One spring evening in Boston many years ago, I met the woman who would become my wife. I had been at a charity event for Save the Harbor, Save the Bay with a colleague and ended up at a bar. The next two stools were occupied by a pair of women, one of whom sported a golden tan and a sparkle in her eye. With a cold wind still scouring the brick sidewalks of Beacon Hill outside, I ventured to ask why she was so bronze in March. She responded with a grin: “I just got back from Ocean Reef.”
I admitted I had no idea what that meant. We spent more time together, and eventually got married, and occasionally talked and laughed about her visit to Key Largo. But I knew I still didn’t get it, to the point where I was sure I would not like it, just to be difficult. So imagine her surprise when the Ocean Reef club invited Yachting to their annual Vintage Weekend and the assignment fell to me. This was one business trip where she didn’t mind tagging along.
The Ocean Reef Club started their Vintage Weekend 15 years ago as a way to fill a quiet weekend in the club’s calendar with an event that would appeal to the membership. The private club has a 175-slip marina, three 18-hole golf courses, a family-oriented shoreside pool and recreation complex, and a private airport spread over the northern end of Key Largo. Since the club had its origins as a fishing camp, boats seemed a wise place to start.
“My husband and I were up at Southwest Harbor, Maine,” says Vicki Goldstein, the founder of Vintage Weekend. “They were having a wooden boat show. And it occurred to us that people who have these beautiful boats cruise around in them, but they don’t really have any place to show them off—and they like to be able to do that. So we decided to try having something similar down here in Florida.” That was 1994, and it was a success by any measure.
“The first year was only boats,” says Goldstein. “We had a competition: We had about 20 boats, some from the independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia. We had a really good batch that first year. We had judges, and it was really fun. Then the next year we got involved with the cars, because we had a collector here. And then we had a man who had a vintage plane who was running our airport for us, so he started on trying to get planes in here.” While we were at Vintage Weekend, my wife and I spent an evening at the Goldstein’s’ with the boat crowd, where we had a delightful dinner and plenty of amiable conversation.
The next day, the lineup of motoryachts at “E” dock, at the heart of Ocean Reef, was breathtaking, led by Freedom, a 104-foot Mathis-Trumpy built in 1926 and meticulously restored by a partnership led by Earl McMillen III of McMillen Yachts. She drew a crowd, but she wasn’t alone. Another beautifully restored Trumpy, America, built in 1965, welcomed visitors as well. A pair of Burgers included the 1966, 80-foot Neon Rainbow, and the 75-foot Loose, a 1974 build. An 80-foot Broward built in 1959, Jonathan III, made the journey down from Savannah en route to Marsh Harbour. Fishing fans were wowed by not one, but two, refit Rybovich sportfishermen, including the 1949 Legend, equipped with modern outriggers for her intended purpose—be still my heart—and a stout varnished gin pole. Everyone I met seemed to be having a wonderful time—and if you asked about their boats, you needed to be ready to hear stories.
Here’s a great aspect of Vintage Weekend: Once you’ve seen the boats, turn around, away from the dock, and have a look at the cars. This impressive display of horseless carriages (and some are old enough to have been called that) includes some remarkably rare, historic cars. Gulling and roadster-style Mercedes, a selection of Rolls-Royces, Willy’s Jeepsters, Auburns, Duesenbergs—in short, a whole host of domestic and imported classics made the trip down to the Reef.
Like the yachts that showed up, most of these machines are not museum pieces. The cars still run and the owners take them on a road rally to prove it, stopping at a couple of delightful spots, including a famous local fruit stand and an alligator farm. Attendance at each stop was close to perfect, since the hosts had arranged for a couple of freelance mechanics to tag along.
“It’s better for the cars if you drive them,” says Ron Elenbaas, a member of the Vintage Weekend committee who led the rally in a French-blue 1914 Peugeot Bebe, one of maybe four in the world, a car with tires skinnier than those on a mountain bike. “I’d rather have a story than the car.” The story nearly had an unplanned ending, as the 10-horsepower Bebe struggled over the high arch of the card Sound Bridge. A huge contingent made it to Alabama Jack’s for lunch, packing the parking lot with premium automobiles up to 100 years old, and filling the restaurant with raucous laughter.
The next day featured a full-blown Concours D’Elegance of the cars in the morning with a standing-room only crowd. A trip to the on-site airport let us see numerous vintage aircraft, including Stearman biplanes, World War II-era warplanes, and other gleaming specimens. “We think it’s the only place in the world where you can have boats, planes, and cars all in one spot and you can ride your golf cart in between them,” says Goldstein. “I don’t know of anyplace else you could do it.”
That evening at the gala dinner-dance, pirate attire was encouraged, and wonderful anecdotes and actual teary-eyed belly laughs were served with dinner. As the band played, my wife and I took a turn on the packed dance floor. Her eyes sparkled knowingly as she listened to me admit it: I now understood what she was smiling about the night we met.
Interested in bringing your classic yacht to Vintage Weekend at Ocean Reef? Call (305) 367- 5874 or visit www.oceanreef.com.