“We’ve never felt that we owned her,” says Tom Henderson about Kiyi, their 50-foot 1926 fantail motoryacht. “We’re just the caretakers,” adds his wife, Patty. They may be just the caretakers, but taking care of Kiyi has turned into a 33-year career.
Though a workday at their GTH Design business in Poulsbo, Washington, is spent creating stunning interiors for modern megayachts, their weekends are spent in the past aboard Kiyi. “I’m very familiar with every inch of her,” grins Patty, “because I’ve sanded and varnished every one of those inches!” Adds Tom, “A weekend for me is about being aboard and just ‘fussing with stuff.’”
Their yacht is a classic Pacific Northwest design by Leigh Coolidge, built by the Schertzer Brothers on Lake Union. If you don’t think they built them differently back then, consider that the house is planked in solid teak, 1 1/8-inches thick and as long as 18 feet. The hull is Port Orford cedar over bent oak frames, and she cost a pre-Depression $5,280, even though the owner supplied the wood planking.
Kiyi is on her ninth set of “caretakers” and has always been kept in a covered boathouse, but she still requires continual maintenance. Right now, she’s in a boatyard getting new canvas decking. The Hendersons have refit her every couple of years: refastening the garboards, new floor timbers, keel bolts. Each is a major project and, says Tom, “It’s not for the faint of heart…or pocketbook! It takes a real commitment, but we do it because we love her.”
Kiyi is on her third engine, a classic 6-cylinder Chrysler Crown of just 110 horsepower, while the previous engine was an 8-cylinder Chrysler Royal that replaced the original Hall Scott. “She’s not fast,” he says, “but she’s comfortable and economical.”
The Hendersons raised their three sons (now grown) aboard Kiyi and Patty says, “We live on the water. We have small boats that we sail or row, and Kiyi has always been part of our family.” When heading for a weekend in the Gulf Islands, they often tow a classic 100-year-old Whitehall rowing tender.
Though 50 feet long, she has an interior more like a sailboat, since she has just 10 feet of beam. “The fantail takes away some interior space,” says Patty, “but it’s a wonderful place to sit in a couple of wicker chairs on a sunny day.” That fantail is unique on a boat this size, and it fascinates people who see her. Kiyi draws attention wherever she goes. “People will stop us and say they remember seeing her when they were kids. It’s wonderful, because these boats have heart and soul and history.”
With a space-consuming dinette removed and a flybridge added in the ’60s, not all of Kiyi is completely original—but the unusual curved-glass pilothouse windows are. “When our kids were playing around on deck, I told them: You break the glass, you die!” says Patty with a grin.
The Hendersons can’t wait for Kiyi to get back in the water, where they can take care of her again. “As owners of a classic yacht, you’re really museum keepers,” they say fondly.