Since this is kind of a personal article about boating, I should start out with an admission. I’m one of those women for whom a boatyard is the equivalent of a particularly attractive shopping mall.
I don’t just like boats and boating. I love boats. Big, little or small. Wood, fiberglass or both. Stick boat or stinkpot. They must be pretty. And if they sail, they have to be fast. Throughout the years I’ve owned a fairly eclectic assortment ranging from, but not limited to kayaks, Lasers, a Star class and my beloved Hylas 44. Plus a few aluminum fishing boats and a Lyman runabout, a 1925 Elco, and our current boat, a custom-built 1930 Jakobson & Peterson motor yacht.
Unfortunately, although the happiest days of my life have always been acquiring a new boat, I can’t say that the second happiest days are when I let them go. In fact, some of the worst days I recall were saying goodbye to boats and a boating lifestyle I never thought I would enjoy again.
When I turned 40, my late husband and I bought our Hylas sailboat down in the Virgin Islands. Some guys had sailed her there from England and decided they’d had enough, so they let a great three-year-old boat go for pennies on the dollar. We quickly renamed her from the unfortunate Hylastic to Mariah II, after the old Kingston Trio tune, and cruised her north to the Canadian border. Over the 19 years that I owned her, Mariah carried me up and down the east coast, offshore, inshore, around Maine, through the Great Lakes and back-and-forth to Key West a few times. She also won some races, but probably in part because our opposition didn’t realize that a boat boasting tomato plants, herbs and hanging baskets could sail all that fast until it was just a little bit too late.
Two decades later, after my husband died, I wanted to sell my house and live aboard, but responsibilities and reality beckoned harshly from ashore. I had to sell Mariah in order to focus on taking care of business and an elderly mother.
THERE CAN BE LIFE AFTER SAILING
I figured I’d had it after I sold the Hylas. About a year after I gave up Mariah, sailing friends with whom I’d cruised in the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake and down in the Grenadines got me back on the water. They’d sold their 37’ J charter boat and bought a 55’ Trumpy motor yacht which they planned to charter in Annapolis and down in the Keys. As they’d never traveled the ICW, they invited me along as crew from Palm Beach to Annapolis.
This voyage turned out to be a one of my life’s most pivotal moments.
Over the course of the next few weeks, I developed a new love: classic yachts and yachting. I’ve owned and liked lots of wooden boats, and I’ve always had a passion for the ICW. Sun, rain or sleet, to me it’s a magical world and each trip a new adventure.
But this was something altogether different. A classic yacht doesn’t pass unnoticed. On our trip north we found we needed a designated waver – at least one person to wave to all the people who came by to compliment the boat. It was a wonderful feeling to be aboard and to be able to share her with so many classic boat enthusiasts.
Once our trip was over, and the Trumpy Windrush safely delivered to Annapolis – where she lived happily across the street from Davis Pub in Eastport – I found it ever more difficult to focus on life and responsibilities ashore.
In addition to surveying classic wooden yachts, Mike Wright, the Captain from that trip – who shares my classic yachting passion – took a position as captain of a 68’ Trumpy based in Charleston, SC, and I found myself chewing up miles between upstate NY, Annapolis and Charleston (along with my dogs, Dublin and Shelby). I helped out on charters, provisioning and a bit of marketing – anything to get back aboard a boat.
What they say about ‘other people’s boats’ is perfectly sane and pragmatic. Unfortunately, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, like messing about on your own boat.
It wasn’t long before Mike and I were scouring the East Coast for the perfect classic yacht in our price range.
After looking at several boats in great, good and not-so-good condition, we finally looked at a gas-powered yacht we’d heard about but had stayed away from for obvious reasons. Hermione, based in Galesville, MD, was a 1925 56 ½-foot Elco Flattop Motoryacht, the last in existence. Originally sold to a vaudeville couple, she’d lived a fortunate life with only a handful of pedigreed owners. A famous author, Sloan Wilson, had even written a book about her.
The minute we stepped aboard Hermione, we fell in love. For one thing, she had a claw foot bathtub, and I’m a bathaholic. For another, she just took my breath away.
Mike, a lot more taciturn by nature, was able to keep his mouth closed while Hermione’s owner took us for a sea trial (this is pretty unusual for a first viewing, but he knew we’d made an offer on another yacht and wanted to make a sale. It worked).
We bought the boat that day, and found ourselves in July 2007 – disbelieving, but escstatic – owning and cruising aboard a piece of history.
We spent three-and-a-half years cruising aboard Hermione, doing some charters, and logging thousands of miles up and down the waterway from the St. Lawrence River to the Keys and SW Florida. Wherever she docked, Hermione drew a crowd. The only problem was that sucking sound – she had issues that only time, effort, tools and money could fix. And fix we did. Constantly. To be fair, most people wouldn’t have run an old yacht thousands of miles a year like we did.
Hermione and her four-legged crew had admirers and friends all along the ICW. After a summer in upstate New York, where Mike restored her galley, we made a last-minute decision to take her south to North Carolina, where we would do some more work on her at a marina that has a railway. Hermione did not want to go on that trip.
We fought weather the entire way to North Carolina. As Mike, who lived and boated on the eastern shore for decades, commented drolly, “that was the longest damn ride down the Bay I’ve ever encountered.”
We left her in the water under cover at McCotters Marina in Washington, while we waited to haul her on a railway to undergo more repairs and resurvey her to increase her insurance. Six weeks later, while in upstate NY for the holidays, we received a visit from two state police officers at 6 a.m.
“Did you own a boat in Washington, North Carolina?” they asked?
FAREWELL TO HERMIONE
We were lucky. At midnight the previous evening, a massive fire destroyed buildings and 26 vessels at the marina, including our beloved Hermione. Had we been aboard, we would not have had time to get ashore, as our slip was near the source of the fire. We were underinsured, but we were insured. Others were not so fortunate.
After we picked ourselves up off the floor, literally and figuratively, we tried to figure out what to do. We had already lined up a number of charters for the coming summer on the Canadian border, but we didn’t have a boat. The intelligent thing, we told ourselves, would be to buy a trawler. Then, we thought, we could cruise offshore. Visit the islands and relax a bit.
Dutifully, I researched trawlers, and we decided to look at a couple of Defever 44s, which are a poor man’s Fleming. We became extremely popular with a number of classic yacht brokers, there being a dearth of buyers in 2011. We were offered boats we couldn’t have looked at four years earlier, selling for 50 cents or less on the dollar.
Coincidentally, one of the classic yachts way above our price range was docked at the same marina as one of the best Defever trawlers, beautifully maintained and equipped for long distance cruising in Jacksonville, FL.
As we passed the classic yacht, our vision of trawlers went out the window. (“Oh, expletive,” Mike said as we tried not to look.).
We needed another classic yacht.
So I write this article aboard our “new” boat, Cygnus II, on a rainy afternoon at the city dock in Beaufort, South Carolina. The two boat dogs are curled up on the bed. All is well with the world.
We bought Cygnus last summer and cruised her north through the most sweltering heat I recall in the ICW just in time for Hurricane Irene, which we enjoyed as it whistled through the Norfolk area.
Rather than cruise back to Florida – where we always bring chilly weather – we decided we’d try to stay in beautiful Beaufort, which is one of the nicer cities along the ICW. So here we are. We’ve had lots of work done by wonderful and reasonably priced craftsmen working along with Mike, and we’re setting up for the spring charter season here before heading north to the Thousand Islands, where we’ll charter in the summer months. Clear water. No salt. No tides. No crowds. Maybe we’ll see you there.
Jody Reynolds is a lifelong sailor with a passion for boats and water. A former editor, she has also served as a special projects and legislative consultant for some multinationsals. She still has a home and business in upstate NY, but spends most of her time with her partner, Mike Wright and their two boat dogs aboard their classic motor yacht, Cygnus II.