Point Loma native George William “Bill” Kettenburg III, who carried on the tradition of his father who started Kettenburg Boat Works/Kettenburg Marine, died at age 95 on June 8.
Kettenburg III was vice president of the company that was started by his father in the backyard of their La Playa family home in 1918.
An all-around athlete, Kettenburg attended Loma Portal Elementary and Point Loma Junior/Senior High School, where he excelled at both baseball and basketball.
“He was hit in the head with a pitch (no batting helmets then) and was in a coma for two weeks,” noted his daughter, Karen Kettenburg-Wheeler who added her dad also “made an unassisted triple play and was featured in ‘Ripley's Believe it or Not.’ He said he needed to make up for committing two errors in that game.”
Kettenburg Marine started from a simple set of blueprints and grew into a renowned boating business. In 1906, George William Kettenburg, Sr. purchased a $6,000 engine from an expensive car. He then bought a boat from Dr. Foster, a neighbor, and installed this engine.
In 1904, George William Kettenburg, Jr. was born. When he was age 15, he and his father decided to build a boat of their own. They bought a set of plans for a 22-foot boat. When they laid the plans on the floor, George, Jr. said it would be better to lengthen it by two feet. George, Sr. decided to follow his sons’ advice and ended up with a boat that was faster and better in design.
George Kettenburg, Jr. graduated from high school and went right into his own boat-building business in his father’s backyard. He got an idea to make his living building boats. “I need some money,” he told his father. “I think I can build boats and make a living at the same time.”
During World War II, George, Jr. built 90 plane-rearming boats, along with his new design of sailboats. In 1935, the Kettenburg’s entered the fishing boat business. When first starting out, little did they know it would be their largest moneymaker.
In 1948, the Kettenburg’s set a record for the boat-building business. At one time, Kettenburg Marine hauled more boats to be repaired than any other boatyard in the United States — more than 3,000 boats per year. Kettenburg Marine was also one of the largest marine suppliers in the country.
George, Jr. was an accomplished sailor and competed in the Transpac Race in 1951, where he lost the lead after going off course for a 29-hour search and rescue mission to locate a man who'd fallen overboard from another boat. He was able to make up time and come in seventh place.
Kettenburg had a second home in Warner Springs, enjoyed sailing to Catalina with his family during summer, played every Friday with Kona Kai’s tennis pro, and later with pros at Hotel Del Coronado, and used to give water skiing performances off Harbor Island, which always involved some intricate tricks.
A remembrance for him has been planned by his family but has been delayed due to COVID.