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Yacht builder Dave Christensen dies at 87

Versatile businessman’s retirement gift to himself launched yet another career

By , Columbian Business Editor
Published:
4 Photos
Dave Christensen at the launching of one of his yachts at Christensen Yacht Works at Marine Park on June 15, 2004.
Dave Christensen at the launching of one of his yachts at Christensen Yacht Works at Marine Park on June 15, 2004. (The Columbian files) Photo Gallery

Dave Christensen, who started a mega-yacht business in his hometown that catered to the rich and sometimes to the famous, died Monday evening. He was 87.

Christensen, who’d been afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease, died at an assisted living home in Vancouver surrounded by his three daughters, said his eldest daughter, Kathy Maynard of Vancouver.

Christensen built his first fortune as a homebuilder and then real estate developer, choosing to retire at age 50. As a retirement gift to himself, he commissioned a 95-foot-yacht to be built at Westport Shipyards in Washington.

At the conclusion of its maiden voyage to Mexico, Christensen decided he could build a better yacht, his daughter said. And that’s how Christensen Shipyards got its start, his daughter said.

“He decided he could build a better boat,” she said.

Christensen was born on June 19, 1931, on a Flaxton, N.D., farm, the eldest of three children, Maynard said. His father, John Christensen, also owned a Red Owl grocery store in Flaxton, a community in the northeast part of the state that had 66 residents in the most recent census. Christensen’s mother, Madeline Clauson, was a schoolteacher who later became a homemaker.

When Christensen was 12, his father died in a tractor accident. His mother chose to move the family to Vancouver in 1943 to be near relatives. The family joined many others flocking to the city to work at the Kaiser Shipyards.

His mother didn’t take a job in the shipyards, however, working instead in a variety of roles for Wolf Electric Home Supply and later as a photographer for Meier & Frank.

While Christensen floundered at Hough Elementary School and later the old Fort Vancouver High School at Fourth Plain Boulevard and Main Street, he flourished at work, Maynard said.

As a youngster, he held five paper delivery routes for The Columbian, she said. He worked throughout high school and a variety of jobs. His favorite class was shop. His first job out of high school was working on the Grand Coulee Dam. By age 23, he was building houses.

In addition to believing he could build a better boat, Christensen also once said in an interview that he thought retirement might be boring. And that’s part of the reason he started the yacht business in 1983.

His yachts, with their composite shells, were known for an opulence that attracted the likes of golfer Tiger Woods and country singer Jimmy Dean, perhaps better known for his sausage. It was a rare customer who’d allow their identity to be known, reflecting the reticence to be associated with a multimillion-dollar, made-to-order purchase.

Christensen Yachts travels in the company of boats that are at least 130 feet long. The company expanded in 2006, building another plant in Tennessee. In 2009, Christensen stepped away from the business, leaving its leadership to a stepson.

Maynard said her favorite memory of her father was not watching him pound a nail or host a launching party aboard one of the company’s multimillion-dollar ships.

She remembered him, as he often did, tossing a young girl into the air so that he could catch her on the way down.

But this one time, she remembers looking at eye level at utility lines and seeing a look of horror on her grandparents’ faces below.

“I had no doubt my dad was going to catch me. It’s been like that my whole life.”

Christensen is survived by his wife, Mary; daughters Kathy Maynard of Vancouver; Teri Kelly of Roswell, Ga.; and Cindi Curtain of Vancouver; stepsons Riccardo Foggia Jr. of Lake Oswego, Ore.; David Foggia of La Grande, Ore.; and Joseph Foggia of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Services will be announced later.

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Columbian Business Editor

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