When it comes to legacies, a few topics arise when considering Poulsbo’s history. Certainly the indigenous people who first called this area home and then the Scandinavian settlers who arrived in the late 19th century, come to mind — as does the more-than-a-century old lutefisk dinner hosted at Poulsbo’s First Lutheran Church each year. But perhaps less well-known in the collective minds of Poulsbo’s citizenry — especially the recent arrivals — is the work of Ronald Young and the Poulsbo Boat.
From 1933 through 1965 Young constructed his wooden boats in the basement of Ole Berg’s garage in downtown Poulsbo. Those familiar with Young’s workshop often note that during extremely high tides on Liberty Bay, the basement was prone to significant flooding and as such, it wasn’t unheard of for the constituent parts of a Young-built boat to have been anointed in saltwater prior to assembly. Young’s creations became colloquially known as the “Poulsbo Boat” and they earned a good reputation among local mariners for their reliability and the ease with which they handled the waters surrounding the Kitsap Peninsula.
In fact, it is for this characteristic reliability on the water that Young’s boats were favored by the nearby salmon fishing resorts, which often rented the boats out to guests. Hansville’s Erickson Fishing Resort, operated by Ed and Svea Erickson from 1939 to 1966, was one such establishment. Ed and Svea’s son, Gary Erickson, recalled in a 2018 interview with the North Kitsap Herald, “They were really seaworthy, especially the inboards. They kind of float in the water like a duck.”
In the heyday of Hansville’s Chinook salmon fishing resorts, the Erickson’s owned 30 of Young’s boats, which they launched into the water for renters using a railway system at the resort’s pier.
Four generations running
Even with more than a half-century passed since the last Poulsbo Boat’s planks were made malleable with steam, bent to shape and then caulked watertight with oakum, there still exists a strong following for the care, attention to detail and craftsmanship that Young gave to each of his boats — in fact, for some, the love of Young’s Poulsbo Boats has become a family affair.
Paul Diehl, Eric Diehl and Matt Diehl all stand in Paul’s garage in Kingston, three generations of Diehl’s are flanked on either side by two of Young’s wooden boats. One boat sits on a trailer, ready to be launched at a moment’s notice and the other atop blocks, undergoing a careful restoration in the garage.
“I bought it from the original owner, Anton Holm, he was 84 years old and he told me, ‘I’m just getting too old to go out on it.’” Paul Diehl said, recalling the story of how one of the boats came to be his own, and later his grandson’s. “Now I’m 85 and I was way too old to go out on it a long time ago.”
Paul’s son, Eric, and grandson, Matt, take turns occasionally injecting small details as the eldest Diehl shares his experiences and appreciation of the boat. Despite joking at the expense of his own age, Paul Diehl shares his stories with the clarity of a man sixty years his junior.
It was in 1973 that Diehl acquired his boat, after a coworker suggested he inquire about a boat listed for sale in Hansville.
“He came to work one day and he was brandishing the Bainbridge Review and in it was an ad for a Poulsbo Boat. He said, ‘Paul, you’ve got to go buy this boat, they’re just the greatest boats.’ I had never seen one, I didn’t know what any of this was about,” Diehl said.
The seller of the boat, Anton “Tony” Holm, had purchased it new in 1949 from Young and as coincidence would have it, he had been using the Erickson Resort’s boathouse to store his boat over the years.
“He wanted $230 for it,” Diehl said. “I said, ‘all I can give you is $200’ and he said, ‘oh, okay.’ So, I bought it for $200 at the time,” Paul Diehl said, recalling the transaction that, even in 1973, would make any collector green with envy.
“It was a very safe boat. If you watch them in the waves, they’re just like a seagull,” Paul Diehl said. “It’s a very comfortable, very safe boat. I would carry a two-gallon gas tank for extra fuel and you hardly ever had to put any in.”
With a professional history as a marine engineer and ship designer, Paul Diehl has a unique perspective on what makes the Poulsbo Boat a uniquely brilliant design.
“To me, it’s perfect,” Diehl said. “I don’t know where [Young] got the lines to do this or if he invented it himself, but it’s almost a perfect-looking boat.”
“These types of hulls are displacement hulls, versus a planing hull,” added Eric Diehl. “The displacement hulls, as far as going through the water, they have to have a very smooth entry and a smooth exit, and this boat just has a very nice design for that.”
The distinct look of the Poulsbo Boat is not only for aesthetic reasons, with its characteristic sheer line which sweeps the bow up, reminiscent of Norse longships, the boat maintains a smooth entry into larger waves. The distinct “tumblehome” and its upswept stern, smooth the boat’s exit as well.
The Poulsbo Boat’s reliability and seaworthiness made it a prime first vessel for young Matt Diehl, who first began to pilot his grandfather’s boat around the age of five years old.
“The first time he let me solo in it, I ran it into the dock and knocked the eye off the front,” Matt Diehl laughed. “You see, you had to shut it off just at the right time to coast in because there was no neutral and no reverse.”
As the three generations of Diehl’s stand in the garage, talking shop and sharing the memories they made together — all with a boat built some 70 years ago serving as the focal point — a fourth generation, 7-year-old Shelby Diehl, quietly approaches her father, Matt, and shyly hides behind his legs. When asked if she likes her father’s boat, Shelby leans out from behind her dad and nods.
A triumphant return
On Sept. 13, 14 and 15 the Poulsbo Boat Rendezvous will be sailing into the Viking City. A gathering of enthusiasts and collectors of Ronald Young’s infamous wooden boats will be showing off their vessels along the Poulsbo Waterfront through the weekend, starting with a social gathering at the Slippery Pig Brewery on Friday at 5 p.m.
According to the Poulsbo Historical Society, visitors through the weekend can expect to enjoy a parade of Poulsbo Boats (weather permitting), a raffle and even free boat rides. On Tuesday, Sept. 10 at 9:30 a.m. the historical society will also host a historical program on the Poulsbo Boat as well.