WALKING THE PLANK
Capt. Kirk Reynolds takes us aboard Aphrodite, an icon of Watch Hill Harbor and one of the most beautifully restored boats in the Northeast.
As captain of a 74-foot Purdy commuter yacht that ties up every summer in Rhode Island’s Watch Hill Harbor, Kirk Reynolds is responsible for one of the most beautifully restored boats in the Northeast. We asked him what it’s like to be the steward of a nautical icon, a yacht that’s as well known in local waters as the ferries and fishing boats that ply Long Island Sound. Aphrodite,
The boat gets a lot of attention. How do you handle that? It’s humbling, but I understand why people are drawn to Aphrodite. She’s beautiful and maintained to the nines. Is the attention a distraction? I suppose it could be for some people. We’ll come alongside a dock and toss a line, only to watch it drop to the dockhand’s feet because he’s just staring.
Does she get many visitors? Oh, yes. People travel by boat and car to see her; some will even come walking down our dock, which is private. You can’t blame them for being interested. The boat has a lot of history. For a few years she lived on Fishers Island, where she once served as an ambulance for a pregnant woman trying to get to New London to deliver her child. When that child grew up, she came to see the boat. We also had a visit from a guy in his eighties who had been an engineer and maintained Aphrodite during World War II, when she had big aircraft engines installed. We get a lot of unannounced guests who want to hear her story.
Is it true there’s a photo of Shirley Temple hanging in the cabin? She looks to be about 9 in that picture, and she’s with a group of her friends. The New York skyline is in the background. I’m told she had a birthday party on board. She was in the city promoting a movie. Jock Whitney [the Wall Street financier who had a stake in the Technicolor Corp.] owned the boat at the time and invited her aboard.
Is that your favorite piece of memorabilia?
I also like the picture of Aprhodite in the war years. This is after Pearl Harbor, when Whitney offered the boat to the government for service. She’s painted gray with big Coast Guard numbers on the bow and a .50-caliber machine gun on top of the cabin. There’s another good photo of the boat that I’ve seen which we don’t have on board. It shows President Franklin D. Roosevelt fishing from the cockpit on the Hudson River. I’m not sure what he was catching, but I can tell you this is not an easy boat to fish from. Not with that stern.
What type of cruising does the boat do today?
It’s used mostly by the family of the owner, Chuck Royce. We do a lot of sunset cocktail cruises, lunches aboard and Stonington for dinner. The Royces also donate her for charity cruises.
So that means we can get a ride too?
That’s definitely possible, if you donate enough.
You found the boat in 1999. What type of condition was it in then?
Horrible. All four bilge pumps were running 24/ 7. She had been in Florida for 10 years, where the sun and heat caused a lot of damage. Worms had eaten the bottom and termites had chewed up the wood above the waterline. She was soft everywhere. But eventually we learned she was a piece of American yachting history and she needed to be restored; otherwise, she’d simply disappear.
When did the restoration begin?
We bought the boat in 2000 and sat on it for three years while formulating a plan. We knew 100 percent of the wood would need replacing because it was so far gone. In 2003, we brought her up to Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine. They had her for two years. They restored her using the same species of wood used in the original. The methods of construction were the same, too.
What elements of the restoration are you happiest with?
I’m pleased with the way we’ve managed to bring her into the 21st century with modern technology. There are electronic controls for the engine at the helm and a cluster of gauges were made to look just like the original. It’s amazing to have something that looks so old function like a new boat.
How fast does she go?
Top speed is 40 mph with two 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18s. We don’t run at wide-open very much, though; at that speed the boat is just loud. We’ll cocktail cruise at 18 mph. If we want to cover some ground, we run 30 or 33 mph.
Does she handle well?
She’s narrow and very powerful with big props and rudders. Not a very big keel. That’s why she goes so fast—there’s not much drag in the water. But in a big sea she throws a lot of water. She was designed for Long Island Sound.
Do guests ask if they can drive?
Many people are intimidated by the boat, but I’ve had a few people ask to take the wheel, and I’ve let them. One person wanted to take her out of the slip. I was a nervous wreck.
How often do you get the Capt. Kirk jokes?
Oh, just about every time I meet someone. It’s comical. I get it. — Jeanne Craig
The Purdy Boat Company built Aphrodite in 1937; Brooklin Boat Yard restored her in 2003.