Lotus will return for Harbor Days

jdodge@theolympian.comAugust 13, 2013 

Motor Vessel Lotus at 2012 Harbor Days in Olympia. Photo courtesy of Karla Fowler


A historic wooden yacht with a number of Olympia connections returns Friday to South Sound for an extended stay.

The Motor Vessel Lotus, an unusual floating houseboat built in Seattle in 1909, will be available for public tours at the Port of Olympia Port Plaza dock during Harbor Days, Olympia’s summer-ending maritime festival Aug. 30 through Sept. 1.

The 92-foot vessel listed on the National Register of Historic Places will also be docked at Percival Landing from Aug. 16 until Harbor Days, and available for community events, including a fundraiser for the M/V Lotus Foundation, which, under the leadership of Christian Gruye, took over ownership of the vessel in 2004.

The history of the Lotus dates back to Maurice McMicken, a prominent Seattle attorney and onetime publisher of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. McMicken spent his teenage years in Olympia and had the boat built at the Sloan Shipyard in Seattle specifically to cruise the inland marine waters of Washington, British Columbia and southeast Alaska. At the time, the Lotus was the largest cruising houseboat on the West Coast.

After McMicken’s death in 1940, the vessel went through a succession of ownerships, falling into the kind of disrepair that happens when wooden boats aren’t maintained.

In 1959, Gruye’s mother, Kathryn, found the vessel leaning against old pilings at what is now the Gasworks Park on the north shore of Lake Union in Seattle. Her parents bought the boat, refurbished it and turned it into a floating hotel that saw plenty of business on Lake Union during the Seattle World’s Fair.

“That’s my earliest memories of the vessel, working and playing on board a floating lodge,” said Gruye, 64.

In 1977, author and maritime historian Gordon Newell bought the Lotus from the Gruye family and moved it to Fiddlehead Marina in Olympia to live aboard it. He sold the boat back to the Gruyes in 1981, and the Lotus remained in Olympia throughout the 1980s before moving to Port Townsend, where it was sold again before it ended up back in the hands of Christian Gruye. She formed the nonprofit foundation to usher the historic vessel into its second century plying the marine waters of the Pacific Northwest.

In the summer months the Lotus can be found making the rounds of maritime heritage festivals in the Salish Sea, or retracing the route of some of her historic journeys to southeast Alaska.

From October through May, she’s docked on the south side of Lake Union at the Historic Ships Wharf at the Center for Wooden Boats next to the Museum of History and Industry.

This year marks the Lotus’ second consecutive appearance at Harbor Days.

“The reception we received last year was terrific — a walk down memory lane,” Gruye said. “We had all sorts of people stop by and share their memories of the Lotus, and we want the people of Olympia to come visit us again.”

In the days leading up to Harbor Days, the Lotus will be available for foundation members for a variety of events, everything from meetings to receptions to birthday parties for groups up to 25 people. It costs $25 to join the nonprofit foundation, and donations received for each event will be used to maintain and preserve the vessel.

The Lotus is hauled into dry dock every three years for maintenance, and that costs about $45,000. The last time was February 2012 after the 102-ton Lotus broke loose from its moorage in Port Townsend and was blown ashore.

Listing badly, taking on water and perilously close to being pounded to pieces on the rocky shore, she was saved thanks to a major volunteer rescue effort.

The ship was restored and once again has the look of a grand, Craftsman home with its exposed ceiling beams, old-growth Douglas fir floors, richly textured mahogany inlays and heads the size of bathrooms featuring claw-foot bathtubs.

For more information on the Lotus Olympia schedule and availability for groups, visit mvlotus.org or call 360-643-3302.

Also coming to town for Harbor Days is the Virginia V steamship, which made its maiden voyage from Seattle to Tacoma on June 11, 1922, as part of Puget Sound’s Mosquito Fleet of cargo and passenger vessels.

The wooden vessel built of old-growth Douglas fir was a workhorse for decades, transporting Camp Fire Girls from Seattle to Vashon Island and workers from Poulsbo to the Keyport Naval Torpedo Station during World War II.

The Virginia V was placed on the National Registry of Historic Sites in 1973 and received a six-year, $6.5 million overhaul completed in 2002. The vessel is a familiar site in Puget Sound, providing public and private excursions and visiting maritime festivals such as Harbor Days.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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