New note for a classic

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A 1971 Hatteras convertible is transformed by her owner into the classic beauty she was meant to be

I wasn’t supposed to buy a boat; I was supposed to sell a boat — specifically, the 44-foot Striker that was my residence at the time. Sell it, move ashore, get married, and generally be a grownup. As with many of my plans to grow up, this one went awry.

It was spring of 1993. In 1992 I had gotten engaged, moved ashore, sold my Striker, and was planning to get married. To paraphrase H.H. Munro, my fiancée was a good fiancée, as fiancées go, and as fiancées go, she went, leaving me with no plan for the future other than to pick up where I had left off. When I had regrouped, I found myself living on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and wishing I had a boat again.

I had owned three boats: a Matthews 43 motoryacht (large, wood, diesels — quite a handful for a first boat), an Egg Harbor 37 sedan (smaller, gas engines, charming and comfortable, but still wood and still a handful), and the Striker (big, aluminum, diesels, durable and roomy). It was also damp, chilly and when under way sounded like you were boating inside a 55-gallon drum. And you had to be a welder to fix anything on it.

I had acquired these boats by looking through classified advertisements and making uninformed decisions about what I thought I wanted. The vessels were always much easier to buy than to sell; this time I decided to get some professional advice.

I went to a yacht broker friend — Eric Horst at Bayport Yachts in Chester, Md., on Kent Island — and he suggested I look for a small (33- to 37-foot) fiberglass convertible, something I could manage single-handedly, spend a week or two on when I felt like it, and sell easily when I wanted to get something different. That meant sticking with an established name, and Eric suggested Bertram, Egg Harbor, Hatteras or Viking.

Eric had sold my three previous boats for me and told me, “When you’re buying a boat, always think about the next owner after you.” That was good advice. Those three boats were not easy to sell, and I wanted to be able to trade up, down or out if things changed — which they seemed to have a habit of doing.

Glory B

We started looking at boats from that list, and I liked the Hatteras best. I had looked at their 36- and 38-foot convertibles from the early 1970s, and they had an excellent reputation for quality construction, roomy and comfortable interiors, good sea manners, and beautiful lines. Plus, the company had stayed in business since it built its first sportfishing yacht in 1960.

We found a few on a Web site and began looking at them. A 1971 Hatteras 36 convertible named Glory B had been out of the water for more than a year when I first saw her in Norwalk, Conn., in the winter of 1993. She had been on the market for a while, with no takers. Her owners had given up boating and hadn’t used her in quite a while. We were cautioned that she needed some “deferred maintenance.” Eric suggested we go up and see her, after we determined that the sellers were open to offers below the asking price.

That first look at Glory B wasn’t encouraging. She was in a corner of the yard, dirty and forlorn, with blackened canvas flapping, and faded blue bottom paint flaking from the hull. Clearly she hadn’t been in the water for a very long time. The interior was filled with an odd assortment of old marine items, peculiarly oversized furniture, and hardware-store gadgets.

Small brass plates saying things like “Captain” and “Head” had been screwed to the teak woodwork everywhere you looked. I thought about all those screw holes. I thought about the filthy engine room, in which resided three grease-covered lumps in locations roughly corresponding to where you would expect to see two engines and a generator. I thought about the tattered canvas, the worn blue shag carpet, the leaking windows. The original Hatteras teak fold-out sofa had had been replaced by a teak futon that occupied the entire port half of the saloon. It, too, was screwed in place. What an ugly piece of furniture, I thought.

She needed a friend, and so did I. I bought the boat.

Eric had told me not to be discouraged by the way Glory B looked. “These are high-quality boats, well-made and designed to last a long time,” he said. “Most of the problem with this boat is that it’s dirty. That’s easy to fix. Clean it up; if you don’t want it, someone will buy it.”

We did a sea trial. She passed it. We did a survey. She passed it — sort of. The surveyor missed substantial rot in the aft bulkhead — the only wooden part of a vintage Hatteras — but I didn’t know that until later. He also missed the bottom blisters. We did an engine survey, and she passed. So in March 1993, I went up to get Glory B with a marine surveyor friend who had experience with yacht deliveries.

We brought a new coupler for the vintage Raytheon Loran. However, there was no place to attach the coupler, so we duct-taped it to the windshield frame on the bridge. We filled the gasoline and water tanks, only to discover that the water system pump didn’t work and the water heater leaked.

Someone had thoughtfully provided a dumpster on the dock next to where Glory B floated, and before we left we filled it with junk we took out of the boat. We took it easy all the way home, taking two days to make the trip, stopping in Townsend’s Inlet and staying on shore at a friend’s house. Nothing worked inside the boat except the head. When the engines weren’t running, it was cold in the cabin.

Coming down Chesapeake Bay, I decided to open her up a little and got up to 23 knots coming up the Chester River before the approach to Kent Narrows. We tied the boat up and went in for lunch. When we went back out, she looked oddly down by her bow. The forefoot of the bilge was full of water from leaking shaft and rudder logs, and none of the pumps had come on. OK, I thought, there’s another thing to fix.

Some play, mostly work

Over the next year or two, I continued working on the boat. I scraped the name off, removed the indoor-outdoor carpet glued to the aft deck and sanded off the adhesive, threw away the interior furniture, replaced the carpet, and cleaned the engine room. I replaced the manifolds, risers, and both carburetors, and fixed a hole in the keel that had been patched with Bondo and leaked copiously. I removed the old radios and yards and yards of jury-rigged wiring. Several of the previous owners had added hatches cut in everywhere, and I glassed those back shut. I took her out on the water, but mostly I worked on her a lot.

A bright spot in all this travail was the number of parts still available new from Hatteras. They had drawings, schematics, part numbers, parts — just about everything I needed. I also met Tom Slane, whose father, Willis, founded Hatteras Yachts. No one knows more about restoring old fiberglass yachts than Tom, and his help was invaluable.

Each year, my vintage Hatteras looked a little better. Around 1995, I finally moved aboard the boat, which still had no name, and lived on her for two years at Piney Narrows Yacht Haven on Kent Island. I had the V-berth converted to an offset double using all the old wood and pieces so that it looked original.

Living aboard, I saved enough money for a down payment on a house in Annapolis, Md. Shortly after I moved there, I brought the boat to Crisfield, Md., and had the gasoline engines replaced with a set of Caterpillar diesels. While the engine room was empty, it got a sorely needed paint job. And she got her name, Blue Note — borrowed from my other interests, jazz and rhythm-and-blues music. The next year, the boat went back to Crisfield and the blistered bottom was finally addressed and replaced with Interprotect.

In the fall of 2001, I took the boat to Cambridge, Md., where the flybridge was removed and she spent the entire winter indoors at Aircraft Refinishers. All the chrome was removed and replated, and the entire boat was sprayed with Awlgrip in colors I thought were close to original. Her name was painted on the transom and clear-coated.

After a hair-raising trip back over the Choptank River Bridge on a hydraulic trailer, she went back in the water and we set about putting everything back on. All those bits and pieces that came off so easily — well, they just don’t go back on the same way. But on a sunny day when we were busy attaching rails, antennas, and the like, a fellow walked up the dock and looked at Blue Note — gleaming paint, shining chrome, varnished trim — and said, “Who built that boat, and where?”

“Hatteras Yachts,” I answered, “in High Point, N.C.”

When I told him she was 30 years old, he was astonished. “I thought it was brand new,” he said. “She sure is beautiful.”

A friendship

Ten years ago, I bought an old boat that badly needed a friend, figuring that if it didn’t work out I could sell her and move on. She became my friend — grateful for the time, effort, thought and expense lavished on her — a full-time home for a while, and then a second home when needed, a place to get away from work and all of its problems, and life and its disappointments. I learned that I liked being on the water alone, although I liked company, too. Most often Blue Note’s company out there was more than enough.

I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who was restoring a vintage 36 Hatteras convertible, that they had been a popular model for Hatteras Yachts, and that over eight years they had produced perhaps 200 of them. Many have been updated, made more modern in admirable ways, but I had decided early on to try to make her look as much as possible like she did when she was new.

I’ve given in to temptation on a few things — I found some vintage Perko and Wilcox-Crittenden bronze running lamps for the bridge, a complete set of new Panish controls and cables, and a new fiberglass deck box — but for the most part I’ve tried to keep things as Jack Hargrave intended when he sat at his drawing board in the 1960s and laid down the lines for the Hatteras 36 convertible. She looked good then, she looks good now, and some things don’t necessarily need improving.

Last fall, Blue Note was officially named when we had a long-planned party for her, breaking the christening bottle on her bow and pouring champagne for all. I am unendingly grateful to the many people who helped me restore her for their expertise and time, and I’m grateful as well to have a boat that has become a classic of its kind, admired by all. If I’m not at work and if I am not out on the water, you can find me on the boat, in the evening working on her or sitting in the saloon and listening to an Eva Cassidy CD. If there’s a better time than that, I have yet to find it.

Jim Rosenthal, M.D., practices emergency medicine in the Washington, D.C., area. For their contributions and help with Blue Note, he thanks T&S Marine Engines, Crisfield, Md.; Aircraft Refinishers, Cambridge, Md.; Boat Cover Inc., Grasonville, Md.; and Virginia Owens Upholstery and Decorating, St. Margarets, Md., among others.