Respite At 60

By William Kleiser

Respite: 1) A period of rest and recuperation, an interlude. 2) The name of our family boat for the past 60 years .

The summer of 2012 marked the 60th anniversary of our family cruising aboard Respite in the waters of the Pacific Northwest. Certainly there are older and more elegant vessels in the Northwest, but Respite was built by my father to meet the needs of our family and has remained our summer retreat since her first voyage in the summer of 1952. Respite herself was based on a history of Northwest cruising that goes back to the early years of the 20th century, well before the age of full-service marine centers.

Photo of the Respite at Wallace IslandRespite looking composed last year at Wallace Island Provincial Park, British Columbia.

Our family isn't from the Northwest — we're a firmly rooted California Gold Rush family. But in 1915 my grandfather was working in Portland, Oregon, for a few years, and decided to build a power cruiser. After a couple of years on the Columbia River, he decided to venture north. In 1915 he ran his 36-foot power cruiser Luana down the Columbia River from Portland, up the Washington coast, and into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. That launched our family tradition of boating in the waters of Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, and the Canadian Gulf Islands. This tradition is now four generations old and going strong.

The Conception Of A Family Boat

It was in the years just following WWII that Respite was conceived and built. My father, having spent most of his summers cruising these waters, was determined to do the same with his family. My grandfather's boat had been sold following his death on the boat at Orcas Island in 1945. So, my father set about building his own boat. Up until the day he died, he loved to build things. It never would have entered his head to just go buy a boat. He wanted to have something built to fit his specific needs, and something larger than he would have been able to afford at that point in a production cruiser. That was the birth of Respite.

My father had a clear idea of the cabin design he wanted: a center deckhouse with open sides that could be enclosed with canvas curtains during bad weather, sleeping cabins fore and aft, galley down just ahead of the deckhouse, and a deep cockpit. In a smart move on my father's part, he engaged a young naval architect named William Garden to design the lines of the boat. Based on the letters between them, they disagreed on many aspects of the design, but Garden's hand ensured that the boat's lines flowed properly, even if the cabin design was mainly my father's.

Photo of James and Grace Kleiser aboard RespiteJames and Grace Kleiser aboard Respite.

Construction started in 1950 at the Albert Jensen & Sons Boatyard in Friday Harbor, Washington. It was supposed to be completed the following spring, but that was not to be. Delivery was taken at the end of the summer of 1951, just in time to run her to Seattle for winter storage. The first cruise would have to wait until 1952.

Most of the interior finish work was done over the years following. Its form and function have been focused on keeping it simple and low maintenance (at least as much as possible for a wooden boat). My father's philosophy was that the more complex the systems, the more likely they'd fail. In many respects, Respite was a 1920s-era boat, launched at the dawn of the modern age. She was outfitted with manual heads, a hand-pump water system, and a Washington Stove Works Neptune woodstove that provided cooking and heat. On long summer cruises, water was the most difficult commodity to find, so Respite was launched with more than 250 gallons of water capacity, equal to its fuel capacity. Power was equally straightforward, originally a Ford flathead V8, due to low cost, easy parts availability, and compact size. The 90-hp engine would drive Respite at a comfortable seven knots.

Photo of the Respite aft cabinThe aft cabin.

Some things have changed over the years, but to this day she remains a relatively simple vessel with straightforward systems. The woodstove remains, though not the original. It's the heart of the boat, keeping us warm on cold days, producing countless meals, gallons of blackberry jam, scores of biscuits, and dozens of berry cobblers.

60 Summers And Counting

In the summer of 1952, Respite took its first summer cruise as our family's boat. It has been used almost every year since. I missed a few of the early years because I didn't arrive until 1958. But by the time I was two months old, I was aboard, and I've been coming back every summer since, making up for that lost time. As a child, our voyages would last from July 4 to just before Labor Day. It was a life that few people get to experience. I was never jealous of friends going to camp. I knew I had a better deal.

Photo of the author on the bow of the Respite, circa 1961.Author (center) on the bow, circa 1961.

The summers have blended together. My own memories are mingled with the stories my father had of his youth on the same waters. Some summers were endless days of cloudless skies, sitting on a beach with the sun dancing off rippled waters. Others have been overcast and moody, light rain the only thing disturbing oily smooth waters, with mist hanging on the tree-covered mountainsides. The same patterns have repeated over the generations. On warm summers my mother would find various beaches for me to play on -- some sand, others smooth sandstone slabs. Later with my own children, my wife and I rediscovered many of these same places. On cool summer days we'd take long walks through the forests of the many marine parks in Washington and British Columbia. Under the canopy of trees, the rain is muted, and the carpet of soft, dark green moss that can grow several inches thick helped to distract young children from becoming "boat bound." My mother taught us how to pick blackberries to make jam, cobblers, and pies. Likewise our children have become efficient pickers continuing this boat tradition.

Respite Brings Excitement

We've had some adventures along the way. On one voyage with my parents, we had passed through the Desolation Sound area and decided to go through a passage known as the "Hole in the Wall." My father hadn't planned to go this way and didn't have a current chart; he only had his father's charts of the area from the 1920s. One little problem, the Hole in the Wall was uncharted in the 1920s, shown only as a body of water with no soundings. We pressed on with a spotter to make sure we didn't go aground and as soon as we got back to civilization, we bought a new chart.

On another voyage, we anchored off a place called Savary Island, near Lund in British Columbia. Normally, my father liked to have anchorages providing protection from wind in any direction. Savary is wide open, but it was a calm afternoon and he gave in to the family desire to anchor off the beautiful beach. As luck would have it, a brisk wind rose out of the north that night and I had a sleepless night monitoring the boat's location. The morning found us secure in our location, but several boats were high and dry, having been blown into shallow waters on an outgoing tide. Lesson learned: Give me a secure anchorage where I don't have to worry about the wind coming up at night!

We've had many visitors to Respite over the years. The most frequent was my mother's brother, my uncle Fred. My father and Fred were friends long before my parents married, both sharing the fascination with airplanes that permeated the first half of the 20th century. Fred's preferred mode of transit to or from the Respite was by floatplane. One day we were anchored in Garden Bay, north of Vancouver, when a floatplane landed. Normally, a floatplane landing in British Columbia is like saying there are cars on the freeway. However, in this instance, my mother said, "I think that plane is coming straight at us." In fact, it was. Fred had chartered the plane and found us in Garden Bay. In hindsight, I now realize that my father must have told Fred where to look for us, lest he fly over half of southern BC looking. But he hadn't told my mother so her brother's arrival was a surprise, even if the method wasn't.

A Tradition Endures

My parents enjoyed the boat from its launch until the last year of their lives, when they were in their 90s. When I was young, there was always a group of people aboard: my parents, three sons, and a parade of visitors. Eventually it became mainly the two of them cruising, with visitors coming and going. I introduced my wife-to-be to Respite in 1986. Then, as our children were born, they also became regular passengers. My father had to, with some grumbling, install baby gates around the vessel to contain the small ones. I knew he'd done it before because I could recall the gates that had contained me on the boat.

After my parents passed on, Respite did not, like so many other boats, sit unused. Of course, the amount of time she spends out of port has been reduced, as we can no longer spend the entire summer aboard. Voyages are two to three weeks now, but we pack a lot into those weeks. Two years ago we made the run to Desolation Sound. As we entered Grace Harbor in Malaspina Inlet, a wrecked pleasure boat was being removed. Someone's dream burned to the waterline while the family was ashore because a laptop computer overheated. I've found that there's always something new to be learned around boats, even after 54 years on them.

Today's Third Generation

The summer of 2012 marked Respite's 60th anniversary as our family's cruiser. She's on her third generation of the family now. My children who, as I, were babies on Respite are now adults who have also come to love the boat and our summers on it. Summers on Respite return us to a time when life moved at a slower pace, not the least because Respite moves mainly at a leisurely seven knots.

Photo of the Respite deckhouse with table set for dinnerThe deckhouse with table set for dinner.

Last summer found Respite plying the waters of the San Juan and Gulf Islands once again, with our 19-year-old son acting as pilot while we filled in the role of the "old folks." We stayed "close to home" this time, focusing on old favorites in the Gulf Islands. Only three of us were aboard this year; our oldest now entering the workforce was unable to come, but requested daily updates so she could be here in spirit.

An overheard comment while walking up the dock at the Newcastle Island Provincial Park in Nanaimo, British Columbia, sums up Respite best. I heard an older man remark to his companion: "I quite like that older one." His companion replied, "Yes, it's very classic." I turned around and looked at the harbor expecting to see a classic yacht that perhaps I'd missed. There was only one old vessel lying in the anchorage, Respite. She's settled into old age gracefully. She's been a fixture on Pacific Northwest waters for 60 years, and is looking forward to many more. So, if you see her and wonder if it's the same family as when you saw her years ago, the answer is yes. 

Bill and his wife Nancy have two grown children and live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Bill has been cruising the Pacific Northwest since childhood. They currently own Respite as well as a 21-foot Wellcraft they use on Lake Tahoe. They cruise the Canadian Gulf Islands several weeks per year.

— Published: February/March 2013

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