Hundreds of cadets, 10 to 12 at a time, cruised and raced her sturdy blue hull while practicing command and control at sea. Built in 1965, she was one of twelve fiberglass training vessels for the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland, replacing a nearly identical but engineless mahogany yawl of the same name. In 1987, the Luders 44 yawl Frolic, NA-5, was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, painted white and renamed Kittiwake.
The government of the Virgin Islands bought her in 1994 for a sailing school on St. Croix which never opened. The government had no resources to restore her after Hurricane Lenny washed her ashore in 1999, so she sat in Salt River until the V.I. government auction in July 2006.
Her hull was covered by oysters, her keel was a living reef, her decks were soft, and her interior was a termite banquet. A line on her bulkhead clearly marked where the waters of Salt River lay for almost seven years. Who knew in what condition her rigging, sails, engine and cushions would be? There were no bidders for her, and it seemed as though she would end her life in pieces, a hurricane victim.
Joe McCants grew up in St. Simons Island, Georgia, and served as a mechanic in the Air Force. He has rebuilt several wooden and fiberglass boats: Aleria, a John Alden sloop later damaged by Hurricane Lenny; Hobo, a 44’ John Hammond sloop; Ghost Dancer, a Hunter 30, among others. “Yawls are still new to me,” he says.
After sailing Vigilant, NA-12, on the Chesapeake Bay in 1982, Joe knew he’d like to have a Navy yawl someday. Vigilant and Alert, NA-2, were retired from Academy duty and in use at the Patuxent, MD, Navy Sailing club. (Resolute, NA-3, renamed Osprey when transferred to the Coast Guard Academy, is now privately owned in St. John and has visited St. Croix often.)
After the government’s bidder-less July auction, Joe saw Frolic/Kittiwake at a Department of Planning and Natural Resources mooring and could tell that 1) the Luders lines were as beautiful as he’d remembered, and 2) immediate action was needed or his dream would sink before the October auction. A rented pump kept her afloat until Joe submitted the only bid.
Joe introduced the widow of his good friend artist Gabby Hayes to sailing. Diane Given Hayes had lived and worked within sight of the harbor since 1987 and remembered pleasant childhood camping vacations in her native California. She came to St. Croix on a 10-day vacation trip from which she never returned, and worked as a commercial artist, designer and waitress. After Gabby’s death in 2003, Diane helped Joe restore Ghost Dancer and moved aboard. Living aboard a 30-foot sloop was not too different from camping.
They sailed Ghost Dancer to Venezuela in 2005, exploring islands and inland, including a rare visit with southern Venezuela’s Yanomami Indians. Eager to see more of the Caribbean and its people, they knew they could restore the graceful 44-foot yawl. Having a tiny mizzen would keep the boat head to wind at their mooring and would make balancing the sail plan easy downwind.
Kittiwake’s restoration began in October 2006 with scraping off the oysters. She was towed to the Christiansted boardwalk, where multiple layers of paint were power-washed into buckets. The engine and shaft were replaced during a month hauled out at St. Croix Marine. At her mooring in the harbor, Joe and Diane continued the work and moved aboard as soon as they could after selling Ghost Dancer.
While Joe did most of the heavy lifting, Diane worked as coatings specialist and go-fer. She continued to waitress and to paint watercolors and murals, but living on a boat limited the size of her paintings. When a suitable space became available, she opened Watch Your Step Studio, named for its ancient stairway, on Queen Cross Street.
Joe and Diane were pleased to find the hull and spars sound. The lights work, the bronze portlights are watertight, and the seacocks have grease fittings and work like new. Seventeen sails, an awning and cushions for nine bunks had been stored ashore and are in good condition. The yawl now has new non-skid on new decks, new rigging and a new electrical panel.
New wood, including a native mahogany table, replaced termite-damaged furnishings. Joe has serviced and reinstalled seven of the 15 winches. Still on the list, roller furling and topsides paint. Eventually, the bunks amidships will be converted to a dinette and settee. When the hull is painted, the name on the blue transom will return to Frolic. Joe and Diane plan to cruise the Caribbean for two to three years, before looking for their next projects.
Ellen Sanpere has lived aboard Cayenne III, a refurbished Idylle 15.5, since 1998. She and her husband Tony started from Annapolis and have cruised from Maine to Venezuela. St. Croix is their home port.