Yacht builder and boater’s boater, the late ‘Tolly’ Tollefson is remembered at a place he loved, Princess Louisa Inlet

Princess Louisa Inlet is a narrow cleft in British Columbia’s Coast Range mountains, a four-mile-long appendage near the upper end of Jervis Inlet, 40 miles from Pender Harbour. Dark granite walls rise to peaks 3,000 feet above the surface and plunge straight into the inlet to depths of 600 feet.

Beautiful waterfalls fed by snowfields on the heights above wash the rock walls year-round, but the waterfalls are more numerous and more dramatic during peak snow melt in the spring. At the head of the inlet, Chatterbox Falls bursts out, creating a stunning background for boat photos. White-coated mountain goats can sometimes be seen dancing on the sheer cliffs behind Chatterbox Falls. Other inlets on the BC coast might be as beautiful and inspiring as Princess Louisa but none of them surpasses it, none of them packs so much drama into such a small space, and all are farther from the major populations of southwest BC. During the week following the May long weekend, my wife Marilynn and I joined a fleet of 15 Tollycrafts, 26 to 61’ in length, which gathered at the 500-foot-long Princess Louisa Provincial Marine Park dock. Except for one lonely Bayliner 47 and a trimaran sailboat at the end of the dock, Tollycrafts pretty much filled both sides.

In his will, R.M. “Tolly” Tollefson, the founder of Tollycraft Yachts, had made a generous donation to the Princess Louisa International Society, and a smaller gift to the Canadian Tollycruisers group. Tolly died in May 2011, five months after his 100th birthday. The Tollycruisers purchased a memorial bench, which park staff installed on a neatly-poured concrete slab facing Chatterbox Falls. We were there to honor the memory of Tolly and to commemorate the bench.

Princess Louisa was important to Tolly. He first visited in 1938, when he met James F. “Mac” MacDonald, who owned 45 acres at the head of the inlet and had built a beautiful log cabin near Chatterbox Falls. Mac was a skilled and devoted chess player, and Tolly played a little chess himself. In 1953 Mac donated his land to the newly formed Princess Louisa International Society to preserve as a park. Over the years, Tolly returned more than 50 times, showing off the boats he was building and leaving customers, dealers and suppliers awestruck with the beauty of the inlet. He loved this place.

Through the Rapids

The dogleg of Malibu Rapids guards the mouth of Princess Louisa Inlet. On most tides, the rapids run too fast for cruising boats to transit. Boats go in or out around the times of slack water, also called the turn. At low-water slack, the outflowing rapids slow and stop, then reverse to flow back into the inlet. At high-water slack they reverse to flow back out. Slack water here is based on low and high tides at Pt. Atkinson to the south. Predicted low-water slack is 35 minutes after Pt. Atkinson low tide. Predicted high-water slack is 25 minutes after high tide. Most boats try to arrive about an hour before the predicted turns and wait until the current eases enough to go through. This is especially true for inbound boats eager to secure a place at the dock.

Pender Harbour is the natural jumping-off point for Princess Louisa Inlet, and during the preceding weekend most of our flotilla had assembled there. Most boats came from Vancouver Island and Vancouver. We joined a couple of other boats from Puget Sound. Tolly 48 owners Tom and Terri Olson Walsh, from the Bay area, flew up from California and were guests on Larry Schnetsky’s Tolly 53 Scruples III. Cara Clark, from Gig Harbor, Washington. couldn’t get away from work long enough to bring her Tolly 30, so she flew up by Kenmore float plane and was also a guest aboard Scruples III.

On Monday morning our flotilla set out from Pender Harbour. The falling barometer had brought rain and clouds that hid many of the mountaintops lining Jervis Inlet. Our boat left early so we would be in position to take pictures of the flotilla as it arrived at Malibu Rapids and passed through into the inlet.

Most of the boats behind us traveled at the 8-9 knots we were making, but about halfway along Scruples III came boiling up at 15 knots. I radioed Larry to say how impressed I was by the easy way his boat slid through the water, how the bow parted the water instead of pushing it ahead, and how low and flat the wake was.

Larry explained that he needed to run the 6V-92 Detroits for a bit to keep them cleaned out. This presented an opportunity. In 15 years with our Tolly 37 Surprise I had never seen our boat at speed, and didn’t know how our trim looked. We advanced the throttles to 15 knots to match Larry, and asked for an opinion. He said the stern was digging a bit of a hole, and we needed more trim tab. We played with tab settings until Larry said we looked just right, and he took pictures. The photos show how smoothly the Ed Monk Jr.-designed hull slides through the water.

During a career that began in 1936, Tolly built more than 3,000 boats, and his relationship with the Edwin Monk naval architecture office was one of the keys to his success. Tolly worked with Ed Monk Sr. and Ed Jr. for the engineering and hull designs of his boats. Although the overall concepts and designs definitely were Tolly’s, he wanted his boats to be happy in the water and to cruise well. For engineering, hull form and balance, he turned to Monk.

Where’s Tolly?

Two days of rainy rendezvous followed our arrival. Boats were cleaned and minor repairs made. Boats were toured, photos taken, and notes jotted down. At 5 p.m. we got together for appetizers under the temporary shelter across the dock from Terry and Susan Murphy’s Tolly 40 tri-cabin Papakea.

Terry Murphy is the godfather and the guiding force behind the Canadian Tollycruisers. It was Terry who put together this entire celebration. And in the first days, in Terry Murphy’s mind and in all of ours, ran the question: Is Tolly here yet?

Tolly was not there yet. Tolly was in the care of Scott and Elaine Fultz, from Portland, Oregon, aboard their Tolly 26 and they hadn’t arrived. Scott worked at the Tollycraft plant in Kelso, Washington 50 years ago. He stayed in touch with Tolly and was Tolly’s caretaker during the last years of his life. In the final days in hospice, it was Scott who whispered to a dying old man that it was okay to go. The old man ignored the advice longer than expected. Tolly was tough.

At last Scott and Elaine pulled in. The mild weather of a week earlier had changed and they endured a rough crossing of the Strait of Georgia, made worse by mechanical problems. In other circumstances I don’t know if they would have carried on. But they had Tolly. They had to get to Princess Louisa Inlet.


The dedication was scheduled for Thursday afternoon. In late morning many of us had taken our dinghies through steady rain for a tour of the extensive Young Life Malibu Club youth Christian ministry at Malibu Rapids. While we were there the rain stopped, the clouds began to clear and a warming sun peeked through. Things were looking up.

Back at the park dock, we gathered, more than 35 of us, at the temporary shelter across from Papakea. Scott Fultz recounted his 50 years of knowing Tolly, including his time as caretaker. Jay Hartland, from Anacortes, gave a eulogy.

Until the last, Tolly enjoyed an afternoon cocktail of three ounces of single malt Scotch whisky over ice, with just a touch of water. So it was appropriate that when Jay finished his remarks he produced a bottle of single malt, about one-third full. “This is for you, Tolly,” he said, and emptied the bottle into the water. We would have applauded in approval, but we were all holding our own glasses of the Tolly single malt cocktail. Afterward we took our glasses, mostly full, up to the bench.

Scott and Elaine Fultz got in their dinghy. When the rest of us were assembled at the bench, almost in the lap of thundering Chatterbox Falls, they motored carefully across the mouth of the outlet stream and spread the ashes, just as Tolly had wished. Bathed in sunlight, we at the bench joined in a “Three cheers for Tolly! Hip-hip-hooray!” and sipped our single malt over ice, with just a touch of water.

A short time later, the rain returned.

By Robert Hale

Photos by Robert Hale and Marilynn Hale

Photo Captions:

1. Tollys at park dock - Tollycraft owners from BC and Washington State gathered at the dock below Princess Louisa Inlet’s Chatterbox Falls to remember the late builder of their boats, R.M. “Tolly” Tollefson.

2. Tolly with Seattle naval architect Ed Monk Sr. – the Monk office played a key role in engineering the Tollycraft hull form.

3. Tolly People at Memorial Bench, Three cheers for Tolly – a toast in single malt.

4. Tolly, right, with Mary LaFleur, at his 99th birthday party.

5. Tolly Memorial Bench Plaque - Tolly made a generous donation to the Princess Louisa International Society in his will, and a smaller gift to the Canadian Tollycruisers group. The Tollycruisers purchased this memorial bench, which park staff installed facing Chatterbox Falls.