Of making "pudding," shiny old nails and remembrance of a fine man
Launching "Olympus," a 92' 1929 New York Yacht, Launch and Engine Co., after refastening the bow, removing bad butts, and other maintenance. From right, Jim Moores, Capt. David Carter and guest star, Larry Keeler.
I have been waiting to write. I have been wanting to talk about how our first boat is coming along and was waiting for the right time. Our boat design is not simple. We have been working on how the transom, stern, and bottom marry together. I am pleased to say that design work is now done. The last few days she has jumped from the computer screen to reality – they cut out the frame and parts yesterday. This is the wave of the future. When I asked Alan and Graham if they had ever designed something this complex, they just shook their heads. What I like about both of them is their determination and the attention to details. The other thing I like about them is they welcome my involvement every step of the way.
Now the proof is in the pudding. We have had a lot of interest, but as for orders? Everyone wants to see the actual boat and to sea trial it. I understand. So do I. I built boats in my 20’s and they were rough and ready to fish off the coast of Maine and I have spent more than 35 years restoring yachts. As a young man, I apprenticed at boatyards in Maine before I decided the only way to truly learn to build boats was to do it. I opened up my boat shop and went to building. I made 32 cents an hour on the first boat I built.
What most people don’t understand is that it is easier to build a boat from scratch than to restore a boat if you are going to do it right. At 63, designing and building boats is the fulfillment of a career that started a long time ago. Personally, I don’t need someone to take a leap of faith. The first hull is being funded by me. The engine and transmission are already here. The materials stacked and ready.
It’s been a long time coming.
In 2006, when we started building the boatyard, we only had enough money to buy the property and put the utility infrastructure and fill. So I had an empty gravel lot with power and water. The engineer asked about my vision for the place before we started. I told him a little shop here and an office there that will be added as need. He said, “No, a vision! With all the utilities to go underground, they need to be installed now.”
So as we started drawing, the buildings got bigger. I had placed the office where it is today and he wanted to move it to a weird little plot. I said no, that is where the woodworking shop will go. With no money to build, I sold the land I had inherited from my father. This was a hard thing to do. It had been in the family since 1946. I would visit it and marvel at its wooded beauty. It was in Brown County in Southern Indiana. I offered it to my family, then put it on the market and sold it very quickly. I drew the maximum building that would fit. Then proceeded to draw an office and a door as big as we could get. I added a mezzanine deck, and a machine area for projects up to 50 feet and a bathroom. Quietly, under my breath, I told myself this was to be my boat building shed. When we opened our boat yard. It was the only and first building. We named it after our engineer, The Myron Building. So we have grown almost every year and we still have plenty of places to build things. Now the Myron Building is going to fulfill what I designed it for – building boats! We are ready.
I have been writing a lot about boat building, let’s talk restoration and classics! In late October, as the temperature started to change, the 1929 98’ “Olympus” came in. We are doing a sectional restoration on her bottom, starting with her bow. Now her bottom is in pretty good shape, but she is no longer a “shed queen,” always undercover except for an occasional cruise. She is going up and down the East Coast and to the islands as she was designed to do. So some waterline planking, all butt blocks, the first 25 foot of bow included, 1,800 silicon bronze screws, caulking, and a bunch of miscellaneous work. There was one very puzzling thing: The nails that she has in her. When we removed one of these planks at the waterline, the nails looked like they were in good shape where we were going to tighten them.
These nails, the color of shiny brass, looked pretty good to me. We sent some out to be tested at the request of the surveyor. I was shocked when the report came back. It took 4,225 lbs to shear through. Wow!! Then there was the metal analysis. What was I really looking at? Aluminum .190, silica .23, lead .53, manganese .24, iron 1.42, copper 58.71 and zinc 37.87. I was never that great at science, but I am looking at a handful of 92-year-old nails that are as good as the day they were installed. How could that be? What did they know way back then of zinc and aluminum? It didn’t make sense.
This was a true mystery and it goes against everything I know about marine metals. Besides, all metals melt at different temperatures so how did they mix them?
I called the lab, QC Metallurgical, and talked with Frank Grate, the man who did the testing. About an hour into the conversation, I asked “how is this possible?” Silicon bronze doesn’t last this long, so how does a nail with so many opposing metals do this? One thing Frank told me was that the nails also had arsenic in them. Still, he did not know how they had held up. It remains a mystery. The one thing I know for sure is the foundry that made these nails was a hell of a lot smarter than the ones we have today. Frank did say the only thing that comes as close is naval brass. With short handle sledge, all the nails were reset and all the old silicon bronze screws replaced. We are completing another project, a 94-foot Stevens (aluminum) sailing yacht. She has been here since summer. The damage was created in a storm in Italy. During the storm, she was bashed into a concrete dock. They sailed her west, not wanting to get trapped in a foreign shipyard. There were problems with her teak decks and removing a 100-foot mast on a boat was a challenge to pull off. So after welding, sand blasting, fairing, and then painting, she is soon ready to go.
In the same breath, we are restoring a 25-foot Safti-Craft made of steel. Right now we are installing the engine and running gear. Then there is the 17-foot Hacker speedster. This was a home build, and as a boat builder, he did a pretty good job. Still the sheer has flat points I hope to remove and reshape the stem. Under her bow plate is way off. Both are pretty minor to repair. What is happening in the world of Trumpy yachts? This year at Ocean Reef Vintage Weekend in Key Largo there was a great show of them. “Freedom,” “BBC,” “Lady Catherine,” “Aurora IV,” “Aurora II” and “Liberty.” It is always a really fun time. To outdo last year, Friday night’s cocktail party was held at the beach and there were stunt pilots who performed an amazing show in the dark with flashing lights on the planes. Earl McMillen’s “Freedom” carried away the John Trumpy award! Congratulations to him and his team.
In other Trumpy news, Dr. Phil’s Trumpy “Barbra Joan” is under contract. Hopefully she gets a new owner. There are three more to go. I received a call from Jim Walgreen about his boat. “Dixonia,” contract 371 that was built in 1955 for J.B. Rich. It is in Michigan and is a project. He is ready to move on and would like to talk to parties that might be interested. This is a 1950’s Cockpit Cruiser. Trumpy did not build a lot of these You can contact him via email: email@example.com. Next is the 60’ houseboat “Gemini”. She is contract 426, built in 1965 for Dwight Allen. Sam DuPont’s old boat is sitting in a shed. This is a perfect project boat; the right size, fast, clean in styling and retro at the same time.
Then there is the 83’ “Eskimo”, the largest modern houseboat Trumpy that remains. “Eskimo” is contract 400 and was built for John Kimberly in 1961. You can contact us for more information about “Gemini” or “Eskimo” at 252-504-7060. All of these yachts are not old rot boxes, but projects and good ones, a part of American maritime history. Beautiful, elegant and handsome. There is nothing more beautiful to see sliding through the water. Let’s all get serious about saving them. If you know someone, have them call me and I will share what I know. I have two more stories to share.
I got a call while I was writing this letter that James (Jim) Sproatt has passed away. I got choked up hearing the news. This is not going to be a eulogy. Instead, a glimpse of a fine man. I met Jim when his boat was hauled out up north and it had a bow problem. He felt like he was being held hostage and asked if we could send someone so he could move his yacht. We loaded one of our trucks with tools and I drove toMichigan with a crew and our men closed her bow. The Captain, Moe Skula, brought her down to our North Carolina facility where we restored her. Mr. Sproatt was a true gentleman and entirely self made.
In 1963, at age 15, he worked mowing grass and sweeping floors for a company in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana. He grew up to drive trucks for the same company and eventually earned his way to becoming the president and CEO.
Mr. Jim Sproatt's Trumpy M/Y "Jenny Clark." preparing for departure after a complete restoration..
During the “Jenny Clark” restoration process, he was part of it all the way through. He appreciated the craftsmanship and praised the men for their efforts, including picking up the tab for crew lunches several times. Mr. Sproatt never had anything handed to him and he knew what it meant to work for a living. We were grateful for the opportunity to work on his beloved “Jenny Clark,” to get the yacht just the way he wanted it. I would compare him to Mr. Hollis Baker for his graciousness and in his love of Trumpy yachts.
Although they came from different walks of life, they were both from the Midwest, and both genuine and kind. We are going to miss Mr. Sproatt and we send our deepest condolences to his family and friends for their loss.
I have a guest named Larry Keeler. He came down from Michigan to spend some time to learn about varnishing. He showed up at just the right time, as we are preparing the “Olympus” for launching. I am from the Midwest, but kind of forgot how quiet, smart, and nice most of these people are. Too many years in South Florida, I guess.
Our varnisher, Anna, is from Russia and doesn’t speak much English. She doesn’t speak much at all, even in Russian, preferring to let her work do the talking. She is really good and she doesn’t waste time with chit chat. Larry is quiet too and he is learning by watching. When words and an explanation are necessary, I jump in to fill the gaps. Then again, I once worked with a deaf man on building my first boat and that turned out just fine. Look where that led me.
Till next time,