By Wendy Gray
From Bellingham to San Andres, Colombia, with Alaska in between – after years of cold water cruising in the Pacific Northwest, the M/V Fairweather has now landed in the warm waters of the Western Caribbean. Not a bad place to retire to at the grand old age of 74.
Her life story is long and cherished but no one could have written such an unusual twist to her personal history. Carlos and Ricardo Castaño, two brothers from the Colombian island of San Andres, while looking for a boat to buy, came across her photo on the web page of an Anacortes yacht broker. It was a match made in heaven – just like an on-line dating service.
Isla San Andres is located in the Western Caribbean about 120 nautical miles north of Panama and 100 nautical miles east of Nicaragua. The brothers travelled over 2500 miles to find her and when they met it was love at first sight.
The sleek 45 foot Sedan Cruiser motor yacht was designed by Ed Monk, Sr the well-known shipwright and naval architect from the Pacific Northwest. She was one of his early designs, built by Peter Lind Shipwrights of Bellingham, in 1941.
Originally named Glorianne she did not have a long life as a civilian cruiser since the War Department requisitioned her the next year. They shipped her to Adak Island in the Aleutians, where she served as Coast Guard vessel 7238, helping the war effort and the fishing fleet in Alaska.
After the war she came back to the Pacific Northwest and spent the next 25 years in Puget Sound. She was owned by William Reed of Gig Harbor who changed her name to Play Mate. Together they competed in predicted log races throughout the region and some may remember her being named “Boat of the Year” by the Tacoma Yacht Club. On July 12th 1959 she was winner in Class 5 of the International Cruiser Race from Everett to Vancouver.
But the call of Alaska was strong. After Mr. Reed’s death in 1972, Play Mate was sold to Chuck and Alice Johnstone, who brought her back to the waters of Southeast Alaska. Her name was changed to Fairweather and for the next 30 years she was in service as a tour boat. Many eco-tourism trips were made to Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness Area and Glacier Bay National Park. Local legend is that when Fairweather entered Glacier Bay the whales would frequently come by and cavort around her.
After three decades exploring Alaska Fairweather made a return voyage to Seattle. In 2001 the Johnstones returned from Sitka, Alaska and she was sold to Mike and Carol Herbert of Anacortes.
Mike had served on a Mine Sweeper during his time in the Navy. Now, having moved to the Pacific Northwest in retirement, he was eager to get back out on the water. Carol, on the other hand, who suffers from claustrophobia, was not so sure. Mike announced, “I’ve found the perfect boat for us, big windows all around so you can see out.”
Life aboard Fairweather took on a relaxed pace with the Herberts, who enjoyed cruising her in the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands and south Puget Sound, often with friends from the Anacortes Yacht Club. Carol recalls with a laugh, “Every time we took her out something would go wrong and we’d need to fix it. She was not ‘perfect’, just your ‘typical’ old boat.”
On a couple of occasions while cruising in Puget Sound they ran into Art Freeman, the grandson of William Reed, who recognized the boat immediately. He fondly remembers spending time on the boat when he was a child.
In 2009, the Herberts undertook a major overhaul of her wooden hull. They turned to Andy Stewart owner of Emerald Marine Carpentry in Anacortes and with his help they replaced over 65 stringers, so she was just like new again. Unfortunately, Mike had only a few more years to enjoy her. When he passed away unexpectedly in 2013 Carol decided to put Fairweather up for sale.
And, ‘now for the rest of the story’, as Paul Harvey would say.
Tom Gilbert owner of Cap Sante Yacht Sales received an email from potential clients in Colombia enquiring about Fairweather. At first both Tom and Carol were surprised, was this a legitimate offer?
The emails continued and soon the Castaño brothers were promising to come to view the boat. Time passed and it was felt the doubts were confirmed, but then a call in a Spanish accented voice was received. “We are at SeaTac Airport and we are on our way to Anacortes”.
The ‘Colombian boys’, as they are now affectionately called, finally arrived in May of this year. It turned out that Carlos and Ricardo are two delightful, charming and highly respectable, septuagenarians. They wanted a boat for their eco-tourism business in San Andres and Fairweather with all those lovely big windows would be the perfect boat to take tourists sightseeing around the island.
Carlos, who has never been married, said, “I fell in love with her the moment I saw her.” Since they are both in their 70s that seems appropriate.
The boat far exceeded their expectations. Offers were made and accepted, details finalized. The only item on the boat that the buyers did not want was the Dickinson stove that the Herberts used for both heating and cooking. Ricardo said with a smile, “ We already have enough heat in Colombia.”
The next question was how does a classic wooden boat get from Anacortes, Washington to San Andres, Colombia? And the answer is ‘very slowly’.
The boys hired a boat hauling company to transport Fairweather to Tampa, Florida. The boat was carefully hoisted onto the flat bed, chocked and strapped. Antennas had to be removed because of height restrictions. The most important addition was wetted cardboard in the bilges to keep the planking from drying out on the long drive across country.
The very experienced driver and said, “Don’t worry. I’ll wet her down every time I stop along the way”. He also promised not to drive at night to avoid hitting any unexpected potholes or obstacles that could jar the boat causing damage to the frame.
Just as they were leaving Anacortes at the end of May, tropical storm Ana was building in the Atlantic, almost a month before the official start of hurricane season. Fortunately the storm veered northwards away from Florida. After 7 days the truck and boat made the first overland leg to Tampa without mishap, where the sea adventure was about to begin.
The boys’ plan was to launch in Tampa and motor in short legs via Cuba, Cancun, Belize, Roatan, around the Horn of Honduras, down the coast of Nicaragua to San Andreas. Departure was delayed because tropical storm Bill was bombarding Central America with wind and rain, but once underway all went well. A ten day stay was needed in Roatan, Honduras to sit out the next tropical storm. After six weeks in transit, Fairweather finally made it to her new home in July 2015.
You might think this is the end of the story but there is a postscript.
Mike Herbert’s brother, Bill, is also a seasoned mariner. Since retiring, Bill has sailed his boat Orion, a 88 foot steel hulled ketch, from Vancouver, B.C. down the Pacific coast through the Panama Canal into the Caribbean. (See photo of Orion)
In recent months the boat has been moored, believe it or not, in the marina at Isla San Andres and is now within sight of Fairweather.
As Art Freeman, Mr. Reed’s grandson said, “ You couldn’t make up a story like that!”