WALK­ING THE PLANK

Soundings - - Contents - PHO­TOS BY KIM TYLER

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

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The Purdy Boat Com­pany built Aphrodite in 1937; Brook­lin Boat Yard re­stored her in 2003.

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