Trying times and "Timeless" tales
The last few weeks have been trying times. I recently flew down to South Florida to be with my sister Linda who was having surgery. I had a long list in my hand of other things that needed to be done. I only had time to spend with her.
Margaret and I were scheduled to fly back to North Carolina on Sept. 8. But late the night before we received a message that our 6 a.m. flight out of Fort Lauderdale had been canceled and our flight was rescheduled for the following Monday. Fat chance that was going to happen with Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida. I knew I had to get back! Margaret turns to me and said, “Let’s drive.”
At this point, gas stations were out of fuel because of the run up to the storm. Ron Souther, a very good friend of Margaret’s gave us 10 gallons of gas. Thankfully, our car is a Toyota Prius. At 5 a.m., we hopped on I-95 North and were pleasantly surprised to find that the roads were clear for South Florida.
We moved pretty quickly through the rest of Florida even with the amount of heavy traffic on the road. It wasn’t until we hit Georgia, with the evacuation of the Barrier Islands and lowlands, that we hit problems. Broken down cars were everywhere. It looked like a junk yard on the sides of the highway. We ground to a halt for the next seven hours as we inched our way across Georgia and South Carolina.
Watching the news we could only hope and wait and count ourselves among the lucky ones. Most of my family and friends have checked in and other than losing power and trees, they were all fine. Then my friend Marty Isinberg sent me video clip taken from a helicopter less than 15 seconds long.
There in a canal in the Florida Keys was the Trumpy M/Y “Tireless” sunk to the deck. My heart went out to Jim & Dale. We had worked on her more than 20 years ago when she was named “Principia” out of Palm Beach. Her fate is in limbo and what will happen from here, well, that I don’t know! As for the history she is a great yacht! Built in 1964, she was built for Roger S. Firestone contract 410 and aptly named “Tireless.”
There were seven 67.6 footers built, each of them differently. Some had aft cockpits and some were fancier in their own way.
“Tireless” was one of the fancier of the seven, with her inset side panels and her original shorter aft deck enclosure. There was one thing that separated her from all of the rest. There is a story that goes with it. Mr. Firestone had hired an interior decorator while the boat was still in the Trumpy yard.
One weekend, Mr. Trumpy heard noises - twack, twack, twack - coming from inside “Tireless.” Mr. Trumpy climbed aboard to investigate and found a man using a small chain to beat the woodwork. Asked what the heck he was doing, the decorator told Mr. Trumpy he was aging, antiquing the custom wood interior that Trumpy’s carpenters had built.
Mr. Trumpy promptly threw the man out of his yard, telling him to never return. The Trumpy crew filled and repaired all the damage. Then all of that gorgeous, hand-picked matched wood in the main salon was painted over, giving birth to a more modern look. “Tireless” was the only Trumpy built that way.
I always liked the 67.6 footers. We had the opportunity to take care of many of them. They are fast with their 1271s, and they have a beautiful sculpted bow: long and narrow with chines starting softly then sharpening, with a lifting surface. These yachts are beautiful both in and out of the water. To hear that one may be lost forever is a sad day to all Trumpy lovers.
I want to tell you a story of a dear friend, Raymond Sprague. In the 1970s, this old man walked into my shop in Lubec, Maine. He had a long gray beard, long hair and he wore a suit coat with a gold pocket watch, blue jeans and cowboy boots.
When he talked, his false teeth chattered. Watching him talk was like watching a badly dubbed foreign film. Raymond was born in 1900 or so he said. We became the best of friends. He was a boat builder and a character. Raymond made his own tools, even tempering his own steel so everything he had was razor sharp. For fun, he would carve linked chains out of white pine. Each of the chains were of uniform size and banded together. When he cut them loose, you held a wooden chain.
He took me through the backlands of Pembroke, Perry & Whiting, showed me the ghosts of the great boatyards of this childhood that had since disappeared. He would rattle off the names of two or three master schooners that had built there. We took many walks in the woods. He would point to different trees and tell me how they were best used in boat building, tool making or other uses.
This was in the 1970s when a blight hit Dutch elms, killing these grand old trees. Elm trees lined almost every town in New England and when they died off, the entire look of these towns changed. They looked naked. The towns cut up the dead trees in small chunks because they didn’t split easily. And elm was not a good burner for wood stoves. But for boat building, it was one tough, rot-resistant wood and they were free.
One time we went down to a beach in Perry, Maine where an old wooden barge lay, or what was left of it. With tools in hand, we pulled nails made out of wood, “tree nails” out of the barge. “Locust,” he said. “With 20,000 psi, it will not rot and doesn’t split.” To install locust tree nails, they would drill a hole through the planking and into the rib. They cut a slot in both ends, make small oak wedges and pounded them into place. The oak would swell up and lock the dowels in place.
Once in, these locust nails would outlast both the planking and the ribs. The one tree that sticks out in my mind from our walks through woods was the thorn plum. It grows pretty tall but has to be in a stand of other trees because it is unable to support itself. On one of our harvest adventures, we found the perfect thorn plumb tree. Raymond was ecstatic. It was as if we had struck gold or found a winning lottery ticket. I had never seen one so big. It was 7 inches at the base. We cut it down, then into lengths we could carry out of the woods. Thankfully, we didn’t have to go far.
Upon returning, we painted the ends. Raymond said it had to be dried in total darkness for two years. This sounded a little far-fetched so I put it to the test with my share of the loot. I stacked most of the wood under my work bench and put two pieces near a window. He proved to be right. The two hit by sunlight cracked up everywhere. I forgot about ones I hid away and years later found it and made some things. It was good for making mallets and handles. It was like rubber and had a spring to it. After that I listened to most of what he was teaching me.
I did say he was a boat builder. He got his hands on an Arcadia make and break motor. These were built in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada. It might have been 5 to 6 HP, no transmission direct drive. Raymond built his ultimate achievement. The boat he built was a glorified Deer Island dinghy launch. Raymond made beautiful thorn plumb knees, elm stem and other local woods he had collected over the years. This was his masterpiece. He fittingly named her “Magnum Opus.”
The old man would run her to Eastport or around the harbor. When he was heading to the dock he would flip a switch that cut the power to modulate a spark box. Then he would listen for the thump, thump, thump just when it was ready to stop. He knew when the cylinder was at its top and he would flip the switch, and the motor would start in reverse. Whenever Raymond came into a dock full of boats, people would come down just to watch if he would miss a beat. He never did. I wonder whatever happened to the “Magnum Opus.”
The last time I saw her, she was in a barn in North Lubec. Raymond passed years ago but I still think of him from time to time. He has always been an inspiration to me as well as a great teacher. I will forever be grateful that he was willing to share his wealth of knowledge and experience with a kid who loved boats and boatbuilding.
And memories of Raymond got me thinking of what will be my Magnum Opus. I have much to inspire me, from the yachts I have encountered and the people I’ve learned from and the things I found wondrous and beautiful.
I particularly love the prewar boats, the elegant sleek lines that redefined transoms. I have sketched down some of my ideas but most are in my head. When things slow down, I plan to start carving a half model or two to work out what is just a dream.
I will have to carve out time for carving because there’s a lot happening at the boatyard. Olympus is getting ready to launch, with new planking completed, new bronze knees in the lazarette and sanding and blocking and the last coats of topside paint.
In the paint shed is Jenny Clark. We have removed the tender from the top deck. The weight had started to sag the top, and repairs including jacking up the roof and laminating sister frames. We over jacked the sag then glued and fastened the sisters.
After letting the epoxy set up, we released the jacks. The new frames are now under tension and the top looks great. The paint work is done on the outside. Now it’s on to the bright work, buttoning up the electrical and interior refinishing. Once done this will be the rebirth of a great yacht and she’s the perfect size, not too big and definitely not too small.
I need to add to some boat show news. Sadly, Vintage Weekend at Ocean Reef in Key Largo has been cancelled. As we all know, the Florida Keys were severely damaged by Hurricane Irma. I am not adding photos of the damage but they were all over the internet.
In the show’s 22 year history, this is the first time that Vintage Weekend has been cancelled. I want to thank the organizers at Ocean Reef for hosting one of the greatest vintage shows hands down. God speed to all our friends at Ocean Reef.
I almost forgot the most important boat show story so far this year, the 19th Annual Charlotte Antique Boat Show. The weather was perfect and it was well attended. We always enjoy the pre-parties for any show and Ed and Judy Longino had a great one. Their house is at the edge of the lake and the party started just before sunset. This was southern hospitality at its finest. Every detail was just perfect and the deserts, amazing.
We brought “Chinook,” our 1911 Fay & Bowen. And of course we were put next to a flawless Hacker. Our boat is pretty original, over 75%, and we still have a little ways to go. She looks pretty good for 106 years old but she’s not exactly flawless.
Well, to our surprise, we won “Best In Show” at the award dinner. I didn’t expect that. I got a little emotional, a little teary-eyed. This is a great show and our names will join the others on a trophy made from part of Miss America 9, the first boat to set the record of 100 plus miles per hour back in 1931 by Garwood. We’re pretty honored to be in such great company and to have our name on such a beautiful trophy.
Until next time,