Tuesday, February 17, 2009

m/v Challenger

Jerry Brown, captain and owner of Challenger, certainly qualifies as a bona fide Seattle "character".  Challenger was moored at the end of the dock at Fairview Marina at the south end of Lake Union, a couple of slips from Eolian's berth.

The Challenger, a 1944 96' wooden tugboat, was the center of Jerry's business - he ran a "Bunk and Breakfast" out of Challenger's refurbished cabins; Jerry also had a smaller tug, the Gillspray and a couple of more or less modern 40' power boats tied up in the suite of slips on which he had managed to get a 20-year lease (how, I cannot imagine).

Jerry lived on Challenger with his bouvier Scupper, bunking in a small compartment up under the bow. Jerry was the host, the cook, the cabin boy, and the crew of the Challenger. And Jerry was a businessman. Because of his long tenancy at the dock, he was the defacto dock captain as well. I remember one cold winter day when the exposed water feed pipe for the dock froze, and he and I cut and spliced the pipe, in the cold, with water spraying over us - well, I guess Jerry got a lot wetter than I did. But then he had paying customers aboard Challenger who were going to wake up and want to take a shower.

Jerry was outspoken. There were those who could not tolerate that. But he was also very personable (how else could he have made a very successful go of the bunk and breakfast business?). Jerry was a dreamer - he always had Plans For The Future, and they were not small plans. The fall before we left Fairview, he revealed that he had done a ton of research and was more than considering buying a surplus Navy ship and scaling up the business as well as moving it to Florida.

Getting ready to leave, he had found a buyer for Gillspray (a father and son team that planned romantically to renovate her). And then he found a buyer for Challenger and the business. This about when we moved from Fairview to Shilshole, and we lost day-to-day touch with Jerry.

But from occasional contacts, we learned that when the City of Seattle got wind of the change of ownership, they came down on things like a ton of bricks. The sale was rescinded, and Jerry gave a lot of money to lawyers. In the end, 3 years later I think, he prevailed. He was awarded his legal costs, but the sale of Challenger was long gone.

Jerry has since passed away, and Challenger, last we saw her, was tied up looking forlorn on the south side of the Ship Canal.

Jerry never made it to Florida.

RIP m/v Challenger



Anonymous said...

That's sad. I was hoping for a happy ending for Jerry!

kimball weber said...

That is too bad. I knoew Jerry well and almost bought thte Gillspray myself. I sepnt many a night on Challenger when Jerry and I went out drinking and I couldn't drive home. I cut Jerry's hair for almost 20 years. I am sad that I lost contact with him. I am sure that he is still entertaining and being brutally honest even now.

Anonymous said...

We stayed aboard the Challenger with the aga cooker that was always on. What a great place. I don't remember much about Jerry. We stayed in three separate rooms- a bunk, under the bridge, and then on another saloon yacht tied up next door. The Russians were there on a replica? sailing ship. The wooden boat museum/foundation was at the end of Lake Union. Waking up at the bridge with seaplanes taking off from lake union over the ship is a wonderful memory. Thanks, Jerry.

Anonymous said...

In case you are wondering m/v challenger has been moved to Juneau Ak where many a dream has been made of her but no reality. Curenntly looking pretty forlorn anchored in the channel outside of the Aurora Harbor. She hasn't ventured out of Juneau in probably about 10 years.

Robert Salnick said...

Thanks Anon -

It's good to know that Challenger made it to Alaska - running cruises to Alaska was also one of Jerry's Plans For The Future. Jerry would be pleased.


Cliff Bowman said...

For years I wondered what had happened to Jerry and the Challenger. I used to polish all the brass he had on the ship. I also built him a very large cabinet to put his vast amount of VHS tapes in. I knew him in the late 80's early 90's. He was one heck of a guy. He would always leave a bag of M&M candies on the beds of the guest rooms. When I met him, he was just starting out. I remember one time he took me down below to the engine room and opened a little safe he had. He took out about $500 and said "I've finally made a profit"
I am so sorry I lost touch with him. I lived in Spokane and would go visit every month.

Anonymous said...

Sadly today, September 12th, 2015 at roughly 3 pm, the Challenger sank in Gastineau Channel near Juneau Alaska. She had fallen into disrepair over the last couple of years, and today she succumbed to the sea. My girlfriend and several others with her watched the ordeal, which started with a list and finally ended- within 20 minutes, she was gone. It is sad, I really enjoyed seeing that vessel and several others there every day.

Eric C.
Juneau, Alaska

Robert Salnick said...

And thus ends the saga of m/v Challenger. Thanks Eric


Anonymous said...

This is a great article on Jerry Brown, with a sad ending. I worked on the Challenger Bunk and Breakfast for about a year from 1997 to 1998. It was a fun interesting job. I recently heard from a fellow co-worker that the Challenger sank in Juneau. I was a little heart broken. I really loved working on the tugboat and Jerry more than made it interesting. The guests were great and it will always be a time in my life that I will never forget. I was left alone to work on the tugboat on gorgeous summer days to change the rooms, clean the cabins and polish the copper pipes! It was a great job to have.

Jason Pickering
Vancouver, WA

John said...

Hi, my name is John and live in Willow, Alaska. Belive it or not, I just heard about Challengers demise on the local news. I'm not sure of the year but, I spent a Summer in Seattle working on the Challenger. I stayed on the smaller tug when nothing was done to it. I smiled when someone mentioned the engine room. Jerry had me paint the engine, I also shined the brass and cleaned the outside, made the beds and set up the Salon for Breakfast. He had one hell of a Breakfast buffet. I felt really bad seeing the Challenger under water. Sorry to hear about Jerry also.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I live in Vancouver and my 93 year old farther (and old tugboat guy) asked me to see if I could find out whatever happen to Jerry and the Gillspray. Dad used to work as a deck hand on it when it was working up in Canada. I'm sorry to hear that both Jerry and the Challenger are gone but what about Jerry's smaller tug, the Gillspray? Does anyone here know anything about her and where she is now? Thanks Very Much
Tim Bain

Vikki Stubbs said...

My ex- husband had lived in Seattle in late 80s and had moored next to Jerry on a houseboat prior to Jerry buying the Challenger and converting this working tug to a B&B. They remained friends and we were invited to the inagural week-end voyage of the tug. We took it from Lake Union to the Moss Bay Days that year. We visited several other times in the 80s, with improvements every time. I remember Jerry on the phone with someone from the Four Seasons who wanted to send one of their guests over for a night. Jerry told them that people who stayed at the Four Seasons probably would not appreciate the accomodations on the tug! Always met such an interesting group of people at breakfast. My son worked for Jerry part of one summer in the late 90s and then we lost touch. So sorry to hear of his demise and the sinking of the Challenger. Quite the loss.

Robert Salnick said...

Thank you, Vicki, for your contribution to this growing story. Jerry certainly was larger than life!

Jeff Parker said...

My name is Jeff Parker. I worked aboard the tug boat challenger from 88 to mid 94. It was a fun job building new rooms...painting...even w the lead paint jerry got from the Canadians in exchange for a few cartains of American cigarettes. Lots of memories. Sad it all ended the way it did. My neice watched the recovery after it sank in Alaska.

Jeff Parker

Robert Salnick said...

Thanks for your memories Jeff. Sad indeed.

Anonymous said...

Anyone know if the MV Challenger was refloated or salvaged? What's her current status?

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