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Originally published Thursday, October 8, 2009 at 8:25 AM

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Tacoma man spent 25 years building back yard boat

The 50-foot dream boat that George De Shon spent nearly 25 years building has never floated, but on Wednesday it flew.

The News Tribune

TACOMA, Wash. —

The 50-foot dream boat that George De Shon spent nearly 25 years building has never floated, but on Wednesday it flew.

De Shon wasn't there to see it. He died last March at age 82.

A few dozen neighbors came by to watch as the yacht that had been part of their Tacoma neighborhood for decades was gently lifted from the backyard of De Shon's home off South Jackson Street. It sailed over the house and onto a waiting boat trailer.

Merna, De Shon's wife of more than 50 years, was there. Her family said she was too overcome by the boat's leaving to want to talk about the dream her husband crafted in their backyard.

Diana Wells who lives a street away said she never thought the boat would leave. It had been there so long. She knew about it even before she moved to the neighborhood.

"It's like history here," she said. "It was like this thing out of a legend. How did it get back there?"

Mark Temple, Merna's nephew who was there to help her, agreed. "Half the people in Tacoma knew about this boat. He'd been building it for years,"

Also watching the move were Dave Hallstrom of University Place and Scott Liles of Puyallup, two of the four new owners.

After hearing from a friend in the boating community about De Shon's death and the family's efforts to deal with the boat, they stopped by to ask about it.

"She basically gave us the boat," Hallstrom said of Merna. "She said she just wants it to see water someday. She asked if we could take her and her whole family on its maiden voyage."

No problem, they said.

Liles explained that De Shon began work on the boat in 1985 and five years ago became sick.

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They put the boat up for sale. "Yacht for sale" signs appeared in front of the house. Word of the backyard yacht spread beyond the neighborhood.

He marveled at De Shon's dream and his meticulous attention to detail. "Who builds a 50 foot boat in a 75 foot space?" he said.

Hallstrom said an appraiser told them comparable boat built today with the same workmanship would cost $450,000.

During his final five years, De Shon kept working on the boat when he could, Liles said. De Shon filled the boat with everything needed for a voyage: from towels to soap to dinnerware. The only thing missing was the engine.

Hallstrom and Liles said they have found two other partners, Kary Bradford of Bellevue and Dustin Moore of Gold Bar, to help with the cost of the engine and the move. At some point, the boat will become theirs, Liles said.

Hallstrom said the move from the De Shon backyard to its new home at the South Park Marina on the Duwamish River in Seattle alone cost about $10,000.

Temple said Merna had hoped the move could be done without any publicity.

Not a chance.

The 180-ton crane was hard to hide at 200 feet tall. The two northbound lanes off South Jackson Avenue in front of the house were closed for the move. Drivers paused and gawked. Four tractor trailers were parked out front. A TV helicopter circled above.

Liles said that if they had publicized the move there would have been thousands of people watching.

The move went off without a hitch. The boat's pilot house was removed to allow the boat and trailer to fit under power lines on the way to its new home.

Liles said the boat will stay in the South Park Marina yard to be worked on in the coming few months. It's maiden voyage could come next spring, he added.

De Shon, who retired from the City of Tacoma personnel department where he was the chief examiner, kept a handwritten journal of his passion, complete with photographs of the boat's progress.

In an early entry, he is shown in a photograph standing next to the boat's scaffolding. It was captioned: "Boatbuilder! This picture was taken mostly for my family and especially for my Mom. Here's your crazy son, Mom."

Hallstrom said De Shon picked out every board for the boat. He built a 1 inch to 1 foot scale model of the boat, too.

Another journal entry: "It's been a long time in my mind that someday Merna and I would retire on a comfortable boat. What better way to see some of the world's wonderful sights and contemplate the beauty of an evening sunset."

He settled on the design of the boat after "considerable research and the reading of every book and magazine I found on the subject of boats, their design and long range cruising," he wrote.

He took a design by noted California boat architect Ken Hankinson and modified it to his tastes. The new owners will honor De Shon's vision.

Said Bradford: "We will put some love into it and see what happens."

---

Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com

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