A man and his sloop reunited
A man and his sloop reunited
Many wooden-boat rag-haulers who own and love vintage sailboats eventually sell their beloved possessions, regardless of the romantic attachment (as in the two happiest days in a boat owner’s life — you know the line).
I sold my engineless Bjarne Aas-designed Viking sloop (built in Norway in 1948) in the early 1970s. After turning away from wood to plastic, I wondered for years about what became of my elegant 32-footer with the long overhangs. Best I should have forgotten her because, much to my dismay, I found only what was left of her once-varnished mahogany hull as she was being broken up in a boatyard for firewood with a chainsaw.
My first sailboat named Erewhon, she taught me how to sail by being patient and forgiving. But like the boyhood sled in the film classic “Citizen Kane,” she perished in flames. All I came away with from that woodpile was a bronze sheet winch, now a bookend in a book cabinet.
But that’s a different story …
This tale is about another wooden Viking sloop, a full-keel 25-footer with a raised deck, designed by Charles Mower and built in 1937 at the Peterson Shipyard in Port Washington, N.Y. As the last of her class, No. 8, she had been cherished by many owners. But early this year she was in terminal condition unless rescued by a caring yachtsman with a knowledge of wooden-boat restoration. Who better for the job than Bill Donahue, 56, proprietor of Annapolis Classic Watercraft, who owned Valkyr from 1976 to 1983 and, in later years, came to regret selling her.
“Actually, I was not too sure about my decision when I bought her, thinking I had taken on too much because I was not that knowledgeable then about working on wooden boats,” he says, laughing. Now it’s his business.
“But she taught me. Oh, but how she taught me,” he says. “She also gave my growing family years of pleasure sailing on Buzzards Bay [Mass.] until we outgrew her and went to a bigger boat — an old story.”
In a sentimental folder filled with old photographs and paperwork, a documented history of Valkyr unfolds dating to 1965, when owner Howard M. Holtzman of Mamaroneck, N.Y., put together a detailed eight-page testimony when the boat went up for sale. He had bought her in 1954.
“It is a fair question to ask why the present owner is selling Valkyr,” he writes at the conclusion of his prospectus. “The answer is the usual one. Much as we love [her], there comes a time to change, and with mixed feelings, we have bought a larger boat.”
Stephen G. Altman of New Rochelle, N.Y., bought the boat from Holtzman in 1965 and sold her in 1973 while contributing the next chapter to the ongoing history of Valkyr. In a five-page testimonial, he praised the boat as a sprightly daysailer and a competent cruiser.
He, too, concludes his history by explaining he is selling her because his family needs a larger boat, “And with much regret the time has come to change. I say with much regret because Valkyr has given all of us a tremendous amount of enjoyment. I only hope that when I do sell her I can find her a good home.”
The boat then passed into the hands of Richard P. Davisson of Westwood, Mass., in 1973, who whittled down his comments to a couple of pages. He got rid of a Monomatic head, lifelines, pipe berth, galley/head partition and built-in cooler. “In my opinion, they mainly contribute to smell, clutter and rot,” he wrote. He also “dismissed” an Atomic 4 engine.
His reason for offering Valkyr for sale in 1976? A bigger boat, in his case a 40-foot ketch for long-
distance cruising and living aboard. “Valkyr should not be anyone’s second boat,” he concluded.
In 1976 it was Donahue’s turn to take up the torch. “She was on a mooring outside Cataumet, Mass. As we approached, my wife and I both knew we were hooked.” They bought her for $9,000 despite a “very dismal” survey. Her keel, keel bolts, floor timbers and several ribs had badly deteriorated.
Thus began a years-long restoration of “this captivating little boat” and a learning process for him, which would lay the groundwork for a new career in 2004.
He wooded the topsides and brightwork, and installed a new cabin sole, cockpit sides, lazarette and main hatch. He replaced a “mish-mash” of hardware with traditional bronze and lignum vitae blocks. He also replaced the seven keel bolts, which had wasted from an inch to a quarter-inch in diameter. In subsequent years he sistered or sectioned 20 oak ribs to her cedar, bronze-fastened planks. He recaulked every seam and refastened after wooding the topsides and bottom a second time. He had her trucked to the Chesapeake in 1979 when they moved to Maryland, and began taking advantage of gunkholes with her 3-foot, 6-inch draft.
“Valkyr is work — a lot of it,” Donahue wrote in his testimonial as he put her on the market in 1985. “Sometimes it is difficult to maintain the resolve to keep at it. So why are we getting rid of her? Probably for the wrong reasons but the usual ones — a bigger boat for a bigger family.
“When I told a friend of my decision to sell Valkyr he said, ‘Take my word for it, one day you’ll wish like hell you had her back.’ He’s probably right. But my stamina is waning. I don’t have the time to care for her, and I will not preside over her demise.”
A few years ago that prediction came to fruition. Donahue wanted her back in his arms again and went looking for his lost love. In early 2000 he found her in North Carolina, and although sailable, she was in sad shape with lots of rot and broken ribs. He offered to buy her, but the owner refused.
Donahue continued making offers but got no replies. Last November, however, the owner relented. The boat was barely afloat, half sunk and filled with foul water. The bottom portion of her spruce mast had broken off from rot when it was pulled.
They wanted $3,000. Donahue offered $1,000 and said they could keep the diesel inboard and sell it for $3,000, which they did. “No one but a fool would pay this much for a boat in such dreadful condition,” he told them. “But I’m that sentimental fool, and I just want my old boat back. It’s me or the chainsaw.”
In early February Valkyr came home to her rightful owner and awaits TLC in the back of his restoration shop. It was destiny. Fortunately, all his bronze hardware was saved. He has since gutted the interior and has begun planning the rebuilding of his beloved little Viking.
“I may install a small electric motor, but I want to be able to crawl around and keep a look out for rot,” he says. “I’m so happy to have the old girl back. I won’t let her go again.”
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.