A classic megayacht kit, and a man who could put her back together.
By Ben Ellison — February 2003
In the photograph above, it's May 20, 1901, and the spanking-new 126-foot steam yacht Cangarda is about to head out into the Delaware River on her first trial run. Most of us can appreciate how her clipper bow, low-slung sheer, and dashingly raked masts and stack all beautifully reflect the great age of sail then just winding down. But few of us can picture every detail of how this vessel was built and operated a century ago, let alone how someone might gloriously restore her from the forlorn hulk and warehouse of dusty parts now residing in a Fairhaven, Massachusetts, shipyard.
Lo and behold, it turns out that just such a man lives up the road from me here in Camden, Maine. For years I've been aware of Capt. Steve Cobb's multifarious career in boats. Since graduation from Maine Maritime Academy in 1972, he's skippered pleasure yachts of all stripes, plus tall ships, passenger schooners, diesel and steam tugs, museum vessels, and more--the list of notable names like Wavertree, Nantucket, and Sarina is very long indeed. He's also managed some serious refits and advised several significant maritime organizations. While long impressed with all this, I was not prepared for where such experience and passion could take a fellow like Cobb when entranced with a vessel like Cangarda.
As Cobb gazes at the launch photo, he can almost hear the slight hiss of steam behind him as he imagines preparing to take her off the dock from the open bridge on her forward house. In his mind's eye, the fitting-out is now complete. Steadying sails are neatly furled to the pennant-topped masts, and the enormous ensign snaps to the breeze aft. Fine small craft sit between the pairs of tapered davits, and the full set of white canvas awnings are stretched out on their frames to protect smartly dressed passengers from coal dust and smoke. That bituminous smell mixes with the odors of manila rigging and red leather-encased furniture arranged on oiled-pine decks. Cobb is wearing the appropriate white-brimmed hat and dark-blue, narrow-labeled, high-buttoned outfit; his deck and engine hands are in white, almost in defiance of the coal.
Mind you that Cangarda is a "bell boat," meaning she lacks that classic brass "full ahead" to "full astern" engine telegraph we might expect; instead captain and engineer communicate via a large bell, a little bell, and a code. Cobb knows the codes as well as the ever-so-deliberate pace of steam power. The chief--along with his fireman and oiler--would have been getting "a head of steam up" for hours, building a coal fire just so, then slowly easing steam to the yacht's seven engines, opening petcocks here and there to drain off condensation until all machinery is warm and ready.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.