Nostalgia is as powerful a force as any tempest on the seas. For many of us, boats and boating are the triggers, conjuring a sudden, wistful feeling and a flood of memories.
For Rick and Merrie Fricke, Tonina was a bit player with an irregular but significant role in their early lives. They both were raised in waterborne Los Angeles families that berthed their vessels at Newmarks Yacht Centre.
“My parents had boats, as did my wife’s. We both grew up in boats,” Rick says. He first saw Tonina’s bold, workman lines as child, and then, later, would see her at the marina near his in-laws’ boat. “I always saw the boat, and I always liked it.”
Kismet led them back to Tonina in 1988 when she was put up for sale. The Frickes were keen on adding a boat for their growing family.
“She’s always been a local boat. She was in good shape, as she always had a good owner,” Rick says. “We bought her.”
Tonina is one of 10 models drawn by Art DeFever and built by Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Lindwall Boat Works. In the 1950s and early ’60s, Lindwall was building commercial fishing boats, and was approached by a group of sailors looking to make the move to powerboats. They opined that the seiner-type vessels DeFever designed to ply the Pacific would be ideal for the offshore conditions they normally faced.
The gaggle of sailors founded The Offshore Cruising Society, of which DeFever became a member. He quickly agreed to design models for the group.
Like the fishing fleet, the DeFever series of recreational boats contracted at the Lindwall yard were full keel and full displacement, with broad sterns meant to handle following seas. The diesel-powered, deep-draft craft were also equipped with barn-door-size rudders for superior handling (Tonina has a 7-foot draft, and her rudder is 4 feet wide by 6 feet tall).
There are other notable advantages inherited from her commercial brethren, as both DeFever and Lindwall insisted that the boats follow the same rigorous construction methods as the tuna boats that regularly ran from Long Beach, Calif., to Central and South America. The white oak frames were matched to beefy Douglas fir scantlings and then fastened with Monel, an expensive copper and nickel alloy with superior corrosion resistance. All bolts, nuts and washers are Monel as well.
“Those other metals, steel and bronze, tend to disappear over time,” Rick says. “With Monel, you never have to worry. I’ve never seen rust or corrosion on Tonina.”
At 60 feet, Tonina was the largest of the DeFever and Lindwall collaborations. She was commissioned by Frank Collbohm, who founded the Rand Corp., a think tank to serve the U.S. armed forces that grew from Douglas Aircraft. Douglas, once a major American aerospace company, was also based in Santa Barbara, and several of its executives would spend time on board. Company founder Donald Wills Douglas was “put to rest off the back of the boat when he died,” Rick says, as was its builder, Paul “Sugar” Lindwall, whose ashes were spread off her stern.
After the Fricke family acquired Tonina, they went about replacing dated materials like Formica, with the goal of keeping the boat “traditional and seaworthy-looking,” Rick says. “Tonina has been refit top to bottom over the years I have had her. I’ve redone every bit of the interior, but her layout essentially remains the same.”
Rick has a lifelong background in the construction trades, and took on many of the projects himself, with his kids as his carpentry crew.
“I would design layouts and details for woodwork and furniture,” he says. “I do a lot of the woodwork myself. On bigger projects, like when we remodeled the galley and wheelhouse, I [used] a carpenter who has worked for me for 40 years.”
For more rigorous work, Rick generally oversees the job from a quality standpoint. In the past year, the boat got its first set of Naiad stabilizers, as well as new running gear, including a larger, 3-inch Aquamet 22 shaft.
Mechanically, Tonina still has her original, 270-hp Caterpillar D333TA main engine. (“It’s just a heavy-duty diesel that’s been in there since the day she was launched,” Rick says). That engine is augmented with a 10-kW John Deere generator with a get-home system, also part of her original equipment. The engine room is spotless, with significant walkaround space to access all mechanicals, and looks more like a mini-machine shop with drill press, metal lathe, bench grinder and wall of hand tools. “It’s a focal point for gearheads and has become something of a gathering spot,” Rick says.
Although she has always been “a local boat,” Rick says Tonina was never a marina queen, having extensively cruised the Pacific coast from Alaska to southern Mexico. She has also made multiple trips to Hawaii. Her second owner put her into service as a committee boat for the biennial, 2,225-nautical-mile Transpacific Yacht Race, which runs from San Pedro, Calif., to Diamond Head, Hawaii.
The boat can make the round trip to Hawaii and back without refueling. With 3,000 gallons on tap, Rick says, Tonina has a range of 5,000 nautical miles at 8 knots. At 7½ knots, she’ll come close to making 6,000 nm. She also carries 1,000 gallons of water (there’s a watermaker on board as well) and 150 gallons of gasoline for water toys and her tender.
Her sweet spot is about 1600 rpm, where she’ll make 8½ knots all day. Rick has toyed with the idea of adding a bow thruster, but he says she really doesn’t need it. Her 48-inch prop is matched to a 4.5:1 gear reduction, giving her superior maneuverability. At idle, Rick says with a laugh, he just counts the prop spins. “I can spin her in her own water length,” he adds.
The Frickes raised their family aboard and took frequent trips along the Mexico coast, including a one-month exploration of the Sea of Cortez. While that trip produced a lifetime of fine memories, Rick says the voyage back was a harrowing, four-day affair, with the crew in the crosshairs of a multiday, unrelenting gale.
“There’s no place to hide,” he says of cruising up the West Coast. “Seas were 12 to 16 feet with winds blowing 35 to 45 knots. It was an exhausting trip.”
Tonina chugged along at 4 knots. “She just powered along and didn’t miss a beat,” Rick says. “With her knuckle stern in a following sea, she behaved beautifully. The boat can take more than the crew can take.”
Nearly 35 years later, Tonina spends a good deal of her time entertaining friends and family off California’s Catalina Island.
“Tonina is a regular at White’s Landing,” he says. “It has an excellent anchorage and beautiful, sandy beach. The area is good for water sports, which we do a lot of.”
The family tows a vintage Bertram center console, which they side-tie to starboard at the boarding ladder for easy egress.
Viewed from her quay at Alamitos Bay Marina near Long Beach, Calif., Tonina appears captured in amber, a time capsule of another era. As Rick says: “The outside of the boat is as she was when she was launched.”
This article was originally published in the July/August 2022 issue.