Persephone: ‘Nanaimo bar of boats’ needs paint job; Beachcombers fan would ‘love to do it’

For years Doran Amatto has spent his summer months touring B.C. on his electric bike. During his travels through Gibsons, the Nelson-based professional painter noticed something wrong with one of the town’s centrepieces – a former floating TV star was washed up.

“I came through six years ago and saw it sitting here, and of course I was very excited. But I started looking at it closer and I realized, she’s in pretty rough shape,” Amatto said.

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The steel tug known as Persephone was chartered by CBC for The Beachcombers, a hit television show from the 1970s that was filmed in Gibsons for more than two decades. After the show was cancelled, the boat was donated to the town. Today the Persephone rests at Five Corners as a public display, with rust streaking down her hull.

This week Amatto planned to repaint the vessel – and even considered “blowing in and going rogue” – but cancelled due to potential liability and insurance issues. Now he’s hoping that the Town will prioritize the much-needed restoration job.

“This boat, The Beachcombers, is akin to Wayne Gretzky, the Tragically Hip, maple syrup, Bob and Doug McKenzie… Anything that people from other places think is Canada, to me, that boat and the show represents that,” Amatto said. “It’s the Nanaimo bar of boats.”

The vessel is full of water, causing rot and rust. It was braced a few years ago by volunteers, but problems persist. Blue and white paint flake off the chipped wooden cabin, the steering wheel is gone.

“Structurally it’s not very happy at the moment,” said Amatto, who has seen tourists approach it with disappointment. “I watch the older guys, they show up and go, oh, what a shame.”

The Persephone has never been in pristine condition. Even in the 1980s a TV Guide reviewer described it as an “ugly, chipped black hulk.”

“They used to blow up the Persephone with dynamite every couple episodes it seems,” joked Amatto.

His mission wasn’t to restore it to a state it’s never known. “I just wanted to quickly put some lipstick on it.”

The plan was to repaint the hull, bumper and edging and refinish the wood at a cost of about $200 for materials.

“I wasn’t going to go too far with it, I was just going to make it look nice so that when the tourists showed up it looked good.”

Amatto had approached the Town about the project, but nothing concrete came of it.

Factored into the Town’s inaction is the fact that the future of the site where it’s displayed is uncertain.

The site was sold a few years ago and plans are in the works to develop the lot so the Persephone needs to be moved, according to the Town’s communications coordinator, Elizabeth Quayle, who said “no restoration work would take place prior to its placement at a new permanent site.” That site could be on the Holland Lands between the Sunshine Coast Museum and Town Hall.

While there is no “hard deadline” for moving the vessel, funds to develop a permanent site could be earmarked in the 2020 or 2021 budget. The vessel will likely be moved to a temporary site later this year, but no date has been set and the location is yet to be determined.

And if none of that works out, “I’ll just come back and do it myself,” Amatto said. “I’d put in my time. I’d love to do it.”

For Amatto, giving the Persephone a paint job isn’t just about making tourists happy. “It’s my childhood. It’s The Beachcombers,” he said from the sidewalk where Persephone rested, Gibsons Harbour in view, a quiver in his voice.

“This is the Persephone. If somebody doesn’t do it, it’s going to disappear. It’s a Canadian – can you call a boat an icon?”

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