PORT TOWNSEND — The historic El Primero, a yacht that has hosted several presidents and a number of other famous faces, is back in Port Townsend’s Boat Haven boatyard for continued work on its steel hull before going back in the water.
The 120-foot yacht was launched in 1893 in San Francisco and was the first steel-hull vessel built on the West Coast, hence its name, which means “the first,” said crew member Melissa Lynch.
The boat is currently owned and being restored by Christian Lint, an aerospace engineer, yacht deliveryman and tugboat captain, who has found his calling in rescuing historic vessels.
“I have a passion for preserving vintage workmanship,” Lint said.
Currently, Lint, his small crew and workers from Port Townsend are working to restore and paint the hull in order to get El Primero back in the water.
The yacht was hauled out at the Boat Haven on Aug. 17.
The yacht was originally supposed to be launched Tuesday, but Lynch said they had to push that back and now hope to be in the water by the weekend.
“Things happen,” Lynch said.
Union Iron Works built the yacht for Edward W. Hopkins, heir of Mark Hopkins of San Francisco.
“This was built by railroad money,” Lynch said. “The people who sailed on this boat were the socialites of the day.”
El Primero boasted amenities that many people didn’t even have in their homes in 1893, including a working fireplace, radiant heat, running water, two bathtubs and electricity.
“There’s hardware on this that could never be replaced,” Lynch said.
El Primero has a fantail stern, a now uncommon style, and has a number of hand-carved and hand-painted pieces throughout the ship.
Much of the vessel is hand-riveted black iron, some of which might have been forged from ore from neighboring Irondale.
Lynch said they have taken a sample and are getting it analyzed this week.
“It would just be an amazing coincidence,” Lynch said.
El Primero has hosted presidents Warren Harding, Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft and Theodore Roosevelt, along with American celebrities including Babe Ruth.
More recently, former crewmembers have visited the yacht, and antique dealers have even found and returned some of the yacht’s original dining set.
“For people who know boats or the history of this boat, it’s a big deal,” Lynch said. “It’s basically a floating museum piece.”
After Hopkins, the yacht was sold in 1906 to Chester Thorne of Tacoma.
Thorne lost the yacht in a poker game in 1911 to Sidney Allen Perkins.
Originally a steam ship, El Primero was converted to diesel after Perkins died in 1955.
“This is really a transition piece,” Lynch said. “It is the transition from wooden hulls to steel, and wind power to steam, and steam engines changed everything. How business was done, people could travel further. It’s really an important time.”
El Primero was given to Lint in 2010 from the previous owner in Blaine, where the historic yacht was slated for demolition.
Lint found the yacht covered in a canvas sheet in the boatyard and offered to get it running again.
“He just gave him the boat since he was the only one who could take care of it,” said Lynch.
Lint’s first restoration started at age 16 when he and his father restored a 1929 yacht, the Anitra.
He has since restored a number of historic vessels, including the Tourist #2, which ferried passengers from Washington to Oregon before the Astoria-Megler Bridge was built.
Lynch said the hope is to eventually get El Primero back to San Francisco.
“It has some ties to Tacoma, but San Francisco is where it’s from,” Lynch said