The Gatsby-era schooner, the Suva, has been infused with new life.
The 95-year-old wooden sailboat spent the last month in dry dock at Emerald Marine Carpentry in Anacortes to replace its horn timber — the backbone of the boat — along with some teak planks along its hull and other maintenance.
Crews also modified the propeller and are hopeful the boat will now cruise at a speedy 6 knots. It took 1,500 man-hours to complete the work.
Mark Saia, a captain and founding member of the Coupeville Maritime History Foundation which owns the Suva, said the repairs were budgeted for about $100,000.
The foundation bought Purpleheart wood to replace the boat’s horn timber. The wood comes from South America and is known for being one of the strongest available, along with its distinctive hue.
“It’s huge and bulletproof,” Saia said.
The local organization is the sixth owner of the vessel. It was built in Hong Kong in 1925 by naval architect L.E. “Ted” Geary for Coupeville millionaire Frank Pratt, a lawyer from Massachusetts. He kept the boat anchored in Penn Cove from 1925-1940.
Most of the 68-foot-long boat is made from old-growth Burmese teak. Pratt named the schooner for the capital of Fiji after visiting the city.
Pratt sailed the vessel for 15 years before selling it for $1 to Dietrich Schmidt, whose family had it until 1985. Saia said it was “the belle of the ball” at the Seattle Yacht Club and sailed around Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.
It later changed hands a few more times until Saia found it on Craigslist in Port Townsend and the foundation brought it back home to Coupeville.
“She’s now getting that same love she was getting before,” Saia said.
The crew of the Suva is looking forward to more charters this season after a short season last year because of pandemic travel restrictions. Visitors will see it docked at the Coupeville Wharf this summer.
The foundation is also in the process of re-branding itself as the Whidbey Island Maritime Foundation to expand its reach and is looking for more captains. Saia said it’s a nice summertime gig and those interested can find more information on schoonersuva.org/suva-captains.
Students will soon have a chance for a unique experience with the Suva in the fall through a new educational program in partnership with the South Whidbey School District.
Students will learn the science of sailing in the classroom before going out to sea and get a debriefing about what they learned.
Saia said the educational aspect of the Suva is what is most important to him.
“The boating industry is fading away a bit — kids aren’t as interested as they used to be,” he said, hopeful that the program would generate more interest.