Aboard the Suva: Schooner offers sail into local history

Lloyd Baldwin chats with Lorilee Houston at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend. Jennifer Jackson/for Peninsula Daily News

Lloyd Baldwin chats with Lorilee Houston at Point Hudson Marina in Port Townsend. Jennifer Jackson/for Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — When Lloyd Baldwin was growing up in the 1950s, his parents owned the Tides Inn on the waterfront on Sims Way.

The family also lived at the motel, which for Lloyd, had two advantages: He could go sailing off the beach at his back door, and there were always interesting people coming through to talk to.

His mother, Dorothy, ran a beauty salon at the motel. His dad, Dennis, used to take guests salmon fishing in the bay.

Lloyd Baldwin still sails, and like his father, enjoys taking visitors out on the water — but in a much bigger boat.

Baldwin is owner and captain of Suva, a 68-foot schooner built in 1925 for a philanthropist who had an estate on Whidbey Island, now part of Ebey’s Landing.

Professionally maintained for 87 years, Suva was designed to take the philanthropist’s guests cruising on Puget Sound in the Gatsby era.

Now, it takes people on day sails and charters out of Point Hudson, with Baldwin at the helm.

“I’m the peasant who has stepped into a rich man’s boat,” Baldwin said.

Named for the capital of Fiji, Suva was designed by yacht designer Ted Geary for a descendant of Francis Pratt, co-founder of Pratt & Whitney, now one of the big three aircraft-engine makers.

Baldwin said Frank Pratt, who lived on 147 acres on the west side of Whidbey Island, owned Suva for 15 years.

He then gave the schooner to his financial manager, Dietrich Schmidt, who according to Dietrich’s son, Allen, paid $1 for it.

The Schmidts owned Suva for 40 years, Allen Schimdt told Baldwin after he bought the schooner three years ago.

“He also came to Port Townsend with armloads of goods for Suva, including the original blueprints,” Baldwin said.

Baldwin first saw Suva in the summer of 2000, when he and his Sea Scouts were returning to Tacoma in their boat Odyssey from a Wooden Boat Festival in Seattle.

The schooner had developed a problem with the ship linkage, and its captain couldn’t get it through the Ballard locks.

His Scouts volunteered Baldwin to fix it, which he did, using bungee cords and duct tape, and Suva was able to limp home to Olympia.

But Baldwin never forgot his first sight of the schooner, which was built in China of old-growth Burmese teak.

“I saw the boat, and thought, ‘Someday I’ll own a boat like that,’” he said.

Baldwin had the credentials — he had earned his 100-ton captain’s license on the Odyssey, the 90-foot ocean-racing yawl operated by the Sea Scouts, and eventually became head of the program, taking groups of Boy Scouts out for weeklong cruises.

Baldwin had been sailing since he was 11 years old and took a sailing course from Jim Daubenberger Sr. and Glenn Abraham in Port Townsend.

The course, taught at the yacht club in the summer of 1958, cost $10 a head, Baldwin recalled, with the students learning to sail 10-foot dinghies called Sea Scouters.

Recreational sailing was just becoming popular in Port Townsend, he said, and the class was the first offered for young sailors.

His next adventure was taking a 33-foot salmon trawler to Alaska a few years after graduating from Port Townsend High School in 1965.

It was his first and last commercial fishing season.

“After repairing everything on the boat three times, I made $76,” he said.

Making and repairing things became second nature to Baldwin, now an engineer for Washington State Ferries.

He also worked on tugboats in Alaska, for Boeing in Seattle and at Ballard Ornamental Ironworks, which his father owned after selling the motel.

He owned two businesses: a heavy-equipment trailer business and a car-towing business, Cheap Tow, in Seattle.

Baldwin got involved with Seas Scout in 1999 and had kept tabs on Suva since the day he fixed the ship linkage at Ballard locks for owner Bill Brandt, CEO of Washington State Employees Credit Union.

Baldwin saw Suva again at a Tall Ships gathering in Tacoma in 2006, the year Brandt sold it to Scott Flickinger, an Irondale resident.

Flickinger had the Port Townsend Shipwrights Co-op build new masts and bowsprit for Suva, and install new rigging.

The hull, built of 2-inch-thick teak planking, was also recaulked.

“As far as I know, none of the planks has ever been replaced,” Baldwin said.

When Flickinger put Suva up for sale, Baldwin, who had moved to Port Townsend in 2006, sold his BMW, his diesel pickup, his motorcycle and three sailboats in two weeks to raise a down payment.

The boat was moored in the Port Hadlock marina, but Baldwin brought it up to Point Hudson, where he offers afternoon sails at 2 p.m. during the summer.

Last Wednesday, Loralee Houston, who works at the Bishop and Swan hotels, stopped by to pick up brochures.

With the downtown kayak rental business gone, there are fewer recreational boating options, she said.

“If you’re a tourist, it’s hard to get out on the water,” she said.

On Suva’s afternoon sails, passengers — dubbed “Suvaneers” — help raise the sail. Then Baldwin sails along the waterfront to give them a different view of town.

Sharing the experience of sailing is what he enjoys most about owning the historic schooner, he said, and he invites those aboard to take a turn at the helm.

“Once they take the wheel, they don’t want to let go.”

Baldwin said everywhere he sails, people come up and tell him about their connection to the boat.

One woman recalled sailing down to Alderbrook resort on Hood Canal on Suva.

A man booked a sail on the boat because he had grown up hearing about it; his father had owned the Red Apple Grocery Store in Coupeville and used to row groceries out to the boat when Pratt owned it.

Custom-designed for the Northwest, the boat has a diesel stove in the main cabin and a diesel stove in the galley, which makes it possible to cruise year-round, Baldwin said.

It is a far cry from the sailboats he learned to sail as a boy off the motel beach.

“Having a boat of this caliber in my hometown is life dream come true,” Baldwin said.

“Port Townsend is the best place in the world to own a classic wooden sailboat.”

In addition to day sails and charters, Baldwin takes passengers on a two-week cruise to Desolation Sound in British Columbia in July.

For more information, go to schoonersuva.com or check the activity listings on ptguide.com.

Jennifer Jackson is a freelance writer and photographer living in Port Townsend. To contact her, email jjackson@olypen.com.

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