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Bringing old boats back from the brink

Take a philosopher and an anthropologist, add in a love for boats and woodworking, and what do you get?

Taylor and Snediker Yacht Restoration, wooden-boat builders and masters of repair.

For more than a dozen years Bill Taylor, 51, and his partner, Dave Snediker, 42, have brought old wooden boats back to life: Cara Mia, a classic New York 30; Circe, a 53-year-old Sparkman & Stephens cruising sailboat; and The Washingtonian, a 59-foot Trumpy powerboat, built 64 years ago.

Once on the brink, they’re back in the drink. Cara Mia sails in the New England classic regattas; the Trumpy is used as both a private vessel and charter boat, ranging as far south as Florida.

“The goal is museum quality,” says Taylor. “And that’s tempered by the reality of the job, the owner’s desires, a time limit or the budget. The real thing is to get the boats back to where they can be used and enjoyed again.”

Taylor and Snediker are taking an afternoon coffee break in the office of their new building, a 7,500-foot facility in downtown Pawcatuck, Conn., which backs onto the Pawcatuck River. “We plan to have a dock back there and keep some boats in the water,” says Snediker. About five times bigger than their old shop in rural Mystic, Conn., the new building contains the winter’s work, including a Bristol 39, Beetle Cat, 28-foot double-ender and vintage runabout.

Looking over the shop, and listening to Taylor and Snediker talk about their work, it’s obvious that boats are in their blood. Both grew up in boating families (Taylor in Annapolis, Snediker on Long Island’s Great South Bay), and both recall the seminal boats of their youth.

“We had an Oriental, which was a lapstrake runabout with a clipper bow — something like a Lyman,” says Taylor. “There was also a Celebrity, which was a 20-foot cold-molded daysailer.” After high school Taylor worked at the Trumpy boatyard near Annapolis for about three years, honing his woodworking skills. But when that firm closed its doors in the early 1970s, Taylor went to college then ended up as a philosophy professor, teaching at the University of Connecticut.

Snediker recalls working on the family boat as a youngster, a 38-foot schooner, Golden Eagle, designed by Long Islander Herbert Garth Smith, and built in the 1930s. There was also a 38-foot Richardson cabin cruiser to keep him busy. “I grew up working on boats,” he says. “It was varnish in the spring, and repairs and maintenance. So this kind of work was nothing new to me.”

Snediker added to his knowledge while working at Mystic Seaport, replacing planks, frames and deck structures during the restoration of the whale ship Charles W. Morgan. He also did some spar making on the museum’s other tall ship, the Joseph Conrad.

In 1989 Snediker, who studied anthropology at Connecticut College, found himself a tenant in the same Mystic, Conn., building as Taylor, who was teaching philosophy at the University of Connecticut and doing some wooden boat repair. “We had similar interests and abilities,” says Taylor. “And we hit it off.” They did some work together on an Aage Neilson 31-foot sloop, built in 1961, and the partnership was born.

In spring 1990 the two took on their first major job as Taylor and Snediker. The boat was Cara Mia, a New York 30. The former Old Timer, once owned by author H.A. Callahan, was little more than a deck and bare hull. “I’d call that a major restoration,” says Snediker. “About the only thing left was the original planking, the cabin house and a few bulkheads.” After seven years of on-again/off-again work (depending on the owner’s ability to fund the project), it was ready for launching.

Circe, the Sparkman & Stephens yawl they completed in the fall of 2002, is a good example of what the two can do today. It was an 18-month restoration that began with an empty hull, devoid even of a deck. Taylor and Snediker built a complete interior, oversaw an engine installation (on a bed they built for it) and all the tankage and plumbing that goes with it. There was also the extensive woodwork involved, new electrical systems, standing and running rigging, deck hardware … the list goes on.

“When we run into something we don’t do well, there are plenty of good people around here who step in and take over,” says Snediker. “This area [southeastern Connecticut and western Rhode Island] has tremendous support for this kind of work; mechanics, sailmakers, electricians — even foundries for duplicating old hardware. We were able to make several thousand 5/16ths copper rivets for Circe, to match the original fasteners.”

In their shop this winter is a 30-foot 1970 MacKenzie bass boat expected to be relaunched in May. Taylor and Snediker picked up as clients the Herreshoff Marine Museum in Bristol, R.I. They are restoring for the museum Nat Herreshoff’s personal yacht, Clara, a 35-foot cat yawl built in 1887.

It seems an appropriate job for a duo that specialize in museum quality workmanship.

For information, contact Taylor and Snediker at (860) 599-0800 or www.lvjwinches