Thelonious

Member Type: 

Vintage

Boat Name: 

Thelonious

prev-names: 

Cheri

Year: 

1953

Length: 

38'

Builder: 

Edison Technical School

Designer: 

Ed Monk, Sr.

Owner: 

Larry Benson

Fleet: 

  • Pacific Northwest

Custom built for the 1954 Commodore of the Seattle Yacht Club, Thelonious was purchased by the current owner in 2008. She was designed by renowned Ed Monk, Sr., and was named Cheri for most of her existence.

From the Bridge of Thelonius:

By Larry Benson, CYA Commodore (2011)

Thelonious 1953 38'

For many of us, one of the joys of owning a classic yacht is in piecing together its history. No less with me, so when Mel 'Whitey' Thornquist came into my life on Father's Day weekend at our PNW Fleet Bell Street Rendezvous, it was like hitting the jackpot.

I was aboard Thelonious that day, answering the usual questions, inviting curious lookers aboard. I noticed an elderly gentleman intently studying the information card in the window but then wandering on. A few minutes later he returned and again read the information card. So I started chatting with him. After a few moments he announced 'I BUILT THIS BOAT!' I couldn't get him aboard fast enough.

It turned out that Mel now lives in Mt. Vernon, a town north of Seattle. His son had driven him to Seattle to see our show. After all, Mel had been a boat builder his whole career and what could be a more fitting Father's Day weekend outing than this. So, I asked questions and my dear Tina acted as recording secretary.

Question: I had heard that the boat was custom designed and built for a Portland Oregon dentist. Why, then, was there an ad-for-sale in a 1953 yachting magazine (CYA member David Huchthausen had found it in one of his extensive collection of old yachting magazines)?
Answer: While the boat was under construction, the dentist had come to the conclusion that the world economy was soon going to tank, and he decided that keeping his money rather than investing in a new boat was the prudent choice. So he paid to have it finished, then authorized its sale. Thelonius was sold to the incoming commodore of the Seattle Yacht Club for $27,000. Mel recalled that the dentist paid $34,000. (I remember I was working for $1.50 an hour in 1953).

Question: Why was a 1920's style boat being built in 1953?
Answer: The dentist had wanted a traditional style boat, so Ed Monk, Sr., modified one of his 1928 designs.

Question: I had heard that boat-building students at the Edison Technical School had a hand in its construction?
Answer: Not so! Earl Wakefield, owner of Admiral Marine (which had contracted with the dentist to build the boat) had received an offer to head the school. So he acquired a shed adjacent to the school on Lake Union in Seattle, and for a year ran back and forth between the school and the boat project. Mel, Earl, and two other craftsmen were the builders.

Question: I had heard that the hull construction was not traditional caulked seams, perhaps even tongue-and-groove?
Answer: Not caulked, not tongue-and-groove. The hull planks had a deep bevel top and bottom, forming a V between each plank. A glue-soaked wedge was driven into the V. The wedge was then faired down to be perfectly smooth with the planks, forming a solid wood hull. Apparently an idea of Ed Monk, or Earl, or both. This explains why the hull of Thelonious has none of the caulk-line cracks typically seen in planked hulls. (But, lord help me if I ever need to replace a plank!)

In a subsequent letter to Larry Benson, Mel 'Whitey' Thornquist writes:

I thought you would like to have this early picture of the Admiral boat crew. Thelonious crewNot all these men were involved in the building of Thelonius. The ones that were, Earl Wakefield, the first man standing on the right, next to him is Bill Kuss. I am standing next to Bill. Finally Stan Strickland is the man sitting in front of Bill Kuss and me, wearing the glasses.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on your beautiful boat. I was still puzzled that I could not remember the original name of Thelonius. My impression is that the events concerning the sale of Thelonius happened so quickly that the boat did not yet have a name.

Sincerely,
Mel (Whitey) Thornquist

I'm not sure for whom that encounter was more gratifying, Mel or me. For Mel, a memorable touch with the past (he appeared very pleased with how well Thelonious had weathered the years). As for me, important pieces of a puzzle falling into place, and meeting a wonderful gentleman.

Larry Benson
International CYA Commodore

[From "Attention on Deck" CYA Newsletter, September 2011]