A Boat By The Side Of The Road

The roadways of America are a virtual boat show.  There are interesting watercraft in driveways and backyards everywhere you go. You see so many in the coastal areas that they blend into the scenery like mossy oak camouflage.  I keep my eyes open for especially interesting examples as I travel.  You can see one of my local favorites in the accompanying video.  It is a 24 foot long steel lifeboat hull built in 1945 by the Imperial Lifeboat & Davit Co. of Athens, NY.  How it came to the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state is a largely untold part of the story.

What I do know is that a retired Coast Guardsman named Ralph Gentry acquired it about a decade ago and altered it according to his own vision.  Mr. Gentry had built other boats for himself in the past.  His woodworking skills were up to the task and it shows in the details of the added structure.   The conversion is complete in most of it’s exterior elements.  The interior remains unfinished as it was at the time of the owners death in March of this year.  He expected to get the boat in the water this Summer.

I first noticed the boat when I moved to the area about eight years ago.  It was easy to notice.  The boat sits near the road inside the fence that encloses a well cared for yard and house.  At the time the mast, which is on a tabernacle, was stepped.  The raised sheer aft and the curved scuttle on the foredeck caught my eye.  Deadeyes on the stays gave the boat a salty look like only deadeyes and lanyards can.  I didn’t know anything about her history and could not fit her into any particular designers mold.  She was a pleasant mystery by the side of the road.

A first glance gave the impression that she was ready to cast off and go to sea.  She had a look of being actively cared for.  Those would have been the years when Ralph was in better health and moving his vision along.  That was how she looked for a long time.  One day last year I drove past on the way to a garage sale.  The mast was down and the blue tarp covered the boat’s deck.  Something had changed in the situation.

Several months ago I met some nice folks at the Port Angeles Boat Haven who are involved in a boat restoration.  We got to talking about boats and the need to have one.  They mentioned a boat for sale that I should check out.  They had posted an ad on Craig’s list as a favor to Mrs. Gentry.  I was provided with some good basic information and also learned the reason the boat was for sale.

Although this vessel interests me I don’t see myself  as it’s new owner.  However, I am a nosy cuss and had to go check it out up close.  I stood by the fence with my camera examining the hull from six feet away. What I could see under the tarp looked promising.  Things were a bit jumbled but everything looked well built and properly proportioned.  The cabin was a small structure built in raised panel style with chamfered corner posts.   On the foredeck is a curved scuttle type hatch. The mast had her standing rigging attached and lashed down for stowage.

As I strained to see more detail I was greeted by a large black dog who peered through the fence with an earnest desire to take this intruder and lick him to death.  I was soon greeted by Mrs. Gentry who introduced me to Yogi who spent the remainder of my visit chewing on large chunks of wood.  She also told me about her husband’s wish to have put the boat in the water this summer.  He still harbored the notion while in the hospital.  As she talked her fond memories seemed mixed with the practical realities of selling an unconventional type of boat in today’s depressed yacht market.

I was given permission to enter the yard and see the vessel up close.  Beside the boat is a large trailer that Ralph had intended to modify for hauling the boat to the water. A handy ladder gave me access to deck level were I was able to crawl under the tarp.  The spars were serving as a ridgepole and I could see that whereas the mast and gaff were in good shape what appeared to be a boom looked like an unfinished project.  the wood was devoid of any finish and was checking badly.

I crawled aft to the cockpit which was rather small and found the open main hatch.  Inside the cabin was quite cozy.  There was a vintage Sabb Lifeboat engine behind the companionway ladder. I had been told that it was in the Gentry’s former boat and ran strongly.  The rest of the cabin appeared to be the future galley.  Unlike the exterior of the craft which looked largely ready to go to sea the interior had a decidedly in progress look.  Immediately forward of the cabin was a space with very low headroom.  The area was taken up with bunks port and starboard.  There was also a solid bulkhead with no access farther forward.

Back on deck I went forward to peer  into the forecastle.  It looked to be nothing but an empty space waiting for a plan to form. It was easy to see where Ralph’s efforts slowed down.  Mrs.  Gentry said that her husband came out to work on the boat almost everyday.  I imagine him on chilly days snugged down in the cabin sipping hot coffee.  Maybe on some days not much would be done towards getting the vessel ready but day dreams of future voyages would come one by one.  Perhaps that was all the progress he needed.

Something had been nagging at me.  There was something missing from the boat.  As I was about to leave I asked Mrs. Gentry if the boat had a name. There was none painted on the hull.  She said that Ralph had never got around to giving it a name.  She had suggested he name it Miss Twinkie, after a small female cat who had devotedly stayed at Ralph’s side as he worked on the conversion. Apparently it did not fit his vision.

The boat still had a for sale sing on it last time I drove by.  The  price is a very firm $2500.00. Mrs. Gentry had indicated that there were several interested parties.  Maybe interest is hard to sustain in this economy.  The ad on Craig’s list has expired but if a reader is interested in buying this very interesting project they can email me and I will be sure to pass the message along to Mrs. Gentry.

Boats by the side of the road are often beacons of hope.  Testaments to someone’s imagination.  Sometimes they languish on dry land, far away from their natural medium.  It always strikes me as sad.  Boats are made to be active.  They last longer that way.  And throughout an active life they bring joy to their owners and beautify or waterways.  A well found vessel is a stroke of artistic genius on the canvas of the sea.

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