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This is the first Blog about our new boat, the Gyrfalcon. She is a 88 foot wooden fantail, built here in Seattle in 1941 for the Coast and Geodetic Survey.
Life as we know it has just taken a radical turn. Read on to learn about our latest adventures. But be forewarned, what follows is not for the faint of heart.
As you may remember from the last blog, we have been thinking about our living arrangements. We love our house in Queen Anne, but don’t think that it is an ideal retirement home. It is too big, and has lots of steps (23 just to get to the front door). So we wanted to downsize. We thought we would like to stay in Seattle at least part of the year, and we wanted to be close to the water (that boating thing just won’t let us go).
First, we looked at a boat house that had some potential to be turned into living space, but the more we investigated it, the more it appeared that the potential existed mostly in the current owner’s mind. We even made him an offer for the structure just as the ramshackle boat house it currently is, but in his eyes, the potential was worth a lot more than we could see. So after a month of intense discussions, we moved on.
But the bug had bitten us and would not let us go. We had asked our financial planner to send us information on potential condos/lofts that were near the water in Seattle, but they were all near the water at best (and sometimes you had to stand on a stool in the bathroom to actually see the water). So next we thought about houseboats. Seattle has a number of houseboats (think Sleepless in Seattle), but by city code they are all fairly small, they can only be kept in a small number of approved spots, and the nicer of them cost well over a million dollars – probably not a good bet for a retirement house.
So then we thought, “Well what about living on a boat?” This was the fatal moment. Now would be a good time to stop if you can. We couldn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, we love the Guillemot, and are out on the water almost every weekend. But she is only 30 feet long, and we would probably kill each other if we tried to live on her for long – there is no room to escape one another. Over the last year, we had talked about what we would change on the Guillemot if we could. About all we could come up with was a few more feet in length, so that we would have a place to sit and read. Other than that she is perfect – easy to handle, economical to run, and almost no bright work – so that we are out boating, rather than varnishing.
Many of our friends have larger boats – in the 40 to 50 foot range. Sure they were longer, but we still didn’t see that we could live on any of them for any length of time.
And that is when we made a gigantic leap. “What”, we said to ourselves, “about a really big boat?” We had looked at the Creole, a 75 foot yacht for sale at Fisherman’s Terminal last year. We went on line and she was not officially on the market, but she hadn’t been sold. We talked to the agent, and there was an offer out on her, but it depended on a large real-estate transaction happening in October. So we got the agent’s permission to go on her decks, and looked her over. She was a classic fantail yacht (see Rick Etsell’s webpage on fantails: http://classicyacht.org/fantails ). She had been neglected by the current owner, and needed a lot of love, like all of these grand old ladies. We didn’t think that she was worth anywhere near the asking price, and the agent didn’t think the owner would be interested in much less, since he had a “deal” on the table, so we decided that she was not in our future, but we realized that there were always one or two fantails that came on the market in any year. We thought we could wait until the right boat came along.
The next week, we had some folks out on the boat on Saturday. After we dropped them off, we decided to spend the night off Bainbridge Island on the Guillemot, and as we were headed for the locks , we saw another fantail sitting on the ship canal right under the Ballard Bridge (right across the canal from Fisherman’s Terminal where the Creole was). We cruise by that dock almost every week and we had never seen her before.
Her name was Triton. We went on line and found that she was 88 feet long, that she was built in 1941 for the Coast and Geodesic Service (the agency that eventually became NOAA), and that she spent the first 25 years of her life doing survey work in Alaska.She was built as ASV (Alaska Survey Vessel) 80 and was named the Patton during her time with the C&GS
She was decommissioned in the 60s’ and since then had several owners as a private yacht. And she was priced for less than the Creole. While we were anchored in Port Madison at the north end of Bainbridge Island, I called the broker, who told me that she was a Project Boat, but if that didn’t scare us, he would be happy to show her to us the next day.
We got up the next morning and motored back to Seattle. After we put the Guillemot in her slip (and promised that we were not abandoning her), we went and looked at the Triton.
Where to begin? This ship was built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Her hull was double planked fir – for a total thickness of 8 inches (most wooden ships are 1-2 inches thick.
At some point after she left government service, one of her owners had extended the main salon to about 25 feet in length. The windows in the main salon were more or less ceiling to deck.
The Officers’ quarters in the aft of the boat had been converted to the Master Stateroom. There was a California King bed in the stateroom. The coolest thing was that the original lockers, desk and cabinetry were still there as well.
The stateroom was significantly larger than our current bedroom. There was also a safe below the deck. Sadly, the combination has been lost. Who knows what treasures might be inside?
The galley had a Viking propane stove with 4 burners, a griddle , a grill, and 2 ovens (one convection).
There were 3 more staterooms in the bow, 2 with double beds and one with a double and 2 singles. There was a head with a shower in the master stateroom, another head with a shower for the forward staterooms, and a separate day head and shower on the main deck. One of the coolest areas was the Wheel House. It was huge with fairly modern electronics, a chart table, a large walnut table, and great seating around the table.
The Engine Room is the biggest I have ever seen on a private vessel. The original diesel engines were replaced with twin Caterpillar 3306s, with around 3,300 hours on them (mere babies for these workhorses).
On the right hand side of the photo of the engine room, you can see one of the two generators – the older one which now serves as a backup.
OK. So we thought we could probably live on this boat. We made an offer. There were negotiations. We went on a sea trial in Lake Washington. She handled well. It was amazing – we were going 10 knots or so, but she was so big that we didn’t seem to be moving at all. We had a hull survey and an engine survey. It was pretty incredible to see 124 tons on wooden boat come out in a dry dock.
Three of the four cutlass bearings on the propeller shafts were shot. There were more negotiations. The current owner was having some problems accepting the fact that in her current state, she was not worth what he paid for her in 2003. After a bit more back and forth, we agreed on a price.
Like all of these old beauties, she needs work. She has been neglected for the last few years, and it shows. There has been a lot of leakage through the decks and the mail cabin roof, so there is a lot of mildew and moisture in the lower decks. Most of the systems need some work, and some (like the water maker) don’t work at all. But the price was reasonable, and even after we put in the money to bring her back, it should still be less expensive than a houseboat on Lake Union, or a waterfront condo. Anyway, that is the way we have decided to look at it –this is going to be our home, and you can’t get much more waterfront than this!
It seems like every old boat comes with a Guy. In this case, the Guy was Ben Harry, who owns the Lake Union Boat Repair, where the boat is currently moored. Ben has been working on this boat on and off since he was 18 years old, and he is 62 now. He loves the boat and wants to bring it back. His vision is to make her functional and bring her into the 21st century. We like Ben. This is good since we are placing our future and our monies in his hands.
At some point last week, Ben decided that we were going to buy the boat, so he started destruction – before we actually owned her. A big part of starting was that he wanted to fix the leaks and he wanted to get a shrink-wrap over the foredeck roof before the rains started, and he had another big job coming into the yard in early September. So the boys were ripping up the roof, and we were thinking, “OK, so we don’t own this boat yet, what happens if..”
Over the last 2 weeks, we have thought about a new name. Triton just doesn’t seem to suit us. He was the Son of Poseidon, known for his trident and twisted conch. But we kept thinking about the Triton missiles. And besides, we like to name our boats after birds. We went through: Murre, Alcid, Pacific Loon (a great name, which certainly described us on several levels, but I was afraid I would have trouble on, the radio: “This is the Pacific Loon, over”), Gavia (the species for the loons), Shearwater, Storm Petrel, Kittiwake, Peregrine (one of the first nights when we went over to check on the boat, we saw a Peregrine falcon flash overhead, harassing the local gulls). After much consideration, we have decided: the boat will be named Gyrfalcon. The Gyr is the largest of the falcons and lives in the far north – nesting in Alaska, where the boat spent much of her early life. We saw a Gyr this year in Denali National Park – only the second time that I have seen one.
We hope to charter the boat some in the next few years, in order to help us with some of the renovation costs. The company is called TFI Charters, LLC. TFI stands for Totally F**king Insane, which we feel acurately describes our current state of mind.
We have begun a Great Adventure.
We will keep you posted.