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Westward’s Big Boatyard Adventures Part II

A boat being built

Obviously monies tentatively budgeted for new upholstery, a sun shade, and possibly replacing the historically inappropriate interior furniture installed in the 1970’s with something more Herreshoff-ian are now, and probably forever, reallocated to getting the boat structurally rebuilt and back in the water. Everything else isn’t just secondary, it has dropped off of the list. The question isn’t “how much do I have, and can afford to put toward this project?, the question is “how much can I borrow and beg in the next two weeks so that we can order the new planking and timbers?”

Also, as I walk and think I marvel that this big old boat delivered us safely home after an early spring voyage from Mexico to Seattle, in the course of which we faced harbor-closing gales and one brief but embarrassing grounding. How did that bow resist those seas?! How did the badly bandaged keel continue to hold the boat together as we pounded through waves that broke over the pilothouse? That curve in the keel that everyone, myself included, assumed was hogging resulting from decades of improper ballasting turns out to be a break in the boats backbone, crudely bandaged as long as fifty years ago. Damage that obviously occurred before the interior was built that conforms to the boats drooping shape. Why didn’t the boat break in half during the storm we battled for 500 miles as we bashed our way along the Washington and Oregon coasts last November? How much warning would we have had before the boat disintegrated around us and threw us into a seething winter ocean?

Those dark thoughts inspire a wave of warm affection for my ninety one year old classic yacht. She saved our lives even though she was severely crippled. The option of cutting my loses and walking way is gone. I have to find a way to make her whole.

Now, from across the yard I pause and look back at her from a distance. From here I can’t see the pile of rotten wood that grows by the handful around her keel blocking and stands. I can barely see the gathering group of fellow old boat owners who have come to openly extend their condolences while privately thanking Poseidon that the rotting disaster in front of them isn’t theirs.

And so here I am. The time is July, 2015, and the boat, Westward, an 86’ Ted Geary design is my responsibility. Westward is designated as a Historic Place by the Department of the Interior (not that they will make a contribution toward her restoration), and was launched in 1924 as the very first purpose built adventure cruise vessel to explore Alaskan waters. In the course of her 91 years she has hosted the rich and famous, served her country during the Second World War, and circumnavigated the globe in the 1970’s. More recently she has earned her living carrying charter clients on voyages ranging from Glacier Bay to the Sea of Cortes, and following an extensive rebuild in 2006/07 (much of which is filling a series of dumpsters as I write) cruised around the Pacific Basin in 2007/08. She made a 4000 mile open ocean passage from Cabo san Lucas to the South Pacific, explored rarely visited and remote island nations, harbor hopped through South Korea and Japan, and finally returned to Seattle via the Aleutian Islands.

She has a history.

And now, after an exploratory charter season in Mexico’s Sea of Cortes, she is entering her ninety second year conveying her owners and guests into remote and wild places. Bookings for the next winter season are increasing and plans for a summer season of charters in SE Alaska are firming up.

But now these plans, along with Westward herself, are in jeopardy.

(Part 3 to follow next week)