Little Freda, Mighty Kelpie: Back from the Edge

By Kimball Livingston Posted May 29, 2014

Many a 21st century boatman who would never own a woodie will nevertheless spend hours admiring their beauty. I was a younger man when I wrote, “A wooden boat has an aura, and perhaps a soul, that cannot be created on the production line.” I stand by that. And so it is a pleasure to see the renewals, right now, of two great wooden sailing yachts, one from the 19th century, one from the 20th.



She launches Saturday without a rig, but Freda will be back

She re-launches Saturday without a rig, but Freda will be back

Built on the shores of San Francisco Bay in 1885, Freda is 32 feet long and the oldest active sailing yacht on the West Coast. Or she will be. Active, that is, once she is again rigged and ready. For the moment, we’re talking re-launch.

Freda’s story is many stories, and her restorations have been many, to match. Late in the 1800s, she was central to the life of the Corinthian Yacht Club, Belvedere, to the point that the club called its newsletter The Daily Freda. This latest restoration has been eight years in the making, so far, prompted by a sinking at a dock.

If you’re with me, you understand already that letting the old girl go was unthinkable. The foundation arm of SF Bay’s Master Mariners Benevolent Association paid $10,000 for the derelict—in 2004 dollars, a price that, yes, included late berthing fees—and donated her to the newly-formed Spaulding Center, based in the living museum that had once been the boatworks of the late, great Myron Spaulding. In partnership with the Arques School of Traditional Boatbuilding, work began on the most detailed renovation imaginable, began with a piece-by-piece dismantling and a chronicling of each piece and the lofting so that her historical design will be recorded and documented with a set of accurate plans for museums and maritime institutions worldwide.

Keeping the Spaulding Center alive has not been an easy pull, but in its wooden beams, with every wall an artifact, it is, itself, a treasure for all of the maritime USA. The work on Freda has not been speedy, but it is correct. And the fact is, Freda is not “quite” ready to launch. But boats are never “quite” ready, so this is it. Saturday, May 31 at the Spaulding Center, Foot of Gate Five Road, Sausalito, CA. The doors open at 1100. Freda splashes at 1130. Think BBQ, music, history. And, eventually, a return to the waterways of a boat with modest manners that only enhance her irresistible charm.


Renowned on both coasts of the USA, now spreading her wings in Europe as Kelpie of Falmouth, the 79-foot schooner Kelpie was built in Maine in 1928 and sailed from the East Coast to the West Coast of the Americas in 1947 by the brothers Honey, Dave and Dick, father and uncle, respectively, of record-setting skipper, navigator and sports graphics engineer Stan Honey. We wrote that story in Changing Dreams in Midstream, with the Kelpie focus in part two.

As I write, Kelpie of Falmouth is racing in the Pendennis Cup in Cornwall, England, through May 31—captain Charlie Wroe hit his marks for delivery and restoration on deadline, as did the people he chose for the execution—and he says that the owner’s plan is to “race the pants off the boat” in 2014. Since the owner, who keeps to the background, also owns the classic-of-classics schooner Mariette, that’s saying a bit.

The state of affairs in April

The state of affairs in April

Wroe further declares that Kelpie’s restoration “sets her up for the next fifty years.”

Classic Yacht . TV has done a a crisp job telling the renovation story, incorporating black & white images of the east-west delivery supplied by Dick Honey. It’s right here

Around Newport Beach, California there is a world of people who remember Kelpie in a former life as charter boat and dream weaver. They would not have liked her dogeared look when the Europeans found her in San Francisco Bay, but they’ll be pleased to know she has moved on to good things. You may have guessed, that’s Kelpie of Falmouth at the top of the page racing this week in Cornwall.

Suns New Jerseys