The Endeavour is a former U.S. Army T-Boat.
The T-Boats were designed as general-purpose transport, cargo, towing, and firefighting vessels. The designers were the Boston naval architects, Eldridge and McInnes. From 1940 through 1951 all T-Boats were built of wood. Then from 1951 through 1954 another 110 T-Boats were built of steel (the Series 2001 T-Boats) by three shipyards: Missouri Valley Steel in Leavenworth, Kansas, Higgins Company in Louisiana, and National Steel and Shipbuilding Corporation in San Diego, California.
T-Boat engines varied between a Buda 1878 4 cylinder, a Caterpillar D 375, and a straight six Caterpillar, depending on what the yard had available. The T-boats also had Hercules fire pumps and simple DC electrical systems.
The steel T-Boats were intended for the Korean War, but the war ended with 84 of these boats still under construction. As they were finished, some went into peacetime military service, some were given to other government agencies, universities, and the Sea Scouts, and some were simply mothballed.
The Endeavour, whose unique military identifier was T451, was one of those 84 finished after the war. It was built by National Steel & Shipbuilding, hull number 220, finished in March 1954, and delivered to the Army Depot in Stockton, California. The original bronze plaque is bolted under the wheel in the pilothouse with the designation, hull number, and delivery date. In the engine room, above the forward hatch, welded into the steel (covered by insulation), is “No. 932679.”
The T451 was transferred to the federal prison system. It went into service at Alcatraz in 1955 and was named the Warden Madigan after J. P. Madigan, the warden at the time. In 1961 when Madigan’s successor, Olin G. Blackwell, arrived, it was renamed the Warden Blackwell. The boat’s job was to ferry prisoners back and forth between Fort Mason, in San Francisco, and the island. Pat Mahoney was the pilot of the boat in its Alcatraz years. While the boat ferried prisoners in shackles on the aft deck, Pat said, most of the passengers were guards and their families, up to 100 people at a time.
Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen, and Alvin Francis "Creepy Karpis" Karpowicz of the Ma Barker gang rode on the boat. Pat Mahoney was driving in June 1962 when they went out to look for Clarence Anglin, John Anglin and Frank Morris, who had escaped in their makeshift rubber raft. The boat in the Clint Eastwood movie is not the T451.
Alcatraz Penitentiary closed on March 21, 1963. A newsreel from that day shows the T451 (as the Warden Blackwell) carrying the last 27 prisoners off the island, and a sister ship, the T452 (the new Warden Madigan), carrying the guards’ families.
With Alcatraz closed, both T-Boats were assigned to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Puget Sound, and were towed up the coast by tugboat. Tow eyes were welded on either side of the bow for a bridle. They are still there on the T451.
At McNeil Island, the T451 was renamed again, this time to P. J. Madigan, not quite its first name at Alcatraz (Madigan had also been warden of McNeil Island Penitentiary). A November 4, 1968 photo shows the T451 as P. J. Madigan on Puget Sound, with hull and topsides now painted white. The T452 never went into service at McNeil, but it still lives as a commercial fishing boat based in Everett, Washington.
The most famous prisoner who rode on the T451 at McNeil was Charles Manson. He was locked up for a parole violation on McNeil in July 1961, and was transferred out in June 1966. While there he took guitar lessons from Creepy Karpis, who had ridden on the T451 at Alcatraz.
In 1981 McNeil Island Penitentiary was given to the State of Washington. The T451, being federal property, was auctioned off. It was barely functional. Somewhere along the way the original Buda engine had been replaced by a Caterpillar. The transmission was frozen and the boat could only go forward. The interior was an oily rusty mess with a big empty hold. It had been a workboat for 26 years, constantly in rough service, banged into piers many times a day. It was nobody’s idea of a yacht. But that hull, made of Corten steel, was still sound.
Jerry Morris bought the boat at auction for $25,000. Morris looked at it as just a hull with fair lines and a steel deck and topside. The engine, interior, and all systems could be replaced. At the time, building a similar round-chine hull with deck and superstructure of the same material (no engine or systems) would have cost roughly $1.0 million in 1981 dollars, calculated as 65 dry tons x 2,000 pounds per ton = 130,000 pounds x $8/pound = $1,040,000. Morris was happy.
Morris and his crew of welders and carpenters reworked the boat from the hull up. They cut the pilot house in two and moved the front forward three feet, added a watch berth behind the wheel, and a doghouse on the foredeck. They reformed and strengthened the bulwarks, adding a 7” x 2” mahogany cap rail all around the boat. They added a top deck with port, starboard, and aft overhangs, and they built a paravane stabilizer rig for offshore work. Morris also had the boat lengthened in the stern, increasing the length from the boat to the transom from the original 65’ 6” to 70’ 0”, with a swim step extending another 2-1/2 feet aft.
Inside, Morris completely changed the layout. His carpenters added a galley to the salon, and down below built three staterooms and two heads with showers, and paneled everything in Alaskan long leaf yellow cedar and mahogany. Morris says it took two men two years full-time to do the woodwork. The doghouse with its big portholes fills the staterooms with light and gives them high ceilings.
They pulled out everything in the engine room – the old Caterpillar engine, the oil system, the electrical system, leaving only the pneumatic system. They put in the current eight-cylinder 8V-71N Detroit Diesel, and added new 12v DC, and 120v and 240v AC electrical, with two generators. To the original twin 500-gallon fuel tanks and 160-gallon day tank, they added a third 525-gallon tank in the lazerette and fourth 94-gallon tank under the pilothouse, bringing the total capacity to 1,779 gallons.
This work was done in phases over fifteen years, most of it at Orcas Island in the San Juans, north of Seattle. Morris says he would make some changes, use the boat for a while – taking it up to Glacier Bay and back – and then make more changes. Along the way Morris renamed the boat the Hobbit.
Morris says that after 15 years of tinkering he couldn’t think of any other improvements, so he took on another, bigger boat project and sold the T451 to Dave and Sheila Saxton. The Saxtons kept the name Hobbit and moved the boat to Seattle. Dave upgraded the electrical system, updated most of the electronics, and installed a bow thruster.
In October 2007, William Urschel bought the T451 and renamed it the Endeavour, after the ship Captain Cook took to the South Pacific in 1768. The Endeavour is now a certified research vessel. Urschel and his wife, Patsy, make this good little ship available to small teams of scientists and other researchers for short expeditions of up to two weeks. Since the spring of 2020, the Endeavour has been based in Southeast Alaska..
The work continues. Parts wear out, rust out, clog up, melt down, or fall overboard and need to be fixed or replaced. An old boat is a living thing, and the T451 lives on.