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The roaring sound of antique airplanes filled the skies as Legend, Hull No. 1 of the Wheeler 38, rolled gently at the Ocean Reef Club in early December. Inside this classic yacht’s salon, I stepped between two worlds, present and past. Legend is a near-perfect replica—from its exterior, at least—of Ernest Hemingway’s Pilar, a 38-foot Wheeler Shipyard fishing boat from 1934.
This one boat epitomized the purpose of the 26th Vintage Weekend at the club: paying homage to the tradition of vessels, vehicles and aircraft, and to the owners who pour countless hours into restoring and preserving them.
The event showcased nine vintage yachts, 70 classic cars and 16 antique aircraft. Legend was there courtesy of Wes Wheeler, president of Wheeler Yacht Co. and great-grandson of Howard E. Wheeler Sr., who founded the Wheeler Shipyard Corp. that produced Hemingway’s boat. In order to properly maintain the tradition of both Pilar’s heritage and his family’s work, Wes and his wife, Marianne, traveled to Cuba to acquire Pilar’s exact original dimensions so that they could mimic the exterior lines.
Legend’s interior is less the type of an angler’s reprieve that Hemingway favored and more a comfortable cove for the cruising couple. Down three steps from the cockpit, the head is immediately to starboard, and the galley is to port. Forward is U-shaped seating surrounding a wooden dinette to port, and there are two free-standing armchairs and a nightstand opposite, with shelves for books and pictures. Farther forward is the stateroom, with an offset berth to port.
“We spent about two years designing this boat from scratch,” Wes says. “The idea was to have the boat [be] an exact copy, dimensionally accurate—except the bottom is flat so that it can go fast. The idea was to make it as close to the original as possible, including the hardware, and then have the boat technically really advanced.”
“It can go fast, and it’s very comfortable,” he adds. “Then my wife did a lot of the interior work to make it comfortable to live on, and she’s also my crew, and the two of us can handle the boat pretty easily. She’s now done 6,000 miles up and down the coast.”
Steve White of Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine headed the responsibilities of building the 38. Since 1960, White’s company has been converting classic yachts into modern cruisers. White was awarded Vintage Weekend’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the closing ceremony.
Bill Prince Yacht Design is responsible for Legend’s topsides, machinery and interiors; Bruce Marek of Marek Yacht Design handled the 38’s hull design; and Capt. Ryan Doyle helped deliver Legend, having taken on at least 2,000 nautical miles from the helm.
“The challenges really were to keep the aesthetic of the original boat as it is, but to incorporate the modern amenities that [the Wheelers] wanted,” White says. “So, we’re trying to hide or conceal the modern amenities, like the modern electronics, the Seakeeper, engine, things like that. Hiding all of that within the structure that was defined by the Wheeler Co. when they designed the boat was the real challenge.”
As fascinating as Legend is (I could have spent days on board learning more), the boat was just one of many head-turning experiences at Vintage Weekend. There were two aerobatics shows, a parade of classic cars, and an automobile showcase filled with gleaming paint, chrome, and detailing. Attendees could participate in a Wild West-themed dinner and dance party. I saw inflatable horses strapped to cowboys, and even one gentleman wearing a corset and wig.
But for boat nuts, the docks were the place to be. A Trumpy and a classic Feadship were among the other vessels to be admired, each one brimming with different aspects of yachting history. The owners of these boats understand their true value better than anyone and are proud to display them to help their stories live on. Mike Turner, owner of the 1962 Huckins Linwood Missy, summed up the thinking that led him to own the 53-footer: “I love the history; I love the architecture. [Vintage boats are] part of our past,” Turner says. “Owning something like this is an opportunity to keep it relevant today, as opposed to letting it go, so I’ll be a good steward, and whoever has it next will have a nice boat.”