“Thank you for taking care of it,” a man called down to the marina from the sidewalk near the Olympia Yacht Club.
He was thanking Greg Gilbert for his hard work on the Winifred, a 90-year-old wooden boat that stands out from modern boats in the marina. The passersby said he had noticed the boat and appreciated the obvious love that had gone into maintaining it.
Gilbert replied that it was his pleasure to nurture the beautiful piece of local history. He understood how the man felt: He’d had to wait many years for the dreamboat he’s called home for 16 years.
“I admired this boat for 30 years, but I never thought I’d own it,” the longtime Seattle Times photographer said. “I only hope when I’m 90 I’ll be as well cared for.”
The wooden boat with “graceful lines” returned to Olympia Sunday to take a local family on a 75th birthday cruise to Seattle.
The 46-foot Winifred was built in 1926 in Seattle by Lake Union Machine and Dry Dock Company for the second generation of the Schmidt family, who founded the Olympia Brewing Company. It was sold new for $5,125 under the name “Lake Union Dreamboat” and was later renamed in honor of Winifred Schmidt, the wife of Adolph.
Since then it has passed through multiple different families and, like any wooden boat, many expensive repairs.
“The only way I could afford it is to live on it,” said Gilbert, who worked as a photographer for The Olympian during high school and then moved on to the Seattle Times in 1967. “I thought living on it, I’d get a lot of projects done, but it still takes time to get stuff done.”
Gilbert has done more than just maintain the boat. He removed a wall below deck to make room for a larger shower and spent more than 30 hours straight repainting the boat. Gilbert searched for U.S. Navy china and silverware on eBay and proudly displays it in the small kitchen below deck.
He pointed out a plaque he won in 2007 for “best period piece” at the Olympia Wooden Boat Fair. “I don’t know if that’s for me, or the boat,” he joked.
That’s not the only award the Winifred has earned in its long history. The boat took first place for its size and second overall in the first predicted log race on the West Coast in 1929, according to documents from the Alaska State Library.
“When you have a log, normally, you record things as you go along,” Gilbert said. But, “when you have a predicted log, you predict where you’ll be at a certain time. It’s a race, but not a speed race. It’s an accuracy race.”
The “Capital to Capital” race, from Olympia to Juneau, Alaska, was established by Schmidt as a promotional event for his hotel in Juneau and to showcase local maritime skills.
Gilbert has the original captain logs from the race, which were handwritten, and laughed while describing one entry from a stop about how good the orange juice was. Gilbert uses electronic logs now, but fondly remembers the days before them, when his love of boating began on the water with his family.
“I grew up here in Olympia, and my parents had boats, but modern fiberglass boats,” he said. When he told his father he had bought a wooden boat, there was a long pause and then his dad responded, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Gilbert said he is glad he bought his first wooden boat, the Mer-Na, more than 30 years ago and then his current “floating home” in 2000.
Gilbert has made the Winifred part of his family: Two of his sons had their weddings on the boat, and one used it for a weeklong honeymoon afterwards.
Gilbert described himself as the Winifred’s caretaker in a 2012 Center for Wooden Boats article entitled, “Winifred, My Dreamboat.” He described the boat as “sleeps six, eats eight and drinks 33.”
Now, two of Gilbert’s granddaughters are learning to pilot the boat, just as Gilbert learned from his parents while growing up in Olympia.
“We go into Lake Union and stop at Ivar’s for fish and chips,” he said.
From the roof of the boat, Gilbert pulled out a paper maritime chart and unrolled it to show Portland Island, Canada. He said he pulled into a small cove there at high tide and then hiked around the island with a friend four years ago. “That’s one of my favorite spots,” he said with a smile.
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