A new tune for Joel’s ‘Downeaster Alexa’

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She was the inspiration for the Piano Man’s 1989 hit; now she’s the pride of a private club’s fleet

She was the inspiration for the Piano Man’s 1989 hit; now she’s the pride of a private club’s fleet

So if you see my Downeaster Alexa

And if you work with the rod

and the reel

Tell my wife I am trawling Atlantis

And I still have my hands

on the wheel

The boat Billy Joel made famous with his 1989 hit “The Downeaster Alexa,” a song about the plight of Long Island, N.Y., commercial fishermen, has been transformed into a high-class luxury yacht.

Joel named the 46-footer Alexa Ray after his first daughter (now at 22, a successful musician herself). The 1988 Jarvis Newman hull is a lobster boat design with a plumb bow; narrow forefoot with a deep, sharp entry; rounded bilges; and a sweeping sheer. Joel worked with custom boatbuilder Wilbur Yachts, in Southwest Harbor, Maine, to finish the deck and topsides, and she was launched in 1989. (Wilbur had built a smaller lobster yacht named Sea Major for Joel.)

The Piano Man parted with Alexa Ray in the early 1990s, and under the ownership of the Delaware-based MBNA Corp., she underwent a significant refit that included extending the pilothouse to provide more interior space and painting the white hull green. Alexa Ray had a much simpler look when Joel piloted it, taking then-wife Christie Brinkley on cruises from Long Island to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, Mass. But the original pilothouse was small and open to the cockpit — more consistent with a working lobster boat — with seating for only the helmsman and mate. With the renovations, the cruising boat that looked like a workboat had officially morphed into a yacht.

Now, the current owner has taken it to the next level. Connecticut entrepreneur John Baxter put a significant amount of money into the boat to make her the proud cornerstone of a fleet of yachts available to members of the exclusive Osprey Club, which allows members the use of crewed yachts in the Northeast and Florida. Baxter, the club president, bought the boat in March.

He says the Osprey Club is not a fractional ownership endeavor; members do not own the boats. “You love ’em and leave,” says Baxter, 58, a former management consultant and Wall Street executive. “These are not Clorox-bottle boats; those boats all look the same. Our boats will be refined classics, each one with its own style and personality.”

An Osprey Club membership entitles a member to eight five-hour day or evening outings a year with a captain and a first mate at your service. “I think it’s really going to be a success because it’s for boaters and non-boaters,” says Baxter. “You don’t have the worries associated with owning a boat. People don’t have the time, and some don’t have the expertise to own a boat.”

Baxter plans to add a handful of other yachts to the fleet. One of the boats, a 1995 46-foot Lyman Morse, has been completely gutted and restored, and was scheduled for a late-June launch, says Baxter. That boat will be based in Newport, R.I.

Now named Osprey, the former Alexa Ray also has been called Uptown Girl, Zephyr and Hathor. She is docked in Greenwich, Conn., on Long Island Sound, and underwent additional upgrades to make her comfortable for dining and entertaining. Essex Boat Works in Essex, Conn., carried out the work.

Wraparound solid teak cockpit seating for up to 12 was added, and a table for 10 can be mounted in the cockpit for dining, says Essex Boat works owner Ted Lahey. “The cockpit was completely bare before — just empty space,” he says. Also, the transom door has been modified to accommodate people, not just fish.

The green flybridge Bimini was replaced with beige canvas to match the varnished wood pilothouse. Baxter also had the masts and antennas, which were green as well, painted the same beige. Lifelines and stanchions were installed from aft ends of the bow rail to the cockpit, and hand-holds were mounted throughout.

In the galley and head, all the fixtures were upgraded. For instance, a raised marble sink was installed in the head, and the galley now has a large convection oven so chefs and caterers can do their thing.

The hull was built of fiberglass and polyester resin, and the deck is cored with balsa. Osprey will keep its original power — twin 550-hp Detroit Diesels — that pushes her to a cruise speed of 20 mph and a top end of 24 mph.

Essex Boat Works installed new electronics, with the Furuno NavNet system serving as the backbone. Satellite TV was installed, and the boat now has two 26-inch flat-screen televisions. “It’s really a ‘wow’ boat,” says Baxter. “It’s like going to the Ritz Carlton on the water.”

Baxter envisions Osprey and the club’s other yachts being used for high-class dining, fall foliage outings and cocktail cruises. But they can also serve as platforms for family fun. “I want kids canonballing off the flybridge,” he says. “Basically, you can do whatever you want with the boat that is legal.”

The club member pays for the fuel and food, whether it’s peanut butter and jelly or caviar, says Baxter, who adds that corporations will likely take up a large chunk of the memberships. “Companies will take out clients and entertain them on the boats,” he says.

The Joel connection should help business, no doubt. Still an avid boater, Joel’s home waters include Long Island Sound, and he may just see his former Alexa, albeit a spiffed-up version, on the same waters he plies.

The private Osprey Club will have a limited number of members to guarantee availability of the yachts, says Baxter. For information, visit the club Web site at www.ospreyclub.com or call (860) 767-8840.