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Sailboat finds new life as motor launch

A Connecticut yard manager transforms his college sail racer into a harbor cocktail cruiser

A Connecticut yard manager transforms his college sail racer into a harbor cocktail cruiser

A sailor has been reunited with his old boat and, in the process, taken on the unique project of converting it into a motor launch for cocktail cruises and harbor tours.

Alan Huth, 31, raced the Rhodes 18 while attending Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

“After four years sailing down in college it was transferred to my uncle in Maine,” says Huth. “He never really used it, so it went into a state of deterioration.”

By the time Huth got the boat back, the iron centerboard was covered by rust scale and all the sails were destroyed, among other problems.

“The boat was not really worth restoring to its original condition,” says Huth.

His uncle, a Harvard professor, had called and informed him that he wasn’t using the boat in Maine and had plans to sell it.

“I couldn’t bear to have him sell it for scrap, or some kids playing with it,” says Huth.

Luckily for the boat, which as a sailboat was named Bluegrass, Huth now is service manager at Brewer Yacht Haven Marina in Stamford, Conn.

“I had always pictured it being a harbor launch,” says Huth. “And having the resources here at the boatyard allowed me to do that.”

The entire structure was cut out of the boat, he says, including the framework and gridwork. A keel was fashioned out of white oak, bolted on, epoxied and glassed over. Guus Sijmons, a boatyard employee, helped with the keel.

Huth says there was quite a bit of machining involved in the project, and boatyard neighbor G&F Machine donated all the machine work.

All the inside was varnished, Huth says. It has a mahogany floor and is dressed in teak and Philippine mahogany.

The rudder, which Huth describes as “indestructible,” was built in-house. “When you work at a boatyard you can do fun things like that,” he says.

The look is much different. It had an outboard rudder that is now inboard.

Randy Dinter, a mechanical foreman at Brewer Yacht Haven, donated his time and went through the launch’s engine.

The engine, an Atomic 4, came out of a friend’s boat, Huth says. The shaft and prop were harvested from other boats at the yard. The original engine for the project, an old Yanmar 50-hp diesel, would have been too noisy, large and powerful for what he needed, Huth says. He was able to trade the diesel for the Atomic 4.

“Everything was based on stuff I could get for free,” says Huth.

“You don’t [typically] see an 18-foot inboard,” he says. His first idea was to use an outboard. “Then you wouldn’t be creating anything,” Huth says of simply hanging an outboard on the back of the boat. “It would be a hack, nothing.”

Huth describes the Rhodes 18 as having perfect lines, with a graceful rise to the sheer line.

“So many boats are so hideous these days,” he says. “It’s so rare when you find one with redeeming aesthetic value.”

Huth calls the Rhodes 18 “a famous boat by a famous designer.”

He holds designer Philip L. Rhodes in high regard and notes that he did not solely design sailing boats. “Though I highly doubt he would ever envision this transition,” Huth adds.

The Rhodes 18 was created as a one-design racing boat.

“He’s clearly one of the most famous naval architects around, so I wasn’t going to let the thing get destroyed,” says Huth. “This particular one is from 1956, so it’s an oldie.”

Bluegrass has led a tumultuous life.

Huth bought the boat from a friend, Chris Brignoli, who had raced it while attending Ithaca College.

One January, Brignoli capsized, broke the mast, and ended up “freezing his ass off upside down,” according to Chris’s father, Richard Brignoli.

The elder Brignoli bought the boat for his son in 1986, and Huth first took ownership in 1994, buying it from another friend.

Though some consider it bad luck to change the name of a boat, since it is transitioning from a sailboat to a motor launch, Huth considers it a different boat entirely. It will now be called Incorrigible.

In addition to its pleasing looks, the motor launch runs well.

“There was a big question of how the hull form was going to work in the water,” he says. It has a displacement hull with a round bottom.

“I’ve always wanted to build a boat since I was a little kid,” says Huth. “Granted this is rebuilding a boat, but it’s pretty close.”

In sea trials the boat had a very clean wake, he says, and reached a speed of 11 knots. With final adjustments he says he expects it to go 14 knots.

“I would’ve stopped construction if it didn’t sea-trial well,” says Huth. “It rides beautifully. It handles like a much larger boat.”

The black-hulled boat, with a white boot stripe and red bottom, will be used for harbor tours and as a tender.

“It’s going to be used in place of a car,” he says. Brewer Yacht Haven is split into two yards, East and West, and the launch will be used for transportation between the two as well as between Stamford and Greenwich.

Anyone who has lent a hand will get to use it, Huth says.