The Ziska, built in 1903, has passed from person to person over her 116 years on the water.
For a while, the 38-foot gaff-rigged “Lancashire nobby” was a fishing boat, racing to get out against the tides off the coast of England.
Then, Ziska was a family-owned yacht, used for cruising up until the second World War.
A 19-year-old English boy bought the Ziska in the late ‘90s and after a fix-up, sailed across the world, traversing 25,000 miles in six years.
Eventually, she made her way to the United States, where a local shipwright bought the Ziska in Chesapeake Bay and brought the boat to Port Townsend.
Some years and another owner later, the Ziska caught the eye of shipwright Stanford Siver.
“I’d seen the boat in town for 10 years, but I had never seen it sail,” Siver said. “I was rowing by it one day a year-and-a-half ago and it looked really bad. It’s heartbreaking to see a gorgeous old boat from 1903 going down the tubes.”
Siver’s history with boats began when he walked out of his job on the East Coast one day and never turned back. He ended up at the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding and began a 6-year restoration of his sailboat, Blue.
Now, Siver has taken on the project of restoring the Ziska.
“I was in love with the boat from when I first saw it,” he said.
Working with a crew of local shipwrights, Siver has revamped the saloon, made a new mast, new rigging, new sails and painted and varnished the 116-year-old boat.
“I was really lucky to have some amazingly talented people, the whole crew has kind of come together and rallied around this boat,” he said. “Port Townsend is such a magnet for brilliantly talented people.”
The Ziska has seen several restorations over the years. Siver is delicately balancing adding new technology while preserving the history of the boat.
“This boat is fairly unique,” said Pat Mahon, a shipwright working with Siver on the restoration. “It came with a provenance. You have to decide how much of that history you’re going to retain, but still make it a reusable boat.”
The boat is engineless, and will remain that way, Siver said. He hopes to sail in the Race to Alaska this June.
Siver’s crew of shipwrights were a detail-oriented bunch, he said. Working with yacht designer Carl Chamberlin, detailer Bailey Farneth, finisher Nic Delorme, varnisher Joni Blanchard, shipwrights J Galloway and Jack Becker, block-maker Ed Louchard, and rigger Matt Vay, among other local experts, the Ziska has personal touches of intricately sewn leather, paint and hand-made wood cabinets.
“There’s something amazing about boats,” Siver said. “They’re functional little space shuttles. They’re profoundly beautiful in the simplicity and they are also profoundly elegant in their beauty.”
Siver plans to have the restoration work finished and the boat launched by March 28. After the Race to Alaska, he said he plans to sell the Ziska.
“A lot of times you can buy or build a new boat faster and cheaper,” Siver said. “But that’s not the same spirit as a boat from 1903. It’s not the same history and I think our histories are important.”