‘She Called to Me’ Washington Man Says of the F/V Windwalker

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

July 31, 2023

Kelly Hokanson stands on the bow of his new fishing boat, Windwalker, which he bought at auction from the Morro Bay Harbor Department. His plans are to return the boat to tuna fishing.

A Washington State man was giddy with excitement and counting his blessings after he took a chance on a fishing boat being auctioned in Morro Bay, and is now planning a grand adventure to take it tuna fishing in the South Pacific.

Kelly Hokanson, who hails from Lincoln in Placer County and now resides in Illwaco, Wash., was the winning bidder for the fishing boat Windwalker, which the Morro Bay Harbor Department auctioned off on July 13. 

The City put the Windwalker through a Federal seizure process after the previous and sole owner fell behind on dockage fees. 

Windwalker is an unusual type of fishing boat, different from the stereotypical profile of a troller. She has a schooner hull, and looks a lot like a single mast sailboat but with a sturdy wheelhouse and a deck full of fishing gear and equipment. 

Hokanson said he’s been a commercial tuna fisherman in Illwaco for several years and was dreaming about getting his own boat. On his birthday he said he saw Windwalker’s auction on of all places, Craig’s List. 

“I was working on property I have,” he said while standing on the North T-pier above the boat. “I was going to fix it up and sell it so I could buy a boat. And that’s when I saw the ad.”

Kelly Hokanson holds up the cremated remains of ‘Collis William Chandler’ of Cayucos, which he found aboard the Windwalker.

It was love at first sight, as he said he loved everything about the boat he could ascertain from the photos online. He’d even seen it before years ago in Washington and marveled at it back then. “I saw immediately what this was.”

His plan was to scrape up a pile of money, by whatever means necessary, go to Morro Bay and buy it. He had $60,000 available to him, he said.

The day before the sale, “I came down with a friend,” Hokanson said. “I was a nervous wreck.” 

It was 2008 when fire almost took his home, the last time he was this shaken. “It was the same stress.”

He said he felt an immediate draw to the boat. “It called to me,” he said. On auction day, he said he had a definite limit of $30,000 that he was willing to spend, because there were so many unknowns about Windwalker. 

Things like what shape are the hull, the engine and the generator in? Are the batteries any good? How bad is the rust on the deck? Does she leak, and a million others. 

Windwalker hasn’t been fished for several years after the owner fell ill. Hokanson knew of one other person who was interested in her and at the auction, “Just me and him showed up,” he said. 

Bidding started at one dollar. Hokanson said he stepped up and made a bold move. “I got it for a thousand dollars,” he said, smiling like the cat that ate the canary. “I literally hit the Lottery.”

But just what did he buy? Hokanson said a couple of hours after the sale, he decided to check her out. He checked the batteries, the fuel tanks, and other little things you have to do before you start a boat and then, “She started right up,” he said. “Oh my gosh, the motor runs great. That old cat came to life and she purrs like a kitten.

The generator too fired right up and seems to be working fine. “I haven’t found anything that doesn’t work.” 

He had brought a load of new batteries with him, but found the existing ones were still good, as well. And he estimates there’re thousands of gallons of diesel on board too, though the condition of the fuel was questionable. 

The fuel tanks line the inside of the hull, which Hokanson said makes Windwalker essentially double-hulled. “If you sprung a leak on the [outer] hull,” he said, “it would only flood the tank; you’d just leak fuel. It’s really an ingenious design.” 

The interior of the boat below is like a tunnel and he thinks it would stay afloat, at least until seawater ate through the inner tank wall.

The gear on deck seems to be in good order too, and some of that gear is pretty valuable.

Though she looks bad, Hokanson said it’s mostly just surface rust, and the deck and hull aren’t flaking with rust, a sign of poor-grade steel that would need replacing. He planned to have a diver come in and scrape the hull and do an inspection.

Mostly, he thinks his biggest work will be clean up — on deck and below, too. “We all clean up good don’t we?” he laughs. 

Most of the things he’s thought of to work on, the previous owner “had already started doing.” He’s finding replacement parts all over the place.

He will probably change the outrigger rigging to stainless steel cable, install a stainless railing that’s sitting on the deck, and make some other changes. 

“Every type of gear you would want for tuna fishing,” he said, “is already on this boat. It’ll be a labor of love.” He even plans to leave the U.S. Marshall’s Office seizure notice that’s stuck in the window, just to tell the story.

And the Windwalker could soon be world famous, as he wants to document her voyage back to work on YouTube.

He plans to take the boat tuna fishing with long lines and hand pulling. “I can catch enough fish to keep the boat going.”

He hopes to be out of Morro Bay by Aug. 2. Terms of the sale were that the boat has to leave Morro Bay Harbor within a certain number of days.

He’ll head to Moss Landing to haul it out and start on the repairs needed for the long trip back to Washington for more work. He figures he can have Windwalker back fishing “by next September.” And because he paid so little for it, that leaves him with a nice pile of money for the work, because as boat owners know too well — B.O.A.T. stands for “Break Out Another Thousand.”

“The next time I come through Morro Bay, it’ll be with a boatload of tuna,” he said. Eventually, he plans to head to the South Pacific to fish. 

“She [Windwalker] has been all over the Pacific, why shouldn’t I? I’ve always wanted to do that run.” 

He hopes that by that time the market for tuna will have improved, as right now, “prices are ridiculous.”

He’s looking for a deckhand to make the trip to Moss Landing with him. He said he’d pay for their return to Morro Bay. Anyone interested should look him up on Windwalker at the North T-pier. He’s got a lot of clean up work that has to be done before he leaves. Pay is negotiable. 

“I’m looking for a deckhand to take a boat ride with me,” he said. “We’ll work out the details.”

On another note, Windwalker may have come with a possible guardian angel. While looking through all the personal stuff that was left on the boat, he found something that touched him — the cremated remains of a Cayucos man. 

He ran below to fetch a wooden box wrapped in a plastic bag and held it up for a photo. 

The name on the box’s label is “Collis William Chandler,” he reads. “Born Nov. 5, 1948, died May 14, 2008.” Mr. Chandler was apparently born in Avila Beach and lived in Cayucos. 

If EBN readers know any living relatives of Mr. Chandler Hokanson said he’s willing to return the ashes to his family. 

Otherwise, his plan is to scatter them at sea as he crosses the equator on his South Pacific adventure, in old sailor tradition. 

“I have the ashes,” he said, “and a permit to scatter ashes. Unless someone claims them, he’ll end up across the equator.”

He hopes his spirit crew will bring him good luck.

He wants to thank the original owner, John Gillespie, who he said must have truly loved Windwalker. “It was meant to be; the boat called to me,” he said. “I hope John will realize, this boat is in good hands.”

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