|The Ice Cream Sailor|
By Tim Clark — November 2001
He affectionately remembers the unpretentiousness of "the Old Lady's" tastes, telling me that as often as Delphine would cruise to New York, Chicago, or Montreal, there were also trips to Lake Superior and Canada's Georgian Bay--nearly wilderness waters in those days--where Mrs. Dodge simply liked to fish.
In keeping with his good opinion of her, Ottinger believes that Mrs. Dodge always regarded Delphine as a memorial to her late husband. The degree of her emotional attachment to the yacht is suggested by her decision to salvage Delphine after she burned and sank in New York Harbor in 1926. In doing so, she refused the "constructive total loss" offered by the yacht's insurers and paid an estimated $350,000--a fortune at the time--for a complete restoration. Following World War II, during which Delphine had been requisitioned by the U.S. Navy as the flagship of Admiral Earnest King, Mrs. Dodge again displayed her devotion by choosing to take the yacht back (and have her expensively refurbished once again) rather than accept compensation from the government.
But there were others who enjoyed Delphine's luxury whom Ottinger does not so highly esteem. Of Mrs. Dodge's son, he tells me, "Young Horace was a drunk and a spoiled kid--the worst example of a rich man's son. He was trouble." Supported throughout his life by his mother, who outlived him by seven years, Horace Jr. led a playboy's existence of indolence and frivolity that included five divorces and scores of scandals.
Hugh Dillman, Mrs. Dodge's second husband, doesn't rate much higher in Ottinger's estimation. A former silent-movie actor who had once been married to the actress Marjorie Rambeau, Dillman was, by some accounts, 14 years Mrs. Dodge's junior and, according to Ottinger, an insincere glad-hander whose familiarity offended Delphine's crew. "They subsidized him to pay court to [Mrs. Dodge]," says Ottinger, apparently referring to the $100,000 annual allowance Dillman received during the marriage, "and he had a hell of a big family who all used to come and sponge off the Old Lady." After her 1947 divorce from Dillman, "the Old Lady" returned to using the Dodge name.
Though not quite so extravagantly, Mrs. Dodge's largesse also extended to Delphine's crew. When Capt. William Knight asked how she wanted them paid, she told him to match the $105 a month given seamen on the Detroit & Cleveland Navigation Company boats. "That was more than twice as much as you'd get on salt water at the time," says Ottinger. Such wages, especially during the Depression, could quash even the saltiest seaman's hesitation to serve on an ice cream boat. But some still stepped aboard with arrogance. "When I joined the Delphine, I fancied myself quite a sailor," writes Ottinger. "Little did I know." Under Knight, who could handle a ship more ably than anyone he had ever encountered, and Herman Franks, a first mate with skills honed on British and German vessels, Ottinger says he learned more seamanship aboard Delphine than on all the other ships he'd worked combined.
After his first two seasons on Delphine, Ottinger captained Spray III, an exquisite 77-footer originally built for Henry Joy of the Packard Motor Company. When he returned to Delphine in '40 and `41, he served as first mate. Eventually Ottinger earned his master's license for "steam or motor vessels, any gross tons upon the Great Lakes" and went on to sail the seas well into his 70s.
And what of Delphine? Following decades of neglect after Mrs. Dodge donated her to a charity in 1964, she's now reportedly in the hands of a Belgian textiles mogul and undergoing a faithful restoration at his yard in Bruges. She is 80 years old this year, the oldest steam yacht still afloat, yet young enough to be her former first mate's daughter.
This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.