Monday, March 7, 2011

Trumpy Time In SRQ

John Trumpy Sr. came to the US in 1902 after training as a naval architect in Berlin Germany, and in 1908 he was hired as a naval architect by the Mathis Shipbuilding Company. This begins a collaboration that produced some of the most famous, and glamorous yachts of the period, and it all ended in the very early seventies with the advent of fiberglass construction, and labor problems. About 300 of these wood yachts, or in my view "art in wood" were produced, and the owners had names like Dupont, Firestone, and Chrysler. You didn't go to dealer to buy these vessels, you met with Mr. Trumpy, commissioned a design, and then had it built. Owning a "Trumpy" was the pinnacle of yacht ownership for many decades. Freedom showed up at the Sarasota Yacht Club for a few days, and I was able to take a few pictures of this elegant yacht.

The 103' Freedom (Contract 181), a near sister ship to the former Presidential Yacht Sequoia, was originally built for Mrs. J.P. Donahue, the daughter of F.W. Woolworth in 1926. At the time, she was the richest woman in America. Mrs. Donahue sold the yacht in 1939, and the vessel resided in Florida with multiple owners until purchased, in a derelict condition by Earl McMillen in 2002. The vessel was shipped by barge to Portsmouth R.I, and restoration began in 2004. Over $6,500,000 was purported to have been spent restoring her to her current bristol condition.  

Of the about 300 wooden Trumpy yachts that were built, I think there are about 40, or so left floating at best. Hull rot, maintenance costs, salt water, and time have all taken their toll on these boat building works of art. The ability to find true woodworking shipwrights who can do this type of restoration is sadly getting more difficult to locate, and is fast becoming a dying art in our plastic and fiberglass cultural milieu.  

So it is lovely to see this type of restoration up close. It provides the evocative sense of what it would have been like to go "Yachting" in the golden age of boat building, and the effort is worth it. But I am always left a little oddly dissatisfied with these restoration efforts, for in reality they are not true restorations. They are beautiful yes, but they are much better than what could have been built at the time. The wood hull is sheathed in fiberglass, the original engines have been replaced with new digitally controlled diesel engines, bow thrusters have been added, galleys have granite counter tops, ice makers, microwaves, and so on.

I took the picture of the, porthole below, square as it is, and spent some time thinking about what yachting would have been like, when this vessel was first built. The many portholes were needed because there was no air conditioning at the time. You would drink your gin and tonic on the fantail with chipped, or shaved ice that came from an ice box, while listening to music on a tube radio set or phonograph. I don't think this is a bad way to go, and neither did some of the richest people in the US at the time.

I think it would be grand to restore one of these vessels to its original condition, and to truly experience yachting as it really was at the time. I could pretend to be a Dupont for a few days, and would not miss 24/7 TV news coming from a satellite dish. I would even get a blue blazer with bone buttons, and a pair of white slacks for the occasion.

Now I don't want anyone to think that the effort put into a vessel like Freedom isn't laudable, because it is, and it's important to preserve at least some portion of this period of yacht building. It also helps to keep alive traditional boat building skills, in a world in which there are fewer people available every year who are skilled at this type of work. In a sea of white plastic floating Clorex bottles, this really turns heads.

A few final words are left here on this subject. I had the opportunity to get a very close look at Flying Lady (#233 61' Blue Heaven) last year, and I think she is cosmetically finished to a slightly higher level than even Freedom is. She appears to be for sale for $950,000. So go online and see what kind of white plastic Clorex bottle you can buy for that kind of money, and then look at Flying Lady, if you really want to turn heads when you pull into dock.

I'm still a little whizzed at you President Carter for letting Sequoia go. Mistake, big mistake, at least in my opinion.

Some assorted Trumpy links 

The resurrected Trumpy Yacht Company

A good overview of Trumpy history  by Mike Miron

A listing of Trumpy contracts by hull/contract number. It shows Freedom as 103', not 104'. Typo?

McMillen Yachts/Mathis Yacht Building Company, who restored Freedom

An article on the restoration of Freedom

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