Tuesday, September 20, 2016

S.S. Minnow Cruises On

Who hasn’t seen at least one episode of Gilligan’s Island, the television show first aired on September 26, 1964? The small charter boat S.S. Minnow set off on a three hour tour that, fifty years later, is still going strong.

Original pilot cast members portraying the professor and two secretaries stand in front of the wreck.

The role of the shipwrecked pleasure boat was filled by four boats. They may all have looked alike at a first quick glance, but were actually quite different.

Obviously not the same boat. The one on the left is most likely the studio-built prop.

The first boat was used for the beach scenes in the series pilot show. Production scouts found an old 35’ boat with a flying bridge in a Honolulu shipyard that was the right size for a two-man crew and a few passengers. The only thing wrong with it was a broken engine. Otherwise, it was in good shape and the shipyard workers coveted it.
Then one day, some businessmen came to look at the boat. Areas on the bow and stern were chalk marked, and a man with a sledgehammer went to work, creating gaping holes in the sides in order to make it look like it had been demolished in a storm. A crane lifted it onto a barge and it was towed to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where the pilot was filmed.
In his memoir, Sherwood Schwartz told the story of the elderly Asian man walking along the beach and observing the demolition work. He quietly watched for a time, then turned to Schwartz and seriously remarked, “They keep doing that, boat no float.”
Schwartz worked at keeping a straight face as he replied that they wanted to be sure the boat could not float. The old man pondered that, shrugged, and continued on his way.

 Aukai was a 42’ charter boat with Caterpillar diesels used by Island Charters for deep sea fishing.

Boat number two was a rental used in the sequence in Honolulu Harbor as the Minnow sets out on its fateful journey, during the opening credits while the theme song played.
This boat was Hawaiian-built for Hawaiian waters. Wooden-hulled haole sampans were unique to the islands, built by Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. The exhaust was vented in the fore deck because the engine room was forward. Venting straight up was felt to be most efficient and the stack was high to help draw heat out like a chimney and keep it away from the occupants. The engine could not be aft because of the wells for holding the live bait and the catch.

A third boat was constructed by CBS Studios. Noticeably absent from this model is any hardware. Seen in the first-year episode Goodbye Island, the castaways tried to glue patches on the damaged boat with Gilligan’s tree sap glue. The glue’s holding power proved to be temporary and the Minnow self-destructed just as the castaways were about to launch.

The Wheeler in Season Two intro.

Beginning with the second season, Gilligan’s Island was filmed in color and a new opening credits sequence was filmed. A 39’ Wheeler was filmed at Marina del Rey in Los Angeles. A full view of the boat is onscreen for only a few seconds and shot from such a distance as to make out any detail impossible. In fact, so small is the image that to Wes Wheeler of the Wheeler Yacht Company, a consultant in luxury yacht design, it is unrecognizable as something they built.
In 1996, a capsized boat was seen being pulled out of the water on Hardwick Island in British Columbia. The American owner had struck a reef during a storm and the boat had been sunk for three days. When the owner sold it, he revealed it had been the infamous Minnow. In recent years, Dawn “Mary Ann” Wells has appeared with it in Vancouver.
Okay now, everyone sing along, "Just sit right back..."


  1. Growing up I think I watched every episode several times. It seemed to go back to the beginning often. Interesting about the boat/s thank you.

  2. This is a great little classic....we still watch it every day on MeTv....I sing the theme song to my granddaughter all the time. The other day I got a text from my daughter saying that my granddaughter was singing the "Gilligan" song in the car on the way home. LOL I will be looking for the differences in these boats from now on...thanks for sharing.

  3. Wow, I must have been too young to realize they weren't exactly the same boat. I know my parents loved the show, too.

  4. Thanks for a great post. I am singing as I write this :-)

  5. Thanks for sharing about the SS-Minnow. I remember watching the show at times. I wonder if any TV stations does reruns currently.

    1. ME TV is showing it. Unfortunately, it's not a convenient time for me. :)