|Ernest K. and Dodie Gann|
at home on San Juan Island
Archives of the S.P.H.S.
Although his flying life led him to call a variety of places home, he settled on San Juan Island off the Washington coast. It was there that this encounter took place, on a bright blue afternoon aboard his boat. Gann carefully scheduled every morning for writing, so the only time available was during a brief session of slapping varnish on the stained brightwork of his cruiser, punctuated by shouts of greeting to friends.
Gann's boat at the time, the STRUMPET, a traditional 35-ft cruiser designed by Jay Benford of Seattle. "I saw some of Jay's designs and liked his attitude." Benford has been called a romantic because of the tradition of his designs, but he combined this with a practicality about boats and life.
STRUMPET was designed specifically for Gann and his wife Dodie, a former Olympic skier and once Gann's secretary. "Yeah, the boat was very specially designed. After having some really big boats, STRUMPET was laid out to drink six, eat four, and sleep two. And no more. We got tired of running a guest ranch for people. On long voyages, when you're paying the bill, it's really something else. Most people who can afford to go and help out, can't get away. Those who can get away can't afford it. So STRUMPET was for two.
Photo courtesy of Jan and Dave
STRUMPET was built in the Jensen Shipyard in Friday Harbor, a one-man operation with a handful of employees. "This boat is one of the last survivors of some pride ––not too much––but some pride of workmanship. It's an almost forgotten emotion, apparently."
His passing reference to bigger boats and floating guest ranches is a mild understatement when some of his previous boats are listed. Read more below .....
There is BLACK WATCH, just before STRUMPET. Now named MARA, she's a 60-ft schooner Gann had built in Denmark. "I never brought her to the States, though. He kept her in Europe and sailed her everywhere. She was unbelievable... a little boy's dream. The after cabin wasn't one of those junky things on fiberglass boats...it was right out of Captain Kidd's diary."
There was ALBATROS, a one-time Dutch training ship of 117-ft overall and 92 tons that Gann acquired in Holland, converted into a brigantine, cruised across the Atlantic, into the South Seas, back to the Mediterranean and through the Greek Islands.
Lost in the Gulf of Mexico, 1961,
c. 180-miles NW of Key West, FL.
Photo from the archives of the S.P.H.S.©
There was RACCOON, a small daysailer that came apart under Gann near Cape Cod, and THETIS, a lovely 28-ft yawl. For a time, the sea became Gann's livelihood as a commercial salmon, and albacore fisherman, out of San Francisco. Working up to owning first one vessel, the FRED HOLMES, and then a second, the MIKE, the venture alternately prospered and starved until Gann and his partner passed the two vessels on to other dreamers.
UNCLE SAM was a 40-ft Friendship sloop that was lost to a hurricane in Connecticut during WW II when Gann was on a flight, and RESTLESS, a 30-ft classic dispatch launch, was returned to steam power on San Francisco Bay because Gann thought he might like a steam yacht.
Others left their mark although Gann never owned them outright; the DON QUIXOTE in Spain (a balsa catamaran owned by a waiter), LI PO (a junk in Asian waters), and HENRIETTA (a Caribbean trading sloop.)
Content with STRUMPET, Gann found his time laden. "That's the hitch. I'm so involved in so many other things that we don't seem to get away too often. When we do, it's just for a night or two. Given a chance, we run over to Canoe Cove in Canada to see friends or down to Seattle to work on the boat. Or we just go somewhere in the San Juans and sit!
We do a little fishing. I've got long line gear aboard––and we set some crab pots. I'm working on books now, and movies. I'm just finishing the screenplay for Band of Brothers. But I think the best book I've written was Song of the Sirens. Most of my books I don't like, so that'll give you some idea. But that one I do. I've written so many books and I'm so tired of it; what I'd like to do is go away on STRUMPET for a couple of weeks or even longer..."
STRUMPET was ready to go when Gann was. Built of a combination of Philippine mahogany and Alaskan cedar planking over oak frames, her lines are clean and traditional. The wheelhouse sports a ship's telegraph that was converted into the engine gearshift and Gann delighted in ringing for full astern as he docked STRUMPET. A dinette and wood burning fireplace share the wheelhouse and two steps aft, is the compact galley with its Diesel-fired stove. The forepeak has two berths and storage space for personal gear. A removable canopy shades the midship deck, and a dinghy is stored on the wheelhouse roof.
The only mistake I made was not getting a slow-speed engine like I wanted in the first place. I didn't have the guts to go ahead and spend the money and I wish I had. The power is a six-cyl Ford Diesel––it's a good engine, but it's not very romantic. I told Jay I wanted a heavy and slow engine, but the cost was not to be believed and the weight––my God, the boat would have gone to the bottom. We did speed tests on Lake Washington and she burns 2.5 gals an hour at eight knots, that's plenty fast enough for me.
Settled aboard his romantic cruiser, Gann took pleasure in the passing crowds on the docks. "It's unbelievable––there are half a million dollar cruisers up and down this dock and people always come as if drawn by a magnet to STRUMPET. Even sailors, which is a very pleasant thing. People say, 'My God, that looks like a boat. I've had nice people come up to STRUMPET and say, 'Where can I buy one of those?' as though they have them on counters in marine stores.
When you work on a boat, you give something to it and when you give something, you begin to love it. A boat that has no work involved, you just don't love for very long."
Above text written by Chris Caswell for Sea magazine, dated September 1975.
Song of the Sirens book search
Ernest K. Gann, born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1910; died at his ranch on San Juan Island in 1991.
Blt 1972, Jensen's, Friday Harbor, WA.
Documented L 32.9' x 12.6' x 5.2'
G.t. 13 / N.t. 10
Designer: Jay Benford.
The STRUMPET, as of 2015, is in US documentation on the east coast.