“ Would you like to take a ride on the Thunderbird yacht?” This was the question asked of me from my contact at Liquid Blue Events, the people that do such a remarkable job promoting the Lake Tahoe Concours d’Elegance wooden boat show. After reading the email six times over to make sure I was not dreaming, I graciously accepted the offer. A friend who was also in Tahoe for the boat show dropped us off, and through the iron gates of the Thunderbird Lodge my wife Mary and I went. We ascended the long curved driveway, and my anticipation grew as the elegant stone estate came into view. This was the home of the fabulous Thunderbird yacht.
The Thunderbird was commissioned by George Whittell Jr., a wealthy playboy with a panache for women, big-game wild animals, card games, exotic automobiles, and of course, boats. It has been said that he pulled fifty-million dollars out of the stock market in 1929 just before it crashed, thus allowing him to indulge in whatever he pleased, even during the Great Depression. His Tudor revival Thunderbird lodge, completed in 1939, included a card house, a house for “Mingo” his pet elephant, and a splendid 100 foot long boat house to keep the Thunderbird yacht. There is a 600 foot tunnel cut through the rock connecting the boathouse to the house, insuring not only privacy, but as a way of transporting supplies to the yacht.
Close to the main house, a series of stone walkways weave their way past decorative gardens allowing gorgeous views of the lake down to the boathouse. A stairway then takes you down into the boathouse. At the bottom of the stairs the bow of the regal Thunderbird is the first thing I see. The gleaming chrome, mirror-finish varnish mahogany, and brushed stainless steel all flow together creating a floating masterpiece that is so mesmerizing, I could not believe what I was seeing. I have seen this boat before, but here in its original boathouse, it looks even more impressive. Perhaps I was struck with a sense of history, realizing what an important artifact this boat, and its home is.
Soon we were on board along with another eight or ten lucky people. The Captain went over a few details with the passengers, and soon began the start-procedure for starting the engines. My ride on the Thunderbird was about to begin.