I’m sitting here in Charlotte, N.C. airport waiting for take off. We are number 17 in line. This has been a great month. Nate Smith, my partner, is closing in on the Wheeler that will be Pilar for the film Hemingway & Fuentes. The new motor is in, planks and more planks are going up and the painters are coming in at night and weekends to keep to a tight schedule.
In the paint shed is “Chesapeake,” the 1963, 61’ foot Trumpy, Contract 379 owned by Peter Anzo.
In Florida, we are working on “Wishing Star,” the 83 foot 1963 Trumpy, contract 407, built for Col. David Wagstaff. She is in for some minor wood work and paint. She is a glorius girl, a proper yacht. So what could be better? Two Trumpy yachts. The second is the 1964 “Sirius,” 60’, Contract 412, built for Henry Gibson.
On “Sirius,” we are replacing the shaft logs. Both suffered from electrical discharge. The amount of electrical flow was enough to remove all the lignum in the wood. (See photo.) The new captain, Dave Culver, and I are working on resolving the problem.
Remember last summer I wrote about this same problem on my boat, “Aurora II.” Nate has dealt with it on other Trumpy yachts. On my boat, I removed the bonding system and installed an isolated grounding dynaplate and rerouted my grounds. My DC goes to ground then jumps to the motor ground. The AC grounds to the motors and there is a galvanic isolator on the shore power ground. Also, I shut off the motor starting batteries and shut off the gauge switch. This is an expensive repair and the changes to prevent problems are a lot cheaper.
I needed some technical advice on the project so I called my old friend John Whitney. John is an expert in fixing antique equipment. I got him on the phone line and he told me he couldn’t talk right then. “They’re loading my new boat on a freighter,” John said. “I am out in Vancouver and I will see you soon, a week or two.” Then there was a click.
John and Janet have lived on their schooner “Winterwind” for a long time and John had mentioned he might want a power boat. What I might tell you might sound crazy but not if you know John. He called me when his boat was being unloaded. She’s green and built in 1897 and a tug. Sounded about right for John and Janet. I knew she had to be beautiful. The “Wallace Foss,” see photos, is a beauty. John loves machinery and Foss has a lot of it and should keep him busy.
She has been converted to a work yacht. She has a Caterpillar motor with a pony motor for a starter. So I thought great, John and Janet will be spending the winter with us down south in Florida. Nope. John stopped by to provision and his crew was flying in so they could head back north to Newport. I told John he was crazy. “Jim, you already knew that,” John said.
The next morning, the lines were slid aboard and this beautiful tug slipped from the dock. I watched as they headed out.
I called John after he got home to Newport, R.I. Leaving Palm Beach, Fossy’s hull was tight as a drum, John said. But some of the doors and the crew’s quarter scuttle leaked after hitting eight to 10 feet seas. The crew was swimming in their bunks so they pulled into Fernandina Beach in Florida to solve those problems and dry out. Taking her up the Intracoastal with nine feet of draft wasn’t an option. The rest of the trip went well. She burned three gallons per hour at eight knots. John and Janet are glad to be home and Wallace Fossy has a new home port.
Moving on, as I pulled up to Rybovich Yacht Center where we do our work in Florida, the security guard asked which big Trumpy is that. I said, “Wishing Star?” “No, bigger,” he said. It was “Freedom,” the 103’ 1926, Contract 181, built for Albert G. Fay.
Capt. Jeff and I have known each other for a long time so it was good to catch up. They were there to clean the carpets and provision and were heading off to the Bahamas.
To have four of these great yachts in one place, Freedom, Wishing Star, Sirius and our little Aurora II, was a sight to behold.
So why I am sitting on an airplane? The story starts back at Ocean Reef’s Vintage Weekend in December. Cindy Purcell and I were talking about launches. I said what if we dusted off a set of her grandfather’s old plans, kept the classic lines and updated the functions and designed a beautiful classic launch for these megayachts?
Cindy said she was game. Cindy is the granddaughter of Frank Huckins, who founded Huckins Boat Co., in Jacksonville, Fl. I told her I wasn’t playing. I was serious and really wanted to do it. She told me to come up to Jacksonville and we could work on it. So when I got a call from Cindy recently I figured it was about the launch idea. Instead, Cindy wanted to know if I would be interested in looking at the oldest Huckins still around, the 1931 48’ Avocette III built for Fred Voges. She wanted to know if we would be interested in a joint project. Of course I would.
Cindy’s husband Buddy Purcell and I headed off to Rhode Island to take a look at Avocette III for one of their clients. Flying into Providence I rented a car. The rental car clerk asked what mid-sized car I wanted. She went down the list and a Camaro happened to be one of them. As we walked out to the cars, there was a jet black Camaro SS. It looked liked the Batmobile, a hopped up young man’s dream car, fast, frisky and fun. Driving down to the boat, I had a couple of young guys want to race me or just drive up and wonder what this old coot was doing behind the wheel. I still can’t get over seeing myself in the mirror and having some old guy looking back at me. Where did the time go?
Arriving in Portsmouth, there she was, covered and sleeping. Unzipping the door I had no idea what to expect. After spending the day with her, I wrote this down:
I had my reservations about flying up to see Avocette. I’ve seen many amateur restorations over the years and they often are so profoundly bad, there is little left of the original boat and it is no longer worth restoring.
This was not the case with Avocette III.
What I found was a very original boat and that the restoration that Jerry Bass had done was of high quality.
The Avocette is a true marvel of pre-war innovations and technology. From the long commuter, piercing hull to the inverted lifts built in her bottom to help her plane at low speeds.
In my 35 years in wooden boat restorations I have never seen a boat this size constructed in this fashion. Avocette may be the oldest and possibly even the only existing example of this type of boat construction.
Frank Huckins masterfully blended batten seam technology with a much lighter construction method. This yacht deserves not only restoration but should be put into a museum or a private collection.
My other notes were a plan of attack. I had a restoration plan in my head and I needed to put it down on paper. Buddy and I spent some time together looking at other boats.
One very special Huckins is a 1936 Sportsman, “Mermaid.” The first time I saw this boat, I stopped in my tracks. With her tear drop windshield and her dropped sheer, she’s a sight to behold. From looking at “Avocette II,” designed in 1931, to the “Mermaid,” Frank Huckins boats had giant leap forward. From batten seam to cold molding, his artist’s eye for styling was masterfully executed.
My last story is on a dear friend who stopped by for a visit. Donald Trumpy, grandson of John Sr. He grew up in the yard and worked there for a while so he is a wealth of knowledge. I’m glad we had a few Trumpy yachts here when he came by. But Don said it was anything but a busman’s holiday. “I’ve been out of the boat business for 30 plus years. I just like looking at my family’s work survive and be appreciated,” he said.
I took him aboard the “Honey Fitz” and told him about my research on her conversation to the presidential yacht by his family’s yard. I found a Yachting magazine advertisement from 1954 for Panish controls that stated that the newly refitted “Barbara Ann” recently completed at John Trumpy & Sons chose Panish controls for the presidential yacht.
Don smiled. “You never asked about the “Barbara Ann.” You asked me about “Honey Fitz.” She wouldn’t have been “Honey Fitz” back in 1954.”
I don’t get to see Don often and I’m glad he stopped by. It’s always good to see him.
Until next time,