Few things are so invigorating as scanning the horizon from the deck of a fine ocean-going vessel.
Would-be sailors boarding the “Fallow” enjoy a seagull’s view of the rolling brown Huckleberry Hills, a weather-worn barn and a derelict 1952 Chevy wagon abandoned by one of Larry Benson’s two sons.
The only thing a visitor can’t spy from this 14-foot-high vantage is water, unless you count the marshy trickle that feeds Alder Creek about a mile away.
It will take a lot more than that to float Benson’s baby.
“It’s designed to displace about 18,000 pounds of water,” says the retired Benson of the sleek, 37-foot steel sailboat he built by hand on his farm.
“There have been a lot of times when I wondered if I’d ever finish,” adds Benson, 58. “But I tried to do something on it every single day, even if it was just to come out and kiss it good night.”
All the effort paid off handsomely. The “Fallow,” christened for uncultivated lands around the Benson acreage, is a gorgeous white and blue craft.
There is plenty of room inside the boat’s oak interior that includes a galley, living quarters, shower and spacious bed.
Benson’s whale of a do-it-yourself project has been the talk of sleepy little Fruitland since he began constructing the boat 15 years ago. The community (pop. 50) is located on state Highway 25, about 70 miles northwest of Spokane in Stevens County.
“It’s a beautiful boat he’s built from the ground up,” says neighbor Blanche Steele. “But I’d have to see it perform in the water before I’d go on it. Sailing across the ocean isn’t my cup of tea. I think you’d feel like a pea pod out there.”
The “Fallow,” Benson assures, is big and strong enough to ford any ocean although its maiden voyage will be a slow one on wheels.
On Wednesday, a professional boat mover hitched the sailboat to a special trailer and began the tedious two-day journey to Olympia.
Once in Puget Sound, the Fallow’s 50-foot mast will be installed. Benson, who says he’s almost 100 percent certain his craft won’t sink, will work out the bugs before he and wife, Diane, cruise off into the sunset.
“I’m on pins and needles,” he adds. “It’s like waiting for a birth. Not being a woman, I can’t testify to that. But I can imagine this is just how it feels.”
Building a 9-ton sailboat 300 miles from sea may seem crazy, but salt spray and foam-capped waves are never far from Benson’s thoughts.
As a boy growing up in the Seattle area, Benson dreamed of one day donning a skipper’s cap and heading out on an adventure.
He devoured books by Robert Louis Stevenson and read National Geographic accounts of trips to exotic ports. Someday, Benson vowed, he would own his own boat and take to the sea.
Benson learned to sail as an adult, crewing in yacht races, and taught his wife on chartered sailboats.
In the early 1970s, he tired of life as a traveling salesman and moved his family to Fruitland.
“You spend all your time on the road or in an airport and, meanwhile, your kids are growing up without you,” he says. “I wanted to raise them in a safe, rural environment.”
True. Few crime waves ever wash over Fruitland. The last ruckus was a couple of years ago, when a woman in a Chevy Blazer decided to go 4-wheeling over her hubby.
As a shop foreman for Stevens County, Benson knew he would never come up with the $180,000 it would take to buy a boat like the “Fallow.” Building one was his only shot, so in 1981 Diane bought her husband the plans.
“I’m so proud of him,” says Diane, a secretary at the nearby Columbia School. “You have to admire someone who can stick to something this big and make it happen.”
Spokane City Council dweeb Chris Anderson is leaving a trail around town like a mutant garden slug.
Jim called to report a sighting at the city’s recent “Pig Out” at Riverfront Park. I’ll bet Anderson was searching for another public trough in which to root his greedy snout.
Anderson, as we all know, skipped the last 13 council meetings to take a second job with a movie company. Being gone, of course, didn’t stop this weasel from cashing his public-paid council checks.
Mary called to say a giant pumpkin at the Spokane Interstate Fair looks suspiciously like you know who.
Vickie says one of her friends worked with Anderson on the “Dante’s Peak” movie set. The friend claims the councilman spent time bad-mouthing his critics in Spokane and threatening to move his family to California, where he can make $8,000 a month.
I’ll bet there’s an army of folks who’ll help with moving expenses to get rid of this leech.
Keep calling 459-5432 to report your Anderson spottings. I’ll keep you posted.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo