Virgil the miniature tugboat is back at Port of Poulsbo

“Virgil is back!”

That was the happy exclamation I heard while coming up the ramp from the guest moorage at the Port of Poulsbo. I looked over to see a couple leaning on the railing along the waterfront walk, taking photos of Virgil — a miniature tugboat, complete with tire fenders that has called the port home since he was launched. Virgil is a wee little white-with-green trim boat that makes everybody smile who sees him. Him? Aren’t all boats referred to in the female gender? Usually. But Virgil is a little bit different.

For 25 years, the building plans for the little tug sat on the shelf in the home of Dan Bracher, who recently retired to Poulsbo with his wife Carol. After moving here, Dan began building his little boat in September of 2016, launching into Liberty Bay in May of 2017.

When asked why the boat was named Virgil, Dan said, “You need to know that. He is named after a friend, a co-worker of mine. I was a Seattle police officer for 30 years. He was a police officer too. He has ALS. There is absolutely nothing I can do for him, right? Other than being his friend. But when I started building this boat, he was kind of an inspiration, and I am just like, I’m gonna name my boat after him. So he is named Virgil.”

Throughout the build, Dan videoed the process for his friend, bringing smiles to his face. Now that Virgil is plying the waters of Liberty Bay, Dan shares a weekly video of his adventures on the water with his old friend. As Carol said, “He can’t smile anymore — other than with his eyes. We see his smile in his eyes.”

Dan goes on to tell this story about his boat’s 27 seconds of fame.

“Last May I came down to the port to take Virgil out, and the gal in the marina office tells me that a guy called and wanted my number, but instead they took his and passed it along to me. Turns out he was the head of advertising for Nordstrom and wanted to use Virgil in a commercial. They asked if I could get him to Lake Union in Seattle. I said sure! It was filmed in June. It was a blast. A 27-second commercial, took us 10 hours! If you Google ‘Nordstrom, wherever you’re going,’ you can find the commercial.”

Dan explains that the responses to Virgil have been very surprising to him. “I built him for myself. It took a while for him to take shape. But I am always surprised at people’s reactions when they see him.”

Curious as to why the couple moved from Seattle to Poulsbo, I of course asked. The responses from both Dan and Carol were overwhelmingly positive. Dan explained that he “grew up in Seattle but now it is awful.”

“We just started exploring the area and fell in love with Poulsbo. We lived here two years, I had a birthday party at Western Red Brewing, 27 people came, all new friends after only 2 years of living here. That doesn’t happen in Seattle. This is a positive change for us.” Carol went on to tell me “The people here are so friendly and it is affordable. The downtown waterfront area is what really drew us here.”

Dan and Carol are giving back to the community that is giving them so much, by volunteering at Fishline. “Monday, our day, is a busy day there as things build up over the weekend. We go through the produce, sorting it out. The good stuff gets stocked in the market, the bad produce goes into a garbage can that is collected by a gal to feed her pigs. Nothing is wasted.” They are both very enthusiastic about Fishline as an organization. “It’s very community driven, and it is also very well-thought-out around Poulsbo. The businesses in Poulsbo are very involved.”

Dan goes out in Virgil as often as he can. Usually just slowly putting out of the marina, into the middle of the bay, where he turns off the engine, lights up his cigar, listens to the sound of waves as he slowly drifts and enjoys his new life in Poulsbo.

So, the next time you are leaning on the rail above the guest docks in Poulsbo, stop leaning, walk down the ramp and take a closer look at Virgil. Or, if he is not at the dock, walk down the docks and take a look out over the bay. You will spot him — drifting happily along.

— Pamela Benson, Poulsbo Boaters Association, SV Spirit of Freedom, C-Dock.