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Travel: Sail away to Port Ludlow

A schooner formerly owned by Neil Young is just one of the focal points



Photography by Louise Christie

Pining to sail away with Neil Young? Sadly, you're a tad too late, at least if you'd hoped to sign on with the crew of the W.N. Ragland, which the singer owned for the past four decades.

Last fall, Young sold the 35-metre schooner to Walter Wallace, a yacht broker based in Port Townsend, Washington, renowned as the wooden boat capital of the Pacific Northwest.

When contacted aboard the Ragland, Wallace offered further background on the schooner. Launched in 1913 as the Lilli - her "born" name - she originally saw service as a rock hauler in the Baltic Sea.

"Neil moored her in Port Townsend but she attracted so much attention that I moved her down to Port Ludlow which is a lot quieter environment," he said.

As to why Young reluctantly parted with the Ragland, Wallace pointed out that wooden boats typically foster strong emotional attachments with their owners.

"All I can say is he had personal reasons to sell. At dinner last fall he told me how he'd used it for family escapes over the years - after the births of his children, for example. He changed the name to honour his grandfather. Over the past three years I'd been taking care of her. When he saw how much attention I paid her, he felt like the boat is in really good hands."

Although Wallace wouldn't divulge the sale price, he did admit that to raise the cash he parted with two boats, a large fiberglass yacht from his brokerage business and a 21-metre tugboat which he used as a live-aboard residence.

"I don't know what I'm going to do with her. One of the things that makes her different from other cool boats is that Neil had an open chequebook policy. No expense was spared. There's $50,000 worth of rope alone in the rigging."

As much as Wallace enjoys living aboard the Ragland, whose private stateroom occupies a third of the below-deck space, he admitted the storybook vessel should be sailing, not tied at dock.

"I can't fund personal expeditions so I wrote blind to National Geographic and Disney - who've just committed to making a feature film a year about the planet for the next decade - to see if there is an environmental cause which might suit her. She's been around the world seven times. There's no reason to assume she won't be seaworthy for another 80 years before needing a refit."

Launch at the local marina and take an hour or more to paddle around Ludlow Bay. It's easy to pick out the Ragland. From the water-level vantage point of a kayak, the sight of the schooner dwarfs all else. Twin masts, with riggings strung like spider webs, tower 32 metres above a broad, sloping deck. Two hefty anchors dangle from the bow. As the sheltered port lies on the lee side of Washington State's Olympic Mountains, barely a breeze ruffles the Ragland's reflection on the bay's surface. Only passing river otters dare disturb the scene while you float placidly.