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Murray Journal

A boat fit for a queen (or king) calls Murray home

Jul 31, 2018 03:15PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Arlen Nelson stands next to his 1901 yacht tender, the Queen Mother. (Photo by James Delliskave)

By Shaun Delliskave|[email protected]

Cruise any Murray neighborhood on a Saturday and you are bound to see various pride-and-joy projects sitting out in people’s driveways. For some it’s their muscle cars, Mustangs and Chargers. For others its sports cars, Porsches and Ferraris. For some it’s the classic elegance of Model Ts and Packards; and then there are the Harleys. However, for Arlen Nelson, wheeled transportation really doesn’t float his interest as does his “ship-to-shore limousine,” the Queen Mother.

“They don’t make them like this anymore,” assures Nelson. Indeed, 1901 yacht tenders were made by Consolidated Speedway and sold to the likes of Simon Guggenheim, Pierre DuPont, and E. H. Harriman, among others. Yacht tenders hauled these aristocrats to their larger yachts sitting off-shore. The Queen Mother originally belonged to pulp and paper tycoon Hugh J. Chisholm, owner of the International Paper Company.

The Queen Mother became a tender for one of the most storied yachts in American nautical history, the Aras. The US Navy acquired the Aras from Chisholm, and it was re-christened the USS Williamsburg. It patrolled the Atlantic during World War II and most notably was refurbished to serve as the presidential yacht for presidents Truman and Eisenhower. The Navy, however, felt it wise during those years to replace the elegant mahogany-hulled Queen Mother with another steel-hulled boat, and Nelson’s boat was then bought by a private party. Interestingly, the yacht tender has outlived the yacht, as the Williamsburg was sold for scrap in 2016.

As a farm boy from Idaho, the only boats Nelson saw were the fishing boats trolling on lakes near his home. His rebellious teen years brought him to a crossroads, and Nelson felt he better find a way out of his troublesome behavior. “I joined the Navy to get straightened out,” Nelson said.

With the Korean War raging, the Navy sent Nelson to serve aboard the USS Cabildo. He and his fellow crew members received two battle stars and also participated in the atomic weapons tests in the Marshall Islands. During this time, Nelson developed a great love for the sea and was planning on living in Long Beach, California, after his Navy stint; however, his brothers called and persuaded him to work for the construction business they started in Utah. 

Still longing for his navy days, Nelson went on a quest to find the perfect boat to quench his sailing thirst. In 1976, he stumbled upon the Queen Mother in a Long Beach warehouse, abandoned and in disrepair, but the boat called out to him. “My daughter was with me and said, ‘What about that one?’” remembers Nelson.

As a brother in the Nelson Brothers Construction company, Nelson felt he had the skills to bring the old boat back to life and bought it for $3,000. “It’s a displacement hull,” corrects Nelson when someone calls it just a boat. Displacement hulls are meant to move smoothly and slowly, like the liberty launches he was used to in the Navy, unlike the planing hulls that are built for speed.

After bringing in a nautical restoration expert, Nelson went to work restoring the mahogany, teak and other details on the antique boat.

“When I was finished, it was a brand new 1901 boat,” Nelson remarks. Replacement keel boards had to be steamed in order to fit exactly and be water-tight. Finally, after restoration, Nelson entered the Queen Mother in the Coeur d’Alene Wooden Boat Festival, where it won prizes for Best of Class and People’s Choice. It also was crowned “Most Elegant Craft” at the Lake Tahoe Boat Show. Still, Nelson gets a kick out of learning he is not the only one who is fond of these types of displacement hulls. “A friend gave me a magazine where [in a photo] King Olaf of Norway was driving a spitting image of mine.”