Where Are They Now?
In a world of nicknames, JoAnn Vrana is rather unique. Her dad gave her the moniker “ Didgie ” because, when she could first talk, she would continuously say “ did ja, ” as in “ did ja get me this, or did ja bring me that? ” Now, with long honey-colored hair and intelligent blue eyes, the name Didgie seems to fit perfectly as she gives a hint of smile that oftentimes heralds a witty remark or interesting tale.
Didgie was born on Long Island in 1950 to wonderful and adventurous parents, Albert and Johanna Vrana. They introduced her to sailing when she was less than 4 years old on their first yacht, Argo, a 30–foot John Hanna Tahiti ketch. Albert wanted to check out some artists in Coconut Grove before the word “hippie” existed. So, off they sailed with Didgie and her younger sister. They had sold their horticulture nursery, and Albert made a career change. The family lived in the Coconut Grove area, where Albert eventually became a well-known sculptor. Didgie’s wanderlust was further stimulated when the family brought a second vessel, Survive, a 45–foot Hilliard ketch, from Ireland to the US.
A brother joined the Vranas in 1959, and his bunk was actually a bookshelf in Didgie’s parents cabin. At that time, living aboard a boat and traveling with kids was a rare lifestyle, and they were written up in the New York Times. Didgie says the bay was a fantastic playground, and she and her siblings spent time with their Dad in his studio, seeing sketches turn into works of art. Albert had a tremendous impact on Didgie, teaching her how to sail, build and fix things, and passing along his artistic talent. The family lived aboard Survive, cruising to the Bahamas and other areas, for the next 14 years. At age 17, Didgie had her own boat while still in high school.
Didgie’s education was not overlooked. She attended formal schools in Florida, punctuated by long intervals of cruising in Europe, where she attended schools in various countries — one in Spain, where the class was held in the teacher’s backyard under a fig tree. After graduating from Ponce de Leon and Coral Gables High School, she took two years of university classes. But her real education began when she built her own 40–foot Raymond Creekmore-designed sloop, which took four years to complete. Her masterpiece was christened Tequila, and she lived aboard while chartering the boat in the Bahamas and running a varnish business. Didgie moved to larger vessels and ran power and sailing boats, both charter and private, in the Caribbean. She now holds a USCG license (500 ton) and has two Atlantic crossings on a sailing yacht under the belt.
Didgie met Bob Belschner at Lower Matecombe Key in the fall of 1982. She had charter guests on board and pulled into a small marina for the night. At dinner ashore, there was Bob on his Blackwatch, Good Life. Two weeks later the two of them sailed Good Life down to St. Thomas, flew back to Miami and sailed Tequila down the same route. Each trip took eight days straight, back-to-back! They had only self-steering vanes and used their sextants for navigation. After six months of chartering, which seemed a good test of their relationship, they took a break from chartering and flew to North Carolina to be married at a waterfall near Didge’s parents’ home. Didge says, “ We started broke, with nothing but our two boats and ourselves, and have been married 27 years. ”
For the next four years, Bob and Didgie ran a 63–foot Little Harbor for its owner. They loved the boat and became brand ambassadors, showing the Little Harbor to prospective clients. Didgie was talented and enthusiastic and quickly convinced the yard that they needed her on their design team. The position of customer liaison was created, and for two years she was at Ted Hood’s Little Harbor Yachts in Newport, Rhode Island, as coordinator of yacht interiors. Here, she maintained the specifications for all new build yachts — sometimes as many as 12 boats at a time. Due to the luxury tax’s impact on yachts, Didgie got laid off and took a job with Bob, running three motoryachts over the next four years until they bought a house in Ft. Lauderdale and moved ashore.
Leaving behind her seafaring days, Didgie had the desire to have her own business. “ I was keen to do something that I loved and would utilize our talents. Bob was super at paperwork and shipping, and I have always been comfortable talking boats, practical ideas and taking on problem solving challenges, ” she said.
In 1998, Didgie opened Argonautica Yacht Interiors in Ft. Lauderdale. The business was named after the yacht on which she first fell in love with sailing with her family. Small upgrade projects turned into larger projects, and eventually Didgie was doing new builds for Grand Alaskan, then Cheoy Lee and now Outer Reef. She says, “ From Bennettis to Swans, I love quality workmanship, and our clients come from all over the world. ” Bob officially joined the business in 2000, although he still does coaching and yacht deliveries for Outer Reef. They have a small, multitalented and creative staff that coordinates the entire process, working with yacht owners and ship builders on both new builds and refits.
Their studio in Ft. Lauderdale emits an atmosphere of warm, relaxed, clean tropical splendor. “ With new construction, it’s almost like being an artist with a blank canvas — the range of décor possibilities is endless,” says Didgie. “With refits, the challenge is to coordinate the existing interior with the new, with a focus on function, comfort and detail. ”
She loves working in interior design and spending time on the couple’s 25–foot Parker Cruiser, Nautilus, which they have set up for trips of short duration. Nautilus and Argonautica Yacht Interiors keep her close to boat building and, of primary importance, interesting people. Didgie enthusiastically declares, “ The favorite part of my business is connecting with the clients’ needs, researching and finding just the right thing early in the building process, usually on the visit after the installation of the interior when the boat is staged. I enjoy hearing from clients after their first trip and keeping them as friends. The problem-solving aspect of decorating appeals to me, and I am tickled with the journey that has taken me to where I am today. “
Where Are They Now?