A lot has happened in the last 28 days and now we are in the Ides of March, which I always thought were “eyes of March” until recently.
The Honey Fitz is in full swing. We have made a few movies and added them to our web site but we’ve been way too involved to make a movie a week. Let’s face it, once you see a rib laminated and installed, seeing the next one isn’t that exciting.
A lot of friends have dropped in lately including John and Karine Bermingham, who used to owned the Trumpy Eleanor, and Vicki Goldstein. When Vicki came for a visit, sparks were dropping out of the opening in the hull where Eddie and his crew were welding on stringers and bulkheads. Our crew has been laminating ribs and cutting out chunks of the hull.
During Vicki’s visit, my phone rang and down the dock we went. The sailing yacht Patrician was coming in and Vicki helped. Then we headed to the shop, where Bernard was shooting the last clear coat on a 40-foot Garwood, Outrageous. The all-bright work boat turned out beautifully and we stood in awe of Bernard’s work. Vicki asked when I find time to write. “I just do,” I said.
As fast as she had shown up, she was gone.
The Miami boat show was also in February and Ted Conklin’s Trumpy America was on charter as Yachting magazine’s hospitality yacht. And, I had an invitation. I haven’t been to the Miami show in a long time. I usually skip it because it’s a painful drive to Miami and back in the same day. I know I’m spoiled with the Palm Beach boat show in my backyard, which is not only easier for me but generally more relaxed.
This time, it was different as Ted’s guest. This was an adventure with two Trumpy yachts tied beside each other, America and Showtime, formerly Sinbad. The cocktail parties were grand. Later, our adventures would take us to the top of Eden Roc to meet Nick Buoniconti, a former Miami Dolphin and Hall of Famer, and an old friend of Ted’s from Sag Harbor.
The next night, we met up with Maggie Vale, another friend of Ted’s. She reminded me of a young Katherine Hepburn and Miami was the backdrop, from drinks at the Fontainebleau to dinner near the water’s edge. We swapped stories of sailing the high seas but Maggie had all of us beat.
She was on a shorthand delivery during high seas on a trip to Bermuda when a big wave knocked down the guy at the wheel, breaking bones, and washed her overboard. She swam to keep afloat for six hours. No life jacket. The boat eventually was able to turn around and find her, just before sunset. There’s a lot more to the harrowing story but it’s hers to tell.
We ended our evening at Madonna’s hotel, the Delano, sitting in the lobby, drinking dirty martinis, watching the fashion scene stroll past. I have this complement to pay Miami, mini skirts have never gone out of style in South Beach and that is greatly appreciated. I had a ball.
In the morning, I would open the first photos of many that were sent to me by email for rest of the day. Even in South Florida, it had been a little cold. Up in Maryland, it had been snowing and then some. Twenty inches one night and twenty plus inches the next. The photos I received showed boats in the water crushed by a collapsed roof of a boat shed. The weight of all the wet snow was too much, and the entire shed collapsed. All of it came crashing down — pilings, steel beams, wooden frames, metal roofing— landing on the boats floating in the water. I stared into my Blackberry’s 2”x2” screen and it was startling enough. We opened the photos on the yacht’s computer and I could see the golden scrolls and a part of the bow of a Trumpy. I could feel the hair standing on the back of my neck. Pushed down into the water was Chuck Cantera’s beautifully maintained 55-foot houseboat Trumpy, Manatee, Contract 341, built in 1950 for E.R. Fuller.
I called Nate in North Carolina, who called a friend of the Cantera family. Nate said if Manatee needed any help, he would be glad to shoot up to Maryland. Chuck has taken very good care of her through the years. The last time I had seen her was at one of the Trumpy meets. To see such a great yacht in peril is upsetting. By Sunday, I was getting ready to head back home to West Palm Beach from the boat show. Nate called to know if I wanted to join him in Maryland on Wednesday to take a look at Manatee. He knew the answer already.
I flew into Washington D.C. and he drove from North Carolina and picked me up. As soon as I got off the plane, we went straight to Manatee. At first glance, the damage appeared catastrophic. When we looked closer, we could see that Manatee was damaged alright but due to her smaller size, Chuck’s good care and luck, it was not a disaster. The smokestack and a beautiful lap strake dinghy took most of the impact. The back deck enclosure was next, but her varnish on her inset panels was still intact. I found this hard to believe. Nate and I would look over everything over the next few days.
Chuck’s son, Dave, and his family offered to let us stay with them and we did. Dave has a boat, tied at the dock at his house and it adds to the overall beauty of his place. With his father a Trumpy man, Dave’s taste is a little different. Dave has beautifully restored a buyboat. Dave probably thought I might be some sort of boat snob. Well, I’m not. I built wooden fishing boats and dories long before I started restoring Trumpys and other grand yachts. We trudged through three feet of snow and hung out, all three of us, in the engine room and the hold for hours. I knew I liked this guy and his taste in boats. Next, we went over to his boat house where Dave, his son Benjy and his good friend John Swain are working on a flat iron skiff. By the time we got back to the house, my shoes were full of snow, my toes frozen and I was smiling ear to ear. I had a lot of fun.
When Chuck showed up, we had dinner. Our conversations were of course centered around wooden boats. The next day, we went down to the boat. With the engines and gen set running, the air in the shed was rich with diesel smoke, the kind that burns your eyes and makes it hard to breathe. Nate, Dave and I all looked at each other. We needed to get out of there and let the mechanics do their work. Dave, Chuck, Nate and I went on a drive instead, in search of Trumpys.
Our first stop was where Eleanor sat floating, laden with snow (see photo). Then, to another boat yard where Commodore, Contract 211, 1931 111-foot Trumpy built for Helen Hay Whitney and a Trumpy “Nasty Class” fighting patrol boat, (see photo). Then we went off to meet Dave’s friend, John Swain again.
While we were there, John said to Nate, “Up in our loft sits a drafting table that’s from the Trumpy yard. Would you like to have it?” Nate couldn’t answer yes fast enough. The next morning, Nate and I had our time with Manatee again. The I beam that had done so much damage had at least concentrated it. Nate crawled through the bilges. He ran his fingers where he couldn’t see, then used his camera. I was proud of how well he thinks things out and how thorough he was. Most of the weight landed on the starboard aft corner of the cabin, the staircase for the down below and the master closet. This is a very strong area and was able to support the weight. Nate and I finished up on our notes. The next morning, we had breakfast with Dave and said our good byes. I had a feeling that I had a new friend. I hope the next time our paths cross, it will be in better times.
So as to Vicki’s question of when I find time to write, as I write this, I’ve been standing beside the Honey Fitz project, watching our men work. I stop when I need to look at something or answer a question. Recently, I’ve been doing research about her with the Eisenhower library. I noticed there was a mystery on the Honey Fitz, the window mechanisms, the Pullmans, were built just like Trumpy’s.
Researchers at the Eisenhower library found documents that in 1954 Congress squawked at the cost of maintaining the 243 feet, 1930 USS Williamsburg, the steel presidential yacht. She was given back to the U.S. Navy. In 1954, John Trumpy did a major refit on the Barbara Ann, now called the Honey Fitz, and it’s when she might have been finally converted into the presidential yacht. I am still working on that part of her history so if you know anything about this, contact me.
Until next time,
P.S. The 1919 Trumpy Grand Lady still needs a new owner.