EDMONDS — The blue boat sticks out like a sore thumb on this dock of serious white sailboats.
Not so much the color, as what’s on it: Everything from a corrugated plastic hut and crooked oak tree to strings of maritime signal flags and a hula grass umbrella.
What’s up with this boat?
It’s William Anderson’s retirement project.
“It seems to please more people than it displeases, which is nice,” said Anderson, 72. “It’s so contrary to their idea of sailboats, for one. It obviously glares in their faces.”
Anderson paid less than $4,000 for the 24-foot sailboat in the summer of 2013. “I bought it at The Center for Wooden Boats. It was a steal,” he said. “It had been neglected for years. It was covered in moss and black mold and mildew.”
The vessel is a major step up for Anderson, whose usual mode of boating is a 7-foot sailing dinghy.
“I had never navigated a boat this size,” he said.
It has mostly stayed moored in a slip at the Port of Edmonds since its voyage from South Lake Union three years ago.
He invited me aboard. “It needs a lot of work yet, so don’t get too excited,” he said.
It was about to get more exciting.
“Can you swim?” he asked me as I wobbled behind him around the deck, clutching grabspots for balance. Surely there was one of those red rescue ring things, just in case, right?
Oh, well. If not he seemed the type of captain who’d jump in to save me.
The boat attracts attention from waterfront walkers and diners at Anthony’s Homeport. It’s near enough to carry on a raised voice conversation across the water. He said some people ask him about his boat and others are too afraid.
Most people I saw smiled and pointed.
Anderson lives in Philadelphia much of the year with his wife. “I come here for the summers to play with my boat,” he said.
His wife doesn’t mind. “If she looks at water she gets seasick. She’s younger and has a piano studio in our home,” he said. “So she’s giving me a little extra line.”
He dresses more like an old professor than a sailor. His lean, tanned frame is engulfed by a baggy sweater. Rumpled wool trousers, stuffed into black knee socks, give a knickers look.
“If I don’t put these up, I’ll trip and fall overboard,” he said, “so I tuck them into my socks
Black dress shoes anchor the outfit. “Deck shoes pinch my toes so I just wear street shoes.”
Anderson said he held various careers before retiring. “Mostly applied-type engineering jobs. From HVAC to repairing Mack Trucks and everything between.”
He was a boy when the family moved to Seattle and some siblings still live in the area, including a sister in Edmonds. He started out majoring in architecture at the University of Washington in the early 1960s before serving in the Army.
He was about 35 when he finished his degree in art. “I’m a late bloomer,” he said.
He’s still blooming.
The sailboat is where he spends his days.
“This is the mothership,” he said. “I plan to gut the interior. It’s my workshop, my machine shop, my tool crib. I cook in the makeshift galley. It reminds me of the galley I built for my daughter when she was a toddler.”
At night? His bed is on solid ground. Sort of.
While his wife tickles the ivories in their 5-bedroom Pennsylvania home, he sleeps in a van. By choice.
“I live in the U District in my van. I go to the library on campus and surround myself by very studious people and it gets me going.”
He reads books about physics. For fun. “I always wanted to learn more about it,” he said.
On the boat, when he’s not tinkering below deck, Anderson likes to sit at the bistro table bolted to the hull and read his yachting magazines. Or he climbs a ladder to relax under the oak tree he scored for $10 from Home Depot that’s grown like something out of “Jack and the Beanstalk.”
“I get just enough shade from the tree,” he said.
He keeps the 7-foot dinghy on board for cruising Puget Sound. On the day of my visit, he was plotting a venture to Port Townsend, which took 46 hours round-trip the last time he went. And he had close encounters with sea mammals and military ships. Rather than scare him it made him want to do it again.
He has big plans for the big sailboat. “I want to sail the Northwest Passage once I get it winterized. I might be 80. As long as I’m old enough to raise the sail I’ll be fine.”
He said the other boaters on the dock accept him and coin explanations for him.
“One neighbor said, ‘He’s our artist in residence,’ and my favorite line from another guy is, ‘He’s a scientist from Princeton doing an experiment,’” he said. “I heard a kid say, ‘Look, Dad, it’s an island boat.’”
It’s a work-in-progress for this late-bloomer retiree.
“Aesthetics,” Anderson said. “I look at this as a whole piece. I’d like to park it in a museum someday.”