Naval architect Edwin Monk Sr. launches the Nan on May 31, 1934.

  • By Eleanor Boba
  • Posted 11/03/2016
  • Essay 20183

On May 31, 1934, naval architect Edwin Monk Sr. (1894-1973) launches the cruiser Nan at Redondo Beach on the Des Moines waterfront in south King County. The boat will be a live-aboard home for his family for the next seven years, as well as the architect's office for a period.

Ed Monk Sr.

Edwin "Ed" Monk Sr. designed numerous boats of all sizes, both pleasure boats and commercial vessels, during a Seattle-based career that spanned four decades. Many Monk-designed boats are still afloat. He wrote two books and numerous articles on boat design. Setting up in business during the worst of the Great Depression, Monk earned a reputation for practicality and cost-efficient design, while encouraging a do-it-yourself attitude among sailing enthusiasts.

Monk began his career as a shipbuilding apprentice in 1914, working with his father George Monk (1845-1919) at various Northwest shipyards. After designing and building his first boat, the Ann Saunders, in the backyard of his rented Seattle home in 1926, Monk went to work with famed naval architect Ted Geary (1885-1960), first in Seattle and then in Long Beach, California, as a draftsman and assistant architect.

Returning to the Northwest just days before the big Long Beach earthquake of March 10, 1933, Monk set out to build another boat, with the help of his brother Art, this time in the backyard of their parents' Redondo Beach summer home. The 50-foot Nan (like the Ann Saunders, named for the brothers' mother) was to be the Ed Monk family home, and Ed's part-time office, for the next seven years. The family consisted of Ed's wife Ada (1898?-1939), known as Blossom, and his daughters Josephine (1921-1990) and Isabel (b. 1923).

Designed Especially for Us

Monk's daughter, Isabel Van Valey, recalled the Nan in an oral history interview in 2014.

"Well, it was a live-aboard. It was designed especially for us. My sister and I had a stateroom and my parents had the back stateroom and our living room was the pilot house, which eventually [had] an office in one corner. And the galley was down below on the bow. Mother didn't like it down there because she couldn't see where we were going or what we were doing, and I think that was one reason why Dad was inspired to move the galleys up to the pilot house.

"I remember him designing the Nan. They had cleared out a closet in the bedroom in Long Beach and he put a drawing board in there. And I remember him working in there and mother standing beside him. Of course, I was about 10 and I wasn't really very interested, you know. I don't know what she did with all the clothes. Anyway, he has the drawing board in there and they designed the boat while he was in Long Beach.

"He started building the Nan in the back yard and people used to be so interested in it! They'd take their Sunday drives and here this BIG boat was being built. I remember him building his steam box, where you steam the ribs so they bend" (Van Valey interview).

Launch and Life on Board

The launch had been planned for May 30, 1934, Isabel's 11th birthday, but at the last minute Monk postponed the event due to concerns about the weather.

"We couldn't launch it the day that it was announced. Here all these people came from all around to see the launching and he had to cancel because of the wind and the tide. He had to postpone it to the next day and they were all so disappointed because they couldn't see it launch.

"Then we moved on board and he found the best place to reside was at the Seattle Yacht Club. It sounds kind of snooty, but it really wasn't. It was just a place to stay and a place where people could come and park and see him on his boat. And it was within walking distance for my sister and me to go to Montlake Elementary School.

"We were on Pier 5 and the telephone was out on the little dock house, so whenever the telephone rang, you had to go down there. And mother had her laundry done by a laundry and they delivered it damp-wet and she dried it in the dock house. There were no laundry facilities there. She was a good sport; she just loved it on the boat, she did. They were very happy.

"While on the Nan we had a lot of fun. My sister and I enjoyed living aboard. He was a very protective father, taught us very seriously to respect the water, to stand in the middle of a dinghy when you got in and out of it so it won't flip out from under you. Well one time, when we had my friend Shirley who lived up the road at the Yacht Club on Shelby Street, she and my grandfather -- my mother's father -- were getting out of the dinghy and starting up the little ladder that takes you up to the boat and the boat flipped out from under them and they fell in! Of course, they were perfectly safe, because grandpa was hanging on, and Shirley was more worried about getting her coat wet.

"Well that started my dad -- and I think this is a cute story -- on starting the "Overboard Club." If you fell overboard, you were a member of the "Overboard Club." He would make you a member with a little card. Shirley got her overboard club [card,] and grandpa got his, and I think maybe through the years two or three other people got one. I never had one and I thought I was so smart, 'cause I never fell overboard. And he never did either, until one time he was lifting the outboard motor up on to the boat and somehow or other he fell in, but still hung on, so he belonged to the "Overboard Club." I think my mother and I were the only ones who never got to belong" (Van Valey interview).

Moving Ashore

Sources differ on how long Monk actually worked from the boat; eventually -- as business picked up -- he moved his office ashore the better to accommodate visits from clients. In 1941, following the death of his first wife, Blossom, and with his girls grown, Ed Monk sold the Nan.

After a stint in an office on Lake Union, Monk moved his office to the National Building near Colman Dock in 1947. From here he commuted to the home he had built at Hidden Cove on Bainbridge Island. His second marriage, to Anna Gantz, brought him two more children: Judy (1942-2001) and Robert Edwin Monk Jr. (b. ca. 1940). Ed Jr. joined his father in the Bainbridge Island firm then known as “Edwin Monk & Son, Naval Architects” during the 1960s and later continued his father's vocation on his own.

After an illustrious career, Ed Monk Sr. died in 1973 at the age of 79. His vessel plans, half-hull ship models, drafting curves, photographs, and shop sign are in the custody of the Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society. The Nan has gone through several owners and restorations and is rumored now to be in Germany!


Bet Oliver, Ed Monk and the Tradition of Classic Boats (Victoria: Horsdal & Schubart Publishers Ltd., 1998), 1-30; Eleanor Boba interview with Isabel Monk Van Valey, November 8, 2014, Port Orchard, Washington, audiofile and transcript in possession of Puget Sound Maritime Historical Society, Seattle, Washington; R.H.C., "From the Crow's Nest," The Seattle Times, April 24, 1935, p. 12.

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