My eyes got wide. Tucked along the quay at Key Largo’s Ocean Reef Club were 21 classic yachts. It was an eclectic collection of freshly varnished wood and historic interiors that, according to Ocean Reef Club’s Vintage Weekend founder Vicki Goldstein, was the “hero” of the show. “The collection this year was very strong,” she says. Even better, the yacht owners were happy to let enthusiasts step aboard. Lou Jezdimir brought Aurora II, his 1947 61-foot Trumpy. “This isn’t the biggest antique boat show, but it’s the best,” Jezdimir says. “The quality of the yachts are exceptional and, unlike some other shows, there aren’t ‘Do Not Touch’ signs on the boats. The owners want you to see their boats.”
Jezdimir, who lives aboard Aurora II, says she was John Trumpy’s personal yacht, and presumably his favorite since he kept her for seven years. Jezdimir bought the boat early last year and spent several months restoring her.
“It’s about the largest one I can skipper myself,” he says. “I love living aboard. If I get tired of my neighbors, I just move.”
Albert Wall, owner of Jonathan III, also lives aboard during the winter. Wall purchased the 1958 83-foot Broward Marine eight years ago and did a restoration. “Almost all the equipment, except for the engines, was not working,” he says. “The paintwork and varnish had all failed.”
Working from photos of the boat’s 1959 sea trials in Yachting, Wall and designer Brandon Lucas brought Jonathan III back with historical accuracy. Original features such as the pink formica counters in the master head survived, and Wall was able to save the original dining table. Like Jezdimir, Wall sees beauty in the elegant designs and intricate woodwork. “I also like their feel underway,” he says. “They ride softer than a fiberglass boat.”
The event at Ocean Reef also included some unbelievable restorations. When country musician Alan Jackson discovered Rhino, a 1958 Rybovich yacht-fisherman, the boat had sunk twice. “The cockpit decks were falling in, there was rot in the rails, and most of it had been glassed over,” says Matt Thompson, Rhino‘s captain. “Alan is extremely knowledgeable about old boats — he has a collection of Packards, Chris-Crafts and an old Dodge — so he knew what it would take.”
The $3 million restoration by Rybovich took two and a half years. “They paid attention to the original details,” Thompson says. “We had one original glass cover for the light fixtures, so we did a mold from it to create the others. We rechromed all the hardware to bring it back to its original condition.”
The most striking yacht at Vintage Weekend was the oldest. Nymph, a 75-foot Matthews motoryacht, was delivered in 1913. Owner Tom Robinson bought the aging hulk seven years ago. “The original restoration budget was $200,000, but that was off by a factor of 10,” says Rodney Bowles, Nymph‘s captain. “The boat had 80 years of poor improvements, including an ill-fitting flybridge and fiberglass covering the wooden hull. It all had to be removed.”
The 104-year-old yacht is stunning. “All the original parts we could find — cabinets, binnacle and others — went back into the boat,” he says. “The newer fiberglass actually saved the original wood beneath.”
Nymph won the People’s Choice award. She was just one great story among many. Three generations of the same family have owned Polly Graf, a 1964 Constellation. White Tornado, a restored 1961, 31-foot Bertram racer, once had a tree growing through her hull.
“Most people only see the work involved,” Jezdimir says. “But we see their charm and uniqueness. We have varnish in our veins.”