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Originally published Thursday, April 30, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Dream Boat with inspiring story will join Saturday's Opening Day boat parade

A classic Seattle-built motor yacht, Turning Point, was ready for the junkyard before Seattleite Paul Thomas devoted his life to rescuing it from a watery grave. See its proud new owners pilot the boat through Montlake Cut in Saturday's Opening Day boat parade.

NWWeekend editor

The dreamers behind the Dream Boat

Once you've seen a Lake Union Dream Boat, you'll know the next one. With a beaklike foredeck that juts out and out and out some more, the boat looks a bit like a floating toucan.

It was the creation of Otis Cutting, who started as a draftsman for Seattle's old Moran Shipyard, and R.M. Mooney, a local agent for the now-forgotten Marmon auto company.

Cutting, who had risen to be president of Lake Union Dry Dock Co., modeled the Dream Boat after his personal yacht, the Klootchman, which he had "driven into every nook and harbor of this great Puget Sound country," according to the March 1928 issue of Seattle-based Pacific Motor Boat magazine.

The article reported: "Mr. Cutting had the dream of a craft so built as to be the boat for every man. Mr. Mooney had the dream of a craft so priced that every man could own one."

First built in 1926, the Dream Boat was designed to carry eight passengers, with a 10-foot-by-13-foot covered cockpit aft and a roomy cabin below with galley, head, saloon with dining table for 10, convertible to sleeping berths for up to eight — just the fashionable vessel for a summer boating party on Lake Washington or a week's foray to the San Juan Islands.

— Brian J. Cantwell

Watch for it inSaturday's big parade of boats

Opening Day is here

EVERY SPRING, to advance Seattle's Opening Day of boating season, NWWeekend profiles a vessel that can be seen in the annual boat parade through Montlake Cut. Watch for Turning Point in the parade starting at noon Saturday.

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Here's a story suited to this era of foreclosures and hard times. But while it has that grim side, it still involves messing about in boats (and nothing is half so much worth doing). Plus, there's a happy ending.

It was 2002 and the boat, then named Vagabond, was a mess. A bank repo, it sat sadly neglected at a Bainbridge Island moorage. The bank was into it for $50,000. They'd never get that for it.

Along came Seattleite Paul Thomas, then in his 30s, with a BA in physics and a master's in business. He thought living on a boat would be affordable and he could stop paying rent. What he knew about the boat world was not much. But like a seal pup who has never seen a killer whale, he plunged right in.

He offered the bank $1,500. "Did they hang up on you?" a friend laughed.

No, they countered at $3,500, settled for $2,500, and Thomas was the owner of a 1928 Lake Union Dream Boat, a classic, 42-foot wooden motor yacht with a high bow longer than the hood of a '59 Coupe de Ville and just as distinctive.

That was just the start of his troubles.

Knew no better

"I found out that 'B-O-A-T' doesn't stand for 'Break Out Another Thousand,' it stands for 'Break Out Again in Tears,' " Thomas recalls wryly.

"It was a total disaster. There was moss on the roof and garbage in the cabin up to here," he said, holding a hand waist-high.

He'd never worked on boats, but he had done cabinetmaking "and I thought, 'Wood and I get along pretty well.' I didn't know better."

He had the boat towed to a Ballard boatyard "thinking I'd be there for three days to paint it, and I was there for three months."

It was a brutal lesson in what saltwater — and the crawly things that live in it — can do to wood. He replaced rotten planks. He reframed. He was about to relaunch when he discovered a shipworm hole leading into the keel "that just kept going."

A 300-pound chunk of purpleheart — a dense rain-forest wood — went into building a new keel, a did-it-himself project of which Thomas is proudest. What gets noticed by visitors today, though, is the shimmering walnut dining table he installed, or the gleaming fir flooring, salvaged from an old church.

"People say, 'The floor! The floor!' But I say, 'I replaced a bunch of the keel, let me show you that!' " Thomas said.

After three years of living aboard the boat and constantly working on it, hauling hundreds of pounds of lumber atop his Toyota, he had rebuilt the foredeck, replaced the engine, gutted the galley, repainted, changed the propeller (twice), and more — finally even reinforcing the hull with stainless-steel supports to solve a sanity-challenging vibration problem.

"It was like 'Boat University.' It was very rewarding, incredibly satisfying and I'm so glad I did it.

"But I'm also so glad it's over."

Proud new stewards

That's not to say an old boat's restoration is ever complete. But Thomas, who had renamed the boat Turning Point because it represented a big change in his life, gave up the boat in 2006.

At the Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival that Fourth of July, Bill Linscott and Patti Tangeman-Linscott, of Des Moines (the one south of Seattle, not Iowa), came aboard Turning Point, which was on display. They noticed a small card that offered the boat for sale.

They weren't boat shopping. But they fell under the spell of the Dream Boat.

They both work for Boeing and grew up around Puget Sound in families with motorboats, his family's an old Owens, her family's "a cabin cruiser from a salvage yard."

Bill, 58, said he was intrigued with the Dream Boat because "it was so different in appearance, from cabin to stern, different from any boat out there, and had this 1920s aura."

"He loves 'The African Queen,' too, it's his favorite movie," said Patti, 53.

The Dream Boat, built by Seattle's Lake Union Dry Dock Co. as an affordable "everyman's" yacht in the years just before the Great Depression, also reminded her of that old family cabin cruiser and the happy memories that went with it.

These days, when they aren't admiring the view of Mount Rainier as they motor around Lake Washington, or dodging seaplanes on Lake Union, they enjoy weekends at their Ballard slip, where the boat is like a cozy in-city apartment.

And the couple has come to realize an enriching aspect to owning Turning Point: the honor of being stewards, for a time, of "a beautiful piece of Washington history," as Patti calls it. It's one of only about 10 Dream Boats left afloat — several of which you can see, along with Turning Point, in Saturday's Opening Day parade.

Forging a friendship

Thomas, now 43 and putting his energy into his real-estate auction business, sold the boat for more than 20 times what he paid for it. That still didn't cover his sheaf of boatyard and lumber receipts, much less the thousands of hours he put in.

But he got a chunk of his investment back. And the new owners not only got a boat that makes heads turn — and is no longer apt to sink at the dock — but they found Thomas, who has become a close friend as well as Turning Point's trusted maintenance expert.

"It took a while to get Paul to let go," Bill Linscott said with bemusement. "We don't want him to!" Patti added, smiling at Thomas as the three gathered aboard Turning Point recently.

"It's like an open adoption," Thomas said. "Bill calls me up and says 'It's a nice weekend, go use the boat.' It's an amazing synergy."

He's thankful that Bill and Patti have the interest to continue restoration. In their 2 ½ years of ownership, Bill has built a beautiful wooden console for a control panel, they've finished the galley in Bristol fashion, rewired, replumbed, installed a vintage spotlight and much more.

And Thomas helps out with little projects, any time the phone rings.

"Now, to come work on this is really pleasant for me," he reflects. "It's optional. It's not survival mode."

So the messing about continues. With no more tears.

Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or bcantwell@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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