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Chris-Craft marks 15th year in Port Orchard

Edmonds resident Gary Humiston arrived in Port Orchard Thursday and was instantly relieved he had left his car at home.

Waterfront parking was crowded as boats docked and onlookers stopped at Port Orchard’s 15th annual Chris-Craft of the Pacific Northwest Rendezvous.

Humiston, 48, made the two-hour trip across the water in his 1941 Chris-Craft classic “Liberty.”

“I call (Liberty) my cruiser,” Humiston said.

As Humiston sits on the foot-ferry dock in his wheelchair, sporting a ponytail and a patriotic shirt bearing his boat’s name, he calls and waves to his fellow boaters.

“This is theouting,” Humiston said.

Fred Rowe, member of the Chris-Craft Rendezvous Committee here in Port Orchard, agrees.

“We’re the world’s largest Chris-Craft event,” Rowe said. “We get about 100 boats a year.”

According to Rowe, the annual boat show is celebrating its 15th year while Chris-Craft, the oldest boating company in America, is celebrating its 130th.

“We’re celebrating a lot this year,” Rowe said.

Humiston bought his boat in 1990 for $19,500 and has put 14 years of effort into Liberty’s restoration — from his wheelchair. His latest restoration endeavor was to scrape the off-white paint from the boat, a difficult task, he said, because when he bought the boat it was covered in paint.

“No wood boat should have that much paint on it,” Humiston laughed.

Humiston also works restoring old cars. He even bought a 1941 radio in town to decorate the patriotic interior of his boat.

“I like making old things new,” Humiston said

The boat is 35 feet long, 10 and a half feet wide, made of mahogany and is usually docked in Seattle’s Elliot Bay. But Humiston also owns a boathouse in Poulsbo, which he said he never uses.

Humiston claimed he goes out every weekend and sometimes during the week. He explains that his love of boats comes from his surroundings.

“I had a ski boat when I lived in Memphis,” Humiston said. “Being around water, you should have a boat. Just like when you’re around mountains, you should have rock climbing equipment.”

Humiston eventually sold his ski boat for a handicap van after he was paralyzed from the waist down in a 1976 car accident in Germany. He also spent 11 months recuperating from a rock-climbing accident.

“The reason I initially bought this boat is it’s easy to get on and around,” Humiston said. “I didn’t shop around much. This is the second boat I looked at. I knew (Chris-Craft) made stuff for the war effort, but I didn’t set out wanting to buy a Chris-Craft.”

However, Humiston said he has grown to love the camaraderie that comes with the Chris-Craft name.

The first Chris-Craft boat was built in 1874 by company founder Chris Smith. Based in Sarasota, Fla., the company was bought in 2001 by Harvard Business School friends Stephen Julius and Stephen Heese.

As for Humiston, he said he’s glad to be spending another year at the Port Orchard show.

“It’s nice to have a boating community like this,” Humiston said. “And all I know is Chris-Craft makes a good boat.”

“Come down and see the boats,” Rowe said. “It’s free, you can wander around. The people who own the boats are willing to chat. We love these boats.”

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