Lost @ Long Beach: article for Wood Hull Yacht Club

Seeking Owners & Info about Danish Spidsgatter FIRECREST 1960-1974  (aka Pax since 1976)
by Kaci Cronkhite for Wood Hull Yacht Club newsletter, Los Angeles, California January/February 2012

How the heck this all started
I sailed around the world on a plastic double-ender, finishing that six year westabout circumnavigation in Port Townsend, Washington, August 2001. A month later, I hopped a ferry from Friday Harbor to attend the Wooden Boat Festival and the morning of my return trip, planes hit the World Trade Center towers.  The culture shock of returning to America from a world voyage was compounded that morning exponentially.  Staring at the television coverage, hugging strangers, talking to family daily for the first time in nearly a decade, life changed. Love of the ocean married my former love of wilderness and together, that ultimately led me to wooden boats.

By spring 2002, I took the helm of Port Townsend’s Wooden Boat Festival. In 2004, I served as Interim Director during a financial crisis at the Wooden Boat Foundation. In 2005, our board voted to merge with the Northwest Maritime Center for the most ambitious downtown waterfront project in Port Townsend history. For two years, I served as Managing Director during the bumpy transition, always simultaneously at the helm of the Festival as it reached port and lodging capacity, then shifted to that blissful state of improving quality.

As if there wasn’t enough on my plate, or maybe because there was, I bought a wooden boat. Having listened to hundreds of passionate tales from owners, previous owners and more than a few angry or tearful haulouts from hell and near divorces, I knew better than to buy a wooden boat, but buying a wooden boat is not something heads decide. It’s a matter of the heart.

Finding Pax
Pax came into my life in n 2007, via email. Boat porn, as one of my fellow boaters calls it. Having grown quite callous over the years of answering info@woodenboat.org, I opened this email just like all the others. Curious, but calmly poised to answer or push it to one of a half dozen trusty colleagues all over the US who routinely helped me answer the questions or find the next step for an inquiring owner or friend.

While the For Sale flyer of photos opened slowly on my screen, I turned away to answer a call. Turning back, it happened. All the crazy stories others told happened to me.  I fell in love with a boat who’s name meant peace.

Timing and paperwork
Wooden Boat Festival was little more than a month away. Days and nights were packed with meetings, volunteer recruitment, thousands of calls and emails from people attending with their boats, business, or just simply attending. Time was short and there were many questions to answer about the boat. Thankfully, several friends on Vancouver Island, one in Denmark and half a dozen locals were quick to weigh in with what they knew. The boat had no name on her hull, but everyone “knew” her. Most called her Pax or simply, “that sweet little spidsgatter up near Maple Bay.”

Pax was not a slam dunk purchase. There were wild rumors about California, but no paper proof from the current owner that she’d ever been in the USA. There were rumors about her designer and life in Denmark, but a fire destroyed any easy proof. Of course, there were questions about the condition of the hull. The owner, a young artist who’d recently completed his training at the NW School of Wooden Boatbuilding and whose parents were members of the Royal Victoria Yacht Club, was setting off to complete an MFA at Carnegie Mellon. After living aboard for seven years, he needed to sell her fast, but set a price higher than normal quickies and not having sold across the border, we were both in for some lessons on paperwork and naive with negotiation.  

A ferry across the Straits of Juan de Fuca to see the boat near Victoria confirmed the boat was seaworthy. She was rough on the inside, in desperate need of sails with a small leak, but strong.  Her engine, a like-new 25 hp marinized Isuzu made my decision. Three weeks from love-at-first-site, Pax was sitting next to my office at Cupola House, hauled out in what would become the first festival Boatyard Stage.  Officially in the USA and just in time for Festival.

Stories surface, mystery grows

While she was still wet from the journey and haul out, men and women converged on the boat. Voluptuous and rare in her curviness, people ogled, took pictures and a few tracked me down to inquire about her past.  One climbed the ladder at night to shine a light in her porthole and called me. The gorgeous slab of mahogany now in her main cabin had proven she was the boat he remembered from a talented woman shipwright with a dreamy boathouse in a remote cove of British Columbia. Another guy, this time from California, stopped his van in the middle of the road.  First question he asked was “did this boat burn in Sausalito?”.  When I answered yes, he sadly shook his head. “I always wondered where she went. Could have bought her for $800, but I took the extra day to think about it and when I went back, she was gone. Heard she went to Canada and by her condition, I figured she ended up on a scrap heap.  Never forgot this hull.” He patted her stern curves and walked back to the van. “Good luck.”

Danish spidsgatter fanatics from the west coast, Canada and Denmark debated her design.  Berg, Hansen and Utzon were the choices....  5 pages of detail from my trips to British Columbia, Denmark are included in the newsletter between these sections!  Email me (kaciATwomanofthewind.com) if you want the whole article sent to you.

Questions remain, especially her import: This is where Californians can really help!
On my recent trip to Dana Point January 2012, I confirmed that Firecrest was indeed moored at Dana Point East on “O Dock” and likely in slip #10 from 1974-1983.  Photos from the musician from the 70s and 80s match the rooflines, street lights, and slip configuration of the current space. The owner from 1974-76 lives in Laguna Beach and cannot remember the name of the previous owner.  He does remember that she was at Colonial Yacht Harbor when he bought her, “under a tarp”.  She desperately needed a new deck at that point.

The trail in Denmark goes cold in 1960 and the last wooden boats from Denmark were exported to the USA in 1962.  According to the owners of other spidsgatters imported to US and from discussions with the two biggest exporters in Denmark, she likely came to the USA between 1960 and 62 as Firecrest.  A dramatically carved tiller, sometimes described as a dragon, other times as a carp, as well as her very curvy stern, overall curvy shape and very tall mast (51’ on a 28’ boat) are the likely characteristics people remember.  Many, if not most owners of spidsgatters originally fell in love with the design either because they spent time in Europe during WWII, love double enders or due to Scandinavian ancestry recognize and value the expert craftsmanship.  Long Beach and Los Angeles expansion during the 50s - 70s meant that there was great demand here for boats and it makes sense she would have imported here and stayed through 1976.  Wooden boats were in big demand after the war, easing off when fiberglass bumped them out of fashion in the mid 1960s.

Boatyards in the area, including Colonial, Cabrillos, Dinko’s, Newport and Dana Point are likely where Firecrest hauled for bottom paint and repairs.  

If any of your members owned her, remember the boat, worked on the boat or know someone they think might be able to help, please contact me. I won’t find peace until this search (Finding Pax) is complete!  

Yours in the wooden hull world,

Kaci Cronkhite