— May 2005
By Diane M. Byrne
While Howard Hughes and the equally famous Spruce Goose—a.k.a. “The Flying Boat”—are forever linked, it’s lesser known that the brilliant billionaire had an affinity for true boats. Indeed, Katherine Hepburn first picked up a paintbrush on one of Hughes’ yachts during a Bahamian cruise in 1938, leading to a lifelong enjoyment of painting. And legend has it that Hughes romanced many an aspiring actress aboard his vessels.
So imagine the stories the mahogany planking aboard Eleanor could tell if it could talk, as the yacht belonged to Hughes from 1957 to 1961. And imagine the stories the planking could tell you, too, as the 71-foot, 66-year-old Trumpy is for sale.
According to Robert Tolf, a Trumpy expert and author of Trumpy, Hughes saw a trade-publication listing for the yacht, originally named Martha, and immediately decided to buy her. He christened her Vita and kept her at his beck and call in Miami. Whether Hughes was wining and dining business associates or squiring Hollywood ingénues, whatever he needed was literally a touch away: At the press of any of the ivory-colored call buttons discretely mounted into walls and furniture throughout the yacht, the four-man crew was at his service.
Unfortunately, little else is known about Hughes’ ownership, but the yacht has had no less of an interesting life both before and since his time. Just after World War II, Philip Mallory, the then-president of the Mystic Seaport museum in Mystic, Connecticut, purchased the yacht. The yacht’s current owners, John and Karine Bermingham, acquired her five years ago, and what they’ve done with the now-named Eleanor would make Hughes, Mallory, and even boatbuilder John Trumpy himself proud.
They made it a priority to preserve her original 1940’s appeal, maintaining the expertly varnished mahogany bulkheads throughout her interior and even retaining the original twin-bunk arrangements in each of her three staterooms. “I like the fact that you can have six people who aren’t married on the boat at the same time,” John explains. Being an antiques dealer, he was particularly pleased that the staterooms’ original mahogany furnishings had been well maintained, and he and Karine have kept them aboard. They’ve also retained the original brass cranks (hidden behind silver seashell fittings) that allow each window in the saloon to roll down or up. John and a friend rebuilt the mechanisms inside the opening windows because a previous owner siliconed shut every window and port. “They designed the windows to be opened for a reason! Even with air-conditioning, there’s nothing like fresh air blowing through the yacht,” he avers.
This article originally appeared in the April 2005 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.