The iconic Santa Monica High School SS Viking is a symbol showing students that summer is here and graduation is near, but 2017 will be the final voyage for the popular Grad Nite tradition.
Over 600 students will be attending this year’s Samohi Grad Nite 2017 on June 8. The rite of passage for graduates consists of food, various activities throughout the night and jumping on the SS Viking to an exotic destination, this year being Jamaica.
Every year a group of men work together to construct the 28 feet tall and 34-foot long blue and gold ship. Fathers Chuck Kearsley, Chris Emhardt, and Woody Coleman direct much of the boat construction. They have dedicated nearly 20 years of work to provide an unforgettable experience for the graduating seniors.
Year after year the boat and the men never disappoint, but as the boat continues to age, so does the crew and they feel it is time to throw in the towel.
It is no secret the boat build is no easy task as it takes three weeks before graduation to setup and one weekend to tear down. The construction of the ship needs roughly 20 volunteers each day of the three-weekend process to make it happen.
The process begins with scaffolding, and then the bridge and smoke stacks are added. Then onto the shell, and it is finally sanded, repainted, portholes put in, water waves applied along the bottom and then a real Santa Monica Pier sign is put above the entrance.
Kearsley said, “Fathers, Bill Dearn, Dennis Payne, Doug Thomas, Rick Gates, Joe Perches,Murray Harreschou, John Balfus, Paul Ford, Brian Black, Dan Heiderman, Tom Wilkens and Dave Sonderdregger continue to return year after year to construct the boat.”
Kearsley said many of the men are in their 60’s so they feel it is time to retire and references one of the longest running parent volunteers, Bill Dearn.
Dearn started the first Grad Nite boat and has worked 22 Grad Nites since then. He has built the boat from the time his children went to Samohi to his youngest grandson who recently graduated.
It seems to be the perfect time for the SS Viking and crew to retire.
“In the coming years, the area where we build the boat will be under construction and it seems a good time for current parents to come up with other wonderful ideas,” said Kearsley.
Parents and staff are saddened to see this be their final voyage. However, Lori Whitesell, Co-chair for Samohi Grad Nite, 2017 said, “The party will continue in the future with a new entrance, as the boat will retire with it’s crew.”
Kearsley is eager to see what is in the future for Samohi Grad Nite and said, “In the coming years, the area where we build the boat will be under construction and it seems a good time for current parents to come up with other wonderful ideas.”