Messing about and wheel you help me?
Interior of the "Honey Fitz," the eighth U.S. Presidential Yacht.
Someone told me that they heard I had retired, and I had to laugh. Still messing about with boats, both working on them as well as using them.
Recently with my friends here in Beaufort, David Sharp, and Robin Murry, we went out on my Nonsuch 33 for a sail to Oriental, NC. Every so often there is something called a perfect sail, nice steady wind out of the perfect direction across the beam. I was an avid sailor in my youth. My family’s boat was an old racing Hood/Maz 47-footer, named “Arawak.”
She was a fast racing yacht. One time in a gentlemen’s race in Elbow Key, our old racing yacht kept up with the best of them and at one point was in the lead when out of the blue this little free-stayed catboat sailed past us. Later at the club I asked what that little boat was. Someone said “A Nonsuch.” I remembered that and 40+ years later I am the proud owner of one. Now this might sound silly but sailing these boats are like no other. It is kind of like a sailboat/windsurfer and an airplane wing all in one. You can bend the mast back, change the air foil or shape of the sail plus the wishbone boom and when you get it perfect with the right wind, the boat jumps up and flies. It is like having a huge airplane wing.
The day sailing with David was one of these days with winds 11 to 18 knots. The new “Arawak,” my Nonsuch got the perfect heel, with 15% the sail filled to a perfect shape. There is that glowing feeling as the speed log steadily dances up the speed was reading climbs from 5 then 5.5 then 6. The seas are perfect, 1.5 ft waves then she creeps up again 6.5 then 7 and bounces a little higher. It was not until you saw other sailboats and how fast we caught up to them that you realized how fast this little catboat is.
What I like is how people like to come look at her at the dock. So after spending the night and walking the town. We headed back to Beaufort. The wind had changed so we had a broadreach, (the wind is a little behind us). Heading out of the harbor there were sailboats going everywhere and lots of motoring. On a perfect day?
Hoisting the main, my one and only sail is 707 sq ft. That is a big sail for my little 33 ft boat then tweaked and adjusted until it was right. Then I gave the wheel to David and said, “she sails so smooth.” In the distance was a French boat, a Beneteau 44. I let out a little more sail and asked, “Can you head toward him.” My little “Arawak” jumped up 7.5 to 8 knots and quickly caught up to the boat in front of us. David said, “I didn’t realize we were going that fast.”
I have to just let the Beneteau off the hook. Their sails were poorly trimmed, they should have learned a little more about sailing before buying such a big boat or were they just hung-over from the night before? Still I know how that guy felt back 40 years ago, when he sailed past us in Elbow Key. I had a big smile.
The weather has been warm, we are in November and still in short sleeves and blue jeans with the best fall yet.
When we did the Honey Fitz Reconstruction back in 2010 Moores Marine was only doing the hull. The boat manager, Tony Bucknell, hired a company from Louisiana that had worked for them in the past on tugboats to come in and do the decks and the interior. Check here for more info
That crew knew nothing about the restoration of this great American yacht. The electrician yanked out the original radio room and threw it on the ground. It was hard to watch ignorance destroy American history. These guys were poor at even house carpentry. After launching the “Honey Fitz,” she toured the East Coast and I would get the same questions. “Did you do the interior?” The answer was an emphatic no.
I had done research on the most famous time in the yacht’s history, the
date was 1954. Why? That was the year she was converted from a commuter class yacht to a houseboat at John Trumpy and Sons in Easton, MD and officially deemed a presidential yacht. That is just one small part of her history, her story is worthy of a book or two. I will save it for another newsletter.
I was talking with my friend Don Trumpy recently and I asked if there were photos or plans of the transformation. You could hear him smile over the phone, “Jim, it was just a project in the yard. We were building boats and a lot was going on. I remember her there but nothing special. The JFK Library had many movies and photos, so we contacted all five libraries Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and last Nixon. When we had the hull to construct, we were referred to Bowling Green University in Ohio.
The Lenoir/Honey Fitz we had started straightening her hull; back then the plans for all of Defoe yachts had not been cataloged. The archives at the time told me it would be 3 to 6 weeks. I told him that if they had them, we needed them now and told the short story version of the boat, they were not aware of her history or the presidential connection.
I sent a photo or two of the project.
Three days later I got a call, I could have them right away. These were critical to the refit and when they were digitally overlaid it helped to straighten the yacht. She had twisted and hogged over the years.
Fast forward to 2020. A new, very private owner who wants to bring her back to her glory. Brad London and his crew at Total Refit LLC. and the very active Captain Greg Albritton have made a great team. And they work well together. So, where do I fit in? This is a major undertaking, and I am there to help steer the project from the structural aspect to bring her back to 1954, styling to the trim and doing research.
In determining the part of the yacht that is Defoe from the Trumpy. So, instead of lots of little drawings, I went down to the “Flying Lady” with Captain Wayne Recker to take photos. They say a photo is worth a thousand words. “Flying Lady” is a 60’ Trumpy houseboat from 1939.
So, this thing has taken me back to Bowling Green and meeting a new archivist, Mark Sprang. What a great guy. I told him what we needed, the dining room and the pilothouse. Any or all photos or drawings. It fell quiet for about a week or so then the phone rang, and Mark said, “I went digging and found files full of large original launching photos that were professionally taken. I am sharing some with you. Amazing and wonderful.
My last story. In the 1990s the “Honey Fitz” was hauled out in Louisiana with a cradle. A short time later, she was put on a barge where she sat for many years. The cradle did not support the bow or the stern and the varnish burned off in the southern summer sun. She had died. At another point the yacht was looted and items were stolen like furniture and fixtures. One very important part went away, the original wheel. Whether it was stolen or given away, the stories and leads go all over the place. There was a bar in Boston named “The Honey Fitz,” that claimed to have original relics of the yacht. Captain Paul, one of the previous captains found the bar but it had closed 6 months earlier and that was in 2016.
The "Honey Fitz's" original wheel with a young Caroline Kennedy and her puppy.
Another story is it was given to the Kiwanis Club in Mobile. So, I am asking
for your help. I have a poor copy of a picture from my research. The wheel is 36
to 38”. If you know where we can find the original, please let us know. If you know or have seen one like the original, let us know that too. We are not asking for a donation but a fair price. I have found one that is in England. Personally, I would like to see an American wheel on a former American presidential yacht. My new email address is firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at the office (252) 504-7060. Or you can call Captain Greg Albritton (561)667-8003.
Until next time,