Former concrete ship builder pedals YucatanBack in 1972, folks hung the nickname “Noah” on John Grimsrud. It was a bit off the mark. John and Jane Grimsrud, both Superior natives, were building a 46-foot boat in the backyard of their Billings Park home.
By: By John Lundyfirstname.lastname@example.org, Superior Telegram
Back in 1972, folks hung the nickname “Noah” on John Grimsrud.
It was a bit off the mark. John and Jane Grimsrud, both Superior natives, were building a 46-foot boat in the backyard of their Billings Park home. But they weren’t expecting a flood, and they didn’t plan to carry livestock.
Like the biblical sailor, though, the Grimsruds attracted skeptics, scoffers and the just plain curious.
It might have had something to do with the fact that they were using cement to build the boat.
“People couldn’t believe anybody’d be crazy enough to build a 46-foot boat and then have plans to go off and live aboard,” John Grimsrud said in a telephone interview from Mexico’s Yucatan, where the Grimsruds live today. “Two ladies came by in a car one day and wanted to report us to somebody because they thought we must be absolutely nuts to be going to live on a boat.”
But that was the plan. John was 27 and Jane 23 when they began preparing in 1967 to build a boat, launch it on Lake Superior and travel and live on it indefinitely. Actual construction took three years. They learned about building with cement — they’re called ferro-cement boats, or ferroboats — in a boating magazine. A 2001 article in Forbes magazine says people choose ferro-cement because it’s easier for a novice to work with. Wood- and steel-hulled ships require specialized expertise.
What cement boats require is lots of effort.
“It is quite reasonable to build, but it’s very labor-intensive to build these things,” Grimsrud said. “We built everything. We … made all of our own fittings and we put the hull together ourselves.”
Cement boats are built from a sand and cement plaster combined with steel. The Grimsruds called their boat the Dursmirg — Grimsrud spelled backwards. While they were building the boat, the Grimsruds also took classes from the Duluth Power Squadron to learn the ins and outs of boating.
Suffice to say, there was interest when the Grimsruds launched their boat on June 22, 1972, from the Superior Shipyard. Barney Barstow, who was part owner of the shipyard, urged the Grimsruds to launch their 20-ton boat in a place that wouldn’t make it a navigational hazard when it sank.
“Over 2,000 people showed up to witness the sinking,” Grimsrud said. “And a lot of people were disappointed, I think (that it didn’t sink), because the wagering was pretty heavy.”
Not only did the boat float, but John and Jane Grimsrud lived on it for the next 15 years, traveling across the Great Lakes, to New York City and to the Florida Keys. They’ve written about their adventures at length. Their “Travels of Dursmirg” runs to four volumes, with the first two volumes available at Amazon.com.
John and Jane were still just 32 and 28 when they began their voyage. John Grimsrud was in the wholesale grocery business, and they were debt-free by the time he was 28, he said. Every spare dollar went either into the boat or into the bank. Once they launched, there wasn’t much overhead, he said. They never considered turning back, although one time during a bad storm on Lake Superior they returned to port.
The Grimsruds continue to travel today, but now they do it by bicycle. They have a Web site devoted to bicycling the Yucatan. “Now I am 69 and Jane 65 and still dreaming,” Grimsrud said.
And what of the Dursmirg? They sold it to a London stock broker who in turn sold it to a Canadian veterinarian. The Grimsruds don’t know where it is now.