When the engine on Bill Shattenberg's 75-foot, wooden, ketch-rigged motor sailer exploded earlier this summer, he, his wife and their seven-person crew were 400 miles off the Mexican coast with calm, sunny weather, a three-month supply of food and plenty of cheap Panamanian beer.
"We did not have a problem, except for the fact that the wind was not going to blow us to Acapulco anytime in the near future," Shattenberg, 47, said last week in the kitchen of the Lindy, docked at the Juneau Yacht Club.
Shattenberg and his wife, Toni, 48, were sailing the boat, a 1944 British motor fishing vessel, from Honduras to Juneau via the Panama Canal. They bought it from an Englishman in Charleston, S.C., in 2001. They took it to Honduras to fix it up before sailing it back to town, where Bill owns Anchor Electric.
Clad in a Grateful Dead T-shirt, with bright blue eyes, a bushy beard and a slightly shy grin, Shattenberg, 47, is laid back when talking about his five days adrift in the Pacific. The crew waited four days before calling for help, spending the time fishing and reading, secure in the knowledge that the boat was loaded with 2,000 gallons of fuel, a generator, 1,000 gallons of fresh water and at least 25 cases of beer. Finally, they called contacts in Southeast who got in touch with officials in Mexico.
"The U.S. Coast Guard called and said, 'Are you in duress?' I told 'em, 'No, we're not in duress, but sooner or later we'll have to do something,' " Bill said. "We had sailfish, dorado and tuna that we'd caught. We barbecued those. We had at least 50,000 pages of books, and we worked on the boat. We were kind of hoping for wind."
The wind didn't come, but the Mexican navy did, steaming up to the Lindy in a 1939 American troll vessel. None of the sailors spoke English, but nevertheless they managed to impress the Shattenbergs with their politeness and skill. They towed the boat to Acapulco in three and a half days, free of charge. The Shattenbergs gave them the ship's Alaska flag as a gesture of thanks.
They had to wait three weeks in Acapulco to get parts flown in from England to repair the engine. The rest of the trip was comparatively uneventful, with just a couple of weather-related stops off the coast of California. They pulled into Juneau on July 4, having left Honduras April 3.
The Shattenbergs have owned wooden boats for more than 20 years.
They sailed their first boat, a 1940 42-foot Cris Craft, to Alaska from Washington state when they moved here in 1981 shortly after getting married. They didn't know how to handle the boat, but they learned. Later, they traded in the Cris Craft for Gypsy, a 1932 50-foot wooden boat that's docked in Aurora Harbor. That one is for sale, now that the Shattenbergs have the Lindy.
Bill grew up in a fishing town in Washington and has been enamored of old wooden boats ever since. His wife shares his appreciation.
"Wooden boats are alive; steel boats and cement boats are not. I think they have spirits," Toni said thoughtfully, silver earrings swaying as she nodded her head. "I think she's a great old duffer."
Bill takes a more pragmatic look at wooden boats, saying he appreciates the value. He won't say how much he paid for the Lindy, but notes that the boat could sell for $300,000 in its current condition.
"A fiberglass boat of this size would be millions," he said.
Some of the fixtures in the boat's sprawling interior - with three bathrooms and five staterooms, it includes bunk space for 14 - may well be older than the boat, Bill said. The Lindy's previous owner, a salvage contractor, constructed the boat's cabin using furnishings from old buildings, including an old English mansion. The wood gleams with the comfortable elegance of old polished wood that has been cared for properly. A door leading from one of the larger staterooms into a shower-equipped bathroom looks as though it could have opened into a lavish Victorian parlor.
The outside of the boat has newer fixtures. The masts were whittled from retired power poles.
The boat's full kitchen came in handy when the Lindy went through the Panama Canal. All boats over a certain length are required to have a Panamanian pilot on board, and the boat staff is expected to wait on the pilot hand and foot, Toni said.
"My job was to make sure he had whatever he needed, and peanut butter and jelly was not good enough. I spent pretty much the entire time we were going through the canal cooking," she said.
They started the canal crossing at 4:30 in the morning, and were not through until early evening.
The kitchen is still full of remnants of the trip, including a Spanish-language box of Ziploc bags and a six-pack of Atlas beer.
"Thirty-six cents a can in Panama," Bill said, grinning. "It's not bad."
Now that they're back, it may be a while before the Lindy takes another extended voyage. Bill said they may be content to sail the Inside Passage for a time.
"Southeast Alaska is the best for cruising around. It's just beautiful," he said.
Masha Herbst can be reached at email@example.com.