I recently was in Fort Lauderdale and there in the shed at the Roscioli boatyard was "Annabelle," a 1955 Trumpy, Contract 372, built for William McKelvy. Annabelle has had many names over the years, starting with "Rumak III," and "Bettco" then "Windsong."
Working on her was Barry Oliver, the mate. I have known Barry for many years, back to the days when he worked on "Aurora V," then owned by Carolyn Weaver. Barry is a true master at what he does and he keeps up Annabelle beautifully.
As we talked about his summer in Maine, it took me back to the first time I had seen "Annabelle." The year was 1996. A yacht broker from Palm Beach had asked me to take a look at a project boat. We drove to Stuart, Fl. There, way up in the South Fork of the St. Lucie River, sat old "Rumak." She had been laid open and low. There was fiberglass on the cabin tops with the resin burned out. Someone had changed the pilot-house and her interior doors, cabinets and trim lay in a pile. On the port side, a ficus tree with a five-inch trunk grew out the side. It was a miserable sight. The broker wanted us to tow her to a shipyard in West Palm Beach where we could check out her bot- tom and do the work.
We were at the tail end of a major structural refit on another Trumpy, the 1960 "Fairlee," Contract 393. I had the "Sirius" then, a 1956, 36' Stonington motor sailor. Nate Smith, Epoxy Mike Doyle, Ryan Schlagel and I embarked on what was to be an ill-fated adventure. Before we agreed to tow the boat, I wanted to see authorization. The broker pulled out signed papers that looked official. She was to be towed, hauled out and surveyed. It sounded simple enough.
We took "Sirius" by way of the ocean from Palm Beach to the St. Lucie Inlet. Sirius' old engine kept overheating and in rolling seas, opening the heavy engine hatch and pouring water into the heat exchangers was tricky. Once we reached the South Fork, it got worse. It was like a snake, twisting and turning and a real work out on the wheel. "Sirius" drew five feet and we touched bottom a few times. Powering through, we reached "Rumak III." Nate saw the tree growing out of her side, and cut it down right away before we left the dock. It was an insult. The broker took the wheel aboard the Trumpy and I helmed "Sirius" and we paved out 50 to 60 feet of line with lead weights. "Sirius" had two white oak Samson posts so we rigged up a bridle. The 85 hp diesel with a four blade 24x24 square prop on my old boat had torque. At first, everything went pretty smoothly but when we reached the twists and turns in the river, all hell broke loose. The broker wasn't paying attention so Rumak's bow sailed into the mangroves. She was hard aground. I just increased the speed and behind my boat, the root beer water churned and the soft silt seemed to wash away. "Rumak III" slowly started to move. We repeated this many times until we finally cleared the South Fork.
The sun was setting as we passed Manatee Pocket and then we entered the Intracoastal Waterway. It was a little tricky and the same thing happened, the Trumpy grounded. But, this time it was sand and not muck. The tide was coming in and we would have to sit and wait. That's when the Florida Marine Patrol came up to us with guns drawn. It turned out that the man selling the boat was not the legal owner of "Rumak III." As the broker from Palm Beach talked fast to authorities, we started to float back, then "Rumak III" did as well.
"We can't stay here," I told the officers. "I have to put my boat in gear and real soon." They decided we needed to tow her back to Manatee Pocket. We did and tied off Rumak there. They realized we were just towing the boat, and they let us go. We left the Palm Beach broker, who had nearly gotten us all arrested, to fend for himself.
It would be years until we would see her again. A doctor who had owned her before bought her back and had just returned from the Bahamas. Her name was now Windsong. He hauled her out at Cracker Boy Boatworks. Her rudder blocks were rotten and her packing glands electrolyzed on the inside into the wood.
The repairs were simple. The doctor showed me the boat. He had hired house carpenters and done most of the work from materials bought at Home Depot. It looked it. It seemed most, if not all, of her original parts had been thrown away. Years later, I ran into the doctor and he told me that he had sold her, the boat had been taken to the Hinckley yard in Maine and been refitted. I was glad to hear it.
The next time I saw her was at Rybovich Spencer in 2000 and her name was in beautiful gold leaf, "Osceola." Seeing her back together and back from the grave, delighted me. Although I never met the man who owned her at the time, he had saved a great yacht. He had seen the dream, what she once was, and gave her back her dignity and grace. So standing at the dock at Roscioli and talking with Barry and the captain, I had a deep appreciation of what she had become and what she had been through to get there.
That trip up the South Fork has always stayed with me. I decided to retrace the trip, minus the police action, on Aurora II, our 1947 Trumpy. My son James, 12, and I readied the boat. I would do the driving and try to teach him along the way. James was a natural. He steers like an old salt. Aurora has twin 471 GMC die- sels, 175 hp each, and does 7 to 9 knots. She takes a little time to respond so someone not used to it will over- compensate and zig zag. Not James. He got the feel of her wheel right away.
We spent the night in Manatee Pocket and had short visit with Bill Iler on Windrush. They were catch- ing up on their varnish work. In the morning, the foredeck was covered in frost. James scooped it up and made a ball. He said, "Dad, look. It's a Florida snow ball." We fired up the motors and headed to the South Fork It was the first time we had cruised Aurora with just the three of us so Stephanie had two James to chauffer her around. As we made it into the South Fork, it was as beautiful as I had remembered. The harrow- ing twists and turns were still there and "Aurora" could not make the turns without using shifters, pulling one in reverse and the other forward. "Aurora" is 61 feet. The "Rumak III" was 79 feet long. It was amazing that we could have towed her out at all. Mangroves lined the river, dotted with red berries and flowers. Cranes, egrets and osprey watched us pass from tall branches and the blue skies above and coffee color water below made the view gorgeous.
I was talking to Stephanie and took my eyes off the river for a few seconds and just like that, we were aground. It wasn't like running up on sand or rocks, more like running aground on down pillows, if there was such a thing. I put both motors in reverse and she slid right out of it. On our return back, James and I spent most of our time in the pilothouse, with Stephanie catching up on her reading on the aft deck. I found treasure on the trip, spending time aboard with my family.
Before I end this letter, I have some Trumpy news.
Capt. Howard "Butch" Weikel has passed away. He was the captain of the Trumpy "Stargazer" for more than 20 years and before that, he helmed the Trumpy "Paradise," which is now "Glory." Capt. Butch was one of the greats of the "Greatest Generation." A World War II vet, straight shooter, kind, and as honorable and loyal to his boats and his employers as they come. He will be truly missed.
I recently received some information on a 87-foot Trumpy built in 1934, Contract 219, the "Elsie Feni-more," now called "Carolina Rose" built for E.R. Fenimore Johnson, a pioneer in underwater photography, who financed the Academy of Science's 1931 expedition to Brazil. She went to California shortly after she was built and has been there ever since. Her last owner has passed away and his wife is looking for a suitable new owner. The yacht has a 200 hp Superior, which is the original motor and in good working conditions. See the photo.
Finally, I recently received a message from an old friend, Derek Jarvis. We haven't seen each other in 38 years. As young men, Derek was 24, and I was 18, we shared a common dream to sail to faraway places.
Derek's was to sail around the world. Mine wasn't as big. I just wanted to make it to the Caribbean. I owned a 36 foot Hilyard, the "Solan Goose," built in England. Derek had a 30-foot Pearson. For me, it was about the destination. San Salvador, then St. Thomas, Dominica, Martinique, and so on. As young men, the journey was not as important as getting there, to these exotic destinations.
Derek, on "Deliverance" (named before the movie) would make it to Australia. Change out boats and sail on, completing his dream. For me, being broke in the islands turned me north to Maine to learn to build wooden boats. Age and Aurora have changed my perspective. The previous owner had her for 40 years and he used her every week, never going far, just taking short trips around Miami with friends on board. When Aurora became ours, we tried to do the same. Every week that we can, we untie her, James and I are getting really good at un- docking, and set out on a short cruise with good friends as company. The conversation swirls on the back deck and in the pilothouse. And we usually take the same route on the Intracoastal, the same destinations. But I now know it's about the journey.
Until next time,