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Classic yacht El Primero begins restoration

What could be the world’s oldest private yacht still cruising was hauled out in Port Townsend, Washington, last month by the Tacoma Historical Society. 

Launched in 1893 at Union Brass & Iron Works in San Francisco, El Primero was the first steel steam/screw yacht built on the West Coast (she was later converted to diesel power). The haul-out is part of a plan to save this 41.15 metre classic superyacht for posterity.

“The big effort underway now is to do a full and detailed feasibility study to restore the boat to its original state,” says Richard Hildahl, a retired Ernst & Young analyst who’s taken a keen interest in El Primero. Hildahl is documenting the yacht’s rich history for the Tacoma Historical Society, which has taken the project under its wing. 

One of the key objectives is to restore as many of the original features as possible, which include English pecan wood on the hatches. Some areas, such as the dining room with its carved woodwork cabinetry, are in fine condition, but not everything on El Primero has lasted so well, Hildahl admits.

The hull was recoated last year, and while a decision has yet to be made on whether or not El Primero will be reconverted back to steam, Hildahl adds that this "has technological and legal issues".

Newspaper publisher S.A. ‘Sam’ Perkins was the yacht’s well-connected owner from 1911 to 1955 and, as the most luxurious boat afloat on the West Coast, El Primero hosted several presidents on their official visits to the region. El Primero’s current owner and steward, Christian Lint, an aerospace engineer and tugboat captain, is happy for the museum to take an active role in trying to preserve the vessel, which, although not perfect, is in amazing condition for her age.

“I have had the pleasure to go on several cruises on El Primero. It’s kind of a marine architect’s dream,” Hildahl says. “If you want to go fast, make it long, make it narrow, make it shallow and put a cutter bow on it, and just on a tiny bit of power, you can get to 15 knots and it’s the smoothest it can be.”

El Primero’s interiors total 132GT and feature accommodation for 12 guests, while her hull is capable of a 12 knot top speed.

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