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October 6, 2005

Reader's Request

The Ten Ninety One

story and photo by HELEN SANDERSON

Back in July, when Journal reader and bluesman Don Haupt told me he had a story idea, I figured, like most skeptical reporters would, that he was publicity-fishing. Don is kind of a ham, but he's not predictable, so maybe it shouldn't have surprised me when he pitched something that was sort of out of left field: Find out about that weird little battleship near the Samoa of the warship Ten Ninety One by HELEN SANDERSON

Well, I forgot about it for a while, but when Staff Writer Heidi Walters suggested a "Reader's Request" column, Haupt and the mystery battleship resurfaced. So, Mr. Delta Blues, this one is for you. (By the way, Haupt is down from Tacoma this weekend to play some shows, check out The Hum p.26.)

Right: The warship Ten Ninety One.

It's called the Ten Ninety One, originally the 1091, and indeed, it is, or was, a warship of the U.S. Navy. Moored by some rotting pillars on the east side of the Samoa Bridge all by its lonesome, it's just a creepy walk down a barbed-wire-lined and trash-strewn path to the water at the foot of T Street in Eureka. Considering its unpleasant surroundings, the ship is in pretty good shape.

Local historian Ray Hillman, who knows everything about everything, said that the Ten Ninety One has been "very well preserved" by its owner, a McKinleyville dentist who occasionally uses it for albacore fishing. The ship was one of 1,100 made, and was built in Bay City, Mich., in 1944. It's a type of ship called an LCI, or land craft infantry, meaning it was made small and flat-bottomed so it could land on the beach. Just turn the engine in reverse and an LCI could motor itself off the sand and slip back to the sea to get more supplies or soldiers. That was the basic purpose of the LCIs, to make sneaky runs between big ships and the shore.

This particular warship saw action in World War II in the Pacific Theater of Operations and was used for postwar environmental cleanup along the Japanese coast. During the Korean War, the 1091 saw action in the North Korean Aggression and the U.N. Summer-Fall Offensive. It's now the flagship for the LCI Veteran's Association, which has an annual convention in Eureka. The Ten Ninety One takes WWII veterans (once 180 of them) around Humboldt Bay.

Ten Ninety One owner Ralph Davis, the 72-year-old McKinleyville dentist, said it was always his dream to own a ship. He purchased it in 1988 for $115,000 in Marysville, Wash., where it housed a fish cannery, and docked it in Eureka a year later. Davis was in the Army from 1953-1955, where, "oddly enough," he served as a dentist in Alaska. His experience with boats comes from years of commercial fishing in Alaska, where he grew up. When he bought the 1091, he planned to take it to the malaria-burdened South Pacific to work on mosquito abatement. He figured the ship was big enough (163 feet long, 23 feet wide) to haul all the "junk" he'd need to bring with him, but he never went.

Lately, Davis hasn't used the boat much, with fuel prices being so steep and all. Over the years people have offered to buy it from him, but it's not for sale, he says. The Ten Ninety One is one of the only LCIs left and the only one that still looks like an original and is also operational. (There's another one in Portland, but it has no engines.) So, Davis likes the idea of keeping the unique little ship around Humboldt County, even if he's not using it. In a few months, he'll donate it to be used as part of a proposed maritime museum in Fields Landing where LCI veterans can hold their reunions.

For more information, see the ship's page on the "NavSource" website:

Are you baffled by some local phenomenon? Do you want to hear about some neglected Humboldt County lore? Send your request to, and put "Reader's Request" in the subject line.


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