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Clark Asks: Readers shed light on mysterious yacht abandoned in Vancouver

Former Christensen employee details story behind forsaken boat

By , Columbian staff writer
Published: November 9, 2018, 6:00am
3 Photos
A seemingly abandoned yacht has been sitting along Southeast Hidden Way in the Columbia Business Center for at least 15 years. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian)
A seemingly abandoned yacht has been sitting along Southeast Hidden Way in the Columbia Business Center for at least 15 years. (Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

What an awesome community this is.

Within a week of publishing a story about the mysterious, abandoned yacht at the old Kaiser Shipyard — including my desperate plea for tips after a monthlong wild goose chase — I received no fewer than three dozen calls and emails from readers.

Of those responses, a few stood out — one in particular. On Nov. 2, I received a call from a man named Jerry Miller who claimed to have managed the fiberglass department at Christensen Motor Yacht Corp. from 1983 to 1991.

If you recall from my first foray into this mystery, the old boat still haunting the Columbia Business Center was linked to a 1990 fire at Christensen Shipyards that destroyed the 125-foot vessel Emerald Isle. That would have been during Miller’s tenure, and the first words out of his mouth sure caught my attention: “I built that boat,” he said breezily. I like to think I stayed equally as cool, as if I hadn’t immediately started bouncing up and down in my desk chair, earning a weird look from our features reporter.

Go on.

“We had a fire in 1990 and that boat filled up with water,” Miller continued. “The overhead sprinklers filled the boat up with 5 or 6 feet of water … the fire department was there, they were so afraid the boat was going to tip over and knock over the boats next to it.”

Then, when I thought it couldn’t get any better, he mentioned a chainsaw.

“I said, ‘Give me that chainsaw. I’ll go underneath the boat and cut a hole in it.’ ” As the person who oversaw the boat’s construction, Miller said he knew how to drain the vessel while causing minimal damage.

“I went underneath the boat and cut a 1-foot-square hole in it, and it drained the water out,” he said. “Once all that drained out, everything that was underwater was fine. Everything above that had burned so they brought in a bunch of containers, and we cut off everything that was burned and left everything that was good.”

After the fire was extinguished, Miller said the boat shell was offered to shipyard employees. There were no takers. Miller mentioned the damaged yacht to a boat owner while doing some repairs to another ship at Jantzen Beach and that man — Miller can’t remember his name — snapped it up.

“He went over and bought that boat from Dave Christensen,” Miller said, referencing the shipbuilding giant who owned Christensen Motor Yacht Corp. Dave Christensen had reportedly recommended that the man turn the boat into a dive barge.

But the new owner, according to Miller, wanted it to be a yacht once more. He reportedly hired Miller to do a bit of fiberglass work on the vessel, but Miller quickly realized he was working on a lost cause.

“I thought, ‘You can’t fix this. This is too big a mess.’ I worked on it a day or two and said, ‘Forget it,’ ” Miller said.

Around 2000, the owner allegedly tried to sell the boat and took out an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal promoting it as a Christensen yacht. This reportedly drew the ire of Dave Christensen, who didn’t want the damaged vessel to be associated with the company.

Bits and pieces of this narrative were independently confirmed by separate sources. A few readers had said that the boat, at one point, received an inspection from the U.S. Coast Guard and been declared unseaworthy. This alleged failed inspection may have derailed the rumored plan for the boat, which I’d also heard from a few people, to turn it into a floating restaurant.

A credible source, who spent decades at the company but asked to remain anonymous out of respect for the Christensen family, confirmed a similar story.

According to this source, the boat we see today is a cobbled-up rebuilding. The interior was framed with common lumber similar to a house, he said, and the owner was trying to get the boat certified as a passenger vessel so he could have it be used as a party boat. The Coast Guard categorically denied the owner any certification.

This person also corroborated the later conflict of the owner attempting to brand the vessel as a Christensen yacht for the purpose of reselling it.

While a few of the details remain murky, we now have a pretty compelling narrative surrounding the boat at the former Kaiser Shipyard to offer the curious Charles Stookey, who first submitted this question to our Clark Asks page. By and large, this mystery was solved by our readers.

That’s amazing! Thank you. Even if I wasn’t able to return each of your messages, know that I’m grateful for you and for this Herculean collective effort.

My favorite response was a 900-word manifesto from a reader named Simon, who credibly linked the original Emerald Isle to a yacht named the Sunchaser that burned in Malaysia in 2014. He made his case with a detailed analysis of each ship’s window placement, bow and stern shape, and drainage holes, complete with side-by-side photos from multiple angles for comparison. He hypothesized that the Sunchaser’s owner bought and adapted the original Emerald Isle’s plans for the sake of a fast build.

“I just can’t resist a mystery like this, especially if I think I’m holding a piece of the puzzle,” he wrote. Who can relate?

As far as the owner goes, I heard from a few people who thought they knew who was trying to rebuild the boat. One person was sure the boat owner’s first name was Forrest. Paul Christensen, brother of the late shipbuilder Dave Christensen, kindly reached out to me and said he believed the empty hull was built by a man named George who once owned a boat works company close to where the hull is now sitting. Another reader thought the boat was bought by a man named Terry, then changed hands to a Frank.

The truth is I still don’t know.

In all honesty, though, I think that’s OK. The owner of this boat, whoever he is, didn’t ask to be the subject of a public mystery. And after all, this story now includes a fire and chainsaw. Let’s quit while we’re ahead.

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