Welcome to the Gyrfalcon


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.

Triton – several years ago

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

MV Patton in Alaska

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.

Port light – showing the 8 inch thick hull

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.

View into extended salon – note the large windows

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.

Original cabinetry in Master Stateroom. Mahogany with leaded glass
Original Captain’s desk in Master Stateroom

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).

Viking Stove and Microwave in galley

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.

View of Wheelhouse, looking toward the bow
View of Wheelhouse, looking aft. Notice the walnut 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).

The Engine Room, with one of the 2 caterpillar diesels

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.

Triton in dry dock for her hull survey

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.

View down the port deck, looking aft. The roof over the deck has multiple leaks

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.

Peter in front of the wheelhouse, admiring our new anchor chains (and wondering what on earth we have gotten ourselves into!)
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17 Responses to Welcome to the Gyrfalcon

  1. Ricardo Ochoa says:

    Great story! I think Guillemot is jealous, but who would want to turn down the realization of a dream! Sounds terrific. I hope I will see it when I go for the ACVP!

  2. Bill Stoeffler says:

    Wow! This is fantastic! Congratulations!

  3. Bob Abelman says:

    Why am I not surprised?

  4. Piper says:

    I’m moving in with you. I can cook, do pathology and will happily inhale varnish fumes for hours. TFI is what I am most of the time, too, so will blend in well. Congrats!!! Beautiful name, too.

  5. The Birdseyes says:

    Wonderful boat. Your adventure has just started and will be followed by all on us! We’re so happy & excited for your new life aboard Gyrfalcon!
    Bob & Karen

  6. lobo says:

    Great boat! Saw your post at CYA re: deck surface finish. I have a foto showing her deck while in CG&S service – drop me an email and I will fwd it to you.

  7. Jon and Pam Wagoner says:

    I am sure glad the Triton lives on…if not in name but in spirit. I spent many of days on the Triton while her home was in Gig Harbor. A couple of times I helped bring her back from dry dock from Ballard. I also had chance to skipper her a time or two. She is heavy but rides nice and smooth.
    Thank you for saving her..

  8. Ricardo Ochoa says:

    There is a dearth of news about the developments with the Gylfalcon. Send news and pics……

  9. Richard Robrock says:

    Great task, wonderful vessel, and my profound admiration for your project!
    Having restored almost a dozen of vintage workboats of all kinds and taste, built from 1910 through 1936 and sized 60 to 2000 metric tons displ. I guess I know what you are in for.
    Not a afternoon party…
    If you require any sort of advice or a hint, feel free to ask, I will gladly support your enterprise. (for free of course)
    Being a retired German boatbuilder of several thousand tons of mainly wooden craft, with some rather well reputation, there might be a way or the other to support you.

  10. James Anderson says:

    It is great to see this Boat being restored and used. My father was a Machinist Mate on the Patton for a few years in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I spent many in port night watches with my Dad on board. Seeing the Patton and Jones being maintained is great and also a tie to the history of Lake Union, the USC&GS was on south Lake Union next to the Naval Reserve (MOHI).
    Thank You
    Jim Anderson

  11. Dan Twohig says:

    Great to see the Patton is still alive and working. It looks a bit different than when I sailed her as Chief ET in 1967, her last year in service for USC&GS. I have vivid memories of the old direct reversal Cooper Bessemer engines which started backwards sometimes when we were trying to maneuver.

  12. Keith Soderstrom says:

    Keith Soderstrom
    Sailed on the Patton when she was at the SYC. Still had the Cooper Bessemer engines.Had to have someone in the engine room to change the cams and re start the engines for reversal,and hope you had enough air pressure so they started again.Many fond memories

  13. Erik Ferrel says:

    My dad was a student at the UW in the early 60’s and responded to a summer job posting on the school bulletin board. He spent part of that summer as a deckhand on the USC&GS Patton. The boat looked great going by Fauntleroy this morning!

    • guillemot30 says:

      Thanks Erik. We were out for the Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Do you have any pictures from your Dad’s time on the boat?

      • Jon Wagoner says:

        I am sure this ship was called the Triton at one time?

      • guillemot30 says:

        You are correct. She was called the Triton for a number of years when she was based in Gig Harbor. We named her Gyrfalcon in 2012.

      • jon wagoner says:

        I am very glad that you have saved this magnificent fan tail. I have a old brochures of that the previous owner from Gig Harbor used for tours they did back then, it hangs by my desk in my office at home. What fond memories I have of the Gyrfalcon.

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