Haven Boatworks hits a Geary fantail trifecta

Jane Stebbins
Posted 2/5/20

Blaise Holly smiles when he looks at the view out his Haven Boatworks office window these days.

Below, crews scurry up and about two historically renowned yachts — the Blue Peter and the …

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Haven Boatworks hits a Geary fantail trifecta

Posted

Blaise Holly smiles when he looks at the view out his Haven Boatworks office window these days.

Below, crews scurry up and about two historically renowned yachts — the Blue Peter and the Thea Foss — undergoing maintenance.

“It’s absolutely an honor,” the lead shipwright said regarding the vessels’ owners opting to have the work done with the Port Townsend company. “Even the yards that built the boats never had all three of them in their yards.”

The three to which he refers are the pair in the yard and the Malibu, a trio of fantail yachts designed by naval architect Ted Geary. The Thea Foss is a sleek vessel reminiscent of a paddlewheel boat — without the paddlewheel — with elegant trim, hand-buffed brass and sharp paint. She retains the good looks of a grand dame that’s seen many a decade and looks none the worse for it.

This is the first year the Thea Foss has been dry-docked in Port Townsend, where a crew of 10 will lay about 1,900 linear feet of teak on the foredeck and work on the state room, pilot house, cabinetry and the shaft.

Holly declined to say how much the work would cost, but noted that owners who take good care of a beloved old boat like this can often spend $2 million in a heavy maintenance year. The Thea Foss cost $56,000 in 1935.

Haven Boatworks landed the prestige job when the owner of the Malibu brought that vessel in for work. It, too, will be worked on in the shop later this year.

“The Malibu was the first fantail to take a chance on the shop,” Holly said. “The owners knew each other, and just on the basis of a kind word over lunch, this fantail showed up.”

He paused when asked why the local shop was selected, before modestly admitting it “does enjoy a reputation for being amongst the best,” he said. “You need both monied owners and a skilled workforce to keep something like this around.”

Crews will rebuild the deck with fine wood from Myanmar, which won’t have to be replaced again for decades, and they’ll pull a few circa 1930-era cedar beams that have rotted over the years.

“They don’t owe anybody anything,” Holly
said of how long those have lasted.

That so many parts are original amazes Holly.

“It’s indicative of the level of care and ownership, that something like this has been maintained, rather than recycled,” Holly said. “The right owners cherish them. You need dedicated craftsmen and women and people who care.”

The hardest part of their job is the tight timeline under which the crew is working. The company hired three extra employees when they landed the contract — and it all has to be done by mid-February.

“The amount of planning that goes in …” Holly said. “To make sure you have enough real estate and bodies to get the work done is a trick. And doing it in January weather at 48-degrees north is also a trick.”

The Thea Foss

Thea and her husband Andrew founded Foss Maritime in 1889 after refurbishing one, then many, rowboats and advancing in skills to build an empire. By 1904, the company boasted 10 launches, a shipyard, a 60-passenger boat and a small rescue craft.

Geary designed and built his first 24-foot boat in 1899 at the age of 14, going on to build racing sloops, many of which would never be defeated on the water. His talents caught the eyes of several Seattle businessmen who financed his education as a naval architect at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The 120-foot Thea Foss was launched in March 1930 for John Barrymore — grandfather of actress Drew Barrymore — as a gift to his wife, and dubbed Infanta in honor of their daughter. But yachting wasn’t Barrymore’s thing; after running into financial difficulties, he mortgaged the boat to creditors. It was purchased by the Lowe family and renamed Polaris, then by the U.S. Navy in 1942 and renamed Amber.

The Fosses purchased the boat in 1950 from scientists conducting surveys along the coast of Southern California and converted it into the distinctive yacht that bears the bright white paint and green stripe — and the name of the family matriarch — that represent Foss Maritime tug boats to this day.

Saltchuk Resources purchased it in 1987 for use for corporate events and summer cruises in Puget Sound.

“We enjoy this view so much,” Holly said, peering out the window on a snowy January day. “Having so many Geary fantails stacked in front of the shop is great to see.”

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