After 70 Years, Katie Ford Sails on in B.C.
In the summer of 2016, I received an email from the Canadian owner of the 44′ cruising yacht Katie Ford, inviting me to its 70th birthday party in Victoria B.C. This classic old sailing yacht was built in in 1946 at Astoria Marine Construction Company (AMCCO) and was considered the finest sailing vessel on the Lower Columbia until her designer and owner Heine Dole migrated north to Gig Harbor in the 1950’s. The yacht passed into Canadian ownership around 1970, and she has found a home on Vancouver Island ever since.
I have to admit that I had already written the story of the Katie Ford in the early 2000’s without ever seeing the boat, though I did correspond with the owner. (I relied mainly on a file of old photos and newspaper stories for the yacht’s early history–all the work of Larry Barber, the last marine reporter for the Oregonian newspaper.)
I finally caught sight of Katie Ford on the water at the Wooden Boat Festival in 2010, but it took another three years before I finally caught up with the boat and her third owner, Canadian Barry Goss, on my next visit to Port Townsend –by bike–in 2013. Having waited so long, I took my time walking down the dock, enjoying the anticipation.
On learning of my interest, Barry invited me on board, introduced me to his daughter Liz, and brought me up to date on the boat’s recent history. He told me he was leaving the boat in Point Hudson over the winter to have the planking completely inspected and replaced. Down below, I found the interior almost as if it had just been launched. It has a unique traditional design for living afloat full-time, which Dole did for several years on the south end of Puget Sound.
There is a comfortable v-berth in the foc’sle and one permanent bunk to starboard in the salon. Forward of the mast is a full galley with traditional Coast Foundry oil stove and small two-burner alcohol stove and sink . In the main cabin, there is a bookcase, solid fuel fireplace with tile surround, chart drawers, settees port and starboard. and a pull-down teak dining table that seats six.
I happily agreed to meet again on Sunday so I could join the family for the grand Parade of Sail in the afternoon. It was only once we were under sail that I really settled down and noticed almost nothing has been changed on deck. All the original bronze deck fittings Dole had installed are still in place, from the substantial Highfield levers for the runners to the roller-reefing main boom and wire-halyard winches. (One concession to modernity is the jib and foresail converted to roller-furling.)
Dole gave the yacht a steering wheel inside the pilot house with full visibility through the distinctive vertical windows, and a second wheel at the aft end of the cockpit, making it a true “pilot-house sailing yacht.” The large mainsail and non-overlapping is also back in fashion, showing that there’s not much that’s really new in design.
Barry suggested I take the helm, and I happily steered Katie Ford to windward on a couple of laps out into the sound and back. I barely needed to touch the wheel while we easily made 4-5 knots, with very little leeway, passing the smaller craft and being passed by the big schooners. Total sail area of the cutter rig is around 1,000 square feet.
After a couple of memorable hours, we returned to Point Hudson and tied up at the head of the dock, so the boat would be ready to be lifted out in a couple of days. The sails were removed, and on Monday the mast was lifted out, and the yacht was soon tucked away inside the Navy A- building at Sea Marine. Robert d’Arcy, master of the schooner Martha, surveyed the bottom and confirmed the need to remove most of the planking below the waterline.
That required around 2,200 wood screws be unscrewed–no mean feat in itself–revealing the state of the interior structure in the bilges. After 65 years, many of the frames under the cockpit and amidships were ready to be retired. Around 1000 feet of Alaskan Yellow Cedar planking was shaped and fitted to the turn of the bilge–a skill that is rare these days–at least beyond Port Townsend!
In addition, d’Arcy replaced two water tanks, and installed a folding Maxprop, and a new engine–the boat’s fourth. Heinie Dole first installed a Gray Marine gas engine; it was replaced with a Hercules 50 HP motor many years ago. This was followed by a 55HP Perkins 4-108 diesel more recently, and the fourth engine— fitted this winter–is a 60hp Beta.
This was a once-in-a-lifetime complete re-build for this fine old yacht, but it also takes constant attention every winter to keep an old wooden vessel in good condition. She was previously given a major refit in 2001, when rot was located in the transom area. The stern was dismantled to get at the source and fit new framing and transom. That was also when the original hull color of blue was changed to white.
In 2002, the spruce mast was refitted and varnished; in 2003, Brian Toss Riggers of Port Townsend, replaced all standing rigging and lifelines. Since then, Katie Ford has been the subject of continual upgrades to gear like through hulls, electronics, circuits and breaker boxes, head replaced and re-plumbed etc. In 2009, the cabin top was replaced including removal of all fittings and Dorade vents, which were replaced.
With a complete set of new sails from Carol Hasse at Port Townsend Sails, this elegant lady of the north-west yachting scene returned to her Canadian home, ready for many more years of cruising and festivals. I wasn’t able to attend the party in Canada, but I hope to meet her again one day….