30 — By Capt. Bill Pike
— July 2002
|Epic voyage? Oceans to cross? Monster seas? Nah!|
It all began pleasantly enough. My wife called from her office in the Big Apple one afternoon while I sat in my big blue recliner at Mullet Mansion, on the northern Gulf Coast of Florida, writing one thing or another. The grandfather clock tick-tocked in the hall. The cats lay on their backs on the porch, their big white paws stuck imperiously in the air. The Sopchoppy River gleamed in the sunlight. Domestic tranquility reigned supreme, or as supreme as it can get for a guy who's eight months into a year of living in one place while his wife works and lives in another, with periodic get-togethers along the way.
"Bill, Bill," B.J. enthused, "you've got to see the Duffy-Herreshoff 30. It's gorgeous! Can you do a story? It's in California. I can meet you there."
I logged on to the Internet to take a look. The teaky, day-cruising classic was indeed a gorgeous piece of work, a fiberglass version of a classic 30-foot steam launch designed and built a century ago by Nathaniel Herreshoff and his brother John in Bristol, Rhode Island. But more important, Duffy, arguably the preeminent builder of electric vessels in the United States today, was offering the boat with a trendy and intriguing diesel-electric hybrid powerplant and proposing to market a version in the near future with a powerplant even more trendy and intriguing, a hydrogen fuel-cell system like the ones automobile manufacturers are getting so much public relations mileage out of these days.
I formed a plan. My wife and I would both zip out to Duffyland--Newport Beach, California--pick up a picnic lunch worthy of Gourmet magazine from a local catering service, jump on a Duffy 30 (with the lunch, of course), and spend a romantic day cruising Newport Harbor, a spectacularly beautiful place. Sure, there'd be distractions, like posing for photographs and coordinating with a photo boat. And we'd have to forsake romance for journalism at some point, if only briefly, while we stopped by the Duffy plant to check out the essentials of diesel-electric technology (see "The Duffy-Herreshoff 30," this story), as well as the basics of hydrogen fuel-cell propulsion (see "Passagemaker of The Future?," this story). But such minor issues were hardly worth getting worked-up about.
I even had a title in mind for the story I'd write about the experience: Picnic Passage. Its theme was simple, almost poetic. Since the early 1960's, when Robert Beebe built and voyaged his bluewater motorboat Passagemaker across oceans, thereby launching a cruising phenomenon that's more popular today than ever before, just about everybody has agreed that any real passage must entail an honest-to-gosh voyage to some far-off place, preferably with a far-out name. But what about those of us who don't have the time to cross the Pacific? Or round Cape Horn? Or visit the shores of Borneo? Shouldn't some of our cruises, which typically have less to do with epic travels than squeezing a little serenity from a stressed-out lifestyle, qualify as passages of sort? Especially when they include a couple of nifty touches, like a high-end picnic lunch, a stunningly quiet, elegant, and well-mannered little vessel upon which to dine, and a nifty undercurrent of romance?
Ah, the best-layed plans. Due to the unpredictability of modern air travel, I arrived from Florida at our hotel at approximately three o'clock in the morning, eight hours late and roughly six hours after my wife had arrived from New York. She was asleep when I creaked open the door, bumping into the hotel's "Romance Package," which consisted of a chilled bottle of champagne (now warm) in a silver ice bucket (now filled with tepid water), a cheese and fruit basket (untouched), and a bouquet of flowers (wilted). Our picnic passage was getting off to a rocky start, I said to myself. Then a terrifying thought toodled through the ol' noodle: Good Lord! We were supposed to rendezvous with photographer Martin Fine and Duffy sales manager Kevin Kearns at Duffy's docks in Newport Beach at seven o'clock, less than four short hours away.
"Kevin left you a message...problem with the boat," B.J. said as I crawled on my hands and knees around the room in the dark, plugging in chargers for the radar gun, laptop computer, digital camera, and other tools of my trade.
"Problem?" I asked, ramming my head into a solid-bronze floor lamp.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.