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The Truth About The Boat Gibbs Is Building On NCIS

Like most of the NCIS crew, Mark Harmon's Leroy Jethro Gibbs is a quirky dude. He lives by a set of self-made rules, which includes nuggets like "Don't ever accept an apology from someone that just sucker-punched you" and "Never go anywhere without a knife." He likes to hold impromptu meetings in the elevator. He resents modern electronics, sleeps on his couch instead of in his master bedroom, and builds boats in his spare time.

Not just any boats, either. As dedicated NCIS fans know, Gibbs can often be found in his basement working away on full-sized sailboats, sometimes with a baseball game playing in the background. He doesn't use power tools, but instead assembles each wooden craft by hand. He doesn't necessarily sail them. He just likes making them. Gibbs' boat-building habit was part of the very first episode of the show, and it has continued throughout its 17-season run (interestingly, Harmon is also an accomplished woodworker, although he doesn't build boats himself).

Over NCIS' lengthy run,Gibbs has built at least five boats that we know of. According to NCIS, Gibbs made three vessels before the show began, worked on another from seasons one through six, and has worked on at least one more since. In many ways, Gibbs' boats are like extra members of the NCIS cast. No, they don't help Gibbs and the rest of NCIS' star-studded cast solve mysteries, but it wouldn't be NCIS without them.

Every one of Gibbs' boats on NCIS tells its own story

Obviously, the boats in Gibbs' basement are very important to the character. On NCIS, Gibbs is a fairly straight-laced guy, and boat-building seems to be one of the few ways that he relaxes. Woodworking is an intimate, meditative activity, and Gibbs' choice of pastime offers a lot of insight into the character.

But Gibbs' connection to his boats goes deeper than a mere hobby. See, Gibbs has a habit of naming each of his boats after someone close to him, often with disastrous results. Sure, naming one of his boats after his second wife, Diane, seemed like a sweet gesture at the time. After the marriage fell apart, though, Gibbs only had one choice: He had to burn the boat to the ground.

The boat that Gibbs was building during the first six seasons of NCIS was a particularly personal project for the Navy special agent, as it was named after Gibbs' daughter, Kelly. In NCIS lore, Kelly and her mother, Gibbs' first wife, Shannon, were killed in a car accident after their driver was shot by a drug dealer.

The Kelly was supposed to be a tribute to Gibbs' late daughter, but ended up meeting a grisly fate of its own. In the season seven episode "Outlaws and In-Laws," the Kelly — which Gibbs finished off-screen and gave to his mentor, Michael Franks — was found drifting at sea with two dead bodies on board. An ominous sign for sure, but thankfully, the NCIS crew was on the case.

How does NCIS' Gibbs get his boats out of his basement?

NCIS is a show full of mysteries — as a procedural, there's a new case to solve every week — but one in particular has vexed fans since the very beginning: How does Gibbs get his massive sailboats out of his basement? As far as we've seen, there's only one door to the underground workshop, and it's not nearly big enough for a full-sized boat to fit through.

For his part, Gibbs seems to like keeping everyone in the dark. When one character asked Gibbs how he gets the boats outside, Gibbs quipped, "Break the bottle," referencing the similar (but easily-solved) mystery about how model ships get in bottles. Another time, Gibbs referenced knocking out a wall and building a ramp, but the logistics of removing an underground wall remain unexplained. Occasionally, Gibbs answers questions about his boats with his signature steely stare. Intimidating? Yes. Informative? Not so much.

As a result, fans have begun coming up with their own theories. There's some evidence that Gibbs builds his boats in pieces and takes them outside for final assembly (the Kelly's hull is being built in seasons one, two, and three, while work on the cabin begins in season four), but even those smaller chunks wouldn't fit through Gibbs' basement door. One wall of Gibbs' basement isn't ever shown, meaning there could be an opening we've never seen, although it would have to be awfully big.

The one thing we do know? NCIS probably won't let us in on the truth. Only one other character, the fan-favorite forensic scientist Abby Sciuto, has figured out the secret — and, like Gibbs, she refuses to tell.

What kinds of boats does Gibbs on NCIS build?

Officially, the Kelly was a Glen-L Amigo, a 22-foot sailboat that Glen-L describes as "a heavy boat capable of serious long-distance offshore and coastal cruising."

According to Glen-L, NCIS' producers reached out to Glen-L directly about featuring the Amigo on the show but required a very quick turnaround time. That led to a flurry of negotiations between Glen-L and the NCIS production crew, ultimately resulting in the unfinished vessel featured in NCIS' early seasons. However, when it was time for the Kelly to set sail, production couldn't find a finished Amigo to film, so they swapped in a different type of boat and hoped fans wouldn't notice.

Later, Gibbs began working on a Glen-L Barrelback, which isn't a sailboat but a wooden motorboat. In the 2014 NCIS episode "Honor Thy Father," it's revealed that Gibbs and his father made a small Barrelback named Chickadee when Gibbs was still a child. After Gibbs' dad passed away, the NCIS investigator secured plans for a similar boat and quickly got to work, continuing Gibbs' tradition of using his boats to honor members of his family.

Will NCIS' Gibbs ever sail off into the sunset?

All of this suggests a question: will NCIS fans ever get to see Gibbs sail away, perhaps into retirement, on the boat he built? Well, Gibbs (and Harmon) are getting on in years, and operating in a demanding, stressful job for quite some time. In the season 16 episode "Lost Time," Gibbs addressed the possibility of retirement with his therapist — and he didn't seem too psyched about the idea.

"What's your end game, anyway?" the therapist wanted to know. "If not prison or retirement, then how do you want all this to end for you? When will you ever be able to say, mission accomplished?" Gibbs had no answer; he simply responded that he owed too much to his team to depart. Harmon, though, has sung a different tune.

In an interview all the way back in 2010, the star said, "From the beginning here, I always thought that part of his manner in dealing with his team is to prepare them for a time when he's not here. So, I could see a time certainly in the future where they take the job over and they move on, and Gibbs gets on his boat and sails away" (via CheatSheet).

That would certainly be a fitting end to an iconic character — let's just hope his team doesn't expect Gibbs, before he sails off into the sunset, to let on as to exactly how the hell he got the boat out of his basement. We have a feeling that's just something that they, and NCIS' fans, will have to keep on wondering.