Dreamer's Beginning

Dreamer was built in 1974 by American Marine in Hong Kong, hull #45-3 of eight 45' Alaskans built.  Although we had heard of an Alaskan 45', we had never seen one and assumed the reference was to the 46' Alaskan, the original.  However, one sunny summer day, we were returning from a cruise to the San Juan Islands on Island Lady, our 1967 Grand Banks 32', Kath was on the flybridge, I was down below tinkering with something, when this sedan trawler passed us going in the opposite direction.  I looked at it real hard, immediately recognized the Alaskan/Grand Banks features and quickly realized that I was probably looking at the 45' Alaskan.  I ran to get Kath and she was running to get me.  That boat got to both of us in an instant.  We talked about it excitedly, realizing that it was what we liked and wanted, a sedan, Grand Banks/Alaskan quality, more space....our dream boat.  We talked about it some more, did what research we could and started to look for a 45' Alaskan, never realizing our chances were slim as they only built eight of them.  

One Sunday morning in September 1984, I was down on Island Lady, attempting to reduce the length of my perpetual "To Do" list when Kath called me excitedly on our boat phone.  She had found an ad in the Seattle Sunday Times for a 1974 45' Alaskan for sale.  No phone number, just a name and address in Coeur d' Lane, Idaho.  She sat down right then and wrote a letter to the owner, telling him of our interest.  Her letter was the first he received, she learned, when he called a couple days later.  It turned out that he had owned the boat for about 6 years and kept it docked in Illwaco, Washington, just inside the mouth of the Columbia River.  It was his first and only boat, he had cruised her down to Mazatlan, Mexico, visiting places along the way.  His use of the boat was basically as a vacation home and to take a few friends out fishing occasionally.  

Her name was La Paloma and she was moored in the little town of Raymond Washington on the Willapa River.  Apparently the owner had made arrangements to have the boat refinished by a fellow there.  When we first saw the boat, we were shocked at her appearance.  The exterior finish was in terrible shape.  To make matters worse, there were some areas where the "refinisher" had started to remove finish with a disc sander and he apparently did not know what he was doing as it had lots of divots in the planking and flybridge deck.  There was a lot of soft wood around the outside perimeter of the side and aft decks where thin plywood covered the frames up about 5".  The "refinisher" had crudely stuffed "Bondo" into the soft wood.  When I asked what kind of repairs he was making, he stammered and said he was using the Bondo to suck the water out of the wood.  He was serious, too.  Kath and I looked at each other, but didn't say anything.  The "refinisher had bought a 55 gallon drum of paint remover to "take her completely down to wood" according to him, though I don't think he knew how to go through all the steps to fair and finish a boat.  He had used quite a bit of the paint remover though.  There were also several cases of industrial metal primer stacked in the main saloon.  This was a catastrophe in the making.

We were pleasantly surprised by the interior.  It was immaculate and like new.  Although the exterior had suffered from the outside moorage in rainy Illwaco, the owner had kept the window coverings closed when the boat was not in use.  Electronics were original and minimal.  The engine room was in decent shape.  Fuel tanks in good condition from appearances.  

We decided we wanted the boat and contacted the owner when we got home.  I told him I wanted to negotiate on the boat, but the work had to stop immediately before more harm was done.  At first, he seemed insulted, but he finally relented when I explained what we had seen, and had all work by the "refinisher" stopped.  It turned out that the "refinisher" was a diesel mechanic for the commercial boats out of Raymond and the logging trucks.  They had met in a bar and had agreed on a price of $15,000 to refinish the exterior of the boat.  The diesel mechanic had never refinished a boat in his life and didn't know the first thing about what to do.  I guess when your family has to eat and your community relies on the logging industry and the spotted owl shows up curtailing logging activities, you do what you can to get by.  A nice guy, just in a bit over his head.

I flew over to Coeur D' Lane and met with them in their home.  We talked quite a while, getting a measure of each other.  They offered me a drink and I accepted a beer.  He poured himself a large (16 oz) tumbler of vodka over some ice and we talked and talked.  I had noticed a lack of logs and manuals and asked him about them.  He said he only had a few notes for a log and "A good skipper doesn't need manuals".  A minor matter I resolved later.

After another large tumbler of vodka, he suggested to his lovely wife that they take me on a tour of their area and she agreed as did I.  He poured another large tumbler of vodka and downed it quickly, "One for the road" as he put it, then poured another without ice to take with him.

The Coeur D' Lane area is quite beautiful, a nice large lake, mountains in the background, quite picturesque.  He drove pretty well, staying mostly in his lane, but when we got up in the mountains, I got very nervous as he was starting to weave more and when talking to me turned and looked at me instead of the road.  I didn't think I would survive the tour.

We finally got back to their home where he promptly refilled his glass with vodka and ice and started to negotiate in earnest.  In the end, he accepted some property we had in Bend Oregon in trade for the boat and we were both pleased.  Being an old logger and new car dealer, he felt more comfortable owning the land in Bend than the boat and we felt much better owning the boat than the land.  A good deal for everyone. 

When I landed at the Oak Harbor Airport, it was hard to believe that I had survived and made the deal.  Kath was very happy and excited, as was I.

By now, it was mid-October 1984 and the winter storms were starting to roll through the Pacific North West, one after the other, in our typical winter weather pattern.  I discussed with a very good friend of ours, Bob Tucker, who owned a 1967 Grand Banks 36' a couple slips over from our Island Lady, the possibility of him helping to bring the boat to Oak Harbor from Raymond and he was enthusiastic about it.  Bob is a retired Navy pilot and had owned his GB 36' since 1968 and was currently living on her in Oak Harbor.

He had cruised her up into Alaska and down into Mexico, around Vancouver Island and up and down the West Coast several times, an experienced cruiser.  We made several trips down to Raymond to get the boat ready for the trip, paying special attention to the fuel system.  We asked the mechanic there to check the fuel tanks by pulling fuel off the bottom to see if there was any debris there.  There wasn't, according to him.  We also changed the Racor primary filters and the John Deere secondary filters and had plenty of spare filters on board for the trip if needed.  We checked the engines carefully and the genset as she had an all electric galley.  All electronics worked except the sonar and we had known it was inoperable as the previous owner had forgotten to raise the transducer when he had the boat hauled and it had been broken off.  There was plenty of fuel on board.

The weather reports were not encouraging off the coast with 14' swells and 7' to 8' wind waves, so we waited for a break in the weather.  Bob would swing by the Navy weather office each morning on his way back from the bakery where he had his morning coffee and pastry.  I would monitor the weather reports, both NOAA and Navy.  Finally, it sounded like things were settling down a bit and we could make a run up the coast for Neah Bay, just inside the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  We loaded up the pickup truck early the next morning with our stuff and Kath, Bob and I headed down to Raymond, a short ferry ride to Port Townsend from Whidbey Island and then about a 2 /12 hour drive to Raymond, a total of about 3 1/2 hours or so.

We got to the boat in mid-morning, stowed all our gear and checked the boat out thoroughly.   We also checked with the Coast Guard and the weather reports.  All checked out good so we left Raymond for the first leg of our trip which was to Westport, about a 35 mile run north of Raymond.

The bar out of Willapa River is spooky running north and parallel to the land with surf and breakers on the port side.  I would not want to be there in any significant weather, but that day, it was sunny and beautiful and the water was nice and Kath waved to us, saying good-bye on the handheld VHF we carried, having driven out to the point where we made a right to head north.  We made it to Westport and over the bar there without incident.  Kath met us in Westport, talking with us via VHF on our way in.  We inspected the boat again in preparation for the trip north, checked with the Coast Guard regarding the bar conditions and listened to the weather reports.  The weather was deteriorating but the bar was still open and not too bad.  It was time for dinner.

After a sumptuous dinner at a very nice restaurant in Westport including a couple bottles of wine (maybe more) and lots of good conversation, we all spent the night on the boat in Westport.   I woke up at 3 AM and was wide awake, so I got up and was checking the boat again when I noticed the smell of coffee brewing.  Bob had woke up as well, started the coffee and then joined me in checking the boat over.  We checked with the Coast Guard and the weather reports again and decided to leave for Neah Bay, about a 12 hour run up the coast.  We woke Kath up and told her we were going to leave.  She was a good sport about it, had a cup of coffee, gathered her things and saw us off.  We expected to see her again in Oak Harbor in a couple days after spending a night in Neah Bay.

There were 12' waves over the bar, but not breaking and we made it out to open water without incident.  The boat felt good and handled well.  We had just made the right turn to head north on our course to Neah Bay and was settling into the rhythm of the boat in 8' to 10' combined seas when suddenly, the port engine sputtered and quit.  

Bob and I were still running the boat from the flybridge.  We looked at one another when the engine quit and I quickly went below while Bob put the port engine in neutral and reduced speed on the starboard engine and held a course that was most comfortable while I worked in the engine room.  The John Deer secondary filters mounted on the engine are glass and it was immediately apparent that we were sucking air into the fuel system.  I quickly bled the air from the system and restarted the port engine.  With the seas as big as they were, we decided that it would be best to turn around and head back to Westport to deal with the fuel problem.  Running at reduced speed, we went back to Westport.

In checking out the fuel system once back in Westport, we discovered rust scale in the lines with little flow.  We cleaned the lines out, changed the filters and all seemed well.  However, the weather was getting much worse and it appeared that our window in the weather had closed.  Perhaps it was best we had turned back as it was getting nasty out there.  It would not have been a fun trip up the coast in this stuff, especially with the questionable fuel condition.

After allowing enough time for Kath to get home, I called her and explained what had happened and about the weather, and in good humor, she drove back down to get us and bring us home.  It would be a total of three trips between Oak Harbor and Westport for her that day, but she never complained.  A long day for all of us.

Bob and I both listened to the weather reports and he made his daily stops at the Navy weather office.  About a week later, he came back mid-morning to report that the guys at Navy weather had told him that the weather was going to settle down that afternoon and evening and would be good for a day or so with nice sea conditions.  I had just listened to a weather report and they were still reporting 21' combined seas, swells and wind waves combined height.  Bob's faith in the ability of Navy weather prevailed and I called Kath and told her we were leaving after lunch for Westport.  We had lunch, loaded up and the three of us went back down to Westport.  We listened to the weather on the way down and the reports had not changed very much, the seas were reported at 18' combined, settling down a little.

We again loaded our stuff on the boat, called the Coast Guard to check bar conditions and weather, listened to the weather reports and were pleasantly surprised to learn that the bar conditions were just fine and the seas were reported at 8' combined.  We decided to leave immediately in hopes of making the entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca at dawn in order to see logs and debris, and with Kath seeing us off again, headed out of Westport at 6:00 PM.  The waves over the bar were small and the open water was calm.  The change from what had been reported only a few hours before was amazing but welcome.  The water was very calm and remained that way the entire trip.  Those Navy weather guys nailed it!  Astounding!

Our trip up the coast that night was uneventful and we made better time than anticipated.  Constant checks with the radar and depth readings assured us of our position even though some lights were missing.  No Loran, GPS or chart plotters onboard back then.  We made the right turn into the Strait before dawn and promptly heard a loud thump.  We throttled back and checked the bilges, all was OK.  We went back to up cruising speed with a little light starting to show and we heard another thump, although not so loud.  We checked the bilges but did not slow down and all was well again.  

The weather was so nice we decided not to stop at Neah Bay but to go straight to Oak Harbor.  We were both tired but pleased with our progress.  Halfway down the Strait to Deception Pass, a Coast Guard cutter paced us and eyeballed us with binoculars, but we looked like a derelict and they didn't stop us.  The entire trip was made without incident.  We snuck into Oak Harbor Marina at 6:15 PM, 24 hours and 15 minutes after we started from Westport.  A good trip.

I was glad it was getting dark as the boat looked so bad, I didn't want people to see her just yet, but that was silly.  They would all see her eventually before she got her good looks back.  Our "Ugly Duck" was home.

"To Be Continued"