Illustration by Jim Ewing
You’re likely familiar with the popular ad campaign that features the “most interesting man in the world.” Aphrodite, the 1937 commuter built for the dashing young Manhattan financier “Jock” Whitney, has to be one of the most interesting yachts in the world.
It starts with the look: “long, black, sweetly curved … with a clipper bow, dramatic beaver-tailed stern, varnished house and cockpit,” writes maritime historian Joe Gribbins, “and the name Aphrodite in gold on the buxom finishing touch of the stern.”
The 74-footer came from the Purdy Boat Co. in Port Washington, N.Y., and Whitney used her to commute from his Long Island mansion to Manhattan. During weekends at Fishers Island, N.Y., Aphrodite would run over to New London, Conn., for a fresh copy of the Herald-Tribune, which Whitney owned.
She stood out from the start, and celebrities flocked to her. Fred Astaire tap-danced on deck, Shirley Temple celebrated a birthday aboard, and Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy held hands on their visit. Whitney gave Aphrodite to the Coast Guard the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. She served as a PT boat test vessel, a torpedo screen for the British liner Queen Mary and an escort for President Roosevelt’s Hudson River trains. The FBI once caught a purported spy on the boat.
After the war, Aphrodite joined a fleet of Fishers Island yachts owned by Rockefellers, DuPonts and others. Whitney’s boat blew them away. With her new V-12 Packards, she was the “mile-a-minute” boat of Long Island Sound. Whitney and Aphrodite parted company in the 1960s, beginning decades of decline. She wound up on the bottom in her slip more than once, and she nearly rotted away on the hard. Luckily, she ended up in the hands of marina owner John Pannell, whose 1984 refit turned her into an award-winner on the vintage yacht circuit.
When current owner Charles Royce bought Aphrodite in 2000, she was in dire need of restoration and underwent a 40,000-hour rebuild at Maine’s Brooklin Boat Yard. She is now home-ported in Watch Hill, R.I. “Aphrodite is again, as she was in days past, a stunning example of the classic American motoryacht,” wrote the yard’s John Maxwell.
And one of the most interesting yachts in the world.
November 2012 issue.