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Updated 3:46pm - Sep 2, 2014

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Getting off the boat

Souvenirs are 50 percent off at Shipboard Gifts. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).
Souvenirs are 50 percent off at Shipboard Gifts. (The Daily Triplicate/Bryant Anderson).

By Kelley Atherton

The grandiose yacht seems a bit out of place on the grass along U.S. Hwy 101.

The enduring landmark next to the Ship Ashore Resort in Smith River has been home to a museum and gift shop for more than 40 years. And for almost 18 years, it's also been home to Bobbie Mollison, and her husband Ray, who own Shipboard Gifts.

"Up until the last three years (business) was really good," Mollison said. The economic slowdown "knocked it down to nothing."

The gift shop has everything from toys to picture frames to sweatshirts—standard souvenir fare—that feature a nautical theme. Mollison said the merchandise will be discounted 50 percent until everything is sold.

"Every year it would get slower," she said of the recent decline in business.

The tourist season during the summer and into the fall would provide Mollison with enough income to make it through the slow winter.

"That's the secret of business on the North Coast," she said. "I kept hoping it would get better."

Most of her customers come from Grants Pass and Medford, Ore. However, gas prices have kept people away, Mollison said.

She noticed a decrease in customer flow once the economy turned—the shop has been for sale for two years—but it wasn't always this bad.

"I wouldn't have been here 17 years if I hadn't been doing OK," Mollison said.

The Mollisons moved here 20 years ago when Ray got a job helping to build Pelican Bay State Prison. She took over the gift shop because it seemed like a good opportunity, Mollison said. She originally operated the Head Shed, a beauty salon in Smith River.

A perk was meeting people from almost "any country you can think of," Mollison said. She's learned a lot just talking to people who board the ship. Mollison stopped during an interview this week to help out a group of Tacoma, Wash., tourists, almost perfectly illustrating her point that she meets mainly out-of-towners.

Some of the stranger sights Mollison has seen involved people traveling across the country by alternative modes of transportation, such as bike, lawn mower or covered wagon.

There was also the cult leader and his many wives, she said, describing his long blue robe and black flowing hair.

The ship is a tourist stop for those traveling along Highway 101 to look through the museum of oddities and buy a souvenir or two.

The museum in the belly of the ship houses collections of preserved sea creatures such as a whale fetus, baby octopus and captured snakes. There are also artifacts from tribes across the globe, mannequins clothed in pirate gear and old military paraphernalia.

The collection has grown over the years with donations from the community, Mollison said.

The ship and museum will stay right where it is—members of the Westbrook family, the owners of the boat, Ship Ashore resort and restaurant, are looking for someone to take over the gift shop.

Mollison is looking for a new job. She doesn't think she'll start another business.

"It's too hard on the North Coast," she said, then joked that if she did it wouldn't be retail. "I told my husband it'd be either food, booze or gas."

Ship Ashore landmark was a private yacht before being bought by the navy

From the Ship Ashore's Web site:

"Ship Ashore" was originally the private yacht for a New York millionaire in the 1920s. Floating from port to port, authors, statesmen, politicians, men and women of wealth and high position and royalty have been aboard Ship Ashore.

In 1941, the U.S. Navy bought the ship and christened it the U.S.S. Garnet. Ship Ashore traveled through the Panama Canel to its new home in Hawaii where it served as a messenger and weather ship with a crew of 75. Aboard U.S.S. Garnet, sailors patrolled an area north of Hawaii called Johnson. By coincidence, one of its crew members was a Crescent City man.

When the navy retired it in 1946, Ship Ashore's engines were removed and it was moved to Oakland and then to Eureka "'til the weather and tides were to bring her to the banks of the Smith River."

In 1965, it was transported from the mouth of the Smith River to dry land. It took 12 large tractors hitched together with cables more than 10 hours to move the ship a quarter-mile to where it sits today.

 
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