Storied vessel makes a call to Port Townsend for repairs – Port Townsend Leader


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Recent visitors to Port Townsend’s Boat Haven Marina may have been unwitting witnesses to a brief visit by a mighty and historic boat with an equally historic name: The Sacajawea.
Owners Brian Hofstetter and Jessica Rollins and crew made a stop in town to handle a few repairs after making the haul up north from California. The group were on their way to Ketchikan, Alaska to begin a chartering endeavor in which clients will have a chance to stay aboard the boat while cruising through the Inside Passage.
“Until about Sept. 15 we’ll be going back and forth between Wrangell and Juneau [Alaska],” Hofstetter said of his plans for Sacajawea. “They’re going to the Tongas National Forest and various other ecological attractions.”
The adventures ahead of Sacajawea should be familiar to the old girl. Prior to being privately owned, the Sacajawea went by another name: the Robert Gray and the Don J. Miller. She also bore the Navy designator of LT666 during World War II. Among the many previous wakes left by Sacajawea included tours serving the Army Corps of Engineers, surveying for the U.S. Geological Survey and possibly even some sneaky hydrographic surveying work in the strategically-critical Aleutian Islands area during WWII.
After the war, in 1946, LT666 was surplussed and transferred back to the San Francisco District of the Army Corps of Engineers as the Robert Gray.
Her current owners aren’t quite sure when the vessel made its way into the hands of the USGS, but documentation from 1970 suggests that they were responsible for installing the vessel’s current engine.
Working for the USGS under the name of Don J. Miller II — in dedication to the revered geologist Don John Miller — the vessel returned to her surveying work in Alaska sometime in the late 1960s.    
Construction on the Sacajawea was completed in 1936 at the Lake Washington Shipyard using a design by Naval architect W.C. Nickum.
According to her owners, Sacajawea was also the first vessel of her kind to be outfitted with a dual diesel electric propulsion system.
Coincidently, Will Nickum, the grandson of W.C. Nickum, is assisting with the future planning for the vessel’s clean energy re-powering efforts using a hybrid propulsion system.
After purchasing the vessel in 2018, Hofstetter and Rollins made the choice to rename the boat Sacajawea, in honor of the Lemhi Shoshone woman who helped to guide Lewis and Clarke on the journey to the Pacific Northwest. Fittingly, Sacajawea will continue her journey assisting a new generation of explorers answer the call of the wild.
“This is really support for people to get out and see nature; for them to get closer to nature than they normally would,” he said. “The guides who are aboard have been doing this for 35 years and they really know their way around.”
Hofstetter added that a few of the trips will include visits from photography experts who will offer those aboard a chance to hone their skills photographing the wildlife they encounter along the trip.
In addition to the owners and clientele, those traveling on Sacajawea will include a pair of guides, an engineer, captain, executive officer and a cook.
“She is a historical experience, she’s not a yacht,” Hofstetter said. “She’s an opportunity to experience what it’s like to travel in the same manner that her historic crew traveled in. You’re not staying in a white room with fine linens.”
“That being said, Jess has put 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton linens on all the beds and she’s interested in people having a nice time and not roughing it completely,” he added. “It’s still a very authentic experience.”
For her significant roles throughout major historic events, Hofstetter and Rollins have applied to have the Sacajawea listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
For more information on sailing aboard the Sacajawea, visit or call 650-440-7220.

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