Place of Build:
- Pacific Northwest
Adapted from “Foss, Ninety Years of Towboats”, by Michael Skalley, 1981:
Foss Tugboat Company purchased Thea Foss in 1950 from a group of geological scientists who had bought the boat from the government after WWII, and used the vessel for private surveys off the coast of lower California. The group did not change the name, Amber, nor did they alter the appearance or fixtures from when the navy used her as a patrol boat during the war. So it was up to Foss to convert the ship to a yacht. The Foss-Tacoma shipyard made the transformation and brought the boat back to her former quality.
The yacht, launched in March 1930, was built for the renowned actor John Barrymore [Drew Barrymore’s grandfather] as a present to his wife, actress Delores Costello. At her suggestion he named the yacht “Infanta” to honor their first daughter, Delores Ethel May — soon to be born. But regrettably, the Barrymores gained but little pleasure from their yacht. John much preferred his former sailboat, as he felt a part of her by working the sails and battling the elements — he had no such challenges on the well-crewed Infanta. And, unfortunately, his insatiable need for cocktails resulted in many unpleasant moments between John and the more conventional Delores, even aboard the yacht. With the ever-present problem, they used the boat rather sparingly, although they did make trips as far south as Cape San Lucas in lower California and as far north as Alaska.
Infanta carried a full-time crew of ten all during Barrymore’s ownership. (Captain Otto Mattheis.) With such a large crew, the yearly cost of maintaining the yacht came to $35,000, and that was in the thirties. Eventually Barrymore ran into financial difficulties and mortgaged Infanta for $40,000. In about 1938 he gave up the boat to his creditors — which is ironic considering he earned 3 million dollars during his first ten years in Hollywood. However, the Infanta served no useful purpose for the Barrymores, so she was not missed when they lost her by default.
After the Barrymore era, the yacht was purchased by the Lowe family and renamed “Polaris”. The Navy took possession in 1942 and renamed her “Amber”. After Foss bought her in 1950 she became Thea Foss in honor of the Foss family matriarch. Naming her Thea was wise and discerning as Thea’s name and her reputation would become known by hundreds of people as guests on the yacht, whereas her name lettered on a tugboat would receive only limited recognition unless some feat brought her before the public.
Foss, and now parent company Saltchuk, has now owned the Thea for almost 70 years, and she is used regularly for corporate events and summer cruises in and around Puget Sound and British Columbia. Over the years her guest list has included Kings, Ambassadors, and Congressmen, including King Olaf of Norway, who was aboard in 1975 for a trip around Seattle’s waterways and harbor. It seems a most appropriate vessel for the King in view of the Foss Norwegian background.
Polaris -- a yacht built in 1930 at Seattle, Wash., by the Lake Union Dry Dock Co. -- was purchased by the Navy from Edward and Kathryn Lowe on 23 December 1940; converted for naval service by the Winslow Marine Railway and Shipbuilding Co., Inc., Winslow, Wash.; renamed Amber on 10 January 1941 and simultaneously designated PYC-6; and placed in commission at Seattle on 3 March 1941, Lt. W. B. Combs in command.
Amber was assigned to the Inshore Patrol of the 13th Naval District and, from May until early August, operated around Seattle, Tacoma, and Port Townsend, Wash. The patrol craft left Seattle on 6 August on a cruise to Alaska, and visited Ketchikan, Juneau, and Sitka, before returning to Seattle early in September.
In November, the ship was assigned to patrol duty at Astoria, Oreg., and patrolled the Strait of Juan de Fuca off Neah Bay, Wash., under the control of the Northwest Sea Frontier Patrol Group.
Amber was decommissioned on 18 October 1944, and her name was struck from the Navy list on 13 November 1944. The ship was sold back to her former owners on 13 June 1945.