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Old yacht reunited with its former family returns to Newport’s Wooden Boat Festival

The Sea Boarder cruises again: Jim Kroeger pilots the family yacht through Los Angeles Harbor in 2016.
(Courtesy Jim Kroeger)

With all the restoration the yacht had in its 64 years under different owners up and down California, it would have been hard for someone to recognize.

It also would have been unlikely that one of the few people who remembered the vessel in its original form would have pulled his own boat next to it in Newport Beach while visiting from out of town.

But that’s what happened.

As a member of the Classic Yacht Assn., Jim Kroeger enjoys heritage boats. He grew up on the water and was familiar with Newport. His grandfather William Thompson kept a bespoke 42-foot cruiser of teak and mahogany named Sea Boarder docked outside his home on Little Balboa Island, and young Kroeger visited often.

In 2015, Kroeger took his vintage 21-foot steam launch — think the African Queen — from his Pasadena home to the Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival. He pulled his trailer up to the Balboa Yacht Club, next to a boat with familiar lines.

“I said, ‘Oh, it looks like the Sea Boarder,’ ” Kroeger said. “‘But oh, it can’t be.’”

Walk-throughs are encouraged at boat shows, so Kroeger climbed aboard. The owner wasn’t there, and he felt sneaky as he looked for the boat’s hull number, just to be sure. He remembered a “912.” When he found the registration, he saw the three numbers he was looking for, and he cried.

The yacht had a new owner who hadn’t given it a name yet.

But to Kroeger, it already had a name. Its name was Sea Boarder.

***

The Wooden Boat Festival returns to Newport Harbor on Saturday. The show will feature up to 50 classic boats on land and in the water — motor-, sail- and human-powered.

Two larger craft will host passengers for harbor cruises. The 100-foot fantail yacht Electra, built in 1930, is a regular party boat in the harbor and was Ronald Reagan’s “official” yacht when he visited Newport during his presidential years. The 82-foot schooner Curlew, built in 1926, is visiting from Dana Point.

The Mei Wen Ti, a Chinese junk and winner of last year’s People’s Choice award for larger sailboats, will offer tours at Discovery Cube’s Ocean Quest dock Saturday.

Also in the water: the Sea Boarder.

***

The Sea Boarder left Thompson’s family after he died in 1970, when Kroeger was 11. It eventually landed in a barn in Stockton on the Sacramento Delta and underwent a major restoration in 1998. But it didn’t see much action.

Wooden boats are hard to maintain. The elements are hard on them, and they’re heavy.

“Usually old boats like that are chopped up for firewood,” Kroeger said.

Chad Ware, a Costa Mesa RV dealer, rescued the yacht in 2014 and stripped the paint and varnish for his own refresh. It was nearly complete when he took it to the Newport Beach show in 2015.

Stephens Bros. built the vessel and keeps impeccable records. Ware had gotten hold of correspondence between Thompson and the shipwrights and started tracing Thompson’s family but hadn’t found a living descendant.

The Sea Boarder being built in June 1951.
(Courtesy Jim Kroeger)

Then he found Kroeger in the boat. The two kept in touch, and a few months later, Kroeger called Ware when he was visiting Orange County. He thought they could meet for lunch.

Then he found out the Sea Boarder was for sale. Ware’s wife wanted something with newer amenities.

Kroeger wanted to buy the boat and sought advice from his brother, who promptly approved. It’s now docked at an aunt’s home in Huntington Beach.

Ware doesn’t remember how much he sold it for, but he knows he took a bath on it. He said it was worth it.

“The outcome for the old girl couldn’t have been better,” he said.

Jim Kroeger’s grandparents Bill and Elsie Thompson enjoy a day on the water with the Sea Boarder, circa 1958.
(Courtesy Jim Kroeger)
Jim Kroeger’s steam launch, Southern Bay, foreground, is docked beside the Sea Boarder at the 2015 Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival.
(Courtesy Jim Kroeger)

Kroeger sold his sailboat to a friend when the Sea Boarder came back into his life. He still has his steam launch. It’s just like one his grandfather had.

Thompson was a quiet man with smiling eyes who was a good provider for his family. If he wasn’t smoking his pipe, he was holding it. The Sea Boarder always smelled sweetly of tobacco, Kroeger said.

Kroeger, who is in sales, didn’t go into the family business. The company Thompson founded, Seaboard Finance, was acquired long ago and doesn’t exist anymore.

But the Sea Boarder does. That’s the tradition Kroeger plans to uphold.

He made a copy of Thompson’s insignia — a pipe with a curl of smoke — and it waves from the top of the pilot house. He put a photo of Thompson in the boat, and when he goes out to sea, he asks it a question.

“I say, ‘Granddaddy, will you guarantee us good sailing today?’ ”

If You go

What: Fourth annual Newport Beach Wooden Boat Festival

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Balboa Yacht Club, 1801 Bayside Drive

Admission: Free

Parking: Free parking and shuttle from Corporate Plaza, 1600 Newport Center Drive, to Balboa Yacht Club

Also: Free water taxi around Newport Harbor; parade of entrants and sail-by open to any heritage/retro boat (Sunday); rides aboard the Electra and Curlew (separate admission)

Information: newportbeachwoodenboatfestival.com

hillary.davis@latimes.com

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD


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