Affairs of the heart

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Annie Laurie had to look her best. Not only was the 87-year-old commuter yacht going to the Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous at Mystic Seaport, but the voyage would be the first for her new owner, Mike Fazio.

Annie Laurie was launched as Bonita IV in 1929 in Thomaston, Maine.

In midsummer 2016, he and a crew of friends descended on the boat, docked at Chrisholm Marina in Chester, Connecticut, ready to give her a “refit” that would make her entrance at the prestigious vintage-boat gala a grand one.

The first thing to do was decide on the work to be done and set priorities. “Preparing a boat for a show is much like writing a sermon or a magazine article,” says Fazio, a partner at Austin Organs, a pipe organ manufacturer in Hartford, Connecticut. “One must know what to enhance, preserve, expand on or ignore.”

Here’s what Fazio, his friends and the marina focused on to get Annie Laurie looking her best.

Teak decks: Left unfinished by the previous owner, they were sanded to bare wood and the seams filled as needed with black Sika-Flex. They were then finished with several coats of Sikkens Cetol Marine Natural Teak finish. “This seals the wood, and over time it develops that warm, honey color that looks appropriate on a vintage yacht,” Fazio says. “I hope Barry [White, the previous owner] is not cursing me in heaven for having placed a finish on his beloved teak!”

ANNIE LAURIE (ex-GLADLAR, ex-BONITA IV) Thomaston, Maine, is known as “the town that went to sea,” and its shipbuilding heritage is a proud one. It’s estimated that the yards there built more than 1,000 ships through the early 1900s. Gray Boats was one of several prominent concerns still building in the 1920s and was well-known for its working craft. Albert E. Condon was a self-taught yacht designer who specialized in workboats as well as the popular commuter yachts and “lobster cruisers.” Based in Thomaston, he naturally had a working relationship with Gray Boats, and many of his designs were built there. Today, Condon’s workboats and yachts are appreciated for their “unusually pleasing aesthetic character,” writes Daniel MacNaughton in The Encyclopedia of Yacht Designers. “He drew a good number of sailing and power yachts … widely recognized for their sweet lines.” Gladlar, launched in 1929 as Bonita IV for an unnamed client, rates as one of them. Condon retired in 1950 and returned to Thomaston, where he continued to design at home until his death in 1963. It’s said that he never used a draftsman, rendering all the designs himself.

LOA: 60 feet BEAM: 13 feet, 3 inches DRAFT: 4 feet, 8 inches DISPLACEMENT: 37 tons PROPULSION: twin 230-hp GM-671 diesels LAUNCHED: 1929 BUILDER: Gray Boats, Thomaston, Maine DESIGNER: Albert E. Condon

Transom: The double-planked mahogany structure is susceptible to moisture, which lifts the varnish. Vents installed in the lazarette have not helped. So Victor Matz of Chrisholm Marina stripped and sanded the transom to bare wood and applied the same Sikkens product used on the teak decks. “Its microporous surface allows water to wick out from the wood,” Fazio says. “The worst case is, we might have to redo it in the spring.”

Brightwork: Annie Laurie has “acres of brightwork,” Fazio says. But it was in good condition overall and needed only a light refinish. The surfaces were tacked and then finished with a final coat of Epifanes varnish.

Topsides: Faded and worn from weather, the black hull was cleaned, sanded and given a coat of Interlux Brightside in black. Other surfaces were wiped down with Penetrol, a versatile, deep-penetrating paint additive that increases adhesion and allows paint to flow evenly. It also adds a nice luster.

Coach roofs: They’d been covered in a nontraditional synthetic rubber (EPDM, or ethylene propylene diene monomer) that Fazio found unattractive. The roofs were sanded and coated with a neutral-color, oil-based paint. “I’m not sure if oil paint was the right answer,” Fazio says. “That will become apparent in the spring.”

There was some mechanical work to do, as well. The raw-water impellers were replaced in both engines and the genset. “That should be a regular annual task, regardless,” Fazio says. Looking over the electrical system, he found corroded connections that were replaced with new ones. Fazio also added a new battery, a shower pump and three new float switches for the boat’s seven bilge pumps.

Then there was cleaning and interior arranging and myriad details, “all to give the illusion of a yacht that has magically appeared from 1929 unchanged,” Fazio says.

On a sunny morning in July, he finally took the helm, worked the boat away from the marina dock and headed down the Connecticut River for Long Island Sound. At the river’s mouth, with Saybrook Outer Light off the starboard bow, Fazio turned east and headed for Mystic.

It was a big moment. After admiring Annie Laurie for more than 20 years, first as a visitor and later as crew, here he was at the helm, looking out through what the old steamer skippers called the “middle window.”

“I had run the boat a few times up and down the river,” Fazio says, “but this was the first time for me as owner/captain beyond Saybrook Light. This was humbling. The yacht I had known all these years as Annie Laurie has always been larger than life to me.”

With her twin 460-hp GM diesels rumbling below, the 60-foot commuter “took to the ocean like a steed running through a meadow,” Fazio says. Cruising at 10 to 12 knots, “she powered through with elegant grace.”

Annie Laurie during a 2002 refit, when she was owned by Barry White.

Then it was show time. Annie Laurie made her entrance into Mystic’s historic harbor dressed up and ready for the Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous. Certain boats command attention, Fazio says. Annie Laurie is one of them.

“This was one of the proudest moments of my life — arriving at the seaport as onlookers watched and photographed our arrival.”

Annie Laurie may get a more extensive refit in the spring, Fazio says. The upper part of the stem and some of the hull planking will need replacing, but that’s to be expected of an 87-year-old wooden boat. “The most important point is, boats like this one are never done,” he says. “When they sink and cannot be salvaged because they’re six fathoms down, then they are done!”

Besides, Fazio says, he wouldn’t want Annie Laurie to be finished. “Part of the joy in owning a classic craft is sanding, varnishing and standing back to see your reflection in the mahogany,” he says.

The Mystic voyage was the culmination of a long love affair. “I knew the boat first when she was docked in Old Saybrook. Later, I was asked to care-take Annie Laurie while [owner] Barry White was away,” Fazio says. “At one point, I had my 34-foot ketch, Wanderer, moored right behind her.”

White, a world-circling sailor and businessman, had bought the boat in 1985, restoring Annie Laurie as he went along, Fazio says. The decks were replanked in heavy teak and the pilothouse rebuilt. Most of the work was done by White’s son-in-law, Bruce Coderre, who also rebuilt the starboard 671 GM diesel engine, which had been installed in 1957.

Annie Laurie proudly displays her service stripes.

White added “fun things” too, Fazio says: a Paul Luke stove, a pipe organ (which Fazio installed) and a steam launch, named Kate after a daughter, that was used as a tender.

White and his beloved yacht were grand institutions, Fazio says. “If the weather was right, his family and friends and people from the marina would gather around the boat, talking and hanging out and having fun. Barry had a spirit of welcoming … he would shout, ‘C’mon aboard! Make yourself a sarsaparilla!’ ”

After living aboard for more than 20 years, White traded the vintage boat for a vintage house ashore. Annie Laurie was put up for sale; there were no takers. By 2015, the boat was ready to be sold for salvage.

“I couldn’t let that happen,” Fazio says. He bought the boat in September 2015, moved aboard and was soon joined by an orange-colored rescue cat who quickly adopted Annie Laurie as his own.

Owner Mike Fazio, relaxing on the aft deck.

The wheelhouse is the command center, and the main cabin serves as living room and dining room. Fazio uses a small cabin forward as an office, and a cozy guest cabin (the former crew quarters) is in the forepeak. The master cabin is aft, with twin berths and a head. “The galley is perfect,” Fazio says. “I have a real refrigerator, an icemaker and a gas stove with an oven in which I can cook a turkey.”

Annie Laurie carries 400 gallons of water and 600 gallons of fuel, and a 75,000-Btu diesel furnace keeps things warm in the winter. “Annie Laurie’s accommodations were not built to suit a lifestyle, but for life in style,” Fazio says. “She’s not modern or flashy, but a very pleasant and inviting residence that makes occupant and guests feel comfortable.”

And so, Annie Laurie, now approaching her 10th decade, endures. Fazio is not surprised. “I have never known a boat to have such a spirit of life, such a will to survive,” he says. “Some say she is haunted, but in a wonderful way.”

Standing in the main cabin, in the glow of old wood and brass fixtures, Fazio says, “Fortunate doesn’t begin to scratch the surface of my feelings about owning and living aboard Annie Laurie. I’ve known and admired her since I first stepped aboard back around 1990. She is the love of my life.”

Rebuilding Minots Light II: Patient Perseverance

By Gary Reich

“Mark, the question is not whether you want to buy this boat; it’s whether you want to marry this boat.” That’s what a surveyor summarized in 1998 after a pre- purchase examination of Minots Light II, a 41-foot 1960 Aage Nielsen yawl that Mark Tomlinson was considering buying.

Nearly 20 years later, you could say the marriage is as strong as ever. But, as with most relationships, Tomlinson’s bond with Minots Light II has been heavily tested over the years.

Minots Light II has also meddled with the patience of at least two capable boat shops entrusted with her rebuild, both having slowly picked away at her until nothing but her sturdy wooden bones remained. Today a determined shipwright is wielding modern technology and contemporary boatbuilding techniques to make her as good — perhaps even better — than the day she rolled down the railway nearly 60 years ago.

K. Aage Nielsen

Minots Light II arrives at Abreu Boatworks in Easton, Maryland, in many ways resembling a skeleton.

According to Worthy of the Sea: K. Aage Nielsen and His Legacy of Yacht Design, Clarence A. Warden Jr. of Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, commissioned noted naval architect K. Aage Nielsen in 1958 to design Minots Light II as a sailing yacht for cruising, but with an eye on performance. Warden desired a boat he could sail himself, one built with accommodations for a couple in a forward stateroom and room for guests in a convertible main saloon.

The result of Warden’s wish list and Nielsen’s brilliant design mind was a graceful and elegant keel-centerboard yawl measuring 41 feet, 6 inches overall with a beam of 11 feet, 6 inches and drawing 4 feet, 9 inches. Seven thousand pounds of lead ballast stabilized and counteracted her 789 square feel of sail, and she displaced 26,445 pounds. Minots Light II was designed with a spacious main saloon and a generous galley, and with a fairly humble V-berth stateroom forward. The main saloon backrests folded down into berths.

The Paul Luke yard in East Boothbay, Maine, built Minots Light II. Her frames were steam-bent white oak, and her double-planked hull was constructed using one layer of Atlantic white cedar and an outer skin of 25/32-inch Honduran mahogany. The planks were fastened to the frames with copper rivets. Her deck and cabin top utilized marine plywood sheathed in fiberglass. Her spruce spars towered high into the air, her main mast measuring nearly 60 feet.

A Fresh Start

Minot’s Light II launched in 1960, and Warden cruised her around New England for many years. She participated in the 1962 Newport Bermuda Race, finishing quite competitively. She had two owners after Warden sold her: an airline pilot based in Miami and the owners who sold Minots Light II to Tomlinson in 1998.

Tomlinson, at the time, felt as if he had a pretty decent idea of what lay ahead of him in fixing up the yacht. “Yes, we were aware that Minots Light II was a tired lady with some issues,” he says. “Once we’d sailed her from Florida up to the Chesapeake Bay we took her to a yard in Oxford, Maryland, with a really solid reputation in wooden boats.”

LOA: 41 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 4 feet, 9 inches BEAM: 11 feet, 6 inches SAIL AREA: 789 square feet DISPLACEMENT: 26,445 pounds LAUNCHED: 1960 BUILDER: Paul Luke Yard DESIGNER: K. Aage Nielsen

But as the craftsmen started digging into Minots Light II’s structure, the real extent of the wear and tear that nearly 40 years of use had inflicted began to rise to the surface.

“Under the yard owner’s supervision, the lower planking was removed,” Tomlinson says. “In addition to some keel damage we already knew about, removal of the planking revealed extensive deterioration of the lower frames. The lower third of pretty much every frame needed to be replaced, and eight frames needed complete replacement. My impression now, looking back, is that the yard considered Minots Light II beyond repair and thought that maybe I would abandon the project and leave them with a salvage boat.”

Despite the grim assessment, Tomlinson remained resilient. He found a one-man boat shop nearby that rebuilt her keel slowly and methodically, repairing many frames and replacing others. As the repairs advanced, more and more planking needed to be removed. Eventually only her skeleton remained. The boat shop eventually obtained Minots Light II’s original plans and was able to install and fair-in new steam-bent laminated frames that restored her original, graceful shape.

Ultimately, the boat shop owner decided that he wanted to take his business in a slightly different direction, focusing on smaller wooden craft. That was when Minots Light II ended up at Abreu Boatworks in Easton, Maryland.

A New Approach

Minots Light II’s graceful bow.

Trained at The Landing School, Andrew Abreu is a shipwright with astonishing tenacity and an almost incomprehensible ability to see large, often frustrating projects like Minots Light II through to the finish line. In fact, as I sought him out for this story, I’d recently documented a restoration he’d done on a 35-year-old wooden buyboat named Mr. Jim. It turns out Abreu was already familiar with Minots Light II when she came into his care; he’d worked on her at the boat shop where she’d previously been. 

Abreu had a template to start from, as a good deal of Minots Light II’s structural work had been completed over the years. But there was a lot of methodical work to do in prepping her structure before any significant progress could be made. Once Minots Light II’s structure was prepared, Abreu planned to employ a technique he’d seen used to restore an old, 27-foot wooden power craft at The Landing School.

Instead of re-creating her double-planked, copper-riveted hull, Abreu first strip-planked Minots Light II from stem to stern with 1-3/4-by-7/8 pieces of cove-and-bead mahogany. The strips were layered in with silica-thickened epoxy and attached to Minots Light II’s frames with silicon-bronze fasteners. Planking work began in October 2015, and the last mahogany strip was laid this past June. Abreu then faired the hull and sealed it with epoxy inside and out, in preparation for the next step in the rebuild process.

To further fair and enhance the strength of the hull, Abreu next created long, hand-milled, 3/16-inch-thick veneers from Spanish cedar boards. They were applied diagonally to the hull, much in the way cold-molded boats are built with marine plywood on a jig. Abreu slathered one side of the veneer with thickened epoxy, and then he and fellow shipwright James Delaguila bent each veneer around the complex hull shape, fastening each strip using composite staples. Many thousands of these staples ensure a lasting bond between the veneer and the planking beneath it. Once both sides of Minots Light II’s hull were sheathed, Abreu began to repeat the process, applying a second layer diagonally to the first.

By the time late September rolled around and this story was being written, Abreu was about halfway finished with the second round of veneering. The final step in rebuilding Minots Light II’s hull will be to flip her upside down and sheath the exterior of her hull in epoxy and biaxial fiberglass cloth. The result will be a strong yet lightweight structure that utilizes the boat’s original backbone and ribs to retain her elegant shape. She’ll then be faired and painted before the rest of her rebuilding continues on deck and inside.

Abreu chose this rather unique method for a number of reasons, but two stand out in his mind. “The way Minots Light II was originally built produces a lot of lumber waste,” he says. “With this method, our lumber yield is in the high 90-percent range, and that makes the cost much more reasonable. Restoring her using the same techniques and materials she was built with likely would have been the breaking point for the owner, so this method makes good financial sense. Lastly, when we’re done, we’ll have a monocoque structure that is lightweight and strong, but without all the maintenance a traditional wooden hull requires.”

The Next Chapter

Minots Light II’s graceful hull shape re-emerges as strip planking is completed.

Abreu says he’s on track to finish Minots Light II by late spring next year, when she’ll launch with her innovative hull, a completely new teak-planked deck, refurbished rigging and masts, and her interior restored to its original condition.

A lot of reasonably sane people might ask why Tomlinson has gone to such lengths to rebuild a boat many others may have simply cut up and pitched into a dumpster.

“It’s a very fair question,” Tomlinson says. “It’s one that I have been asked a hundred times, and asked myself about a thousand times. Certainly the work has proven much more extensive than I ever anticipated. I suppose my wife and I are undertaking the project for the same reason that people restore beautiful Victorian homes rather than purchase something newer. Boats and buildings are alike: They are beautiful markers of our culture and history. But if Minots Light II had become scrap, that little piece of our boating heritage would be lost forever. I have always felt she had to be saved. So my wife and I are just a couple of romantic crazies, I guess.” n

We’ll continue to monitor the progress on Minots Light II throughout the rest of her refit and launch. Look for a roundup of her rebuild in Soundings next summer. — the Editors

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue.