Classics: Groverbuilt 26

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In 1986, the organizers of the New York National Boat Show invited a group of seafaring adventurers to talk to the public about their record-setting exploits. Among those in the group was a 58-year-old marina owner from Freeport, New York, a coastal town at the western end of Long Island. And did he have a tale to tell: He’d driven a 26-foot boat across the Atlantic — the first person to cross unassisted in an outboard powerboat.

Illustration by Jim Ewing.

Al Grover had been running his marina for 35 years and building boats on the side under the Groverbuilt nameplate. “I wanted to prove that our boat was a capable boat,” he told New York Times reporter Barbara Lloyd. He figured crossing the Atlantic would be “good for business.”

With his son Al Jr. on board, Grover left Pictou, Nova Scotia, on Aug. 1, 1985. He pulled into Lisbon, Portugal (with son Dante, who replaced Al Jr. in the Azores) on Sept. 3. The Groverbuilt — customized with a pair of 65-hp Evinrudes and a 9.9-hp Evinrude Yachtwin for emergency use — had covered about 2,500 miles.

The men endured storms and high seas, not to mention “intense personal discomfort,” as Grover put it. A northeast gale sweeping over the Grand Banks produced 20-foot seas and 40-knot winds. The boat “floated like a piece of driftwood, riding the waves stern to the wind,” Lloyd wrote. “[They] turned the engines off until the seas subsided.” The Groverbuilt drifted 150 miles off course. Then the crew ran into Hurricane Claudette, with peak winds of 85 mph.

Sitting at the boat show with a sister ship, Grover explained that one crossing was enough. The Groverbuilt he took across the pond was fine, but “I didn’t anticipate that kind of weather,” he told Lloyd, referring to the gales off Nova Scotia. “I thought we could gamble on a couple of weeks of decent weather, but now I know that can’t happen in the North Atlantic.”

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.