Master boat builder Tollefson to celebrate 100th birthday with many of his admirers

PORT LUDLOW — Legendary boat builder R.M. “Tolly” Tollefson will be honored today, Saturday, for reaching centenarian status by friends and admirers of his boat designs and ship-building skills.

“Tolly built quality boats,” said Donna Coffey, one of the organizers of the celebration.

“He was ahead of his time.”

Tollefson built his boats out of wood before switching to fiberglass in the late 1960s.

Those boats had a solid, thick hull and could remain undamaged in severe conditions that would break other boats into pieces, Coffey said.

Tollefson, whose 100th birthday is on Monday, lives in Port Ludlow.

He is revered by the people who own his boats, which he designed and built from the time he founded the Tollycraft Corp. in 1952 to when he sold it in 1987.

The new owners were unable to keep the business afloat and the company went bankrupt in 1993.

Many of the older boats are still afloat, and there are several Tollycraft clubs where the old boats are venerated.

It is the Tollycraft club members who will help Tollefson ring in his second century with about 130 guests expected, Coffey said.

The invitation-only celebration will begin with a lunch at the Bay Club in Port Ludlow and will be followed by a reception at the Northwest Maritime Center in Port Townsend.

There, guests will view the biographical exhibit that Coffey assembled from Tollefson’s pictures and memorabilia.

Neither event is open to the general public.

However, the Northwest Maritime Center exhibit will be open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays through March.

Coffey said that Tollefson is “physically frail but mentally sharp.”

She said that he is still able to recognize and identify specific models, and can distinguish one size boat from another by its shape and features.

This is confirmed by Scott Fultz, who has known Tollefson for five years and now acts as his caretaker “because he is comfortable with me.”

Fultz said that Tollefson watches a lot of television and still reads every boating magazine published “but is like anyone that age — his sight and hearing are not what they used to be.”

Fultz said that Tollefson enjoys talking to Tollycraft enthusiasts, and that the phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from well-wishers in the last few days.

“It’s been more than 25 years since he made his last boat and people are still as excited about them as they were when they were new,” Fultz said.

He said the appeal of Tollycraft Yachts can’t be defined in absolute terms, but feels the boats recall a classic time in a way similar to the 1955 Chevrolet.

Part of the boats’ appeal comes from Tollefson’s habit to listen carefully to customers about what they wanted from their boats.

Coffey said he was one of the only boat builders who listened to women and designed boats they would like.

“His boats had a classic style that women appreciated,” Coffey said.

Fultz said that about 6,500 Tolleycraft yachts were produced during the time Tollefson ran the company, but it was impossible to say how many are still afloat.

“I’ve thought of running ads in boating magazines to get people to write in about the individual boats,” he said.

“But I really have no idea how many are still around.”

Tollefson never built his dream boat, a 53-foot yacht, although its plans are included in the Maritime Center exhibit.

“His boats weren’t glitzy,” Coffey said.

“They were classic.”


Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or

More in News

Gov. Jay Inslee rides across the Johnson Creek Railroad Trestle Foot Bridge on the Olympic Discovery Trail east of Sequim on Wednesday. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy honored Inslee as its 2023 Rail-Trail champion during an event at Red Cedar Hall in Blyn following Inslee's 27-mile ride from Port Angeles. (Jesse Major/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy)
Inslee presented award for trails advocacy

Bike group cites governor’s support

Port of Port Angeles directors resigns

Director of Operations to serve in interim

Boy airlifted to Seattle after being hit by truck

Unidentified youth still undergoing treatment as of Wednesday

DOT ‘didn’t anticipate’ size of Tuesday backup

Port Angeles traffic halted for hours

Community Baby Shower to aid expectant parents, caregivers on Saturday

The Clallam & Jefferson County Perinatal Mental Health Task… Continue reading

Jill Zarzeczny of Port Angeles, left, and her children, Althea Zarzeczny, 4, and Lupine Zarzeczny, 9, look for marine life beneath the sand during Tuesday's low tide at Hollywood Beach in Port Angeles. The minus 2.99 tide qualified as one of the lowest of the year with tides of minus 2.53 at La Push, minus 2.70 at Makah Bay, minus 2.55 at Seiku, minus 2.74 at Crescent Bay, minus 3.08 at Dungeness, minus 3.42 at Port Townsend and minus 3.82 at Dabob Bay. Similar low tides are forecast for the rest of the week across the North Olympic Peninsula.
Lowest tides on Peninsula

Jill Zarzeczny of Port Angeles, left, and her children, Althea Zarzeczny, 4,… Continue reading

In a PT Artscape project, Blue Heron Middle School teacher Charlie Fornia, left, and artist Jesse Watson finish painting a “Welcome to PTHS” mural on the woodshop building at Port Townsend High School. PT Artscape hired Watson to design the mural and hosted a morning of painting with elementary, middle school and high school students from around Port Townsend. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/for Peninsula Daily News)
Welcome mural at Port Townsend High School

In a PT Artscape project, Blue Heron Middle School teacher Charlie Fornia,… Continue reading

Clallam restarts search for county administrator

HR director has filled spot for four years

Most Read