Yesterday, in Part 1 of “The Seventeen Year Itch” we introduced you to John & Sharon Lisicich and followed them on their journey to locate a very rare 1950 17′ Western Fairliner Torpedo. Approximately 36 Fairliner Torpedo’s were produced by Western Boat Building Corporation from mid 1946 to August 1951, including a few special orders – more on that later. “No Ka ‘OI” (Hull #32) was located and purchased from wooden boat restorer Bruce Bronson at Bronson Boat Works in Gig Harbor, Washington in March 1998. (In case you missed Part 1 yesterday, you can Click Here) And don’t forget that you can click on any of the images to enlarge them. – Texx
Today in Part 2 of this remarkable story, we get a glimpse into how this 60 year-old Torpedo went from this… (what John describes as “a planter box with no sides, hanging in Bruces’s rafters”)
Our Fairliner Torpedo Story! (Part 2)
By John and Sharon Lisicich
Owners of Fairliner Torpedo Hull # 32
No Ka ‘OI
Like all classic boat owners, the best day is launch day. It’s that day when you realize there is only one “first time”, and all your dreams come true! That day was July 22, 2013 and it still plays daily in my mind.
Sharon and Bruce both told me I was grinning from ear to ear. Bruce drove the boat first and when it was finally my turn, to say I was excited would be an understatement. No Ka’Oi jumped up on a plane and took right off. The modern 4 cylinder engine was the perfect engine choice with tons of power. I had some reservations about the engine as originally, it was going to be a Mercruiser 350 V-8, then a small block, and am now so glad we chose the 4 cylinder.
Bruce is now doing some fine tuning and adding a little more weight as it wanders and is not easy to steer at low speed. This will be my only classic boat and am so glad to have chosen it. Where ever it goes it turns heads. With so few around, it always gathers a crowd. – John Lisicich
From Volume II of The Real Runabouts series by the late, great Bob Speltz, he writes;
FAIRLINER – BUILT WITH CUSTOM-CARE FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE
WESTERN BOAT BUILDING COMPANY
Soon after the end of World War II, Western Boat Building Company in Tacoma, Washington, hired a noted designer, Dair Long, to draw up plans for a totally new and stylish 17′ inboard speedboat. The Fairliner Torpedo was the result. That sleek little gem was styled after the old Hacker and Dee Wite Torpedos we reviewed in Volume I…
Perhaps, had it not been for a serious fire that occurred in the mid-1960’s, Western Boat Building Company may have gone on to build other Torpedos. I’m that fire, the firm lost all jigs, plans, etc.
In the book, Bob Speltz also refers to a “one-of-a-kind” Torpedo that was custom built at the Fairliner factory in Tacoma in April of 1950 for its original owner Mr. Lunde, who ordered it with several custom options. This boat was to be built with only a single cockpit, offering seating for two people, which allowed for a long, racy-looking rear deck. A bigger, six-cylinder Chris-Craft racing engine with triple carburetors was installed at the plant. The extra horse-power pushed the boat at speeds over 40 MPH. When Bob wrote about the boat, it was owned by Gean Arenz from Wisconsin.
In his closing remarks, Bob notes: “I think you will agree with the author, the 17′ Fairliner Torpedo by Western Boat Building Company of Tacoma, Washington was quite a boat! At this time I would guess less than half a dozen of these masterpieces still exist. If you know of one or have one yourself, restore it, enjoy it and let others see and enjoy it with you. It is really sad that there will never be boats built like this again.” – Bob Speltz, The Real Runabouts II
Great advice from Bob Speltz – and John and Sharon Lisicich have followed Bob’s advice to the letter. – Texx
A brief history and a few more period factory photos from Allen Petrich Jr.
Martin Petrich, Sr. with several others founded Western Boat in Tacoma in 1917. Initially the profits were not there and the others left and Martin stayed. They built a variety of wooden craft, cannery tenders and freight and passenger vessels but really specialized in purse seine fishing boats for salmon, sardine and tuna.
They later built, also, what Northwesterners tend to call “Tuna Clippers” but are also called “bait boats”, large fishing vessels that could go into the open ocean waters for tuna. They did not build war boats in the First World War, but did in World War II, minesweepers, freight and passenger and tugs for the US Army and Navy. They won one of the first two “Navy Es” for “efficiency” on the Pacific Coast.
Allen was Martin’s second son and was the one who appeared to pick up the management aspects of shipyard work. He also was a racer and set several world speed record for smaller boats. Martin placed Allen in charge of day-to-day yard management work during the War but continued to make overall decisions. At the end of the War, Martin asked Allen to take over day to day management of the overall operation.
Allen wanted to do pleasure boats but his father was opposed and wanted to limit operations to commercial vessels. Allen persevered and Martin relented. At that time Allen made the overall decision to commence major pleasure boat operations with four models, a 26′ Express Cruiser, a 26′ sedan cruiser, an 18′ utility runabout and the 17′ Torpedo.
Western Fairliner 17′ Torpedo production was from mid-1946 to August 1951. There is some dispute in terms of exact production numbers, as there were some special orders, but around 36 total were built.
One of the original shipyard workers who worked on the Torpedo line built a 21′ version of the Torpedo starting in late 1970s and did sell it but did not try to continue production. It was a one off. The dispute about production was because there was a massive fire that burned, as a total loss, the shipyard in which they were built. Some production was lost in the fire but at least one was saved as well as the charred remains of a tuna purse seine boat, which was transferred to the old plant and finished.
Some of the pleasure boats were ready for delivery and were burned. It was a complete loss, otherwise, and the financial damage was severe. New Fairliners were envisaged but built only much later in the late 1950s with test prototypes. It was in the 1960s they became the largest pleasure boat manufacturer on the West Coast. But they built only cruisers, no runabouts. The boats were rated faster than the competition for the power and better handling as most of the industry followed the deep V principle, which was less efficient but provides a smoother ride. Most of the industry has completely gone to the deep V concept and few designers understand the principles used in the Fairliners. – Allen Petrich Jr.
Now back to John’s story…
I have many people to thank for this exciting journey of faith, patience, perseverance, and determination. First is to God who makes all things possible. Then to my awesome and wonderful wife and best friend, Sharon, who tolerates all my crazy wants. Sharon also is the person who always found the money for the boat, when we didn’t have any extra. She is truly the most awesome and wonderful wife and best friend!
Then to the following:
Bruce Bronson, who is truly a craftsman and artist in every sense of the word.
The Hawaiian word “mana’ best describes what Bruce has put into the boat. The closest word in English to describe mana would be “spirit”. There is a part of him in every plank, every screw, and every inch of this boat.
He has gone out of his way to make sure that this boat is truly the best and has a beautiful steering wheel, gauges beyond belief, and every piece of chrome and original parts have been painstakingly restored to perfection. Only a true artist could do this.
Watching the boat go together over the years was a real journey and taught me patience, more than anything. Seeing how Bruce would steam the planks and even break a few along the way and have to start over again. What was very cool is that Curt Erickson even had the original gas cap. While that does not seem like much, it is a huge deal as the smaller cap was only used on a few Fairliners.
Choosing the name was fun and really a no brainier for us as we spend most winter months in Hawaii so, we chose the Hawaiian name “No Ka ‘Oi” which means none better or simply the best. We believe our Torpedo is simply the best!
Jim Giesy; for his enthusiasm for the boat and his diligence to helping to keep things moving along, then to want it as a key boat displayed at the museum event last May-June.
Gary Ebert for his amazing job on all the lettering and his special touch on the gauges. The special attention he took to make our lettering a one of a kind style. When given the opportunity to use his best judgment, he excellent. He was an artist of his craft; undoubtedly the finest sign artist and graphics guy on the planet. I truly thank him for making our boat so beautiful. It was also the last boat he did as he was “promoted to Glory” a few months later.
Jack Rossi; for all his hard work assisting Bruce with lots of tedious tasks like plugging all the planks and providing that “extra” hand when needed.
Bruce; for his excellent work on the upholstery.
Tim McVicker; for his help in cleaning up the engine and trailer and always willing to bounce around ideas.
Mark Schoens; for keeping us informed of the progress when we were out of town.
Brian Canfied; for his friendship and enthusiasm for this project over the years, and his work on copying and printing the photographs.
Most people ask about boat’s name, No Ka ‘Oi. No Ka ‘Oi is Hawaiian for “none better or simply the best.” And, that is what our Fairliner Torpedo is to us. Bruce has done an amazing job to bring back to life a true Tacoma classic and part of Tacoma history.
There is no need to go into all the history of the Petrich family as that is well documented by others. However, I do feel as though this boat is not only a testament to the Petrich family and Western Boat, but also an honor to Croatian history and to my Dad, who always wanted to ride in it.
In the final analysis I truly thank everyone who has helped to make this dream a reality. The journey has hit a couple of speed bumps and also has brought some “opportunities”. Most of all we have met some GREAT people and made some good friends.
The ultimate Glory goes to God for it was He who brought it all together. I remain His humble servant and am honored to be the designated caretaker of this slice of boating history. Only God could put these pieces together. Even though my father was not able to ride in the boat, his photograph and his spirit will be with us on every ride.
We look forward to many fun years using and sharing our Fairliner Torpedo. The best is yet to come! Thank you for taking time to read this story of No Ka ‘Oi.
John and Sharon Lisicich
Special thanks to John & Sharon for sharing your heartwarming story with us. Your dedication and commitment to excellence on the Fairliner Torpedo is wonderful.
Also thanks to Allen Petrich Jr for sharing some history and factory photos from the Western Boat Corporation / Western Fairliner family archives.
Happy Holidays Everyone! – Texx