Few boaters would have blamed John Jacobi if he'd rowed off that day and left the old boat...

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FEW BOATERS would have blamed John Jacobi if he’d rowed off that day and left the old boat to sink beneath the waves.

A skipper’s miscalculation, a swiftly ebbing tide and a rocky shoal had left the classic yacht Malibu listing at a 45-degree angle with a hole the size of a bathtub in the wooden hull, and Jacobi with an insurance verdict that it wasn’t worth fixing.

“What can I say? I’m a wooden-boat kind of guy,” he says now, three years after spending $2.4 million to salvage and restore the historic boat — twice as much as the insurance company said it was worth.

“These old boats are a heckuva lot more boat than the newer ones around these days,” he says. “I was raised on Lake Washington, and I’ve been around boats all my life. I guess it’s just a romanticism I have.”

The 100-foot Malibu, christened in 1926, was scheduled to be among as many as 300 teaked-out, dazzlingly varnished and often wildly decorated vessels — mega-yachts, sailboats, kayaks, canoes and dinghies — in the parade yesterday marking the opening day of boat season.

Enthusiasts ashore, though, couldn’t have seen the attention to history that Jacobi and his wife, Roz, put into getting the Malibu off the rocks and back to its rightful place as a grande dame of Seattle’s classic antique-boat community.

The yacht was designed by Ted Geary and built by Norman Blanchard, two of the most well-respected names in West Coast boating circles during that era. It was built for the Rindge family, who owned a prosperous ranch that covered much of what is now Malibu, Calif.

Its history includes time spent as a gunboat during World War II and, later, a swank floating getaway for the rich and famed.

Windermere Services, the umbrella company to the Windermere real-estate franchises and the enterprise founded and still chaired by Jacobi, bought the Malibu in 1999. The company uses it partly to help raise money for the Windermere Foundation, which benefits homeless and low-income families.

The Malibu had been refurbished in the ’70s and an elevated pilot house added. But the interior had been cut up into minuscule spaces, and the materials used did little to enhance its nautical heritage.

The Jacobis brought in Rachel Alexander, a Bainbridge Island designer, to update the interior and try to regain some of the original charm.

“The whole thing had layers and layers and layers of old paint and mirrors and laminates everywhere,” Alexander recalls. “Even the brass portholes were covered in paint. We took out bulkheads and made more functional sleeping berths. And we added lots of teak and wall coverings that can take the weather but aren’t so trendy.”

Alexander combined two tiny berth spaces to form a master cabin with a roomy bed and plenty of storage. Smaller cabins hold bunks enough to sleep 11 comfortably, including a three-person crew, and six heads.

Berths are covered in a woven pattern that features fish and fish skeletons. A plasma TV hides behind one of the soft-hued scenics by Northwest artists that decorate the teak bulkheads.

Much of the interior trim is copied or salvaged from the original. Carved wooden fish and dolphins swim along window frames. Windows in the main salon are lashed open with the thick leather straps that have held them from the beginning.

The original pilot house was turned into a comfortable indoor salon Jacobi calls the Malibu Room. On mild summer evenings guests gather on the aft deck, under a cedar ceiling striped with white beams.

The original wooden steering wheel dominates the Malibu’s upper pilot house, the main working area during cruises.

“The pilot house was the only place that wasn’t under water when it sank,” says Greg Gustafson, a Windermere project manager whose duties include seeing that the Malibu is kept shipshape. “It’s still an old boat, though, and in weather we are still mopping up constantly.”

It all had to be redone after the accident, of course — the boat had listed in the murky water for two days, and everything was coated with an oily sheen.

Alexander was brought back to re-create the interior as near as possible to the way she’d left it. Most of the fabrics she’d used were still available.

The result of all that work, money and time is a crisp, old-fashioned yacht with modern amenities that might have just cruised out of the Roaring ’20s and into the 21st century.

Gustafson estimates the latest restoration — which found rotted timber and other damage that might have gone unnoticed if the boat hadn’t struck that shoal — added 60 years to the Malibu’s life. It’s a guess that gratifies Seattle’s considerable number of classic-boat fans.

The Malibu led the boat parade in 2003.

“It was a high point in my life, leading that parade with all the people on the shore hooting and hollering for us,” says Gustafson. “It really choked me up to hear it because a lot of them had known the boat and had heard it had sunk. But they didn’t know it had been saved until they saw it.”

Sally Macdonald, a former Seattle Times reporter, is a freelance writer. Greg Gilbert is a Times staff photographer.