MY BOAT MY LIFE
Capt. Pete Wheeler’s 1960 Hatteras 41 (hull No. 7) is a piece of boatbuilding history. To him, it’s his fishing partner and livelihood. By DANIEL HARDING
Fish on Long Island Sound long enough, and you’ll come across Capt. Pete Wheeler, a 40-year veteran of the fishing-charter game with a striking 1960 Hatteras 41 (hull No. 7) named Sea Sprite. Boat nuts will immediately recognize her as the fiberglass model that helped Hatteras rise to sportfishing fame. Local fishermen will recognize her ability to send charter guests packing with coolers full of fresh fish and smiles on their faces.
From the outside, you would think Sea Sprite is a restored showboat, but that just means you don’t know her veteran captain from Clinton, Connecticut. Yes, the old Hatteras is impeccably maintained, but step aboard and you’ll realize that the boat, like Wheeler, is solely focused on one thing: fishing. Stripped away are the appliances, cushions and creature comforts you’d expect to find.
“I have the enclosed wheelhouse, which to me is my office,” Wheeler says. “I have heat up there, which is ideal. But there’s no electricity in the cabin, no furniture. I just wanted it bare-bones. It’s very simple, it’s very economical, and it gets the job done.”
Like those who now admire Sea Sprite, Wheeler first saw the boat while she was out chartering. At the time, a tugboat captain who ran weekend trips on the side owned her. “I had my eye on this boat from the first moment I saw it, and I told the owner at the time, ‘You ever want to sell that, make sure you call me first,’ ” Wheeler says. “He eventually did decide to sell it and called me.” That was 38 years ago.
“I really had to put a lot of work into it to get it back in shape,” the skipper says. “I replaced the teak deck, did a lot of glasswork, and it just morphed into the ideal charter boat.”
Although Wheeler did extensive work, it’s the qualities the boat was born with that make her well suited for the thousands of charters they’ve done together. “It’s good in all kinds of sea conditions,” he says. “Whether in a head sea, following sea, beam sea, it’s a heavy boat made of solid glass. It’s hard to believe she’s as old as she is.
She’s served me well.”