Before shots rang out from her deck toward the shores of Eagle Harbor, Robert Yeiser’s boat, the Flying Gull, was far past its golden years and storied history of hunting Nazi submarines.
According to a 2010 marine survey conducted of S/V Flying Gull by Rodger Morris, the vessel did indeed have a history of clandestine maritime operations.
The survey described Flying Gull as a heavily constructed, Sparkman &Stephens-designed wood motorsailer, built to military specifications by Henry Grebe &Co. in Chicago, Illinois. It was “used by the U.S. Navy during WWII as a ‘spy ship’ in the Caribbean and on the Eastern coast of Central and North America,” according to the survey.
The story of the Flying Gull, originally named AWAB (All Women Are Beautiful), begins in 1938 when John Simpson teamed with up with the Navy to construct a pilothouse ketch. Officially called Sparkman &Stephens Design 247, AWAB was launched in 1940.
Lee Youngblood, a sailboat broker in Anacortes, listed the Flying Gull in 2013 for her owner, Dennis Webb. According to Youngblood, the boat was credited as a critical asset in the sinking of numerous enemy submarines during the war.
Youngblood said the boat was outfitted with classified equipment capable of detecting submarines below the water’s surface and pinpointed their locations for depth charge drops by other Navy ships.
Youngblood said the Flying Gull was responsible for detecting an enemy submarine off the shores of Long Island, New York and identifying some 27 more outside the Panama Canal, which were poised to cut off crucial Allied supply lines to the Pacific theatre.
Secrecy still surrounds those fabled days, however.
“I have no proof of any of this,” Youngblood said, explaining that the Navy would not discuss the particular technology used aboard the vessel to detect submarines.
After the war had ended, AWAB made her way back to Chicago where she would sail the Great Lakes region until 1959, when Simpson sold the boat to Ritter Shumway of Rochester, N.Y.
Renaming her Flying Gull, Shumway retained ownership of the vessel until 1993.