Raised-foredeck power cruisers with enduring appeal
One spring afternoon in 1928, The Seattle Daily Times dispatched one of its reporters—a “veritable landlubber,” in the writer’s self-description—to amble over to nearby Lake Union Dry Dock Co., step aboard an imposing 42′ motoryacht, and with a few minutes’ instruction, drive the vessel across Lake Union, navigate the Seattle Ship Canal and the Ballard Locks, then motor 4 miles across Puget Sound to the nearest island. Of course there was a wary minder from the boatbuilding company close by the wheel. And it’s almost equally certain that this was a promotional caper cooked up by the company with the eager collusion of the Times, but—it worked. The veritable landlubber didn’t run the boat into anything, and he returned to the newsroom all aglow to write a florid feature for the next Sunday paper. The big boat “responded to the slightest touch as quickly as an automobile in dense traffic,” he reported.
“When it is possible for anyone, without tedious instruction, to take the wheel of such a boat…he at once enjoys a thrill that no other mode of transportation offers, and a vista of adventure to ports of Alaska, the entire Pacific Coast with, maybe, a long vacation through the Panama Canal up the Atlantic side, is opened before him.”
Such a “vacation” was perhaps over the top of the possibilities that the company envisioned, but the unnamed reporter (the Times didn’t bestow bylines in that era) conveyed the canny marketing message the young company had for its Dream Boat: a moderately large and capable production cruiser, simple enough for the owner to operate without a professional skipper, with an enticingly low entry fee. If this weren’t enough, the company was even offering to berth and maintain the Dream Boats—$3 per month moorage and an estimated $100 annually in maintenance and repairs (in 2020 dollars, respectively, $45 and $1,507).
In the 1920s, Seattle’s boatbuilding industry was enjoying a boom hardly less sizzling than its high-tech convulsions of the 2000s. The Ship Canal, a 3-mile-long channel linking Lake Union to Puget Sound, had opened in 1917, which prompted a near-overnight explosion in maritime industry around the lake, from pleasure-boat storage to big-ship service yards. One week in 1920, the Times counted some 350 vessels, “ranging from launches to ocean ships” scattered around the lake’s perimeter, just a couple miles north of downtown. Between 1919 and 1927, six lakeside boatbuilding firms specializing in pleasure boats and midsize commercial vessels opened for business. Lake Union Dry Dock Co., universally known as LUDD, was founded by partners Otis Cutting and John McLean and became the most prominent of them. It built the city’s first big-ship dry-dock and had a 7.5-acre campus of buildings and decks built on pilings over the lake’s eastern shore.
The company expanded at a blistering pace. Just a year after its 1919 opening, LUDD landed a contract with the U.S. Coast Guard to produce a fleet of 15 “rumchasers” —75′ cutters designed to run down Prohibition-era smugglers at a top speed of 17 knots. The government work not only produced a lot of revenue but also gave the company experience in adapting mass production techniques for wooden boats. The rumchaser run closed out in 1925, and the first Dream Boat appeared the next year.
Otis Cutting was born in 1875 in a small town in southwestern Washington and appears to have ended his formal schooling at 17 when the “college” he attended—actually a small boys’ academy in Tacoma—closed down in 1892. But he already had developed a deep interest in architecture and worked as a draftsman in a local office while still in school. In 1896, he went to work for a Seattle shipbuilding firm, again as a draftsman, and apparently absorbed more than a little about boat design and construction. The first mention of Cutting and boats in the local press appeared in 1906, when the Times reported that a propeller shaft snagged his pants leg during a “trial run” of a new boat on Lake Washington. He was in “grave danger” of amputation, the story said, but the hospital saved the fractured leg.
Around this time, while working his day job as an architect, Cutting was spending evenings at home designing the boat of his dreams, a 36′ raised-deck motor cruiser. By 1909, he had enough money to commission its construction. He christened the boat KLOOTCHMAN, which meant “woman” in the regional Chinook trading jargon. But disaster struck again. One February morning in 1910, a commercial steamer crashed into Cutting’s boat at a Tacoma dock, smashing it “practically to kindling wood” in one newspaper account. Undaunted, Cutting lengthened the design to 40′ and commissioned a replacement, which was built by the local Taylor & Grandy yard very rapidly—The Seattle Daily Times reported that Cutting and his wife hosted friends aboard KLOOTCHMAN II for a weekend cruise just seven months later. Taylor & Grandy built one or two more boats to the same design, and one still resides in a Seattle marina today under the name LAWANA. These were essentially the prototypes for the Dream Boat, but production had to wait until Cutting had formed his own company.
Cutting seems not to have been swayed by the romance of sail; he aligned himself solidly in the 20th-century motoring camp. KLOOTCHMAN II originally carried a token sailing rig as auxiliary power, its mast planted on the foredeck in near-catboat fashion. A 1910 article in Pacific Motor Boat magazine said he discarded it after one season, “finding it was not worth the space it took.” Small wonder, as the profile drawing depicts a stunted keel as token as the sailing rig; the canvas would indeed have been worthless except for downwind runs.
There’s a curious void of stories in the historical record that would help bring Cutting into focus—no anecdotes or quotes or preserved writings—but it’s possible to glimpse facets of him. He was more than 6′ tall, which helps to account for the Dream Boat’s generous cabin and pilothouse headroom. He was a social creature; the newspapers were peppered with one-paragraph bites about the Cuttings and their cruises with friends throughout the 1920s. He liked racing and was apparently an aggressive captain. In 1916, he won a 60-mile race from Seattle to LaConner despite running aground in heavy fog. LUDD’s prodigious expansion in its first decade also suggests an ambitious character with an appetite for risk. However, he seems to have been thoughtful and exacting. A magazine article appraising the innovative pneumatic dry-dock he designed noted, “Mr. Cutting takes great delight in solving unusual problems in naval construction and operation.” And he may have had something—or everything—to do with the long-running core philosophy of the company. Current president Hobie Stebbins, whose family has been intertwined with LUDD since 1946, says it’s all about placing craftsmanship on the pedestal. “If your organization is focused on letting the craftsman do good craft,” Stebbins says, “then you’ll get a good product.”
LUDD’s decision to produce the Dream Boat seems to have been a confluence of several streams. KLOOTCHMAN II had sparked positive publicity around Seattle and Tacoma. The yard’s contract with the U.S. Coast Guard had ended, and the company needed a fresh revenue stream. A new sales manager had been hired: his name was Russell Mooney, and his experience was in the auto industry, where mass production was growing. There was the whiff of money in the local market, too. Although Seattle in the 1920s wasn’t blooming with freshly minted millionaires, there was steadily growing affluence and cultural sophistication. Finally, few waterways in North America offered such diverse boating opportunities: well-sheltered Puget Sound, big Lake Washington on Seattle’s eastern edge, and the Ship Canal to connect Lake Union and Lake Washington with the Sound.
The Dream Boat—LUDD copyrighted the name as two words, although today it is often rendered as one—began production in 1926. The original model was 42′x 11′6″ with a cockpit shaded by a tall, boxy canopy. Since Cutting had enjoyed social gatherings on his boat, this cockpit was remarkably open and party-friendly. Pacific Motor Boat proclaimed it “roomy enough for dancing.” A LUDD brochure touted sleeping accommodations for eight adults (“and four more can be comfortably cared for in the cockpit”), though this would have required very close friendship and forbearance. LUDD pegged the original base price at an astonishing $5,000 ($72,824 today), “completely equipped.” This was either a naïve miscalculation of production costs or a canny teaser to provoke a flurry of interest in a cruiser for “the man of moderate means.” Either way, the sticker price rose rapidly. In 1928 LUDD advertised a Dream Boat demonstrator—likely the same vessel the Times’s “landlubber” had enjoyed a few months earlier—for $6,500. A new open-cockpit model was listed at $7,150, and the more commodious bridge-deck edition was priced at $11,000. Dreamers were encouraged to go as crazy as their bank accounts would allow. A brochure explained, “Purchaser may specify any make or size of motor with variation in cost accordingly, any color interior paint and any design drapes, upholstery, carpets or linoleum,” the latter of which was the acme of furnishing fashion at the time. Stretched editions of 45′ and 52′ became available.
Dream Boats had frames of steamed white oak and planking of Douglas-fir or Alaska yellow cedar. The keel was Douglas-fir. (One owner who recently implanted a much heavier purpleheart keel reports that the boat’s stability noticeably improved.) The standard engine was a 65-hp, six-cylinder Kermath, which provided a top speed between 8 and 9 knots. One Dream Boat, which was sold to a Seattle madam, was assigned to booze-smuggling duty; not too surprisingly, it was nailed by agents aboard one of the 17-knot LUDD rumchasers.
Cutting’s architectural eye is evident in the design. While the raised-deck configuration was ubiquitous among motor cruisers of the era, the Dream Boat was beautifully proportioned, its inevitable boxiness aft offset by an unusually long, graceful curtsy in the sheerline and a distinctly modernist air—no fuss, no ornament. It’s possible Cutting was influenced by the German Bauhaus aesthetic, which was boosting architects such as Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe into international prominence in the late 1920s. In an article for LUDD’s centennial in 2019, LUDD engineer Anna Stebbins, who is Hobie Stebbins’s daughter, concluded that “LUDD-built Dreamboats are an ode to early-day minimalism that offsets the glamour of 1920s Art Deco style.”
LUDD promoted another distinctly modern aspect of Dream Boat ownership by offering to relieve owners of the drudgery of caring for a boat—for a suitable fee. “If the owner lets us know in the morning that he intends to take a trip at noon,” sales manager Mooney promised, “we will have his craft serviced with gas, oil and ice, ready for him to step in and start out.” This was possible because LUDD in those days could provide the full constellation of boat services, from design and manufacturing through servicing and even berthing. (While the yard today is entirely out of the wooden-boat business, one Dream Boat still lives in a boathouse attached to its docks, as described below.)
At some point in production between 1926 and ’28, a famously gifted designer entered the picture. He was Ted Geary (see WB Nos. 137 and 138), and he was best known for the four monumental 96′ fantail motoryachts that LUDD also built—PRINCIPIA, BLUE PETER, ELECTRA, and CANIM. Hobie Stebbins says Geary moved into an office on LUDD’s campus but was never actually employed by the company. His precise contribution to the Dream Boat’s design evolution is uncertain, but he did sign the drawings of the bridge-deck version, and Stebbins thinks it’s likely that he was principally responsible. He may have tweaked other details, such as widening the extremely narrow side decks. One hazard of crewing a Dream Boat is having to creep up that curl in the sheer to the foredeck. Better to open a window at the forward end of the pilothouse and wriggle out that way.
“Geary and Cutting had a close relationship, and they collaborated on a lot of boats,” Stebbins says. “We have the impression they were like a couple of big kids who just really loved the art of building boats, and they would go, ‘Gosh, we can do this and we can do that.’ They had a shared passion.”
Traditional carvel-planked boats are, of course, highly resistant to mass production; virtually all wooden pieces still have to be fabricated and fitted by hand. There are no records that explain just what labor savings were possible in the Dream Boats, but Hobie Stebbins recalls seeing patterns still in storage for some pieces when he worked in the shop around 1980. “Unfortunately,” he says, “we disposed of them when we needed to reclaim some space.”
Construction quality did not appear to be compromised. Blaise Holly, lead shipwright at Port Townsend’s Haven Boatworks, brims with praise for the three Dream Boats he’s worked on. “There are so many clues that they were built with craftsmanship and skill,” he says. For example, he points out the neatly staggered regiments of carriage bolts in the frames and floors of a Dream Boat currently in the shop: someone took care not only to make it look neat, but also to avoid lining up bolts along grain lines.
One weak point, Holly notes, was the use of steel fastenings below the waterline, which were not uncommon at the time. Today, most boat owners have replaced those with bronze. Another weakness came in the size of the floor timbers, which were comparatively thin and allow fastenings to work loose in decades of use. “But nobody back then was thinking these boats would be around for more than 90 years,” he says.
EMMELINE, the boat currently undergoing a round of frame and floor replacement at Haven, was immediately checked for hogging when it was hauled out. The crew had to jack up the transom a mere ⅝″—proof of a stout structure.
The Dream Boats enjoyed a steady stream of publicity around the Puget Sound area in the late 1920s, and in 1928 The Seattle Daily Times reported that inquiries were coming in not only from the East Coast and Great Lakes states but also from France, Sweden, Australia, and the Philippines. The other boatyards clustered around Lake Union—Blanchard Boat Company, Grandy Boat Company, and others—raced to build similar cruisers, and generically they all came to be called “Lake Union Dreamboats,” rendered as one word. But production of the LUDD Dream Boats was surprisingly modest. Beginning in 1929, the Depression strangled the market, and only two more were produced after that year. The entire run totaled about 24. The Classic Yacht Association lists 11 still known to exist, plus the prototype LAWANA. Most of the survivors are in active use, and they have been restored and well maintained.
Fate probably locked onto an immutable course in 1983 when Jack and Elizabeth Becker took the Amtrak Coast Starlight up from California to visit the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival for their honeymoon. Jack already had a wooden sailboat he’d restored in the Bay Area, but because Elizabeth was a fair-weather sailor they agreed that their next boat, if and when, would be a motor cruiser.
Fourteen years passed. By then, they were living in Portland, Oregon, and Jack was in midlife crisis from a highly stressful job. Elizabeth talked him into taking a six-month sabbatical to attend the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding. One day at the school he was thumbing through a Northwest boating magazine’s classifieds and snagged on a perfunctory one-line listing for a 1928 wooden motor cruiser, asking $24,500. That weekend, he and Elizabeth went to look.
“It was a mess,” he says. “Junk everywhere, everything peeling, funky acoustic tiles on the overhead. But we looked at it a couple more times and ended up making an offer.” And moving permanently to Port Townsend.
EMMELINE was a LUDD Dream Boat with the later bridge-deck configuration. If Geary’s aft cabin addition rendered the boat less airy in profile, it compensated by making the boat much more welcoming for cruising. The dance-floor cockpit was sacrificed in favor of two complete staterooms, each with its own head.
Having spent two years as an engineering major, attended the wooden boat school, and received ABYC marine electrical certification, Jack was well qualified to be EMMELINE’s rescuer. The job still took nine years of work. The canvas-covered foredeck and cabintops all leaked, so they were replaced. The pilothouse sides were teak boards 1″ thick and in good enough condition to be cleaned and refinished. The aft-cabin sides were badly rotted inside from overhead leakage, but these were Douglas-fir planks on the inside face with ½″ teak sheathing outside. Becker replaced the fir and refinished the teak. Likewise, nearly all the exterior trim pieces were teak; he just took them home, cleaned them up, and reinstalled them. “Teak is amazing wood,” he marvels.
Structurally, the hull was in fair shape; at least the original plank fastenings, which were galvanized nails, had already been replaced with bronze screws. The frames had deteriorated over time, however, and in July 2020 EMMELINE was hauled out for Haven to replace 15 of them.
Becker did a lot of interior cleanup, repair, and repainting during his first nine-year push, but no makeover. He had been planning to remodel the galley, but as he worked down through layers of paint to the original primer, he realized that EMMELINE had made it through three-quarters of a century without any substantial change. Proper respect, he decided, meant preserving everything original wherever possible. He’s seen some rehabs where owners have renovated the galley or added a dinette in the aft cabin and used oak trim, while retaining the original teak in the forward cabin. “It’s just wrong!” he says. “If you change the design in one place you need to change the whole thing.”
The Beckers use the boat, still based in Port Townsend, regularly but gently. Some years they’ve cruised to the annual Wooden Boat Festival on Lake Union, an easy 40-mile day. More often they just take a couple of friends aboard, motor to a secluded bay a few miles east of Port Townsend, and drop the hook for the night. They nurse the 73-year-old Chrysler straight-8 by observing a 1,700-rpm “redline,” which translates to a stately 7½ knots. They haven’t even ventured north to the San Juan Islands; the Strait of Juan de Fuca crossing always has the potential of nasty weather.
“We don’t need to travel far away to enjoy the boat,” he says. “Once you’re away from the dock, it doesn’t matter where you are.”
Diane Lander downsized to the 42′ Dream Boat MARIAN II in 2013. She and her late husband had owned the 93′, 1929 motoryacht OLYMPUS, and she wanted a classic boat she could run herself without a crew. MARIAN II, happily, had been owned by boatyard owner Tim Ryan of CSR Marine in Seattle for years and was generally in fine shape. Still, in one torrent of winter work in 2016 Lander had the keel, seven frames, the horn timber, and rudderpost replaced. She also has made a few interior renovations such as new shower tile (originally the space was a hanging locker) and a starboard helm station. The staggering acreage of brightwork demands consistent attention. It helps that Lander keeps the boat in a large boathouse next door to LUDD, but she still has a professional finisher booked full-time for the entire month of April—every April.
The original Dream Boat had open cockpits with a hard canopy extending all the way to the stern, and they were supported on slender posts. During one former owner’s tenure, MARIAN II’s cockpit was winterized and brightened with an all-glass enclosure replacing the original canvas curtains; the doors glide forward for entry and ventilation. Lander has discovered that crosswind dockings fare better when both doors are opened.
Lander says the 92-year-old boat functions very well as a modern cruiser; her philosophy has been to keep its outward appearance as original as possible while welcoming in modern conveniences such as a refrigerator and an autopilot.
“I do a ton of cruising,” Lander says. “I usually have it out 60 to 90 days every summer and then I sometimes like to go cruising in the spring and fall. She weighs 14 tons and she’s a very stable boat. I think she rolls less than OLYMPUS. The accommodations are very comfortable. I love the headroom and light—6′6″ in the cockpit and 6′8″ in the cabin. The only thing that’s weird is when friends come cruising with me and they’re in the V-berth. If they have to use the head in the night they have to walk right through my space.”
Photographer Greg Gilbert bought his 46′ Dream Boat WINIFRED—apparently the first one in LUDD’s production—in 2000, the year he became newly single. He’d long dreamed of living aboard a boat, and he already had experience owning a smaller raised-foredeck cruiser built by another builder. Unlike so many boat-related dreams, this one has endured; he has stayed aboard WINIFRED for 20 years.
“It’s challenging,” he admits. “It’s cramped. Generously, it’s maybe 400 sq ft. There’s a lot of wood to keep up. The plus is that you get to take your house anywhere.”
Gilbert, who has been a staff photographer for The Seattle Times for 53 years, doesn’t fantasize about a modern boat; he thinks the Dream Boat is just about perfect both for living aboard and for cruising. A few updates have helped. Some years ago he rewired the boat for 50-amp shore power, which enabled a baseboard heating system. This stretches his living room through the extended pilothouse for the winter. “It’s comfortable until the outside temperature gets down to about 35,” he says.
The deeper reason he remains attached to WINIFRED, though, is that the boat is so much a part of the place where he has spent his whole adult life. “It was built by Seattle craftsmen by hand, in a boatyard that’s still in business today. The tongue-and-groove cedar overhead came from a tree somewhere in Washington State. It has a soul. And it’s been cared for here. I like to tell people that I hope when I’m 94 I’m as well cared for as this boat.”
There’s one more story about the MARIAN II that helps explain why these boats seem so deeply intertwined with Seattle and its history. The yacht’s former owner, Herb Cleaver, launched the tradition of arriving at University of Washington football games by boat, beaching his Dream Boat next to the campus crew boathouse, wading ashore, and walking to the stadium—which he did for nearly every home game from 1955 until 1997. If the Dream Boat today seems like a rather imposing conveyance for the purpose, and not exactly one designed for beaching, it was perfectly in tune with Cutting’s conception of an unpretentious “everyman’s boat.” In a 1986 newspaper interview, Cleaver, then 75, referred to his annual spring maintenance ritual as “just putting a little fingernail polish on the old tub.”
There was a time, two or three economic booms ago, when Seattle’s moneyed class bred a culture of quiet, practical luxury without ostentatious excess. That time has passed, but a Dream Boat is a reminder that the spirit once existed.
Lawrence W. Cheek is an author and boatbuilder who lives on Whidbey Island, Washington.