George and the Sunk Ranger

George in Salmon Bay

This is not the Ranger in question but a less impecunious boat.

My playwright friend Mara Lathrop has a wonderful presence on Facebook. Every day she posts the "Cheesetown Morning Report," which unveils a new picture from her flower garden or yard in her little gingerbread house in Port Townsend.

When I was stuck in New York — where I actually like to be stuck half the time — I would glom onto these pictures for dear life. Every day, there it was, the Cheesetown Morning Report, and I could almost smell it. 


So when Mara mentioned in the Cheesetown Morning Report that she originally met George when he was living on a boat, I jumped at the chance to interview them for the blog.

At the point that this interview was posited, George had a greatness about him, which was three boats that don’t float sitting in the yard. I was primed and ready to get reporting on these three boats. Finally, another person with a boat that doesn’t float. Unfortunately, by the time I got there, two of them were gone and there was only the project boat left, a gorgeous wooden boat from Wisconsin. Eighteen feet. Well-covered in a nice boat tent. "And we are sure this is the one that is going to get fixed up all the way and take me out on the lake like none of them ever for fifty years," Mara adds. 

"But there is always hope," George replies.

So when I got out to P.T. for the interview, it was a beautiful day and George and Mara hosted me sumptuously on the deck —I mean the front porch — of their beautiful retirement cottage. 

George and Mara today

Mara has completed her first novel and was commiserating with me about the growing pains of switching media.

But back to the real adventure in this story, and that is a long-ago Ranger that we look back on wistfully.

George got wind of an affordable Ranger, one of the boats built in this area for the Alaska Forest Service and used for towing, logbooms, and barges. They were sturdy wood-hulled boats with massive diesel engines and were also used for living quarters for the workers. Thus they were heavy old boats, commodious, and powerful, but as with all old boats, once they hit a certain stage, it is a giant expense to keep them up. Newer designs and newer mechanics make these old things out of date. It is like an old car. At some point the dollar value on paper is so low the insurance company won’t pick up the tab for repair and you are stuck looking for decades-old parts. 

Most people let go and take out loans for the newer boats, sending the old ones off into the stream of objects we can’t use but can't really face.

It is the position of this blogger that if a coat of paint, a wiring refit, and a newer style motor and some gizmos will do the trick, we can just make do with a slower boat and save not only money but the rotten crap of a useable object in the landfill. Who knows? Some of the older boats have real capacities in the water on wind power and muscle alone. There didn’t used to be diesel engines and somehow the old salts usually got the thing home.

So here we are with George, who spent a lifetime fixing up steel-hulled industrial boats for pay and in his spare time always had a little project going in the yard. 

With the Ranger, it was no doubt reasoned, we have a boat with some real potential. All it needs of George is a day off and no wife and kids, no mortgage payments, no used-up rotator cuff. In short, none of the things that George managed to accumulate along the way once he had Mara, who after fifty-odd years is still laughing with him about those useful old boats.

The Ranger 8 was bought in Tri-Cities up the Columbia River where it rested comfortably under the open air in the desert for some years until the owner had to give it up and George caught a ship. 

Water is not just the enemy of boats, it is a test of them. If they are seaworthy and tended, they stay afloat, and if not, they don’t. There is no forgiveness of leaving a boat hanging around the dock of any self-respecting marina. The truth will out. 

But this Ranger 8 had much to recommend it, like an 85-horsepower Atlas diesel engine weighing somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 lb that went ker-chunk ker-chunk  and we can all still hear it. 

George got her into the Columbia and started toward the coast when the boat started to sink for some reason. 

He got as far as this little riverside town on a Sunday with a bargain boat and headed for the hardware store. For some reason, there wasn’t enough caulk on board with the sale and who can think of caulk when you just bought a boat? Especially when you repair them for a living?

But alas, the hardware store was closed on Sundays in this one-horse town, so George had to avail himself of a trip to the tavern, where he cried in his beer about the sinking boat and the need for emergency caulk, and who happened to be sitting at the bar but the owner of the hardware store?! 

Who took pity on George and opened up the store for a sale of caulk and George was on his way again to the coast without a snarl and he and a delivery captain got the boat all the way to our own South Park Marina, where it sat awaiting repairs for a while, when George let some friends stay on it for a few days. Evidently they opened some through-hull or did something uninformed that made the water gush in and, alas, the Ranger sank, a few feet from where my own boat is sitting on the dry waiting for the next era in its lovely long life.

But the heartache of the sunk Ranger is part of the flotsam of a beautiful life, and here we are, with George and his latest impossible project, a wooden jobbie from Wisconsin, well-arranged in her tent, all ready for an imperturbable beauty and a day on the lake.

CORRECTION: Mara and I discussed this, and we both agreed that the story is perfect as is, but involves a slight confabulation. The Ranger made it safely to Lake Union where it was endured by The Wife for some time, until it went on to the next owner and the Shane came into their lives. It was the Shane that sank at South Park, not the Ranger, though what difference that makes when you have owned over ten boats, I cannot tell, but the Lathrops wanted to get the story right. 

I, on the other hand, wanted the Hollywood comedy version where after all that hubbub the darn thing went down in the Duwamish. 

© Joann L. Farias 2023