Skip to main content

Bay Tripper - A classic gets a sprucing up

Last winter and spring I was repeatedly drawn to the Fawcett Boat Supplies dock on Ego Alley in Annapolis, Md., by Windalier, a classic 58-foot, 3-inch wooden yawl, and by Eddie Basierak, an independent contractor hired to strip and refinish the yacht’s abundant exterior brightwork that had dissolved into a sickly yellow slick.

Last winter and spring I was repeatedly drawn to the Fawcett Boat Supplies dock on Ego Alley in Annapolis, Md., by Windalier, a classic 58-foot, 3-inch wooden yawl, and by Eddie Basierak, an independent contractor hired to strip and refinish the yacht’s abundant exterior brightwork that had dissolved into a sickly yellow slick.

The City Dock Basin is an unusual location for such an extended visit by a large yacht with such a pedigree. Designed by Sparkman & Stephens along the above-water lines of a larger Bolero and the underwater lines of a smaller Finisterre (two notable S&S yawls), she was built in Germany in 1962 by the famed Abeking & Rasmussen yard.

The highly visible project was a bonus, attracting considerable attention from lubbers and boaters alike strolling the boardwalk and observing the dockside work in progress. Basierak, who is 56 and known in the local boating trade as “British Eddie” — which distinguishes him from lesser Eddies on the working waterfront — rarely plies his trade at such an exposed tourist venue.

Square inch by square inch, he removed the old, faded varnish with a heat gun, exposing bare teak and mahogany and then protecting it with a clear plastic or special black tape until the refinishing was to begin. Over the long weeks he shed clothing as the season warmed while building up 10 deep coats of varnish.

Exterior varnishing has many hurdles: You aren’t supposed to varnish when it is too hot and sunny, too cold, too windy, too damp, or too early or too late in the day. Pollen and dust and cascading tree garbage are nuisances in the spring before the kamikaze bugs land, which must be picked off with tweezers.

This has been a daunting, intimidating solo project, starting with stripping 116 feet of a high teak toe rail (both sides), which entailed much taping and removing lifelines and stanchion posts. Laboring on padded knees and crawling about on all fours, Basierak is an intense worker, not much for gabbing and answering questions from boaters who know what he’s doing and tourists who do not. (His hourly fee, incidentally, ranges from $25 to $35 depending on the scope and complexity of the project. He also refinished Windalier’s teak deck.)

“No, this is not my yacht” and “No, it is not open for boarding,” he had to explain over and over again until informational signs were posted to halt interruptions. He often wore a dust mask to help protect his lungs, and this caused his heavily accented words to tumble out in a mumble.

“I don’t mean to sound rude,” he says, “but this is Awlspar Classic Spar Varnish and it kicks in quickly. I must stay ahead of it and keep the flow going, with no sags, overlaps, runs, holidays or brush marks.” He uses quality brushes with long, thinly packed bristles.

As work progressed ever so slowly, I bided my time and kept in contact, hoping to be invited on an outing, which came in May. The yacht was to be moved in July — probably back to Petrini’s Yacht Yard in Annapolis, where she spent the winter of 2004-’05 — to make room for the Ego Alley summer stampede. She will be available for charter before eventually being offered for sale by Associated Marine Institutes ( ), a Tampa, Fla.-based non-profit that sells restored vessels to help fund programs it operates for juvenile offenders. (More on this later.)

Windalier has always carried the same name and has sailed mostly out of New England. Her last owner was Andy Nixon of Harpswell, Maine. He bought her during the winter of 1995 in his home state and put her into rehab for a refit and rebuild at Rumery’s Boat Yard in Biddeford, Maine. She emerged that following Labor Day weekend, “a rare combination of new and old blended together to make a modern yacht with all the beauty and benefits of a classic wooden boat,” according to the specification sheets.

She was built of double-planked mahogany over cedar, bronze-screwed to laminated oak frames, and is strapped with bronze diagonals and extensive bronze fabrications in the way of the centerboard trunks, floors, engine beds and mast step. The 64,000-pound full keel yawl draws 5 feet, 10 inches and has bronze tandem fore and aft centerboards. The main board lowers to 11 feet and improves windward performance.

The extensive rehab also included new plumbing and wiring, electronics, a Yanmar diesel, Espar cabin heater, new sails, and a teak deck as well as 48 frames and 22 planks. A new S&S-designed rig includes carbon masts, booms and spinnaker pole, and rod rigging. Hydraulic winches control the roller furling foresails, centerboards, vang and backstay adjustor. The towering main mast with running backstays was raised by 6 feet, and 3-1/2 feet was added to the mizzen mast. The main and mizzen sails are rigged with the Dutchman sail-flaking system. Raising the main is a pushbutton operation.

The weight reduction from the new rig improved Windalier’s light-air performance, and the lower center of gravity enables her to carry more sail and decreases pitching in heavy air and big seas. She went on to establish a proven racing record in her new configuration, with a full complement of 12 sails. In 1998 she won Class A (PHRF) in the Corinthian 200 Ocean Race, and in 2000 she was awarded the Joel White Trophy for first overall in the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta over a fleet of 99 vessels. In 2001 she was first in the Camden Classic Yacht Regatta and won the inaugural Castine Yacht Club’s Olin Stephens Trophy Race. She also has won the S&S Cup on numerous occasions and had many seconds and thirds at classic yacht regattas.

In October 2004, however, Nixon decided to downsize to another S&S design, a Morris Yachts M36 daysailer, and donated Windalier to AMI. “I was aware of the success that AMI programs have had with troubled youth and was pleased to support their work and find a good home for Windalier,” he says. “The effort in Annapolis to maintain the boat to high standards is reassuring and gives me confidence that I made the right decision.”

AMI has accepted vessel donations since 1969 to help fund community-based programs of 54 schools for troubled youths in eight states and a functional boatyard in St. Petersburg, Fla. The organization takes any size boat and will assume responsibility for the vessel “as is, where is.” The donor’s tax benefit depends upon the boat’s fair market value. Renowned yachtsman Walter Cronkite has donated boats to AMI.

Cedric L. “Buddy” Payne, a marine specialist with AMI, has assumed the responsibility of maintaining Windalier — he hired British Eddie — and keeping her active. Mike Ashford, owner of McGarvey’s Saloon and Oyster Bar off the City Dock, has been entrusted to keep an eye on the boat and sail her occasionally. But Ego Alley is narrow, crowded and busy, and Windalier doesn’t motor well in reverse, has a great deal of windage aloft and isn’t turned around easily in these confines. By midsummer Payne hopes to have her berthed at a nearby marina and offered for charter. (An asking price eventually will be determined.)

Payne, along with ocean sailor and delivery skipper Simon Lont of Annapolis and one other hand, sailed Windalier here from Atlantic Highlands, N.J., in late 2004. She was docked at Petrini’s during the winter of 2004-’05 and was moved to Fawcett’s at the City Dock that December for easy access and high visibility. She was turned over to Basierak in February for varnishing.

The sail in May came together quickly. Ashford was off motorcycling in Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains, so Al Gundry, an Annapolis broker with Interyacht who also works with AMI’s donated yachts program, gathered a few heads for crew. Lont ran the boat, and I and three others took turns at the wheel. Basierak handled lines and sheets and docking chores, while international yachting photographer Bob Grieser shot from a chase boat loaned by SpinSheet, a free Chesapeake Bay sailing publication.

Motoring out of the harbor, Lont pressed a button to start the mainsail on its long, slow crawl up the carbon mast. The staysail and Yankee foresails were rolled out next, and then he raised the mizzen by hand. Soon the engine was turned off, and we were close-reaching across the Bay, hitting 9 knots in the light chop of a 13-knot southeasterly.

The balanced yawl handles beautifully, with a graceful heel, light touches of the wheel and pushbutton sail trimming. It was difficult to give up the helm, but others wanted a turn, so I relented and went below for a rum and Coke, and relaxed in comfort in the old-fashioned saloon.

The small deckhouse, entered from the cockpit, has a galley to starboard with a propane stove, refrigeration and freezer. Forward and to port is a stand-up nav desk with instruments, a port settee bunk, and storage lockers behind. Down two steps into the main saloon are large settee and pilot berths to port and starboard, with a drop-leaf mahogany cabin table on centerline. The interior is white with a butternut trim. Deck prisms and a centerline hatch are overhead, and Dorade deck vents bring in fresh air.

Moving forward, there are two heads, port and starboard, one with a full shower stall. Forward of that is a master stateroom with a single berth to starboard and a double to port. In the forepeak are pipe berths and an overhead hatch for deck access, with an anchor rode locker forward of that. The boat can sleep eight.

It is a soothing ride down below, with the wood construction absorbing the sounds of the sea and none of the stark, banging echoes associated with pounding fiberglass hulls. The seagoing aroma imparted is unmistakable and draws one to inhale deeply and wish that the scent could be bottled.

Back at the dock, I asked Basierak if he was going to paint the deckhouse and perhaps the hull, both of which needed painting to keep up with the fresh new varnish. “I can paint the hull with the boat in the water as long as the boat is in a quiet place, but not here in Ego Alley,” he says.

One job will lead to another, as always happens on large, older wooden yachts. Down below the cabins need some attention. “That would be a good job for me for the winter,” he adds.

Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.