Off Watch

Cruising World - - Contents - Herb Mccormick is CW’S ex­ec­u­tive editor. NY40 Mar­ilee: Restora­tion of a Her­reshoff Clas­sic is avail­able for free view­ing on Youtube.

Here in New­port, Rhode Is­land, the works of Capt. Nathanael Her­reshoff are still very much on hand for all to see. A fleet of hand­some S boats races weekly on Nar­ra­gansett Bay. Sev­eral sweet lit­tle Her­reshoff 12½s bob on moor­ings around the har­bor. The cool lit­tle town of Bris­tol is just a short hop up the bay, and once there, the mini cruise is not com­plete with­out pay­ing a visit to the Her­reshoff Marine Mu­seum, which com­mem­o­rates the his­toric works of the fa­mous Her­reshoff Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co., where the so-called “wiz­ard of Bris­tol” plied his trade.

And once a year, at least, clas­sic yachts from all over gather in town for rac­ing in a wa­ter­borne spec­ta­cle that must be seen to be be­lieved. Like al­most every­thing to do with boats, the clas­sics are a mad, glo­ri­ous ob­ses­sion, and those who pam­per them, re­store them, com­pete aboard them and pass them down through the gen­er­a­tions have noth­ing but my re­spect for main­tain­ing a won­der­ful, beau­ti­ful link with the past. Ev­ery clas­sic boat has its own unique story to tell.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than the tale of a yacht called Mar­ilee, which has earned more than her fair share of ac­co­lades and hard­ware in re­cent years dur­ing New­port’s an­nual Clas­sic Yacht Re­gatta, as well as many other venues. And a new doc­u­men­tary from marine pho­tog­ra­pher Ali­son Lan­g­ley does so in spec­tac­u­lar fash­ion. NY40 Mar­ilee: Restora­tion of a Her­reshoff Clas­sic is a vivid, de­tailed ac­count of the nearly three-year-long project to bring the 92-year-old beauty back to strong, con­tem­po­rary fight­ing trim.

Mak­ing the movie, said Lan­g­ley, “was a la­bor of love and learn­ing for me.” The same could likely be said for ev­ery­one who was in­volved in this amaz­ing restora­tion.

Launched in 1926, the 59-foot Mar­ilee was one of the last boats de­signed and con­structed un­der the aus­pices of the NY 40 class, one of sev­eral one-de­sign classes founded by the New York Yacht Club and de­signed by Her­reshoff. Lightly built, she was also one of the few mem­bers of the class to sur­vive the in­ter­ven­ing decades. She was re­stored once, in 2000, and then pur­chased by a new owner in 2014. He opened the check­book to give the old girl what ul­ti­mately amounted to not only a full restora­tion, but al­most a com­plete re­build, from keel to mast­head (in­clud­ing not one but two in­ter­change­able rigs, a gaffer like her original setup and a more mod­ern Ber­mu­dian sloop). As the say­ing goes, no stone was left un­turned.

The work was com­pleted in two stages, with a sea­son of rac­ing in be­tween, at the French & Webb Boat­yard in Belfast, Maine. Some of the film’s best footage — in­clud­ing some very cool time-lapse im­agery show­ing how the new deck was over­laid — is of the crafts­men lov­ingly and painstak­ingly car­ry­ing out their work. The dudes clearly care.

The re­stor­ers had a wealth of in­for­ma­tion to ac­cess and em­ploy thanks to the ex­ten­sive, won­drous col­lec­tion of Her­reshoff plans, pho­to­graphs and mod­els housed at MIT’S amaz­ing Hart Nau­ti­cal Col­lec­tion, which could eas­ily be the sub­ject of its own doc­u­men­tary. It’s one of my fa­vorite parts of the story.

And so is the seg­ment on fit­ting out the new in­te­rior. To fash­ion the fur­ni­ture, bulk­heads and fit­tings, boat­builder Todd French sourced a stash of old-growth cypress logs that had been sunk in a North Carolina river for more than 100 years, but those weren’t quite an­cient enough for the owner, who wanted a deep, rich patina. The la­bo­ri­ous process of dis­tress­ing the wood even fur­ther — ox­i­diz­ing it, bleach­ing it, beat­ing it with chains and tak­ing out the grain with wire wheels — is fas­ci­nat­ing. And the end re­sult is sim­ply stun­ning. I’ve never seen the in­te­rior of a yacht quite like it.

With many in-depth in­ter­views, there are sev­eral stars in the show, in­clud­ing French, the Her­reshoff Mu­seum’s Bill Lynn, and es­pe­cially Mar­ilee skip­per Den­nis Gun­der­son, who proves to be a pas­sion­ate, knowl­edge­able guide to both the restora­tion process it­self and to the en­tire world of clas­sic-yacht rac­ing. Lan­g­ley had plenty of ma­te­rial with which to work.

The fruits of ev­ery­body’s ef­forts, lav­ishly shown in the sailing footage from many pop­u­lar, fa­mil­iar New Eng­land venues, speaks for it­self. It’s just lovely.

Not ev­ery­one, of course, has the time, money or de­sire to im­merse them­selves in such a rar­i­fied world. But if you call your­self a sailor, and you ap­pre­ci­ate tra­di­tion and splen­dor, you can only smile and tip your cap to those who do. Well done, Team Mar­ilee.

Like al­most every­thing about boats, clas­sic yachts are a mad, glo­ri­ous ob­ses­sion, and those who pam­per them, re­store them and pass them down the gen­er­a­tions main­tain a won­der­ful link with the past.

The amaz­ing restora­tion of the stun­ning NY 40 Mar­ilee is the sub­ject of a riv­et­ing new doc­u­men­tary.

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