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Refuge at 30 knots

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A vivid-red York 36 Express provides its owner with the same comforting feeling as the Tap Room in his historic inn

The Tap Room at the historic Griswold Inn in Essex, Conn., is warm and welcoming.

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There’s a fire in the old stone fireplace to ward off the chill, and the clinking of glasses blends with the murmur of conversation at the oldest continuously operated inn in America.

At Geoff Paul’s table, the talk is all about boats, and he’s describing his red-hulled Down East beauty — a York 36 Express built in Rockland, Maine, by York Custom Yachts — with the same passion he reserves for his role as owner of this iconic establishment.

“This is exactly the boat I wanted for going across to Long Island, over to Newport, making that run,” says Paul, who divides his time between his native Essex and the West Coast. “It’s comfortable for entertaining, graceful but not too precious. It’s a boat that’s going to work hard.”

Designed by Mark Fitzgerald, who at the time was with Chuck Paine and Associates, Paul’s boat is hull No. 2, launched in 2001 as Jambo (Swahili for “hello”) for a Fishers Island, N.Y., owner. The first York 36 was built for the Maine artist Andy Wyeth, who sometimes used it as a floating studio. The visual appeal of the boat excites Paul the same way it did Wyeth.

Geoff Paul

“She speaks to the traditions, the aesthetics that I love about the Griswold Inn,” Paul says, looking around the famed Tap Room, which has greeted customers since July 1776. “But,” he adds, smiling, “she also looks just a little bit L.A.”

Boats and boaters have a way of finding each other. Paul came upon the York 36 quite by accident in 2012. “I had friends who wanted to come east and experience a real Fourth of July — it’s not quite the same in Los Angeles,” Paul says. A boat ride was a must, and he got in touch with a local broker, who said he had the perfect craft — a Down East express he’d just taken in trade. It was available for a day charter.

Talk about making an impression. Paul, an aficionado and collector of marine art, was stunned when he saw it. “The first thing I noticed about the boat was its overall lines,” he says. “She has a graceful arc, a long, elegant line. It appealed to me right away.”

So did the twin 300-hp Yanmar diesels coupled to 244 Hamilton jetdrives; the V-berth, head and galley in the cabin; and the expansive cockpit for entertaining. The holiday turned out to be a memorable one. “It was extraordinary — beautiful weather, tall ships in New London harbor, fireworks,” Paul says. “It just could not have been better. My friends said it was like a movie set.”

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Somewhere along the line — perhaps while he was weaving in and out of harbor traffic or watching the fireworks or riding home on Long Island Sound — Paul realized he’d found his boat, and he hadn’t even been looking. “So I bought it,” he says.

After running her for the remainder of the season, Paul turned the 11-year-old express over to its builder for a winter of refit, refurbishing and repainting. “I got a month of use out of it, which was the right thing to do,” he says. “I knew the old girl needed some love, and this gave me time to understand exactly what improvements could be made. I also had a lot of fun.”

Paul contacted Michael York and they met in the Tap Room of the “Gris” — where else? — and mapped out a plan. “He was so passionate about his ‘child,’ ” Paul says. “He longed to bring her back to the condition she deserved.”

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Absolutely, York says. Restoring a boat he has built is a reward in itself. “That is the beauty of being a custom builder,” York says. “I never forget the boats, and I try to keep tabs on all of them.”

The work list was practical and concise:

• install a joystick for the twin jetdrives

• add larger cabin hatches for light and ventilation

• install an opening center panel in the windshield

• build in a larger swim platform

Any boat project requires teamwork between the builder and the owner, and these two hit it off from the get-go. “We are used to the back-and-forth of ideas, and I think we excel at that, teasing out what the owner is really looking for,” York says. “Working with Geoff was a pleasure because he ‘gets it.’ ”

Then there was the paint job. “Awl-grip Vivid Red,” York says. “Many, many coats of base color, block-sanded and then clear-coated with many more coats. Final detailing and polishing created the finish you see now. It was a true labor of love, not unlike finishing a classic car for museum display.”

The result, Paul says, is a rich, deep Ferrari-like color, the crowning touch to the restoration and the inspiration for the name. “Red is the signature color of the Tap Room, which is really the heart and soul of the Griswold Inn,” Paul says. “The minute I saw the color, the words ‘tap room’ launched into my mind. It made so much sense; the Tap Room is welcoming, comforting, a place of refuge. That’s what this boat is, to me. From the moment I saw her, she was Tap Room.”

No one is happier than Michael York. “I would love to do more of these kinds of restorations,” the builder says. “There are many wonderful and affordable vessels out there that would benefit from going through the process.”

Tap Room at a glance

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LOA: 35 feet, 8 inches

LWL: 32 feet, 8 inches

BEAM: 11 feet, 8 inches

DRAFT: 1 foot, 7 inches

HULL: double-chined modified-vee with aft lifting strakes

SPEED: 28-30 mph cruise, 35 mph top

BUILDER: York Custom Yachts, Rockland, Maine

PHONE: (207) 596-7400.

URL: www.yorkcustomyachts.com

January 2014 issue