Thorne's El Primero Yacht
The graceful 131-foot iron-hull luxury yacht El Primero was born a true luxury yacht, launched at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco with ceremonies appropriate for the pride of a gilded age. Its hull is made of wrought iron plates flush riveted together. It carried a paid crew of 10 men for its first 63 years, and during that time it has had at least four sitting presidents on board the yacht – William Howard Taft, Teddy Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding and Herbert Hoover.
Chester Thorne of Tacoma purchased the yacht in 1906 and brought it north to Puget Sound.
The New York Times published at least two accounts of President William H. Taft traveling on the El Primero, specifically mentioning it was owned by Chester Thorne.
On September 9, 1907 President Taft traveled from Tacoma to Seattle on Chester’s yacht El Primero, while President Taft was on an around-the-world trip, heading to Japan form Seattle.
On October 1, 1909, after spending two days in Seattle and visiting the Seattle 1909 Exposition, President Taft traveled to Tacoma, again on board Chester’s yacht El Primero.
Unfortunately, in 1911 Chester Thorne lost the boat in a poker game with newspaper publisher Sam Perkins.
Like a canoe it has a very shallow draught for its size, needing only four feet of water at the bow and less than five feet at the stern. The “Clipper” bow and hull, with the trademark concave arch to the bow easily seen in profile (a duplicate of the angle used for millennia in ocean-going native canoes) is a direct descendant of earlier sailing hulls, designed to be easily driven. In fact, it originally carried stand-by sails in case the 225 horsepower triple expansion steam engine failed.
There were two guest staterooms aft of the 8 by 12 foot teak and white mahogany paneled dining room, and an owner’s stateroom in the stern that had its own fireplace. It could sleep 22, a dozen plus the crew who lived in the bow. Messages were sent with bells and speaking tubes, and with a full load of fuel, 36 tons of coal, it could go almost 3,000 miles at its hull speed of 13.4 knots, or 15.4 mph.
Looking at the interior photos, one can visualize why Chester Thorne bought it. It is finished out very much in the same style and age as Thornewood Castle.
Portions of the above are excerpts from the article published by the The Northern Light Newspaper for Blaine and Birch Bay WA: “Stalwart ship sails on through the years," By Jack Kinter.