Jack and Elizabeth Becker’s Lake Union Dreamboat is a rare find, a classic wooden boat that has remained virtually unaltered since it was built in 1928. Even its name, Emmeline, is original. A 1928 ad from Pacific Motorboat magazine confirmed the authenticity of the boat, which the Beckers bought in 1997 and extensively restored. Emmeline is homeported in Port Townsend.
Tell us about your boat’s name.
Just that it’s the original name, although that alone seems a little special for a boat that’s over 80 years old. (We’re not sure how it was originally pronounced, but we say it with a long “i”, as in “Clementine”.)
Tell us the story of how you found your boat and what makes it special to you.
We came to Port Townsend from Portland in ’97 so I could attend the NW School of Wooden Boatbuilding and naturally started reading the local boating magazines. Towards the end of the six-month school program I was skimming the listing of boats in Northwest Yachting, the simple one-line entries that just give the basic specs of year, length, builder, number of engines, name of broker, and asking price. We had been looking for an old cruiser off and on for many years after selling our sailboat in the mid ‘80s, and all of the specs on this boat were in line with what we had been looking for, so we decided to go take a look at it.
The broker at Port Orchard Yacht Sales didn’t really want to show us the boat because based on previous inquires, he felt it would be a waste of time as the boat had been neglected for several years. But our previous boating background and my current boat school training swayed him and he took us over to see the boat.
My first impression was not positive, but we looked it over, thanked the broker and headed back to PT. During the drive home we were both silent, digesting what we had seen, and then my wife turns to me and says, “I think we’re going to buy that boat.” I just looked at her. I couldn’t believe she said that. All I could think of was the years of work it would take to bring it back to decent shape. But we did buy it, and we did spend years restoring it.
The most special thing about it to me is how original the boat is after all these years. All the sister ships I’m aware of (seven or eight) have been modified to some extent, like adding a flying bridge, remodeling the galley, etc., but Emmeline is still essentially identical to the drawing that a friend, Paul Marlowe, from the Center for Wooden Boats found in the Federal Archive. Finding that drawing in 2006 was just a lucky coincidence, but it verified my suspicions of how original the boat was and who the designer was.
What’s the history of your boat?
It was designed by L.E. (Ted) Geary in 1928. Most of these boats appear to have been sold to customers in California, but as far as we know Emmeline has always been in the Northwest. She had several owners during the first 29 years, but then Eddie Adams bought her and owned her for 30 years, from the mid-’50s to the mid-’80s. He sold her to fellow Bremerton Yacht Club member Del Fields, who owned her for 10 years until we found her. I don’t know if I’ll be able to match Eddie’s reign, but we have no intention of selling her yet.
What do you like best about your boat?
The pilothouse is solid teak and very spacious, with big windows all around, like a glassed-in front porch. The tradeoff is the skinny side decks, but I’ve only fallen off the boat once, while taking the canvas off in the rain when we had agreed to be committee boat for the local sailboat race, and we’ll never do that again.
There’s also some subtle details of the woodwork that I’m sure no one would notice unless you spent the time up close, stripping and sanding it, but they certainly add to my appreciation of the craftsmanship of that period.
What do you know now about your boat that you wish you’d known when you bought it? Would that have changed your mind?
Can’t think of anything I wish I had known or that would have changed our minds. The process of learning her history, finding sister ships, and doing the restoration over the years have all been part of the rewards of owning and caring for her.
How does your significant other feel about the boat (be honest)?
She likes it. She’s a photographer (www.seaportphotography.com), so we use the boat as a photo boat during the local sailboat races and regattas. She gets to take pictures and I get to drive the boat, and I think (I hope!) the local racers appreciate us as more than just another annoying photo boat. As more of a socialite than I, she also likes to invite friends and acquaintances out with us, and I think they’ve all had a good time.
What’s your favorite story involving your boat?
Well, there was the time we backed down on our dinghy and got the towline wrapped around the prop shaft, or the time our batteries died and we had to get towed out of the Ballard locks, or the time our new ignition coil suddenly died while we were underway, or our very first trip bringing the boat up from Bremerton with a water pump belt that kept popping off and seeing a school of Dahls porpoises swimming around us near Agate Pass, or rafting up with some other friends near Indian Island and fearing that the Navy might think we were terrorists anchored too close to their island …
Describe the most challenging situation you’ve experienced on your boat and how it performed.
We’ve intentionally avoided challenging situations. We go boating for fun, not to prove anything, and anything that breaks is just one more expense and one more thing on my to-do list. Our warning signal is the bell. If it gets rough enough to make the bell ring by itself we head for the nearest harbor (that’s only happened once).
Where do you plan to take your boat? Do you have a dream destination?
So far we’ve only taken the boat between Port Townsend and Seattle, but we’d like to go to the San Juans if we can arrange enough time to pick our weather window (i.e., clear and dead calm!) for crossing the Straits. So far we haven’t managed to do that.
If someone gave you $10,000 that you could only spend on your boat, what would you do with it and why?
Well, someday we’ll need to replace the canvas covers that protect all the brightwork (we have a great set that was made by Inger Rankin at Northwest Canvas), and some day the hull will need more attention besides general maintenance (80-some years old, remember)… are you saying you have $10,000 for us?
How long do you plan to own the boat? What would it take to get you to part with it? And what advice would you give to the next owner?
We plan to keep the boat as long as we can afford to maintain her properly. I would hate to see her fall back into the state she was in when we got her. For the next owner I would just say take care of her, and if you can’t do that then sell her to someone who can. I’ve seen too many boats that have just withered away because the owners couldn’t take care of them but didn’t want to sell.
If you could have any other boat, what would it be and why?
I sometimes think of getting a sailboat, like a classic old cutter, because sailing is a lot more fun that just driving a motorboat around, but it would have to be a really, really special boat to make us part with Emmeline.
What didn’t we ask you about your boat that you wish we had?
You didn’t ask when you could come out for a cruise …
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