The historic El Primero, originally a steam yacht, has returned to the Tacoma waterfront and is moored at the Foss Waterway Seaport. Once the bounty in a high stakes Tacoma poker game, El Primero was built in San Francisco in 1893 -- the first steam yacht built on the west coast and one of the few steam yachts to operate on Puget Sound. The yacht had an auxiliary sail rig, and its steam engine was capable of reaching a top speed of 13.5 knots.
Originally owned by Edward W. Hopkins, heir to the wealth of his uncle Mark Hopkins (for whom the Mark Hopkins Hotel is named), the yacht cost $240,000 to build. At a time when only 15% of San Francisco residents had plumbing, the El Primero had plumbing on board. Hopkins sold the yacht in 1906 to Chester Thorne of Tacoma, and she was based in Puget Sound. Thorne in turn wagered the yacht in a poker game, lost the game, and the yacht went to Sidney Albert "Sam" Perkins. A newspaper publisher, the Perkins Building on A Street in Tacoma is named after him.
El Primer hosted numerous presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt; Warren G. Harding; Herbert Hoover and William Howard Taft during his visit to the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in Seattle. During World War II, the yacht served as a US Navy patrol vessel and was returned to Perkins in 1947. Following his death eight years later, the yacht was left to Perkins' heirs and later purchased by Sy Devening of Puget Sound Excursion Lines. It was converted to diesel power, passed through American and Canadian owners, and taken out of service in 2000, where it remained at a dock in Blaine, Washington. In 2010, Seattle engineer and tug boat captain Christian Lint purchased the yacht and brought her back to life. El Primero powered into the Tacoma waterfront for the Tacoma Maritime Fest in August 2013.
El Primero is open for limited tours at the Foss Waterway Seaport on Sunday, October 6 at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 PM. Guided tours of El Primero are included with Seaport admission. The Foss Waterway Seaport celebrates the past, present and future of Tacoma's rich maritime heritage. The "Working Waterfront Maritime Museum" is closing this fall to facilitate more building improvements on the 113-year-old Balfour Dock building and will reopen in the spring of 2014. The Seaport's Grade 1-12 education programs will continue, offering land and boat-based education along with its family activity called Pier Peer.