The Lady Laughs Again

Nearly 10,000 miles from where she was built, a svelte, 69-year-old Amer­i­can beauty is turn­ing heads on Auck­land’s Hau­raki Gulf, her new home. Her jour­ney here – and her restora­tion – is an im­prob­a­ble story.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY LAWRENCE SCHÄF­FLER

Restor­ing a US Clas­sic – a bit like a de­tec­tive story.

Built in 1949 by the leg­endary Lüders Marine Cor­po­ra­tion in Con­necti­cut, Laugh­ing Lady was re­cently re­launched at Omaha af­ter years of ne­glect and a glo­ri­ous restora­tion by the Whangateau Boat Yard. Her gleam­ing bright­work is off­set by pe­riod fit­tings and fix­tures – and though she boasts a few modern accessories such as a chart­plot­ter, these are dis­creetly-mounted, hid­den and out of sight un­til needed. So she looks pretty much as she did when first launched.

Per­haps the most in­trigu­ing part of her restora­tion is the re­search that went into the pro­ject. Her own­ers – broth­ers James and Michael Dreyer, to­gether with Ge­orge Em­tage and Pam Cundy at the boat­yard – had very lit­tle to work with by way of orig­i­nal plans or pho­tos. Finding this in­for­ma­tion took sleuth work, quite a bit of intuition, and a lot of luck.

I’ll get to the restora­tion in a minute, but first some back­ground.

A 33-foot sports fish­ing boat, Laugh­ing Lady was built for a Mrs Winthrop Bai­ley – a wealthy Amer­i­can so­cialite who hob-nobbed with Bri­tish roy­alty. The boat was as­so­ci­ated with the glam­our set from the get-go – and it’s easy to sense that her name was em­i­nently ap­pro­pri­ate.

She was built for speed – her dou­ble-planked cedar and ma­hogany hull, wrapped around oak fram­ing, was pow­ered by twin, straight-eight 150hp Packard en­gines giv­ing her a speed of nearly 30 knots.

Mrs Bai­ley sold the boat to a New York stock­bro­ker, Robert David Lion Gar­diner. He owned Gar­diners Is­land, at the eastern tip of Long Is­land, and he used Laugh­ing Lady to com­mute from his home to Green­port, on Long Is­land. From there it was a quick rail trip into mid­town Man­hat­tan. He also used her to ferry guests be­tween his is­land and the up­mar­ket Hamp­tons – where the Who’s Who of Long Is­land kept their hol­i­day man­sions.

When Gar­diner died in 2004 the boat was sold to a dis­tant rel­a­tive in Cal­i­for­nia. But the road trip across the US was cat­a­strophic and she ar­rived with a bro­ken back and one of her en­gines hang­ing off the tran­som.

It fell to a San Diego boat­yard – Tra­di­tional Boat Works – to tackle the for­lorn and fallen lady’s mam­moth re­build. All pro­gressed well for a few years, but the 2008 GFC put the brakes on the pro­ject. The boat­yard even­tu­ally ac­quired the boat in lieu of un­paid bills. And there she lay, gath­er­ing dust, for many years, un­til she was spot­ted by James Dreyer – an avid Kiwi clas­sic boat en­thu­si­ast.

all it had was a small Lüders folder with half a dozen sheets – and zilch about Laugh­ing Lady.”

Pam, in the mean­time, was do­ing her own bit of sleuthing – ex­trap­o­lat­ing clues for the prob­a­ble lay­out of the boat’s (miss­ing) in­te­rior, work­ing from fas­tener holes in the frames, lit­tle bits of handrail and a few sur­viv­ing fit­tings.

James’ in­ves­ti­ga­tions took him to Gar­diners Is­land, where he was in­tro­duced to an el­derly me­chanic at the lo­cal marina. He un­earthed a photo of Laugh­ing Lady’s man­gled props – Gar­diner had run her aground. But the im­age also pro­vided valu­able de­tails about the de­sign of her rub rail.

James also knew that in the early 60s the New York Times ( NYT) had run an ar­ti­cle – The Great­est Pic­nic the World has ever Seen. It cov­ered a high-so­ci­ety pic­nic on Gar­diners Is­land – catered for by Pres­i­dent John Kennedy’s per­sonal chef, Charles De Gaulle’s per­sonal chef, as well as chefs from the top Miche­lin star restau­rants in Paris and New York. The writer was the NYT’S food critic.

Chefs and guests had all been fer­ried to the is­land on Laugh­ing Lady, and James won­dered what had hap­pened to the press pho­tos. Weirdly, Fate dealt him a friendly hand.

“I’d booked an Airbnb on the is­land, and it

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