My father was the real Boat Guy. He lived on boats, raced boats, salvaged boats, sailed from Seattle to Hawaii and back again. He was also a skilled “wood butcher” and built many a boat. But there was one that got away from him, a boat he never did build but always wanted to: the Thunderbird.
The Thunderbird was, in my father's eyes, a perfect utilitarian sailboat for a boating family. It was built originally of marine plywood. In fact, it was the manufacturer of the first marine plywood who originally commissioned the design from a northwest yacht designer, Ben Seaborn. It had to be easy to be built at home, by someone who was not necessarily a, “boatbuilder” or even a wood worker. It had to be fast and stable, but comfortable enough for a couple to spend a summer on, headed to destinations unknown. And the boat was all of that and more; Mr. Seaborn really lived up to the challenge when the Thunderbird went from his head to paper, then to wood, and ultimately to the water.
Today, here in the Northwest, I would say there’s more Thunderbirds than any other single sailboat design. You see them with families aboard cruising all over Puget Sound, as well as to points further north. One design racing fleets abound all over the Northwest, and you also see them racing against all comers in open regattas. Mr. Seaborn would be so proud to see how his design has stood the test of time, and to see how much enjoyment the boat still brings to so many.
I have a number of boats that my father built, but it sure would've been nice if he'd found the time to build that Thunderbird he loved so much. There's nothing quite like being afloat in something your dad built with his own two hands.
Editor's Note: In the following video, Chip and Sam visit the Gig Harbor Boat Shop, where Thunderbirds were originally built and are now restored. Enjoy! And for more videos, visit The Boat Guy website.
There's also a lot of information about the boat on the Thunderbird class website.