The Endeavour is an Army T-Boat
T-Boats were designed for the US Army 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.
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.
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 “Alcatraz,” however, 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 photo from November 4, 1968 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.
In 1981, McNeil Island Penitentiary was given to the State of Washington. The T451, being federal property, was auctioned off. By then, 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, a tow company owner on Orcas Island, Washington, 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 pilothouse in two and moved the front forward three feet, added a watch berth behind the wheel, and added a doghouse on the foredeck. They reformed and strengthened the bulwarks, adding a 7-inch wide 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 feet aft.
Inside, the shipwrights added a galley to the salon and built three staterooms and two heads with showers down below, paneling everything in mahogany and yellow cedar. 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 9-foot-high ceilings in places.
Morris’ crew pulled out everything in the engine room — the old Caterpillar engine (which had replaced the original Buda engine), the oil system, and 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 lazarette and a fourth 94-gallon tank under the pilothouse, bringing the total capacity to 1,779 gallons.
This work was done in phases over 15 years, most of it at Orcas Island in the San Juans, north of Seattle. Morris recounted that 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. He eventually sold the boat to Dave and Sheila Saxton of Seattle, who kept the name Hobbit and moved the boat through the locks to Lake Union. Dave upgraded the electrical system and installed new electronics.
In October 2007, Bill Urschel bought the T451, renamed it the Endeavour, and began to use the boat for occasional scientific work. He took the boat south to California on an expedition looking for prehistoric village sites submerged near California’s Santa Rosa Island and to excavate a sea cave on Santa Rosa Island, both trips with scientists from the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, the University of California at Santa Barbara, and the State of California. The Endeavour has also made a few trips in Puget Sound and San Juan Island for the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture.
In 2020, Bill extensively renovated the Endeavour and had it certified by the US Coast Guard as a research vessel, and he and his wife, Patsy, moved themselves and the boat to Alaska and started Alaska Endeavor, a non-profit, member-supported corporation, to support expeditions for scientists and other researchers in Alaska and share their work.