San Diego Maritime Museum
Oral Interview with
March 10, 2005
Interviewed by: Mark Allen
Interview being done at Mr. Trepte’s office
Trepte Construction Co. Inc.
8195 Ronson Rd.
San Diego, California 92111
Transcribed by: Joan M. Semler
[transcriber’s comments in brackets]
This is Mark Allen, it’s the 10th of March, and I’m sitting in Gene Trepte’s office, and we’re talking about the Kettenburgs and the Trepte family.
Gene Trepte (GT): Alright, this is Gene Trepte, and I will have to say that I grew up in the ‘30s at the yacht club [SDYC], and got to know George at a very young age. My Dad was a good friend of his and a good friend of his father. I got into it as a little kid about the time he was beginning to take off in his boat-building business. As you know the original story, they did some of the boat building at the Kellogg home site where they built the four Sun boats, which Alden designed, and then he did a couple of motor boats for his Dad. Then you have read through where the group at the San Diego Yacht Club, headed by Joe Jessop, wanted to consider a new class. They had been racing R-boats, they’d been up against the 6 Meters, and so they were exploring an idea of a single class. The reason for that is the cost. The R boats were International Rule, they had all these different sizes and what have you, and it was getting competitive and they were beginning to get outdated, and if you wanted to come in, so they decided they wanted to have a one-design class and they looked over the S boats, which were very popular, Herreshoff 1919. They looked over the Atlantic class that had just been started, the 22-Square Meter was one they looked at, and I guess a number of other boats. George kind of got into the picture and George says, "I think I can do a better job for you." He talked to Joe Jessop, who was another one of my role models and almost my surrogate father because he was close to my Dad and sailed with my Dad and I quite a bit, and he said, "Alright, we’ll wait until you build one," and he built the first one, as you know, started in 1929 and finished it, I think, in the early 1930s.
Mark Allen (MA): Now, when were you born?
GT: I was born in 1925, so I’m a little kid, but I’m around the Yacht Club with my Dad, because my Dad sailed R boats in the days of Joe and all that gang. So I was very interested in boats and hanging around with my Dad ‘cause he was racing the Aloha first and then the Friendship, both R boats, so that’s kind of how I got around the PCs. It was very interesting. They were looking for a boat, and if you read the preamblems, which is in this book, it’s for a class for yachtsmen of modest means. So that’s what it has always been. The wonderful thing about the class, they’ve never changed very much in this class, and we all today are very, very pure now trying to keep them the same. The first boat came out and it raced against the R boat and some of the boats that were around, and were very competitive, so they decided, the four of them, well let’s build 4 boats, and Joe, you’ll take one of them, and you Chiles will take one, and you George will take one, and another one took No. 7. They had had this association with the S boats and learning a lot about the Herreshoff S boat and the Honolulu crowd were doing the same thing. They started a fleet of S boats. I guess you have the whole story, which is in here, of them going down on a ship by the Navy, and the four of them went down there and took those four boats down there, and the whole story about the cocktail parties and all the things that they did, and the results are all in here [see Kettenburg file, San Diego Maritime Museum Archives], and how it all ended up – the PCs beat the S boats by something like seven or eight points at the end. It was very successful, all the fellows had a lot of fun while they were down there, but they had no way to get home. With Joe’s involvement with the Navy League here, they found out that the USS Chicago was going to make a speed run from Honolulu to San Francisco. She was a new cruiser, and so they all were able to go on there on the basis that they would be the agent to time the boat, so all the crews - which were 4 boats and I’d say maybe 16 guys - all but 1 came back on the Chicago.
MA: Who is the one?
GT: I’ve got to think of his name ‘cause we used to see him at all the Honolulu races. Maybe it’ll come to me in a little bit.
MA: When it comes to you, give me a call.
GT: I have the names of the crews here.
MA: I want to ask you a question about an article I just read by A. B. Chiles in 1930. Is that all correct?
GT: Yes, I have it here. I think it’s all correct as much as I can remember. Here’s a picture of the trophy that Joe had made at the Jessop & Sons for the S-PC Regatta in the Islands. You know how we found it? Because we wanted to do an enactment if we could when Elizabeth Meyer brought out Endeavor and her husband got an S boat and he’s a big pusher in the S boats, and he had his S boat restored and he was nice enough to ship it out here.
MA: This was in 1997 or something like that?
GT: Let me see, I ran the ’92 America’s Cup, it was the next year, ’95, when she brought Endeavor out. I had had a lot of contact with Elizabeth when I was running it in ’92 to see if there was any chance of bringing Endeavor out, and in ’92 she said she’d love to but she had it chartered for the summer so she couldn’t. So when ’95 was coming along the Club had to defend it, I called her again and she said yes she’d love to come out and the boat is not tied up so we’ll come out. Her husband we got to know and he was big in the S boats, so we said, "Well, Joe, why don’t we reenact that thing you had down in the Islands between the PC and the S boat?" And we started to do that, and I said, "Well, where’s the trophy?", and he said, "Oh, I don’t know where the trophy is." We finally had a lucky call to the Yacht Club, a pawnbroker called and said, "I have a trophy down here that says ‘Honolulu S Boat-PC Team Race 1931."
MA: Now, this is the pawnbroker in San Diego...
GT: …in San Diego. Here’s Bob Mann, was the guy, he had No. 7, Bob Chiles had 3, and George had 4 and Joe Jessop had 5, and it’s Harry Euler, he’s the one that stayed down there. He lived in the Islands and every time we’d sail in a Honolulu Race, and I sailed in five, he was always there to meet us.
MA: You said Bob Chiles ….
GT: Well, I have it down as Bob Chiles. I don’t think I really knew him. A lot of this is helping me from Joe Jessop, and he gave me the crew, and he told me of how they got the crews together at the Yacht Club. I have – Dillingham had 4, Borgrass had 7, Atkinson had 5, and Herb Drusset had No. 2 of the S boats. There is the story, which is right here, it was published of the wonderful time that they had down there. Here’s some of the old original boats, but anyway they sold all four boats down there. They came back and all of them ordered replacement boats, but Chiles. I don’t think he did. So that started the next batch, so that was good. Then of course, in the ‘30s when they got the first order, Mr. Kettenburg Sr. contacted my Dad and said he’d gotten some property down on the water he thought would be appropriate to build a yard, "Walter, will you build me a shed so young George can build these little motorboats and things he was doing?" I have a picture in here of the shed, and that was the first corrugated–iron shed. It cost 50 cents a square foot to build. It had a rail system that went inside. I can close my eyes, over in the northwest corner was George’s office. Right next to it was the bookkeeper. The big side here was for lofting design, and the other side over here was the spar-making area.
MA: Was the loft above the main floor?
GT: Yes, and all the boats were built down underneath. With the situation with the PCs doing so well, the phone started ringing, and he started getting orders. I can remember the railway that he had there, and my Dad and all his various boats were always over there being worked on, and I can remember George up against that corrugated-iron building with that little shed with – I think it was a Model A engine or something, with a band for the cable, and he’d sit there and run these levers dragging these boats up out of the water up on to this single railway.
MA: Did Bill Kearns take over that kind of work?
GT: Yes, Bill Kearns did that in later years. Bill was one of the – and here’s a picture of the Chicago, and they all went up and started racing in the Lipton Cup against 6 Meters and things and did well, and all that story.
MA: By the way, the rail system you mentioned in the shed – was that overhead or a marine railway?
GT: An old marine rail, just one, with a dock. He had a cradle and that was the first way of getting the boats out. There are pictures here, you probably have them of the first PCs in the shed coming out. Joe’s boat is one of the early boats shown here.
MA: Now, George’s office was in the corner of the shed. What was it like inside?
GT: It was full of papers as I remember, it had venetian blinds …
MA: Were there any pictures on the walls?
GT: Yes, it had pictures on the wall of the motorboats that his Dad really got started in – that was very early.
MA: Pictures to show any potential customers?
GT: It wasn’t anything fancy, I’ll tell you. It was just a work room. Paul was there for awhile and then he went back to General Electric and then came back after the war. Kenny Baker was their big thrust in sales men.
MA: I don’t know anything about Kenny Baker.
GT: Well, Kenny Baker and his father had the navigational business in town, compensating compasses, fixing binoculars, doing all that. That was the father. Kenny was in that for a while but I think enticed him away. He was their big contact salesman, basically here in San Diego, and then Peggy Slater was in Los Angeles, and Glen Waterhouse was up in San Francisco. Charlie Ross was up in Seattle.
MA: There was also a guy named Coxhead who was in Richmond for awhile. Does that ring a bell?
GT: Now what did he do?
MA: He was sales representative in the Bay Area, probably before Waterhouse – Ernest Coxhead.
GT: I don’t know about that, because my boat is #26, and #25 and #26 were built in ’36 and ’37 and they both went to San Francisco because of Glen Waterhouse being the dealer, and Glen kept #25 for a while as a demo. My boat was sold to a man in Richmond.
MA: Coxhead’s name was in the early ads for PCs. You mentioned Paul coming back. How would you compare the two men? What was George like, and what was Paul like?
GT: I never knew Paul until he came back. Of course, George had the eye. I can remember him and later boats that he was designing. All the line layout in his lofting was by his eye – he would stand back and push that batten in just a little bit and then he’d lean in, and that was how he established the lines with his eyes. I used to see George doing that, but I don’t know about Paul after the war if it was done that way.
MA: I didn’t mean to interrupt you, but I’ve been trying to picture what lofting was like back then.
GT: Lofting is a big flat floor with a nice painted plywood or something, and then they set out their points, and they lay it out in lines, stations, and you can move the stern out a little bit and then you can tuck it in a little bit, and then you can bring the lines in that way.
MA: How would you do that, though - with pieces of wood or battens?
GT: A very fine batten with weights. The length could be spliced together, as I remember, on the waterline length. The batten was very flexible and could be held down with lead weights and the battens adjusted for the proper lines. I had a boat designed by Sparkman & Stephens and we did the lofting at Gerry’s [Driscoll] yard called Brushfire. So anyway, here’s George’s #1, and I got a chance as a kid to sail on the # 1 boat with George. He had a son, Bill, who is my age, and we both sailed with him off and on, but in those early days, not to start with, but later on by the end of the ‘30s there was a big event in Southern California called the Newport Race Week, and it was always in August for a week, and all the classes raced there. The 6 Meter class always started ahead of the PC. The PCs sometimes, by the finish, almost got up into the 6 Meters, and that’s with 100% working jib. The fleet came together and decided they wanted a genoa, and for a while these boats had genoas with running backstays.
MA: Can you explain that to me, and explain the difference between a 6 Meter and a PC as a class.
GT: Well, a 6 Meter is heavier and a little bit bigger and a hair bigger on the waterline. It is a little longer overall. It is a heavier displacement boat.
MA: Is that an east coast or European design?
GT: That’s International Rule. They’re all over the world, they’re restoring them now, a lot of them. Great boats, Owen designs them, wonderful 6’s. He really got his start because of the 6 Meters.
MA: I’ve also never figured out, when you talk about 6 Meter boats, the calculations, where the 6 meter comes from.
GT: Well, it’s an International Rule, there’s some formula in it and it all has to come out the same way. So another thing about George, he decided to try the genoas on them, and all the fleet agreed, and we had genoas and that’s what Bill and I used to do was run the backstays back and forth when we were little kids. But then later on, I don’t know when it was, I think that after the War they decided to heck with this genoa, it was a pain in the neck, the backstays must go back to the 100% jib but let’s raise the hoist, and they went from the top spreader up a ways, so that’s our new design, which was in the right direction, and George moved the head stay out a foot. Then he decided they both would be good with a large spinnaker so we sailed with a penalty pole, our fore triangle is 9 ft. 6, but our pole was 12 feet.
MA: Seeing as I’m not much of a sailor …..
GT: You’re going to learn fast …..
MA: That’s right, I love sailing, but it’s mostly the question of somebody telling me, "You pull this string over here," and I’ll do that. For a while there the smallest boat I ever crewed on was a 3-masted bark, so that gives you a clue.
GT: They were clumsy.
MA: What I wanted to ask you – a genoa, is it sometimes called a …..?
GT: Overlapper. I have a picture here somewhere that shows an advertisement with one. Kenny Watts was a sailmaker, good friend of mine, made all my sails, did a lot of sails for George’s boats.
MA: Was he kind of a house sailmaker?
GT: No, he lived up in Torrance – here’s a genoa, see this? #28 with a genoa.
MA: So it’s smaller than a full jib.
GT: Well, this was before the War. Then after the War they got rid of this and they moved the head stay up higher and they used just 100% jib. Now another thing that caused this story. George Kettenburg was so successful selling PCs to Newport, that Walter [Walton] Hubbard of South Coast couldn’t stand it, he just couldn’t stand it. Walter Franz came later but Hubbard built the South Coast Boat Yard. He couldn’t stand George. He said, "Give me some rights and I’ll pay a royalty to build PCs up here." So George gave him the lines, and what have you, and he built the odd ones - #13, #15, and #17. You can tell those boats because the tiller goes on up through the deck and the tiller shows above the deck. All of ours are under the deck.
MA: And now he used slightly different materials, too, if I understand.
GT: Now he might have, but the only thingl I always kidded George and Paul about – from my records those boats were never very fast. I said, "George, did you really give him the real lines?" I used to kid him. Anyway, Hubbard only built three of them and it didn’t go very far, so he got upset again. He went to Phil Rhodes and got him to design the Rhodes 33.
MA: I specifically want to ask you about the 33 because Joe Jessop in one of his interviews, I think it’s Joe, I may be misdescribing it, but he makes it sound almost like Hubbard conspired with Rhodes, who was an excellent designer, basically gave Rhodes the lines of the PC, and what do you know…..
GT: He might have, I don’t know, but I know there was a kind of a battle going on, and so those Rhodes were built and the Newport crowd was buying them, and that’s what satisfied Hubbard. Then they used to have races against each other, and there’s some of that story in here [tapping book?] and results in here [tapping book?].
MA: What was Walter [Walton] Hubbard like, because George’s kids (not kids anymore) told me that everybody loved their Dad, but then I’m finding out here and there about Hubbard, who definitely didn’t. Tell me about Walter [Walton] Hubbard.
GT: All I know is as a kid, but he was a wild one, a heavy drinker at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club with some of those guys.
MA: I assume he was older than George.
GT: Yes, I think he was.
MA: And his operation was bigger, from what I gather.
GT: Well, it was a beautiful spot there. He had 6 Meters dry storage, he had 8 Meters up there – Yucca, Prelude in dry storage I can remember as a kid. He had a fine, very beautiful yard. Kettenburg’s was kind of built on a shoestring, even though we’ve built everything from that yard from the day it was built until the time it went out of business, but it was all economized, but the South Coast was in a very populated area, a very nice commercial area near the end of the peninsula, and it had a beautiful showroom where they sold all kinds of little boats. It was a beautiful yard and he had all the big fancy 6 Meters and 8 Meters in a row there. They used to dry-sail them. It was a fancy deal.
MA: I assume he sold a lot to the Hollywood crowd.
GT: I would think the Los Angeles crowd.
MA: You say he was kind of a wild one.
GT: Well, he was a tough guy. He didn’t get along with a lot of people. So he passes on and Walter Franz ends up with it, and he took over and ran it very nicely. Walter was a real nice guy. We all raced against him and he eventually retired in Rancho Santa Fe. We all liked Walter Franz.
MA: Did he get along better with George?
GT: Well, I don’t know. I think this is after George died that Walter Franz basically got going in there. I think after Hubbard passed out the yard sort of sat there dormant for a while. Their big question was – were they going to tear it down, build condoes there, or was somebody going to take the yard over.
MA: Thanks for filling me in.
GT: The nice thing about my association with the Kettenburgs – I had a good relation with Paul later on after George died. Now, I sailed with George in a lot of his boats and I went to Canada with George three times. George began to love photography. George worked so hard – he was a workaholic at that yard. Pretty soon somebody got to him and said, "George, you’ve got to start having a little fun." So the first idea he got while he was starting in his PCC operation and he had to do his own marketing, and so he decided to take a PCC on spec to Seattle and participate in some of the regattas and maybe sell a boat. He asked me to go, young Bill went, Kenny Baker went – I’ve forgotten whoever else – and he got a spec boat up there.
MA: This would have been about ’46 or ’47?
GT: Yep, you’re right, ‘cause we built our PCC in ’47, so it was around ’47 that this was going on. He built one for us – number #13. So we went up the first year and raced and proved, and George was getting in to photography. He was doing filming, filming everything. Charlie Ross was his agent up there for selling boats, and Charlie was big in the 6 Meter fleet. He had a whole bunch of 6 Meters in his yard and we were getting ready to go to Vancouver to the Pacific Coast Regatta, and Charlie says, "Well, do you kids want to race one of the 6 Meters?" Oh, we thought that was great! So he gave us Riskin to sail. 6 Meters don’t have motors so George towed Riskin up to the various inlets that we stayed overnight. Then there was the race from one of the coves to the finish where the Regatta was going to be held in Vancouver. So us kids got to race the 6 Meter race from here to there. I remember that was fun and we were so proud of ourselves. Then once we got all the 6s up there those guys raced in their class and we went back sailing on Gossip, ‘cause George was basic towing us up there. Then we cruised Friday Harbor and up into the inlets and the McDonald Falls and we had a wonderful cruise and then we came home and Bill Smith, a doctor, bought the boat. The next year George said, "That was pretty good, let’s do it again."
MA: Was his daughter Jean in that group?
GT: No, she never did much sailing. She was a tennis player. She had little interest in the boats.
So the next year George took another boat up there and we did a similar thing and he sold that one to another doctor. The third year I got so excited about it, we loved it, and Dennie Barr was hearing all about this, so we said, "Why don’t we ship our PCCs up there with George’s spec boat," so we decided as a group and the crew that we put together, we’d get our boats at the yacht club and we’d send one of our truck cranes out there and take the mast out and wrap it all up, we made sawhorses for it, and we made a deal with the railroad to pick us up down at the B Street Pier, so we drove all our boats with the masts lying on the deck, and we sent our truck crane down there and put them all up on railroad cars. We all had them end up at Charlie Ross’s boatyard. Charlie Ross unloaded them from the railroad car and put the masts in for us. We flew up there with our crews, three boats, we put our boats in the water and getting ready to go to the Regatta in Bellingham. We were entertained by Charlie Ross because he was the agent, and we met a lot of the big sailing guys from Seattle Yacht Club. We raced very well up there. We had a couple of team races up there for the Car [?] Trophy, I remember, and we raced the Bolero in the Car Trophy, and Charlie Ross sailed with us.
MA: Now, Charlie Ross was a boatyard owner?
GT: Yes, a boatyard owner. He and his brother owned a boatyard up there and they were big 6 Meter sailors. They had a bunch of 6 Meters in the yard, dry sailing, so we had a great time and George sold the third boat up there. We shipped our boat home and Dennie sailed her boat home. That was the end of the Seattle trips, and it wasn’t much later than that, in the ‘50s, that George became ill and passed away.
MA: Now, do you remember - I still want to find out as much as I can about what George’s personality was like, what he was like as a man.
GT: Oh, he was a great guy! He had trouble, like we all did in the early days about sun. He had a very white complexion and I can remember he had zinc oxide all over his nose, and zinc oxide all over his lips when we sailed, and wore this big floppy hat. Later on he got cancer of the nose.
MA: I also heard, I think from Paul, that he was very sensitive to smoke. If smokers were around …..do you remember anything about that?
GT: I don’t remember anything about that because there were never any smokers around, around the boats. Nobody smoked around that boat, as I can remember.
MA: I’ve always wondered about the cancer that got him because Paul said he was standing near the same stuff and felt lucky he didn’t get it too.
GT: I don’t know if it had anything to do with the sun or not.
MA: It was a sinus cancer as I recall. As far as his personality goes, I’ve heard about his archery …..
GT: He loved archery, another passion was archery, and he was a member of the Archery Association in Balboa Park, and he was a very accomplished archer. I never got involved with that with him.
MA: You mentioned photography, which I’d never heard anything about. Was he strictly taking movies, or was he also doing …..?
GT: ….taking movies of everything going on with the sailing end of things at regattas, when we were cruising, and on the beach, gangs on the boats, and the swimming – that’s what he always took pictures of, and I think Paul probably has a lot of that stuff.
MA: I think Morgan and Jean may have that.
GT: Maybe Morgan and Jean have that, but there is a lot of that stuff that he took.
MA: This got me a little excited ‘cause I’m just realizing …
[Side 1 ends]
MA: So, you were going to tell me about the loss of the Scamp, and I wanted to tell you, I have this horrible embarrassment right now that somewhere in the library, I believe, is the only photo I’ve seen of the loss of the Scamp, it’s on the beach. I will find it because it’s going to go in this issue.
GT: …’cause it was full of sand. Anyway this was at the Newport Harbor Race Week, the PC class, and racing in Newport you have to watch the current going south, so the leg always is when you are working to windward, toward L.A. as you are going up to the weather mark, you have to stay in close to the surf, so we all tacked back and forth along the surf line. Well, sometimes you could judge it wrong and you go up on a big wave as Scamp did and you come down – Boom! – you hit the bottom. The next wave that came along was not that big and all it did was move you in instead of up to try and come about and go out and that’s what happened to Scamp. They just bumped then bumped again and pretty soon were up on the beach and the next morning we went to look at her and she was half full of sand.
MA: Were you on the crew?
GT: No, I was there racing in another class but we all saw it. I had an 8 Meter then but we were right close to Scamp when this happened. This was in about 1939 or ’40, and we all went out there the next day to see her. She was all full of sand and she had broken her back and was declared a total loss. They got a crane out there to get the lead and the spar out of her and get all the hardware off of her, and I think they must have burned the boat, but that was the end of #1. Now George was without a boat for a while. Then he sailed other boats, he sailed #14. They built a boat for Jim Scripps which was #14 and I don’t know how often Jim Scripps – that was the Scripps-Howard newspaper family – and George sailed #14 quite often when he lost #1.
MA: Now, Jim Scripps owned Novia del Mar?
GT: That was Bob Scripps, he owned the Novia del Mar.
MA: Brother or … ?
GT: No, that would be uncle. Bob Scripps was the son of E. W. Scripps. So, George never did replace his PC but he used other boats, and then the war [WW II] breaks out and they stop building boats.
MA: Can I ask you some more about the incident where Scamp went up in the surf? Had George sailed that course before?
GT: Oh yes, many times. We all had but we were always on the thin edge about how far in you could get by staying out of the current.
MA: Had other boats gone up on the beach?
GT: No, that’s the only one that I can remember, at least in my time racing up there. It was a big tragedy with George losing his #1 boat built in 1929 and ‘30.
MA: What did George say about that later?
GT: Well, George was philosophical and he had sailed a lot, you know the risks that you get, and he’s a boat builder, he could replace it without any problem. I don’t know if it was insured or not, but the War was coming on, you know, and he didn’t replace the boat. He used other boats to keep the fleet going until the end of the War. The War came and everything stopped.
MA: What I was wondering about, though, not knowing anything about George’s personality, how did he react to this – did he laugh it off, was he embarrassed, was ….?
GT: Well, I think he was sort of embarrassed but he was a kind of quiet guy, you know, and I don’t think he made a hell of a lot of fuss over it, it was just one of those things that happened. He had more things happen to him. He pulled my Dad’s 10 Meter up on that railways I told you about, and the wheels broke and the whole 10 Meter went off on its side. George had a hell of a mess.
MA: Was that after the War, I guess?
GT: That was during the War, ‘cause my Dad had an 8 Meter, the Angelita, which had come back from the Olympic Games, it had won the Olympic class in ’32 then went to the Olympics in Kiel in 1936 and broke its mast so it didn’t do anything, so when it came home my Dad bought the 8 Meter Angelita which we sailed. Then it was sold to Garth Rule and my Dad bought the 10 Meter, the Sally, in 1941.
MA: Back to George, I know that Paul came back in about ’43 when General Electric finally let him go, and my impression is that he was itching to get back to …..
GT: I think he was, to his brother, but his brother was the nominating factor up until ’52.
MA: Did the two brothers get along real well?
GT: Yes, they got along.
MA: How were they different?
GT: Well, George could be easy going. Paul is very focused, hasn’t got what you call very much of a sense of humor.
MA: Very much of an engineer.
GT: Much an engineer, I guess, but I’ve always gotten along with Paul, I’ve always respected Paul, and he and I have been very close friends, but of the two I pick George.
MA: What about some of the others that worked at the Yard? Did you know Bill Kearns?
GT: Yes, I knew Bill Kearns. I can close my eyes – he’s at the one old railway with that long stick with a spike. He was always shoving the supports, the bolsters, under the boats and try to get the boats on that old cradle right, and he did that for years. Then of course Bud Caldwell was there for years, Fred Hopkins was there. Bud kind of took over after Bill Kearns, I think, retired on the launching business and pushing the boats around in those cradles. Then there was Charlie Underwood – he was the smart one. When George was first building these PCs he was building them right side up one at a time. Then after the war Charlie got more strength and figured out how to do this on a production basis, and so when he started on the PCCs, which we built one there, he had it all on a production basis and I think you’ve read the story - Section A, Section B, Section C - but they also had an incentive program with those guys. Section A had so many hours, Section B had so many hours, and Section C had so many hours, and he had these three different crews and if you saved any hours here you got to participate in the savings, and that was the incentive, the bonus, and that’s how they built boats from the PC on. We built another boat there, a K-50.
MA: Your family owned a K-50 as well?
GT: Yes. I’ll tell you a story about that one with Paul. But before that 50 there was another interesting situation. Paul was successful with the K-38 with Charlie, he was very successful with the K-40 with Charlie, and then there was the desire to build another boat that was instigated by Kenny Watts the sailmaker . Kenny Watts was in with a group that was building boats out of aluminum. They built Kialoa. Kenny wanted to build an aluminum K-43. This was after we received our K-50.
MA: Who is the company that actually did the aluminum …?
GT: Yacht Dynamics. They were a Donald Douglas gang. They built Kialoa II, a Sparkman & Stephens 72-footer, which I sailed with them in races. But anyway, we had our K-50 and they were talking about the production of another boat, and I had some ideas, Kenny Watts had some ideas, so I said, "Why don’t we get together, Kenny you come on down, Paul you come on Dirigo with us, I’ll get Harvey Chambers to be our cook, and I’ll think of one or two others, and we’ll go down to Todos Santos and park on the Dirigo and talk about this K-43." Now what we were doing was to get Paul to change his thinking a little bit in the design with which he had been successful. We said, "Paul, how about putting a little more lead on your boats, how about not having them quite as beamy, and how about a bigger sail plan?" We worked on him and we worked on him, so he designed the K-43, and in my opinion it was the best damned boat he built.
MA: So less beamy, and …
GT: You know, he was very much in the more pumpkin-seed boat, not too high of aspect sail plan, and not too much lead. It was a good boat.
MA: I know that with the K-38 there were some complaints that ….
GT: Yeah, she didn’t have enough stability.
MA: Enough people had mixed feelings about K-38s, some of them loved them and….
GT: Well, they were very nice little boats, 38s, but they weren’t very good in a breeze ‘cause they leaned over. So that was a little bit of the thing. So sure enough, we come home and Paul listens to what we’re saying and uses some of this influence of Kenny Watts, who is a very successful sailmaker, sailed on a lot of boats and is a very good sailing skipper, so he listened to him and he develops the K-43. It’s the best looking one, it sails the best, and it’s the fastest in my opinion. Now, before that, I had Evening Star, which was the big Alden yawl, very successful, we had about 12 yawls out here about the same size and we raced against each other – it was a lot of fun in those days. My wife and I get married and we have our first daughter, and our family has always gone to Catalina for part of the summer, so my wife and I and my little daughter said, "We can’t take this big boat by ourselves, we’re going to have to have a hand," so the first year we had a hand with us. We came to the conclusion, as a family, we couldn’t handle this much boat. This was the finishing of racing it all the time that I had been racing with Gerry Driscoll and all that gang …..
MA: Are we talking about K-50 at this point?
GT: We’re getting ready to talk about K-50s. So I’m beginning to decide it’s time to sell the Evening Star, and there was another reason I was having to sell the Evening Star – she was leaking badly I was racing her so hard. I took her to Kettenburg and I said, "Paul, I’ve got a lot of leaking here. I can’t get up to Ship Rock without being full of water." He says, "Well, Alden designed a mast step for a boat that was never thought to have a big genoa on it with wire sheets and a coffee grinder on the back end. We’re going to have to take the interior out, put in a new reinforced mast step to carry this big rig." I said, "Maybe it’s time to sell it as a houseboat." So I decided to sell it and buy a K-50. They were pretty good boats, but Evening Star I had raced in the Ahmanson up north, and this is Howard Ahmanson’s magnificent trophy, he was Home Savings & Loan, Howard sailed a lot with the 10 Meter called Sirius, and it was a big deal up there, the Ocean Racing Series, and I took Evening Star up there two years and the best I could do was second and third, and I wanted to try it again. So when I said, "Paul, I’ve decided I want to build a K-50 if you will make some changes on it for me."
MA: Now, how many K-50s had been built by that time?
GT: Maybe five or six. I said, "Now Paul, I want to go up and race the Ahmanson, you have a nice boat, it’s a wonderful family boat, it pleases my wife and kids like a houseboat, it’s very nice cruising, but I think I can do better with it if we make some changes." Well, I know a boat builder that makes production boats doesn’t want to make any changes ‘cause that’s how he makes his money. I said, "Paul, I want to put a bigger rig in it, I want to put more lead on it, and I want to change the rudder to a curved rudder with more depth at the bottom than at the top." This way you have more steerage potential at the bottom because it is sort of elliptical. Well being my friendship with Paul, he agreed to do it. I said I also wanted teak decks on it and he agreed to do it, and he built me a beautiful boat. I went up there and won the Ahmanson.
MA: Now the rest of the K-50s after that, they didn’t follow the same….?
MA: Nobody’s spoken of the K-50s as a really good racing boat, and I don’t …
GT: I’m the only one that did it.
MA: I assume that part of that has to do with changes in rules at that time?
GT: No, I just made a better, faster boat out of it. They were really marketing the boat as a wonderful cruising boat, but it was a good sailor, too, and I saw potential in it because my family liked it as a houseboat. We’d cruise up in the Delta and they liked it as a houseboat but I liked to race it. So I told Paul the boat is ideal at 50 feet, similar to the size of the Evening Star, has all its comfort in it, it has a nice engine in it, but I want to race when we aren’t using it as a houseboat, and so he agreed to do that.
MA: Did he balk a bit, or did…?
GT: Well, he was a little slow at it but pretty soon he went along with me, and after the success I had with it he was very pleased. So that boat has been sought after because I did very well racing with it everywhere. One day we came back from Catalina and standing on the dock was Ken Bechtel, Bechtel International, and Ken introduced himself to me and said, "I’ve just been over talking to Paul and I want to build a K-50." Paul said, "Well, it’s going to take some time because we’ve destroyed the mold. Mr. Trepte, would you be interested in selling your boat?" I said, "Well, you know, every boat that somebody owns is always for sale." He said, "What would you want for the boat?" So I clicked, clicked how much I paid Kettenburg and how much extra sails and stuff I had in it and blurted out a figure and he said, "Fine. I’ll take it and I would like to leave in 10 days for San Francisco."
MA: How much, by the way? Do you recall?
GT: I think it was $68,000 or $69,000. It cost $65,000. He was gone with the boat and then I said, "Gerry Driscoll, you and I are going back to see Olin Stephens," and that’s when we designed Brushfire, and I had her for 23 years, and I’m so lucky now that Craig [Mueller] has her here in San Diego and taking great care of her. It pleases me. Olin was here last Sunday, he’s 97, on his way to New Zealand. He was here with Greg Stewart, on his way to a rules meeting or something over there. He’s 97, he’s just a sweetheart. He comes out here about once a year and we all entertain him and take good care of him. He sailed on a PC on Sunday in an Ancient Mariner race with Greg Stewart and then Monday he went sailing on Brushfire, and on Tuesday Craig flew him up to the L.A. Airport where he met [?] in the Sparkman & Stephens office and they were on their way to New Zealand.
MA: It’s probably too late to ask Olin, I’ve never met him and I just really—but what is his opinion of Kettenburg boats?
GT: I think he always thought they were very good boats. Olin never said bad of anything or anybody. He is the nicest guy. I knew he had his own thoughts but he kept them to himself, and I know he’s familiar with the boats because he has designed some boats of similar classes in the East, and he was out with Greg [Stewart] on [PC] #63, a member of your Ancient Mariner group. He’s had experience and he’s seen my boat, which I’ve restored completely from a derelict.
MA: Now you say your boat, that’s a PC?
GT: Number 26
MA: Did he have any comments when he went out sailing on the PC this last weekend?
GT: I didn’t hear him say on the PC but I did hear him about the Brushfire. You know, when we finished Brushfire, he came out here and we went on trials to Catalina, and he goes around with his notebook and he looks at everything and measures everything. We had fun at night barbequing, and he doesn’t drink, and we’re telling stories. He didn’t say much about the boat that time. He’s more looking at the boat that Driscoll built and everything the way he wanted, and there were a few things that he wanted to add that I said, "Olin, I don’t want those metal knees in the doghouse. I know why you have them, you think these guys that go out in the Atlantic Ocean and have these huge waves, you’re afraid the doghouse is going to collapse because some of the main sheet tackle goes on that. We don’t do that here on the west coast." He finally agreed to not have them put in.
Anyway, when he went out Monday with Craig on Brushfire, he did remark to me, saying "Gene, you know, the way the boat came out, it has just the right amount of weather helm I like in a boat." That’s the only time I ever heard him say much. You know, Brushfire has a trimtab, too, and we learned a lot from Olin how to run the trimtab, handle it in conditions.
MA: You had started to talk about Charlie Underwood a little bit and about Bill Kearns, and just anything that – I talked with Bill Kearns wife, Helen Cheverton, and she didn’t have too much to say about him other than he had a back injury or something.
GT: Well, they all do that worked in that yard. Paul has problems with his back, you know he’s bent over this way, Bud Caldwell is bent over this way, Gerry Driscoll is bent over this way. They all spent so much time working around those yards and – I can remember when they moved those cradles by hand, they would put their backs, all of them, and they’d all push those cradles like this, so everybody that had a boatyard had a bad back. Paul is the worst I’ve seen. He’s not in very good shape because of the hard work in those boatyards, and Bud Caldwell is the same. Now Bill Kearns got to be the same way. Charlie Underwood was always the technical guy, he was the technician, he was in charge of production and had design capabilities, I think also with Paul on the parameters of the boat and I think Charlie did a lot on the layout on the inside so he was never out on the firing line in the yard. Now there was another brother in there, too, for awhile. Then the father was in there and he was the head painter.
MA: Well, I didn’t realize that. I knew he was a machinist for awhile, at least early on.
GT: I think he was the head painter as I remember in the early days.
MA: There was a fellow named Jimmie Underwood, now maybe …
GT: Now Jimmie is the brother, isn’t he? Charlie and Jimmie. Jimmie left the yard and went over and built a marina there on Shelter Island.
MA: I was thinking you were talking about George Kettenburg, Sr. who was the machinist for awhile.
GT: Yes, he was the machinist/engineer guy.
MA: Now you didn’t really know him at all did you?
GT: Just barely.
MA: What was he like?
GT: Well, he was a tall dignified guy in a blue suit all the time – there’s a picture of him here – engineer type, but he had a lot of faith in his boys and he is the one that helped ole George get started. He said, "You can build them in the backyard," and I guess he financed a lot of that and they built those Sun boats and a couple of motorboats for him, I think. Then he said, "I think this kid is going to make his way," and then contacted my Dad and asked him to build a shed to build some boats in. That’s how they got started.
MA: You were talking about Charlie Underwood and his dad was the head painter, you were quite right …
GT: …and he was good, and a nice man I can remember, a very nice man.
MA: A number of people have said he helped them out when they were kids at the Yacht Club.
GT: Yes, he was a nice man, because we always had our boats there. My Dad had our boats there, had the Amik there, had the Angelita there, had the Sally there – that’s the one that fell off the railway. He had the Roland von Bramen there and then we built the PCC and so on down the line. But then I got, towards the end of the ….One of my good friends is Gerry Driscoll, who you know is a boat builder and has a yard and he and I grew up in the Starlets and we’ve always been very close. I’ve been over in the early days helping Gerry with that yard a lot, some of the trials and tribulations, the Kialoa fell off her cradle when it was being pulled up one night, and geez what a mess. He called me in the middle of the night and we went down there and tried to figure out how we were going to organize to get this boat back up – quite a story. But anyway I helped Gerry and then Gerry built the Nova and I kind of helped him there, Sparkman & Stephens boat we raced, but anyway that was a competitor but nothing the size of Kettenburg’s.
MA: Now, Gerry got started on Kettenburg boats …..
GT: Gerry worked there, he worked there in the early days.
MA: When did he start his yard?
GT: I think he started his yard during the Second World War. It was little – he was building 110s and 210s and things like that. You know, he’s blind now, and he lives in Newport, but he has his home here and he comes sometimes. If you call Chuck Driscoll he can tell you when he’s going to be down here. That’s his son at the boatyard.
MA: I’ll do that. Are there any other stories about Charlie Underwood or any of the other Underwoods?
GT: I can remember Charlie in my dealing with the K-50, he was very much around when I was talking about doing these different things he was in the office there with Paul and when I said a little more lead, Charlie, and how about the elliptical rudder, teak decks and a little taller rig – two or three feet, I think we added to the rig – and Charlie was involved in all that. Paul said, "Well, let’s figure out how to do it," and he did it.
MA: Was he real quiet, or …?
GT: Very quiet, very quiet, all business as I remember. They all were over there - George very accommodating with his customers, worked hard for his customers to help them with their boats, sailed, showed his boats, worked a lot on the sales end of it with Kenny Baker, Peggy Slater, Waterhouse and all those, and kept his boats circulating around, racing them and what have you, so everybody knew George. I can close my eyes today and see that white floppy hat.
MA: On one of your trips to Seattle-Vancouver area, there was someone that Jean Kettenburg and Bill remembered as Jonsey who owned a yard …..
GT: Yes, Harold Jones, he had a big boat called the Spirit. He had a big commercial shipyard and he had a big sloop called the Spirit, and he became very close friends of the San Diego crowd.
MA: Was he in Vancouver or ….?
GT: He was a Canadian, he was in Vancouver, and we cruised with him. He was kind of our cruise leader and we’d all raft up in Friday Harbor and all the harbors up there in the miles of islands, and he was very, very good to all of us, Harold Jones. Everybody liked him and he was very close to George there.
MA: He didn’t rep for Kettenburg, but he owned…..?
GT: Oh no, he was a wealthy man as I remember. He had this big 72-foot sloop called the Spirit and was very much a pillar in the Northwest in yachting, and George got to know him and then I got to know him, and we cruised together a lot, and when he would come down, I think George would entertain him. Maybe I was there, I don’t remember, but Jonesy we called him.
MA: Now do you have any memories of anything else about the Kettenburgs?
GT: …all of it. I went through all the expansions of it. And one thing I can always remember – George did no improvements on the leasehold. Everything was on the property fee-owned by the Kettenburg family.
MA: The leasehold actually, we’re talking about Port District?
GT: The Port District is along the water. There was a certain leasehold and he built the office building and the hardware and the rigging stuff and then the big building and the big machine shop, but one thing he did do – the last big thing we did was that big hoist over on the north end in the corner, there is a big chain hoist where you can lift up the big boats and we drove piles, and …..
MA: Is this after George is dead?
GT: Oh long after George died, something Paul did, later into the career of the Kettenburgs.
MA: It seems to me there is so much we could be talking about for days, but I didn’t bring that much tape, so why don’t we call a halt now and maybe we could get together another time.
GT: Whatever you need to do, whatever you need to do.
MA: Your time is valuable.
GT: Well, no. I have nothing to do today, and so, I have kept all the history of the PCs from the start which has involved the Kettenburg family from one end to the other.
MA: Thank you very much, and I look forward to chatting with you again.