Below is our original review of this boat. We eventually decided we liked the boat enough to make an offer on it. Alas, we had to walk away after the survey showed structural issues that felt at the time like they were beyond our financial means to fix at the price we had offered. We wish it had turned out differently. Please see our follow up articles on this boat here and here.
But aye, old mast, we both grow old together, sound in our hulls, though, are we not, my ship? Aye, minus a leg, that’s all. By heaven this dead wood has the better of my live flesh every way. I can’t compare with it; and I’ve known some ships made of dead trees outlast the lives of men made of the most vital stuff of vital fathers. -Captain Ahab to his Pequod
When we were asked to write a review of a 55 foot, 73 year old wooden ketch we imagined an enjoyable afternoon poking around on an historic vessel. We certainly did not entertain the notion that we would ever want a boat this old, this big or this organic. But after two hours on Flying Gull and many more hours researching this boat, we have fallen hard for this ship.
History of the Flying Gull
Flying Gull’s story begins in 1938 when Mr. John Simpson of Chicago and the United States Navy commissioned Sparkman & Stephens to design, and the Grebe Shipyard, Chicago to build, a 55′ pilothouse ketch (S&S design 247) which Mr. Simpson named “AWAB” (All Women Are Beautiful?). She was launched June 1, 1940 in the Great Lakes, but from 1942 through 1945 she was pressed into service by the Navy patrolling both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as a submarine recon vessel. Of her daring war adventures, we have this note from Lee Youngblood, of Gig Harbor Yacht Sales.
On her inaugural cruise, as a “Hollywood” boat she found the first sub off Long Island. With it’s location noted, a plane dropped a depth charge, one down. Outside the Panama Canal lurked the rest of the Nazi sub fleet, waiting to block the Pacific Forces supply chain. Seems liked this boat practically saved the war effort, identifying 27 subs, I think, for sinking. They threw everything that could carry a depth charge at them, from planes to little sport boats, and kept the canal open. The Navy still won’t talk about the technology Flying Gull was towing., classified. . .(As stories go, this is a dandy. We’d love to take the time to check out all the facts, and if we owned the boat, we surely would.)
After the war, the boat returned to Chicago where she stayed in the Great Lakes area until 1959 when Mr. Simpson commissioned another similar vessel and sold “AWAB” to Mr F. Ritter Shumway of Rochester, New York. Mr. Shumway renamed her “Flying Gull” and kept her until 1992. He always had full-time paid captains and took the boat to the Lake Huron area almost every summer. “Flying Gull” was purchased from the Shumway estate in 1993. Since 1994 she lived in New York, with some refurbishing and upgrades and remained in storage until 2004, when she was moved to Seattle. Her restoration and upgrades continue this day.
As the sail plan above shows, Flying Gull is equipped as a ketch rig. The club footed staysail together with a mizzen mast make this a very versatile sail plan, that will allow her crew to put up the right amount of canvas for a variety of wind conditions. Of course the added complexity of her rig and the extra strings that are available to be tweaked might be viewed by some as more effort than it is worth. For local cruising, that might be true and in such cases, the main and foresail would suffice. But for extended voyaging, such flexibility is quite desirable.
The design of Flying Gull appears to have been dedicated to two purposes; a luxury motor sailing yacht and a fully functional naval patrol boat. Her accommodations today lean much more heavily towards the luxury part of these specifications but one can’t help but feel the history embedded in the very grain of her hull. With a large navigation station just steps away from the inside helm, it’s not hard to hear the voices of the sailors who manned those stations, keeping watch over the seas; dedicated to keeping home and country safe while this boat did her part in protecting them.
Well designed boats, like historic houses, are timeless in their appeal. Flying Gull is a masterpiece of classic lines and thoughtful design. Somehow Sparkman and Stephens were able to find just the right balance between grace and practicality, even in the addition of a deckhouse, which is usually a deal breaker in terms of artistic design on a sailboat. Visitors get a glimpse of the quality workmanship represented in this boat as soon as they step onto the builder’s plate.
Because the boat had a full canvas cover in place when we saw her, it was difficult to make our way above deck and hard to get a good feel for the dimensions of this boat. We would love to see it again without the cover. The cockpit, while generous, is not overly large and offers good seating and storage in several lazarettes. There is a locking wooden chest forward in the cockpit, giving a secure place to stow small items. Melissa noticed right away that the safety lines and stanchions are substantial and come all the way up to her hip.
As we climbed around the cockpit, opening lazarettes and getting the general feel of that area, Melissa tried to do the right thing by focusing on the deck of the boat, noticing things like the beautifully varnished mizzen mast and boom, and the juxtaposition of authentic blocks and newer ones in the rigging; things she is supposed to care about. But really, she just wanted to go below and look at the interior. Everyone knew it, but we all played the game. Fortunately, the door to the deckhouse was the next thing that beckoned and we stepped into a room with a view! This is when our hearts began to soften.
Truly it is impossible to appreciate the amount of light and space this deckhouse offers with the full canvas in place. Usually in a situation where you have a boat that has a completely enclosed ‘pilothouse’, the design of the boat suffers markedly both visually and in terms of sailing performance. Apparently that is not the case with this boat. Because you go down several steps into this area, the coach roof can remain low, close to the deck on the outside, enhancing the boat’s lines rather than detracting from them. And you still get this wonderful 360 degree view. We wonder if this was the Navy’s idea. If this boat had literally nothing else to offer, the idea of having a boat that sails well AND offers all weather protection, plus a great place to socialize or just relax, would make this boat a winner. Melissa is always whining about being cold unless it is literally 75 degrees outside and breezy, conditions that the Pacific Northwest gets about 2 days out of the year. This would completely solve that problem. For offshore adventures, the addition of plywood covers for these expansive windows would be a necessity. If the weather turned ugly, you would definitely want to protect against breakage and possible down-flooding. On the starboard side of the companionway in the deckhouse is the excellent access to the electrical system.
Never shy about poking her nose into nooks and crannies in boats, Melissa immediately began lifting up the carpet this area and, like any good snoop, noticed that the floor was meant to be removed in large panels. She was disappointed to discover that rather than large piles of pirate gold and liquor, what lurked beneath was a huge diesel engine and the rest of the boat systems. Mike and Lee were good sports, removing the panels, which are heavy, and stowing them before MIke popped below into what had become a pretty decent engine room.
The engine required a little research on our part because it looked like it might be the orginal engine on this 73 year old boat. Our research showed that this is not a bad thing! This is a Buda 6tmr468 diesel engine and one sailing forum we read had someone referring to this as the ‘nirvana’ of diesel engines for sailboats. We don’t know if that’s an over statement, but it’s worth noting that you can still buy parts from Buda Engine down in Louisiana. We can get really sucked in doing the research thing, and if you are an astute reader you will notice how completely engaged we are with this boat already. In the engine room is also access to the generator.
Aft of the deckhouse and down one step is the amazing owner’s cabin. We have deemed it the Ricky and Lucy room because there are two nice berths (rather than one large centerline queen) separated by an equally nice built in dresser and mirror. (And if you are scratching your head about that TV reference, you are too young to appreciate this boat.) Both berths are captains bunks and have drawers below. The cabin has plenty of headroom and feels like an actual room, not something the designer felt he had to squeeze in to appeal to the masses. This is no ‘floating condo’. The light fixtures may be original to the boat, and they work.
Melissa spent a lot of time exclaiming over the cabinetry, the storage space, and the overall quality of workmanship inherent in boats from this period in history. The hanging locker in this cabin has almost as much space as her side of the closet at home. There is room for many pairs of shoes on this boat. Alert readers will remember that our v-berth on Moonrise is very important to Melissa. On our next boat, a comfortable owner’s cabin with a large berth is one of her ‘requirements’. Suffice to say that after seeing this cabin, the Ricky and Lucy model doesn’t seem so bad to her and her ‘requirement’ just became more flexible. That’s a dangerous thought.
It’s worth noting that this vessel was designed during a time when not many women went cruising with their men. It was considered a ‘man’s world’ and boats were designed for men, not couples. Not even male couples. It makes perfect sense that the owner’s cabin would have twin bunks rather than a large bunk meant for more than one person. To change this would detract from the overall historical feel of this boat, so we would not change it one bit. This cabin also has a full sized head with a stand up shower. There is plenty of room in the head and generous storage, not to mention an amazing teak and holly sole.
This Owner’s Cabin is separated from the rest of the boat by the deck house. We know from our research that the second owner of this boat, who owned it the longest, had a paid captain when he took the boat out. We imagine that this boat Captain would have had the cabin on the other side of the deck house, just down a few steps. A thick steel handrail insures safe passage into this cabin from the deck house and one steps down into a cabin that is really a multipurpose room or additional saloon. To starboard is a large navigation station that would make a very good office desk in addition to its stated purpose. There is plenty of storage and the writing surfaces are wide and accommodating. To port there is a settee which doubles as a sea berth. The beautiful folding table is also in this area.
In this photo you see the seaberth and drawers, including large drawers for chart storage, above the L-shaped settee. If this were the only salon on this boat, it might not work very well. But the real salon is likely to be that wheel house with the 360 degree view. And it’s heated and has a thermostat!
The dining table is small by today’s standards where the expectation is that you will somehow want to feed 8 people on your boat. Frankly, that’s pretty unlikely to happen in our world. This table is about the same size as the one we have on Moonrise and it works very well. Also, considering that on many boats the table does double duty as a desk. On this one, that would not be the case. Anyway, you could easily feed 8 people in that wheelhouse if you were so inclined.
Once again, this boat does not disappoint in terms of the storage aboard. Forward of the navigation area is a large cabinet with shelving. This cabinet, as well as many others aboard, has been supplied with lighting that turns on when the door is opened and off when you shut the door. Call us crazy, but that is an awesome idea. Continuing forward, to port is the second head, and opposite that is another large storage cabinet. This head has no shower, but it does come with something that is a real blast from the past: a urinal! More quality fixtures and more storage further define this space. Melissa was almost out of her mind about this boat by this time, and we hadn’t even seen the galley yet. Maybe it was the urinal that pushed her over the edge.
Continuing forward is the galley. On a boat this size, you get to have more than just a corner for the galley. You get the entire small room, with enough counter space to actually chop vegetables. This galley has a double sink, two burner propane stove, and a trash compactor. Many is the time we wished for a trash compactor on Moonrise, usually about the second week into our extended vacation. It also has a front-opening fridge/freezer unit that would really be nice for people who lived aboard.
It looks like the owner may be in the middle of some projects in the galley area. One of the projects he did in this area is to put battens on the ceiling. This is very well done, with beautiful bronze screws and backings.
The fear is that Melissa will look on this galley as the ‘standard’ to which she would like to become accustomed. So much counter space for prep work! So much fridge/freezer space! And that trash compactor. This is not your usual ‘boat galley’. This is a small ship galley. Finally we came to the forward cabin. Not having ever been on a boat this large, it felt like a bit of a trek from the wheel house to this forward cabin. There is a single berth with storage, an upholstered seat with storage, and more storage for the anchor rode.
The chain rode is stored aft of the very front of the boat. There is great storage, again, in this area and the berth is a comfortable size for one person. There is a seat/storage to starboard. As we were discussing this boat, we decided that if we bought this boat ourselves (one can dream!) we would consider making this forward cabin into a workbench area. Our son, Andrew, could have the main salon as his cabin, and when Claire came to visit, we would clear out the forward cabin and restore it to a berth area. See how that works? There is room for our entire family in this boat.
What a Windlass!
Going on deck for a look was difficult because of the full canvas cover, but we managed to tunnel our way to the foredeck . First things first: we were so stunned by the sheer size of the massive windlass that we decided to start at the front of the boat where there are two big anchors riding on rollers at the end of the bowsprit. Now, this is a 55 foot boat, so we expected all of the equipment to reflect this size. But even so, the windlass took our breath away. This piece of machinery, built by American Engineering Company, is likely to be original to the boat.
The windlass is electric, using a 32 volt electric motor, but may have a manual setting. This windlass is, itself, a piece of history. The company was founded in 1857 in Rhode Island under the name American Ship Windlass Company. They became known for their well crafted capstans and windlasses. After moving to Philadelphia in the early part of the 20th century, the company changed the name to American Engineering Company and began manufacturing other marine equipment such as steering parts. Over the years companies bought and sold each other, moved to other states, and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, the company that was once American Ship Windlass Company is still making windlasses for the Navy. Does this mean that parts are still available for this windlass? We don’t know. But this piece of equipment was built at a time that things were built right, and built to last. If it needs repair, we bet it can be done. If we bought this boat, we would remove the windlass and have it completely refurbished, including removing the layers of paint and refinishing the metal. and refitting the motor with a more common 24 volt system. She would be a work of industrial art.
Looking aft one can see the extensive amount of wood on this boat. Well, this IS, after all, a wooden boat. Originally this boat had a teak deck and we all know how troublesome those can be on some boats. This one has already had the teak removed and the deck has been finished with a nonskid surface. We expect that potential future owners will need to have a healthy love of wood and working on wood. But you already knew that.
Peeking underneath the canvas hatch protectors revealed that there is some work to be done refinishing the wood, and possibly rebedding the glass. Including the beautiful butterfly hatch, they all appear to be finished with Melissa’s personal boat wood finishing nemesis: the old kind of Cetol. She hates this stuff and when you see the photo of the hatch below, you’ll see why. Lee Youngblood assures us that there is a new clear Cetol that is much better and that, in his experience, wears very well. These hatches would be properly stripped and then we would probably try that new stuff. We are nothing if not well versed in stripping and refinishing wood.
One thing we love about this deck is the sheer size of it. There is so much room! We have visions of deck chairs, hammocks, fake grass with plastic flowers… you know the drill. This boat is so beautiful everyone will want to come on board to see it. Fortunately, there will be room for a party on this deck if that’s what you are into.
As a ketch rig, this boat has two masts. The masts are original to the boat and are hollow spruce, painted white. Both masts were pulled last spring and were refinished, re-stepped, and sealed with Spartite. Nice! The sails, which we were unable to view, may be a bit tired but are likely to be serviceable. Halyards are external to the mast.
Initially we weren’t sure about that kind of setup, but that’s just because we are inexperienced with it. Melissa makes the point that with the external halyard system, what you see is what you get. It’s straightforward and changing the halyard is not likely to be the exercise in frustration that it was when we gave our Cal34, Moonrise, a new one. All other things being equal, raising the sail is raising the sail. If the equipment works well, why change it? The equipment on this boat is a fascinating and artful combination of classic and new.
The more modern blocks simply cannot match the beauty and simplicity of these tried and true designs, or the warmth of wood.
At the end of the tour, we were completely sprung on this boat, scrambling in our brains to ask ourselves how we could possibly afford to buy it; struggling with the inevitable agony of the head/heart splitting that occurs when something appears in your life that feels really good but you know you are completely unprepared for. Yes, it’s true that we can get sprung on many boats. This is very true. We’ve seen other boats that we’ve certainly liked, other boats that made our hearts beat faster and that we fantasized about. We still, for instance, love that Westerly that is languishing alone and abandoned up in Blaine.
But unlike other boats we’ve looked at, we both agree that this boat feels like there is life in its very fibers, waiting to be lived, just underneath the surface of the patina of her old wood. Some boats simply wait. This boat breathes and sleeps and waits. No one will ever ‘own’ this boat as the consciousness in this hull will never belong to any one person. The buyer of this boat will be a caretaker, a steward of a living, breathing piece of American Maritime History. References and Links
- Yacht World listing
- Sparkman & Stephens Info
- Sailing Anarchy Post (login required)
- Buda Engines
- Boat Trader Listing