At 86, Lucie Is Still A Force On The Racecourse

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Lucie may be a classic, but she has a few nods to modern technology that help her stay competitive.

Lucie may be a classic, but she has a few nods to modern technology that help her stay competitive.

Lucie, an International 6 Meter racing yacht designed by Clinton Crane and built by Henry B. Nevins in 1931, wears sail No. US55 and is a sight to behold as she slips through the water. Narrow for her 37-foot length overall (6-foot beam), she shares the low profile, sweet sheer line and delicious overhangs of other classic 6 Meter boats, but Lucie has a priceless provenance: She belonged to Briggs Swift Cunningham Jr., a wealthy entrepreneur from Cincinnati, born in 1907.

Cunningham established his yacht-racing credentials sailing Stars and, while he attended Yale University, an 8 Meter as a member of the school’s sailing team. Modern sailors likely remember him for skippering the 12 Meter Columbia to victory in the 1958 America’s Cup, the first to be staged following World War II. Automobile enthusiasts know him as a race-car driver and builder of Cunningham sports cars. He was on a quest to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans, first in a Cunningham and later by fielding a team of Corvettes.

Photo of Dennis Caprio

Dennis Caprio

Cunningham named Lucie after his first wife, Lucie Bedford, granddaughter of Edward T. Bedford, who was a director of Standard Oil Co. She lived to be 104, causing speculation about her influence on the yacht’s lifespan. Lucie is only 86 years old and has carried her christened name from birth.

She raced hard and successfully for about 75 years, then found herself in the Midwest with a hole in her bottom and the leg of an outboard engine poking through it. When Lucie arrived on Brion Reiff’s doorstep in 2006, she was nearly ready for last rites as a racing boat. “Basically, we built a new boat,” says Reiff, owner of Brion Reiff Boat Builders in Brooklin, Maine. “All new frames, stringers, planking.”

The project began in 2005. Gregory C. Carroll, Lucie’s owner at the time, hired Pedrick Yacht Designs in Newport, Rhode Island, to manage the refit. His goal was to bring her into compliance with the International 6 Meter Rule 2 (used from 1920 to 1933). The work would involve improvements in the deck layout, as well as a new rig and sail plan. Pedrick was able to verify Lucie’s dimensions and scantlings by creating an electronic scan and studying plans from the Francis Russell Hart Nautical Collections at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

As often happens with restoration projects, Carroll lost interest and left Reiff with the boat about 80 percent done. Serendipity intervened. Jamie Hilton was sailing with friend and sailmaker Robbie Doyle aboard Lone Fox, a 65-foot yawl, in the April 2011 Antigua Classic Yacht Regatta. During one of the days, Matt Brooks joined the crew. At the end of the regatta, Brooks — a pilot with a private plane — offered to fly Hilton home. The in-flight conversation turned to 6 Meter yachts and the upcoming World Cup in Helsinki, Finland.

“We ought to get a boat,” Brooks said.

Hilton’s attempt to charter a boat failed, but during his search, he discovered that Lucie was languishing at Reiff’s yard and was for sale at a fraction of her true value. Brooks bought her, and Hilton became the project manager.

After a maelstrom of work, Lucie was on a trailer making her way to the Hinckley Yachts yard in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, for final commissioning and measuring. Brooks and friends sailed Lucie once after her official launch and christening at Newport’s International Yacht Restoration School. She then took a road trip to Newark, New Jersey, where she began her Atlantic passage aboard a ship bound for Finland.

Brooks likes classic yachts to be as true to the originals as is practicable, so Reiff relied on many of the same construction techniques and materials that Nevins employed in 1931 — even using shellac to seal the space between her two layers of planking. The boat measured accurately, except for her mast and spinnaker pole, both of which were slightly longer than they should have been. An easy fix.

Meanwhile, Doyle analyzed the hollow mast and discovered it was too flexible. He ordered a 30-foot stiffener to be installed. She placed sixth in her class at Helsinki.

“To look at her,” Hilton says, “she’s a perfect, classic 6 Meter.” Lucie wears all the proper fittings for a classic, but appearances deceive. Under the deck are Vectran lines, Harken blocks and a means to move the mast fore and aft, balancing the helm to suit conditions. “She’s fully adjustable,” Hilton says.

Brooks enjoys his involvement in the 6 Meter Class and even served as president for a while. Lucie’s future looks secure.

This article originally appeared in the February 2018 issue.