A Look Back: John Wayne and the famed ‘Wild Goose’

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Boat from World War II became famous as the Duke would explore and invite Hollywood friends aboard.

Updated: Saturday, August 22, 2009 7:39 PM PDT

The Wild Goose has almost as storied a past in Newport Beach as its former owner, John Wayne.

The 136-foot boat, a former minesweeper used during World War II, became as recognizable as its owner as Wayne motored around the harbor and Catalina Island with family and famous friends for more than a decade.

As news clippings over the years retell, The Duke made few changes to the boat after he bought it in 1965. He added some beds for family and repainted it a bit, but left the sturdy military vessel mostly as-is. It probably saw its biggest changes in its earliest years with Wayne every winter, when he would spruce it up for the annual Christmas Boat Parade.

But when the boat wasn?t playing home to Wayne and his kids, or hosting late-night poker games with Wayne and his Hollywood friends like Sammy Davis Jr., the Wild Goose was exploring the open sea.

While almost all news reports say Wayne bought the Wild Goose in 1965, a story from the Los Angeles Times a year earlier claims it was his when three men drowned off the Mexican coast on their way back to the yacht from their skiff.

In the March 24, 1964, article, three men drowned when their 14-foot skiff capsized as they headed back to the Wild Goose off the coast of Cabo San Lucas. Wayne was there with his wife and son on vacation. The men were headed to the Wild Goose when they tried to switch places on the small boat, and it flipped. All but one died.

In 1969, the Wild Goose ran aground in San Diego Harbor, news reports show. When Wayne filed an insurance claim, the company rejected it. Wayne eventually won all $74,000 from the company after a Los Angeles court judge ruled in his favor in a civil suit.

In Wayne?s last year with the Wild Goose, 1975, he partnered with a treasure hunter to go find a 17th century shipwreck off Catalina Island.

According to a 1991 Los Angeles Times article, Chuck Kenworthy approached The Duke to see if he could use his boat. Kenworthy met Wayne while working on ?The Searchers,? and in 1974, approached him to see if he could rent it. Wayne wanted to be a partner. The two, with the help of some divers Wayne worked with from ?The Green Berets,? searched for a Manila galleon off Catalina. They found some copper plates, but not much else.

Canadian customs found more than that in 1978, when the Wild Goose?s new owner failed to have $2,000 worth of Wayne?s liquor properly sealed as he crossed the border. According to a news report from the time, Canadian officials emptied Wayne?s liquor bottles, some with his personal labels on them, down a police department sink drain.

The yacht has been refitted and is now owned by Hornblower Cruises and Events and charters people around Newport Harbor.

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