceries inside now meant standing in what would ultimately be a crawl space and sliding our purchases down a makeshift bridge over the foundation forms.

The grocery slide

On the morning of the concrete pour, a member of the construction crew made an “interesting” suggestion. He told us that since the boom that would funnel the concrete onto the roof and into the forms at the water’s edge weighs 4 tons, we should consider not being inside the house…”just in case” . Hmmm. Sounded like good advice. We watched eagerly as the first of two big trucks navigated our tree-lined driveway. A small tree had to be removed to make way for the passage. At 24,000 pounds (22 tons written on the side of the truck), the pump/boom truck got there first. Due to the steepness of the job site, the truck was leveled by extending stands that lifted the front tires a foot into the air.

22 tons of pump truck/crane arrive.

Solve the slope challenge

Slowly, the huge spire fanned out like the legs of a praying mantis, reaching the height of its curve more than 60 feet in the air and cutting through some Douglas fir branches. For those of us accustomed to seeing high-rise construction in Chicago, this should have seemed like a minor operation, but its scale in our wooded lot was astonishing.

Over 120 feet of tubing about to span the house.

The concrete truck arrives. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

The concrete truck arrived about 30 minutes later, on a separate barge with its white barrel turning (I missed the red and white stripes of the Ozinga trucks in Chicago). The operator hooked it up to the pump/boom truck and the gray silt started flowing through the boom tube and an additional flexible pipe that workers battled into prepared forms.

The casting continues over the house and across the bridge.

The casting continues over the house and across the bridge.

The casting went quickly. The arrow filled the near side first, then easily cleared the roof and deposited his load on the water’s edge of the house. The process required constant vibration to remove air bubbles and compact the cement, followed by manual smoothing of the surface and redistribute the wet concrete. All of this was new to me and strangely fascinating. Now that would be take several days for the concrete to harden, forms to be removed and preparation to begin for install floor joists.

Smooth concrete by hand

Deleted forms

After the forms were removed, an emulsion was painted on the exterior of the concrete to make it waterproof. Meanwhile, timber for the floor was delivered along with trusses for the new peaked roof. The morning at the marina turned out to be busy when the Island Express water taxi arrived to drop off groceries and pick up a family that was leaving at the same time. There was just enough room for everyone. We wouldn’t be ready for the trusses until the walls were framed, so the trusses had to be moved to a nearby aircraft hangar for temporary storage.

Foundation waterproofing

A near traffic jam at the marina as the barge and Island Express are unloaded

Roof trusses transported to shed for storage

Our lumber and trusses had completely filled the barge. Since one of the trucks stayed on Blakely, we were able to set up our Xterra there for a trip back to the mainland for a well-deserved “spa day” at the Nissan dealership in Burlington. We would be without a car for several days until a place on another barge became available to return it. And no, this usually cannot be scheduled in advance unless you have to charter the whole houseboat yourself. The joys of part-loading by barge and island logistics!

Once the concreting work was completed, our access walkway to the house disappeared. We realized that if we moved a small couch from the guest bedroom full of furniture and boxes to the living room, we could move enough other furniture and boxes to allow entry into the house from the work area through the front door to the guest bedroom.

Our temporary entrance to the house

We continued to rearrange our building materials and boxes as we settled into our less than elegant construction site life. Until the roof comes off we could use the living room for more than storage of building materials. Our single table, a card table hastily scavenged from the storage shed, was our “partners office,” each of us ordering a side with our laptops.

Construction calculations take over the office/dining room

We have also learned to reclaim the space for new activities. We used the card table for our first “dinner,” a chili and cornbread meal for my cousin from Texas, in residence at the house she alternately shares with her brother. Yoga mats fit nearby.

Within a week of the Labor Day weekend, the floor joists for the addition were installed and the floor laid. We would have wood for the walls the following week.

Floor seals in place

Floor ready for wall framing

We were supposed to pick up our car Friday Labor Day weekend after its vacation on the mainland. A plan emerged to return the car to Blakely. We arranged for our contractor to drive it from the dealership and park it near the dock in Anacortes for the water taxi. Over the next three days we would take the water taxi to pick up the car and stop to see friends along the way, we would visit two more islands by car ferry to connect with a houseboat heading to Blakely. If that sounds complicated, it was even harder to plan! The great luxury was to drive from the grocery store to the barge to our house without intermediate loading and unloading of groceries!

A key question must surely have occurred to you by now. Why do we submit to this? We could have stayed in Chicago and monitored the work remotely. Frankly, we are used to juggling logistics, which is part of island life. Personally, I’m learning a lot about construction, well beyond my usual portfolio. There’s always the reason we have a home here in the first place. See the opening sentence of this report!

I had naively thought that part II of our building adventure would conclude the story. It is clear, however, that it is time to take a break again. So if you are still reading these dispatches, stay tuned once again. I hope to have another update in a month or two!

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