When the Newport Bermuda Race kicks off on June 17, 2022, Beau Van Metre expects to be where he spent much of his youth: aboard the 60-foot Sparkman & Stephens design Running Tide. Now in his 70s, Beau’s plan is to show the racing world that the 52-year-old yacht’s recent restoration at Safe Harbor New England Boatworks in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, has made her every bit the powerhouse she used to be.
But on occasion, Beau also wants to use Running Tide for day cruises. His dual-purpose vision is why Running Tide’s restoration was not only substantial, but also unusual. It added just enough creature comforts to make her more than her original design, while still keeping her suited to her original purpose.
“I wanted to be able to use it with my family, and with some older sailors that I’ve sailed with over the years,” Beau told Soundings. “I was sailing in a couple races with a friend on his Swan, and it had power winches and roller-furling sails, and it was great. I said, ‘This is the way to go.’ When I do three or four races a year, whether it’s in Newport or the Chesapeake or in Florida, I wanted to make it as easy as possible for us guys in our 70s. I wanted to enjoy it with my kids and my family.”
When the refit began in October 2019, some, but not all, of the team at New England Boatworks knew Running Tide’s storied history. Her life on the water began when a shipping magnate commissioned her in 1970 to take on top racing boats of that time, such as Windward Passage and Yankee Girl. Sparkman & Stephens called Running Tide a “radical” departure, with design elements such as a comparatively narrow 14-foot, 3-inch beam. She was built as a collaboration between Wolter Huisman in the Netherlands and Kretzer Boat Works in New York. When she launched, Running Tide was heralded as one of the first stripped-out racing boats, intended to be sailed by eight people.
The original owner used her for a short while and then began chartering her out, including to Ted Turner, who sailed her to victory in a number of races. Then, in 1972, she was sold to American developer Albert Van Metre, who raced her with a crew that included Beau, his son. In 1976, when Running Tide won the Bermuda race, The New York Times called her “Al Van Metre’s black beauty,” noting that she had also won the Southern Ocean Racing Circuit. “We raced every week—twice a week sometimes,” Beau recalls. “And if we weren’t racing, we were delivering it.”
In the mid-1980s, the Van Metre family sold Running Tide, which ended up in Europe with an owner who let her fall into such disrepair that by the time Beau bought her back, she needed to be fully gutted. Beau’s representative, Conrad Hunter, sailed the ailing vessel from France to Italy—“I have never said more prayers in my life,” Hunter says—and from there, a transport ship brought her to the United States. When she arrived at Safe Harbor New England Boatworks, Project Manager Bob Sharkey says he and his team were “quite shocked” to see her condition. “The boat was in serious need,” Sharkey says. “It was much more than a refit. Right off the bat, we called it a restoration.”
And so, Running Tide was sandblasted back to bare aluminum. The interior was torn out. The team kept the keel, which was from 1987, Sharkey says, but some of the aluminum hull needed replating. Pretty much everything on the boat today is rebuilt, although the stainless steel Destroyer wheel at the helm is the original. The project, Sharkey says, is one of the most significant restorations that Safe Harbor New England Boatworks has ever completed.
“It really brings the company back to our roots,” Sharkey says. “We’re multitalented. We have guys who were aluminum boatbuilders when they came here. They brought joiners and woodworking guys and glasswork, composite guys. The woodworking guys were absolutely a major part of the interiors. This is a fully restored interior started from scratch.”
On the water, Running Tide looks almost exactly as she always did, if not a bit better, Beau says. There are now the electric winches, and there’s a carbon fiber mast where the aluminum mast used to be (for weight savings and performance gains), but to the naked eye, she’s the same boat that history remembers. “It’s so great now, I don’t want to take it out and scratch it. Maybe we should stick it in a museum somewhere,” Beau says. “It’s painted exactly the same. The gauges are all in the same places. The hatches are all in the same places. It’s shinier and prettier, and the teak on deck is varnished, but it’s really polished up.”
Belowdecks, there is now MarinAire air conditioning—which runs on batteries charged through alternators driven by the diesel, since there’s no generator on board (again, weight savings for racing). Running Tide also now has a water-jet bow thruster to make docking easier, a Tecma electric toilet where a manual one used to be, and a Lumishore LUX lighting system installed with help from Imtra. It can make the boat look traditional, with a soft white glow, or can surprise everyone with full-on disco colors and strobe effects. The lighting system, Hunter says, is not only fun, but also gives Running Tide a new safety element. “Now, at night, everything can be red—the cockpit, the stairs—for night vision. If you’re in the galley making coffee at 3 in the morning, everything is red. You can move around the boat normally without having to turn on a light and blind yourself.”
John McCabe, Technical Sales Manager at Safe Harbor New England Boatworks, says Running Tide will spend this winter receiving minor modifications at the yard ahead of next year’s racing. The team wants to address every remaining detail. “I see how people speak about Running Tide, how they look at her and handle her,” McCabe says. “We really take pride in our work, and this is a perfect example of that. It’s an example of why people come to us, because of our boatbuilding roots and our ability to do more than put a coat of paint on something. We can really take care and nurture the yacht, whether it’s power or sail, back to better condition than it was before.”
Beau says he can particularly feel the love that Sharkey has for Running Tide. “When we finally got the boat in the water, I said, ‘He’s never going to give me the keys to this thing and let me take it home,’” Beau says with a laugh. “I can tell he’s emotionally attached to it.”
Sharkey also knows how emotionally attached Beau is to the Newport Bermuda Race. Nobody will be cheering louder for Running Tide in the event next summer. “That yacht may say Annapolis as the home port on the transom, but people around the shipyard feel like Running Tide is based here at New England Boatworks,” he says. “And it definitely makes us all proud.”
This article was originally published in the October 2021 issue.