Lesser-Known Legend

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You don’t need to be a classic boat aficionado to recognize Aphrodite, the 74-foot 1937 commuter yacht built for Manhattan financier John “Jock” Hay Whitney that later served in World War II, ferried President Franklin Roosevelt up and down the Hudson, and hosted a slew of famous passengers, including Fred Astaire, Shirley Temple and Katharine Hepburn. What you may not know, however, is that the famous Aphrodite is actually Aphrodite III. She was preceded by the original 330-foot, steam-powered Aphrodite built in 1898 and inherited by Whitney from his uncle in 1914, and the boat pictured above, Aphrodite II, a 72-foot commuter yacht built in 1928 by Albany Boat Co. in Watervliet, New York.

In this photograph by Rosenfeld and Sons, Aphrodite II is only a year old as she runs down the Thames River in New London, Connecticut, to watch the 1929 Harvard-Yale races, proudly flying “Y” Yale flags on side stays. She also displays Whitney’s private signal-yellow swallowtail with blue panel and woman on her mainmast, and the New York Yacht Club’s burgee-blue triangle with red cross and white star in center-on bow.

Powered by two gas Wright-Typhoon engines, the double-ended yacht could reach a top speed of 25 knots. Whitney often raced her against his brother-in-law’s 69-foot Wheeler Co. commuter yacht, Saga, from Long Island to Wall Street. Aphrodite II always lost, however, so Whitney commissioned the now-famous Aphrodite III from the Purdy Boat Company of Port Washington, New York, to beat Saga. Launched in April of 1937 and powered by a pair of 800-hp V-12 Packard engines, she was contracted to go 33 knots, with a penalty of $5,000 for every mile per hour under that top speed.

This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.

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