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Ch 04: The Spellbound

Jody christens the Spellbound breaking a bottle of champagne on her bow.
Loren stands on deck as the boat is lowered into the water.
The crew waive as the Spellbound takes its first maiden voyage.
(It’s a maritime superstition that if a boat isn’t properly christened, it would be considered unlucky.)

In 1974, Loren and Jody Edwards decided to take a major step towards their lifetime dream of sailing around the world and sold their family home in Juanita, as well as their cabin and another investment property for seed money.  Their kids seemed to be settled and the family home was too big to keep.  Plus, they were ready for a new phase in their lives. With the proceeds they purchased a 53 foot fishing boat hull from the Skookum Factory in Port Townsend, Washington.  The kit was a giant hull that needed a deck, and of course a motor, to get her to Kirkland where they lived and would finish building her.

Loren and Jody traveled two hours each way to Port Townsend in between his carpenter jobs and her work schedule to prepare the boat for her maiden voyage.  First, a deck was fabricated from two pieces of plywood glued together with a waterproof skin affixed on top.  They wanted to call the boat “Lake Jobogay,” using a bit of each child’s first name, but settled on the Spellbound after the movie they saw on their first date.  With a name like that, perhaps the boat was destined for the mystery and tragedy that later surrounded it. 

During the day, Jody taught swimming lessons and worked with mentally disabled kids.  Loren continued to build homes and work on other custom carpentry projects.  They also attended classes in preparation for their trip.  Loren took a Ham radio and two navigation classes: Seamanship and Advanced Piloting.  He later took and passed the Ham radio test. Jody took first aid classes.  She even asked her doctor if she could watch minor surgery being performed on her.  After the trip, she planned on taking more medical classes to become a nurse.  She stocked a trunk in the main cabin with medical books and supplies, including a book on burials at sea.  I wish I could ask her why she included that book.  The trunk had wood trim with a map of the Puget Sound painted in the center.  It also had sharp metal corners.  Jody added some rope accents to give it a nautical look.  Later, my mom kept the trunk in our living room, and I used to bump my shins on the corners, which always led to a deep cut, plenty of tears, and a Band-Aid. 

My grandparents continued to maintain a very active social life. Their schedule sounds tiring for me at age thirty-four.  I can’t image being ten years older and following their hectic life.  But, their friends say they thrived in their busy lifestyle.  Jody was someone who always needed a project, she didn’t know how to sit still – something I have definitely inherited from her.

As soon as the boat arrived at Yarrow Bay Marina in Kirkland, they moved in to work on her as much as they could.  They spent almost three years finishing the Spellbound. Everything on the boat they built by hand with love. All of the woodwork was beautifully crafted by Loren to be simple and utilitarian.  Jody sewed all of the cushions and curtains. 

I grew up hearing about the boat, but the first time I remember seeing the Spellbound was about ten years ago, when my close family gathered for a family reunion I organized in the San Juan Islands 20 years after my grandparents’ deaths.  My intent was to try and bring us all together.  I’ve always wanted a big family.  My mom grew up in a large family with two parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, and a whole lot of cousins running around.  I was a bit jealous.  Holidays for me were always just me and Mom.  Our reunion consisted of my uncle Larry and his wife Janis, my aunt Bobbie and her partner Ed, along with her daughters Katie and Jasmine, Jasmine's significant other Adam, their daughter Sadie, myself, and my husband Marcus.  Not as large as I would have liked but we are all related – for better or worse, this was my family.  As often happens at such events, it turned out to be somewhat of a fiasco.  My aunt Bobbie and cousin Jasmine fought almost constantly.  Drinking seemed to be a good means of making it through the weekend.  Thus, we were all slightly sauced through most of it.

The first night we were there, we went out to a fancy dinner at a restaurant on the water. Fancy meals were infrequent in my family as funds were generally tight.  Besides, who wasted money on a restaurant when the food at home was often much better?  Only on special occasions did we go out.  After eating our fill of seafood we went for a walk along the peer.  It was beautiful!  I love the smell of saltwater – a true daughter of the Northwest.  As I looked out onto the waters of the marina, there she was, the Spellbound, sailing into the harbor.  It took my breadth away.  Of all of the places for the boat to end up at this particular moment, she was here with us.  I stood on the dock wondering if my grandparents had decided to join us for our family reunion.  We stood there silently, a moment of communion amid the family chaos.  We watched as she sailed by.  It was getting dark and cold, so we waived goodbye to the Spellbound again and headed to the cars to drive back to our cabins.  Seeing the Spellbound that night confirmed my belief in fate. 

The next time I saw the boat was while researching the death of Jody and Loren for this book.  I wrote a request to the Washington State Department of Licensing to find out where the Spellbound was moored.  While they couldn’t tell me where the boat was currently, they mentioned a marina in Tacoma called the Crow’s Nest as the last place they had a record of her.  I immediately tried to call the marina to see if the boat was still there.  No answer.  I tried again, and then half an hour later, and then a few more times – no answer.  I was anxious and excited to finally see the boat up close as an adult.  The marina was an hour drive from Seattle.  I felt a strong urge to drive down there right away, but what if the Spellbound wasn’t there?  Still, I was compelled to go.  The one clue I have been looking for to help me understand what happened could be somewhere on that boat.  I had to go.

I called my mom at work and asked if she could leave early and drive to the marina with me.  She agreed and we met 20 minutes later to drive together to the Crow’s Nest Marina.  In the car, we had our all-too-familiar conversation about my grandparents.  What could have happened out at sea?  And why?  She told me a bit about Ralph, the person who purchased the boat from my grandparents’ estate. She could not remember much about him, except that he loved the boat and the notoriety that came with it.

I was nervous as we pulled into the marina.  The place looked deserted and a bit rundown.  The bright yellow Spellbound was nowhere to be seen among the boats docked at the marina. My heart sank.  Why did I feel the need to be here today?  I noticed a man pushing a wheelbarrow and asked if the office was open.  He said he was the manager and inquired if he could do anything for me.  My mom pulled out a cigarette.  I knew this would be stressful for her.  I explained that I was looking for a boat called the Spellbound, a 53-foot bright yellow sailboat that may have been moored there many years ago.  He wiped his brow and smiled. Another man exited the gate from the dock to join us. “Hey, they're looking for the Spellbound,” the manager called to the newcomer. 

"You just missed her," he replied. "What do you want with the boat? You know it’s haunted. There was a murder on it." At this point my mom piped in, “Of course we know there was a murder, it was my parents.” I glared at her.  I understood her reaction, but I really wanted them to explain what they heard happened about the Spellbound, as there is usually a bit of truth to every tale. I turned to the manager and asked when the Spellbound would be back. “Not coming back,” he said. “What!?” I blurted out.  “Ralph left the marina an hour and a half ago to move the Spellbound to a new slip in Olympia.”  According to the manager, the Spellbound had been moored at the Crow’s Nest for more than a decade.  And I missed it by an hour!  The only consolation was I confirmed that Ralph had only sailed a short distance away, Olympia was a far easier road trip than Hawaii.  Well, at least I now knew that Ralph still owned the boat.

I casually asked if he happened to know the name of the marina in Olympia.  He eyed me for a minute, unsure of whether he should give me the information.  Shrugging, he said he thought it was called West Bay Marina.  Then he volunteered, “I can’t say I’m sorry to see him move on. We had some differences, and I asked him to leave. He owes us one last moorage fee. He should be back sometime to pay.”  I wrote my contact information on a piece of paper and noted that I was the Edwards’ granddaughter and handed it to the manager.  “Could you please give this to Ralph when he comes back?”  I asked.  “Sure,” he replied and shoved the little note into his shirt pocket.  I wasn't convinced he would, but it was worth a try.

My mom and I got back into the car not more than ten minutes after our arrival, feeling quite deflated.  I optimistically hoped that Ralph would call me.  The drive home was quiet.  I waited for a couple of weeks but didn’t hear from Ralph.  What to do next? Fortune favors the bold, I thought.  My husband and I packed our three and five year old boys into the car for the one and a half hour drive to Olympia – we left pretty early so we wouldn’t miss him.  Again, the familiar conversation about my grandparents was relived during the drive south, but this time with my husband. What happened…why…and who did it?  With Marcus it was much less emotional, no rawness to it.

We parked at the marina and let the boys run around for a bit. This also gave me time to compose myself.  What if he was rude or uncooperative and wouldn’t let us see the boat.  The Spellbound, my grandparents dream they built with their own hands, was the site of something terrible – but what?  Would I feel their presence on the boat?  Would the energy from the events of that ill-fated weekend engulf me?  I had to stop my thoughts so I wouldn’t get myself worked up into a state of fear and anxiety.

West Bay Marina was much larger than the Crow’s Nest. We walked along the docks looking for the 53-foot sailboat, thinking such a large, bright boat should be easy to spot. Someone asked if we needed help. “Sure, we are looking for a guy named Ralph who owns the Spellbound, a large yellow sail boat,” I answered.  I guess my family looked harmless enough as the man let us through the gate and said he thought the boat was moored at the end of J dock.  “She's a big boat, takes up two spaces,” he commented. We thanked him and walked to the end of the dock and to my disappointment there was no Spellbound.  I thought we had missed Ralph again.

Then I saw her across the water moored along the next dock.  Her bright yellow color had mellowed and she looked in a bit of disrepair.  My husband stayed to take a few pictures and the kids and I ventured towards her.  As I walked closer I could see someone working on deck that I assumed to be Ralph.  Breathe deep, I told myself.  Holding the hands of my two boys I approached the boat. “Hi, my name is Kara and I’m looking for Ralph,” I stated, perhaps a bit too loudly.  He looked up for a second and continued working.  After what seemed a long time, he wiped his hands and pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket.  It was my contact information.  “I was going to call you, just been busy,” Ralph replied. 

Up close you could see that the boat was definitely in need of repairs.  We chatted for a bit with me on the dock and him standing onboard looking down at me.  My husband joined us and Ralph finally invited us aboard.  Marcus and the children climbed up the ladder, but I held back for a moment.  Here she was, the site of the event that had changed my life, my family’s life – and so much tragedy.  Would I feel something standing onboard?  Could my grandparents somehow send me a sign to tell me what had happened?  I slowly climbed up and Ralph offered me a hand.  Once on deck I felt nothing.  I was just standing on a sailboat in Olympia, Washington, with a stranger by my side showing me his boat. 

Ralph gave us a tour of the deck and explained why the Spellbound was looking a bit beat up. “A couple of months back, we experienced a severe wind storm in our area. At the Crow’s Nest many boats were damaged from being tossed against one another and into the dock where they were moored.” Ralph was on shore when the storm hit and couldn’t get to the Spellbound.  Helplessly he watched as she crashed into a neighboring boat and broke free.  He continued with a note of awe in his voice, “Somehow, she managed to sail in between two other boats without further damage while the wind churned the water and thrashed at her sides. Slowly, the Spellbound drifted out towards sea when her anchor came undone. The chain let itself out, uncoiling onto a dock, over another boat, until it finally caught on the pole that boats are moored to. She settled down peacefully to ride out the remainder of the storm.”  He smiled, “She is a special boat,” he said.  But, we already knew that.

Click here for a Layout of the Spellbound