IYRS founder stepping aside

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Elizabeth Meyer, classic yacht restoration pioneer, feels her world-renown school is self-sufficient

A dozen years ago yacht restorer Elizabeth Meyer decided to open a school where others could learn the trade she loves. She bought two dilapidated buildings — an abandoned mill and an electric generating plant — on 2.5 acres of waterfront property in her hometown of Newport, R.I. There she launched the International Yacht Restoration School.

The project has been a success. The school is renowned not only for its skilled graduates, but also for the 80-some classic boats that have been rescued and restored there.

Confident that her mission is complete, Meyer is stepping down from the board of directors. Earlier, she had given up her post as chairman of the board to yacht designer David Pedrick. Now, while she will remain in close touch with the school, she will no longer be involved in policy and management decisions.

“It’s wonderful,” says Meyer, 52. “I’m delighted. It was my original intent to create a self-perpetuating organization and IYRS is that.

“This was not going to be my job for life,” says Meyer, who owns J-Class Management, a yacht restoration and charter firm in Newport. By “dragging herself out of it,” Meyer says the school will no longer be seen as her project, but as a self-sufficient entity.

“I can’t tell you how proud I am of it,” she says.

In addition to founding the school, Meyer is considered a pioneer and a visionary in the world of restoration, having also restored homes with classical New England architecture. When asked about Meyer’s contribution to the yachting world, IYRS president Terry Nathan says, “Oh my God, what a huge question.”

When pushed to select the leading contribution, he says Meyer’s own restoration work almost single-handedly fueled interest in restoring and preserving yachts.

“When Elizabeth restored Endeavour, she was one of the prime movers in generating interest and current popularity,” says Nathan. “To attribute that to just one person is amazing.”

In 1984 Meyer bought and restored the 130-foot J-Class, Endeavour, which was built in 1934. “Elizabeth raised the bar when she restored Endeavour,” says Nathan.

Meyer founded the school on Thames Street in 1993.

“My experience in restoration was personally so wonderful that I felt it would be nice to share it with other people,” says Meyer. “Seems to me that there were not that many people skilled in maintaining, restoring and building boats. The school’s other missions were to “keep boats alive” by restoring yachts that would otherwise be scuttled, and to help preserve some of Newport’s working waterfront. Once a thriving maritime town, trendy boutiques, restaurants and condominiums were taking over where boatyards and fishing wharfs once were.

The school has grown so much in fact that it is now in the midst of a capital campaign to restore the 1831 Aquidneck Mill Building. Nathan says the building will allow the campus to add 30,000 square feet.

“We’re operating at capacity. We need to grow,” he says.

The project is estimated to cost around $6 million, he says. The school also continues its restoration of the 1885 schooner, Coronet.

As the school continues its missions, Meyer has a few projects of her own to keep her busy. She is restoring for her personal use a 1916 Lawley-built yawl. The boat, 46 feet on deck and 60 feet overall, is unique in that it was a retro-design when it was built, and resembles an 1880 design, she says.

Through J-Class Management, she also is restoring Bystander, a 42-foot powerboat built in 1929 for Michael Vanderbilt. Bystander was the tender and towboat for six America’s Cup boats from 1930 to 1967 — Enterprise, Rainbow, Ranger, Vim, Gretel and Dame Pattie. The boat is being restored in partnership with Meyer’s husband, Mike McCaffrey, at Narragansett Shipwrights in Newport. Meyer plans to bring the boat to the next America’s Cup, where she will again be available as a tender and towboat.