Story by Lori Mai
As a general contractor in Moscow, Keith Smith designs his projects with straight lines and sharp angles. Over time, he became bored with everything being so square, and he started thinking about working with curves.
It wasn’t until he built his own home with his wife, Mary Fauci, on a windswept field south of Moscow, that he decided what he wanted to construct.
“Keith was saying it's very windy up here,” Mary recalls. “And I told him that he should find a reason to enjoy the wind. He said maybe we should take up sailing.” And with that, he went to work.
In 2006, Keith built his first sailboat, a little 13-foot dinghy named “Puddleduck.”
And they began learning how to sail.
As a teenager in Mississippi, Keith had taken a few sailing classes one summer, but Mary, who hailed from Flushing, New York, had never sailed before. So, they traveled to Florida to take American Association of Sailing classes on a weeklong sailing cruise to see if they liked the sport.
“We discovered that we really liked sailing,” Mary says. “It’s peaceful, and it’s neat that you can use the wind to travel.”
Not long afterwards, Keith and Mary chartered a boat in the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington, followed by a trip to St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean.
For Keith’s 50th birthday in 2010, they flew to Mexico and sailed to Hawaii with a captain and crew – total of five people - for 17 days on their first ocean passage. The couple loved the journey on the 54-foot boat with no land in sight, witnessing marine life, and fishing for Mahi Mahi.
“I was worried I was going to be bored, but I was fascinated the whole time,” Mary says.
Wanting to voyage on a boat of their own, the couple purchased a 29-foot sailboat in Sitka, Alaska, which they sailed to Anacortes, Washington.
“We were going to go sailing around the world, or at least wherever we wanted to until we ran out of money,” Keith says, “But in the process of sailing to Anacortes, we decided we didn’t want a boat that had to stay in the water the whole time. We decided to build a boat that we could put on a trailer and take to various places.”
Keith spent a long time researching the kind of boat he wanted to build, exploring plans, books, and magazines for a traditional style that would be big enough to spend a week or two living on, or just for an afternoon of sailing.
During this quest, he came across the work of John Welsford, a New Zealand designer, who had created a 21-foot trailer yacht, called the “Penguin,” which was described by one owner to be roomy, comfortable, aesthetically appealing, and excellent seakeeping ability with “hardly a straight line to be found.”
Keith thought it sounded like the perfect boat.
Ironically, an acquaintance named Peter VanSickle, who Mary had met through her job as an environmental specialist with the Nez Perce Tribe, had built a Penguin in Coeur d’Alene. Keith and Mary made arrangements to pay a visit to examine the craft, and once Keith saw it, he knew it was what he wanted to build.
“I had been looking at 23-25-footers, thinking I would need something that big to be able to stand up in, but this one I can,” he says. “For 21 feet, it’s a voluminous boat. It’s probably one of the biggest 21-foot boats you can put on a trailer.”
First, Keith needed to build a new shop to replace one he had outgrown. He positioned a full-size picture of the boat in the middle of the floor and drew a large circle around it. Then, he designed the rest of the shop around the boat bay.
Keith began constructing the Penguin in 2016. The design calls for plywood-on-frame with fiberglass sheathing. As an experienced carpenter, he built every part from scratch, including the pulleys that he fabricated from recycled locust firewood chunks.
Even so, there were skills he needed to learn. Lonnie Hutson of Sundog Expeditions in Deary taught him about epoxy. He also had to learn how to pour 1,000 pounds of molten lead for the keel - a challenge that failed mightily with his first attempt.
Mary sewed all of the sails and cushions and feathered the paint.
It took three years to complete, and on March 10, 2018, with great fanfare, Keith and Mary - along with friends and family - officially launched “Four Seas,” which is how New Yorkers pronounce “Fauci.”
Four Seas was ideal for Keith and Mary, but they desired to also have a boat that would seat more people. Two years later, Keith built a 19-foot Caledonia Yawl open boat he named “Merryweather,” in reference to the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and to Mary, who works with weather in her job.
“It’s like ‘happy weather,’” Keith says.
In an effort to expand their options, Keith also built a “skin-on-frame canoe,” of lightweight Dacron, which is used as a towable dinghy to travel to shore from Four Seas when it is moored or anchored offshore. And, last year, Keith purchased and converted a Ford Van to include a bed, refrigeration, stove and cabinets. Called their “land yacht,” the van serves as a camper that can be used by itself on land, or in a functional land/sea combination with Four Seas.
Keith and Mary are members of the Lewis-Clark Sailing Association in Lewiston, and as cruising coordinator for the club, Keith tries to put together six to eight group trips per year. The club issues an award called ASS, short for “All Season Sailor,” given out to any member who completes at least one hour of sailing, once a month, for 12 consecutive months. For years, Keith and Mary have been frequent recipients.
As often as they can, Keith and Mary enjoy sailing the plethora of lakes and rivers in the northwest, but they especially like ocean excursions.
“Both Keith and I had childhoods near the ocean, so when we go to the ocean, it’s like going back to an environment that we like, with the smell of saltwater,” Mary says.
Once they retire, they dream of expanding their sailing playground to include places like the Sea of Cortez and the Bahamas.
“We might need to build another boat,” Keith says with a smile.