Wild Goose roosts on historic registry

NEWPORT BEACH — John Wayne's beloved yacht, the Wild Goose, is now among some 200 boats listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"The Duke" would have been proud.

"While our focus has, and perhaps always will be, predominantly on buildings, the programs include a broad spectrum of property types, from archaeological sites to bridges, locomotives, lighthouses, historic districts and ships," Paul S. Lusignan, an historian with the National Register of Places, said in an email.

The Hollywood icon and Newport Beach resident owned the 136-foot, wooden-hulled World War II-era minesweeper from 1962 until shortly before his death in 1979.

In May, the State Historical Resources Commission certified the boat's nomination for a National Register listing by the U.S. Department of the Interior, noting that the Wild Goose had been "cited in Wayne's biographies as his sanctuary and proudest possession."

Two of Wayne's children, Aissa and Ethan, used to sleep in bunk beds aboard the ship. The bunks are intact, and the siblings' initials remain engraved in them.

"There's just a real special connection he had. He just treasured that boat," Aissa Wayne said.

The Wild Goose continues to ply local waters as a working vessel operated by Hornblower Cruises & Events. The boat is anchored in Newport Harbor.

The vessel was originally launched in the 1940s under the name YMS-328, and is one of four remaining minesweepers of the 481 of its class.

"He was a big buff of the Navy — not just how the movies portrayed him," said Chandler Bell, Hornblower's director of marine operations. "The boat meant a whole lot to him … He had it up [until] to two months before his death. It was a huge part of his life and his family."

The Wild Goose was eligible for a listing because it met the criteria of being historically significant through its association with the life of an important person, official documents show. Wayne was deemed important because of his status as an icon of cinema history.

Wayne's fame raised the Wild Goose's profile when he bought it for $116,000 in 1962, but its own role and prominence in his life wasn't lost on National Register officials who evaluated the nomination file.

"The Wild Goose stands as one of the most significant extant properties directly associated with the actor during his productive life," their review read.

"Regarded as one of Wayne's most prized possessions and an important focus of his family life outside of the movie industry, the ship embodied both his heroic-scale personality and iconic image," the review continued. "Outside the various film studios and movie locations where he practiced his trade, the Wild Goose perhaps best reflects Wayne's larger-than-life personality as an exceptional figure in American performing arts and popular culture."

After Wayne bought it, the yacht went on to achieve notoriety on the silver screen. The Wild Goose appeared in 1967's "The President's Analyst" and 1968's "Skidoo." It also played a part in the 1960s TV show "The Man from U.N.C.L.E."

Wayne remodeled the yacht in 1965. The ceilings were raised to accommodate his 6-foot, 4-inch frame.

Aissa Wayne recalled many fond family memories aboard the Wild Goose.

Among them was time spent in Spain, where Wayne traveled to shoot 1964's "Circus World."The Waynes also traveled to Catalina Island, Mexico and Alaska.

"One summer Dad said, 'We're going to do something new,' and we went up to Alaska. That was amazing," Wayne's daughter said, remembering dropping a fishing line into the water and, in a short amount of time, catching salmon. "Those are my really fond memories, the trips we took on that boat."

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