NORDLAND — When he was 8 years old, Marty Loken spent the summer living with his family in a remote cabin on the Quinault Indian Reservation, in a southwestern reach of the Olympic Peninsula.
The year was 1950, and Marty’s father and his Uncle Lester, who owned a lumber mill in the Ballard district of Seattle, had purchased a timber lease on the reservation. While the men toiled in the woods cutting down massive cedars, Marty, his sister and his mother explored the rain forest.
His mother, Pat Loken, was a freelance feature writer who wrote for of The Seattle Times’ Sunday magazine.
After hearing about a Quinault canoe carver who was working in the rain forest, she led the children on a trek deep into the woods in search of him. They found the carver hollowing out a 40-foot-long cedar trunk with an adze, working next to the spot where the tree had fallen.
“I listened to him talk about building canoes out of a log,” Loken said. “It really made an impression on me.”
Loken now restores vintage boats on his property on Marrowstone Island, a turn or two down Flagler Road from the Nordland Store on Mystery Bay.
Called the Island Boatshop, it operates as a halfway house for sailing and rowing craft that otherwise would be condemned to the landfill.
“For me, it’s all about passion for saving great old boats and getting them back on the water,” Loken said.
Loken has boats under shelter on “the boat farm,” as he jokingly calls his Marrowstone Island property. More hang from the rafters of the boat shop next to the log house.
Others are stored remotely on what Loken calls the “park and hide” lot at a commercial storage facility.
Loken has rescued boats from the bottom of lakes and freed them from the clutches of blackberry bushes. He’s had as many as 30 project boats on a park-and-hide lot. Now, though, he tends to limit himself to rescues that are doable.
“Actually, I’m reformed,” he said. “I used to drag home larger projects.”
Loken takes photographs of his unburied treasures and posts them on his website, island
boatshop.com, which he describes as a dating service for people in search of a vintage boat of specific design. Most are for sale conditionally, the condition being that Loken and his crew of experts get to restore them.
Loken also has a network of friends throughout the Northwest and will pass boats along to other old-boat addicts who value the heritage they hold.
“It’s all about flow, about keeping them moving,” he said.
A former reporter for The Seattle Times, Loken got into the boat-rescue business in 1997 when he found out the Wooden Boat Shop, a retail store in Seattle, was going to close. He bought it and also started The Restoration Shop, specializing in restoring mahogany motor cruisers.
In 1999, he closed the retail store, which had become unfeasible as a business, and moved to Whidbey Island, where he built a boat shop near Langley.
He met Marjiann “Mo” Moss, a sailor, at the Whidbey Island Writers Conference. They married and, eight years ago, moved to Marrowstone Island.
“We realized we really wanted to live on the other side of Puget Sound and have Port Townsend to be our town,” Loken said. “When we drove onto Marrowstone, we felt at home.”
Home for Loken was Ballard, where his grandfather settled after emigrating from Norway with his four sisters when they were teenagers. Grandpa Gilbert worked in mines in the Cascades and sawmills in Seattle, including Seattle Cedar.
After Gilbert Loken retired, he went in with his sons, Howard and Lester, to start a mill, Loken Lumber Specialties. The mill was on the corner of Eighth Avenue and Leary Way; the building is now Bernie’s Automotive. Loken was an 8-year-old boy when he started working there Saturdays. He earned 50 cents a day sweeping up sawdust and using it to keep the dry kiln going.
“What was exciting about it was getting to go work with Pop. That was our big relationship,” Loken said. “I loved working with my dad and being around wood.”
Loken also hung around the waterfront, dragging sunken hulls onto the beach and trying to refloat them.
When he was 10 years old, he decided he wanted his own boat and asked his father to help him build it. Howard Loken merely pointed to the door to the unfinished basement, where the workshop was. So Marty went down the steps and designed and built a small pram out of quarter-inch plywood.
From there, he built a mini-hydroplane from plans in Popular Science magazine, then a canvas-covered kayak that leaked, he recalled. By the time he was 13, Loken was restoring old boats, including a small rowing skiff his father had built for salmon fishing.
“I turned it into a racing runabout,” Loken said.
He had also inherited his mother’s writing talent and served as editor of The Talisman, the Ballard High School newspaper, his junior year. In the summer, he got a job as a copy boy at The Seattle Times, where his Aunt Joyce (then Holdaway, now Joyce Nelson) was a librarian. The job paid $10 a day.
Loken and four or five other gofers per shift worked from the copy-boy desk in the middle of the newsroom.
It was just like newsrooms in movies, Loken said — reporters pecking away on Underwood typewriters, the grizzled copy editors wearing green eyeshades, the linotype machine clacking away in the next room — and everyone yelling for the copy boys.
“We all had a great time,” Loken said. “It was an exciting time in the world and in newspapers.”
After graduating from Ballard High School in 1961, he attended the University of Washington. But Loken already had his foot in the journalism door.
From copy boy, he moved to the copy editors’ desk, and then became a cub reporter. While at The Times, he climbed Mount Rainier to gather experience for an article marking the 100th anniversary of the first ascent, attaching himself to two experienced climbers he met on the trail from Camp Muir to the peak.
He also sailed with a makeshift flotilla of boats up the Inside Passage to Alaska with a floating party organized by Robert Hardwick, a disc jockey at KVI radio who was known for promotional stunts.
In 1970, Loken went to work for Alaska Northwest Publishing in Edmonds and became editor of Alaska Magazine, eventually moving to Anchorage. He also worked as a photographer, specializing in marine photographs.
“I was always restoring boats on the side,” he said.
To make the ends meet after he went into the boat-rescue business, he has kept two projects going at a time: one for a paying customer and one a personal, or project, boat. His current project boat is a 1955 Port Madison pram designed by the late Bill Garden.
Awaiting its turn in the yard is a 20-foot raised-deck sloop that Loken and Moss found at the Brownsville Marina when they stopped for fuel.
They hunted down the owner, then traced its story back to Gene and Dolly Fish, who had brought the boat from California when they retired to Sequim.
Gene Fish had discovered the partially built boat in a storage facility in 1960, where it had been left by a young man who framed it, then enlisted after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Gene Fish spent 14 years finishing it, then sailed it with Dolly at Newport Beach.
“I love working on boats that have a story,” Loken said.
The oldest vessel in his collection is Black Boat, a long, narrow cedar utility skiff that was kept on the deck of a tanker for harbor transportation. Built in 1925, it was considered a disposable craft, not something that would be around for a hundred years.
Loken also restored a boat that had sunk inside its boat house in Lake Chelan, and had been thrown around on the bottom of the lake. The work called for replacing almost every stick of wood removing the rotten planks and using them as models.
It would have been easier to build a new boat, he said, noting that restoring old boats requires illogical thinking. Not all restorations are prohibitively expensive, he added, although they can get to be that way.
“It’s mostly about desire,” he said. “Anything is restorable.”
Loken also builds new boats with classic lines that combine the best of vintage designs. Some, like the Mystery Bay 21, are named after local landmarks.
For more information, visit islandboatshop.com or phone 360-301-6737.
Loken also wants to hear from those who have a vintage wooden boat in their backyard that is disappearing into the weeds.
Will he come out and take it?“I’ll come out and look at it,” he said.