Sightlines - November 2014
Rebuilding the Indian: Restoring Myself
Sometimes boats do more than get us from A to B.
A lot more.
Twenty four years ago I bought a 25-foot Bertram from a guy who had given up on his dream. I lived in Sarasota, but I longed for a connection to my childhood on Catalina Island and restoring the Bertram, with the intention of shipping her to California, seemed the missing link to my dream. Halfway through the two-year restoration I met my wife Chareese and with her, my priorities changed. With my dream on hold, Villam stayed in Florida and has been our family boat ever since.
Chareese and I spent our honeymoon on Catalina 22 years ago and I began to share my love of the island with her. We visited every few years since and have recently begun spending a few weeks on the island each summer, albeit as landlubbers. While staying in Avalon last September, I read a little book called Rebuilding the Indian, by Fred Haefele. By no means a literary masterpiece, the book took me through the story of the author buying an Indian motorcycle basket case and the hunt for parts and characters full of advice on his quest to rebuild his classic bike. I got completely caught up in his adventure and decided it was time to restore another boat. One that would actually make it to Catalina this time.
Chareese had not forgotten about my abandonment of the 31-foot Bertram Nautic race boat a couple of years earlier, but never raised much fuss about the new project. I found a 20-foot Bertram Moppie basket case at Lanier Liquidators in Georgia for $4,500 and had her shipped to Sarasota sight unseen. She had all the original hardware and good stringers, but had osmosis blisters on the bottom. I called my old friends Jim and Gary for help and between the three of us we managed to put in almost 1,500 man-hours converting my Moppie into a custom center console. She is based loosely on the old Sportsman model, but looks more like a yacht-club launch, complete with teak deck, varnished-teak helm pod, and seat. Hellcat is printed in white U.S. Navy stencil across her flag-blue transom, so named after the World War II fighters of the Pacific and my rambunctious four-year-old granddaughter Hallie Kate, as promised. In early July, after seven months of full-time restoration, she was ready to ship west to her new home in San Pedro, California.
Our first launch in California was out of Cabrillo Marina with my daughter Jennifer and her husband Jason onboard. We motored out of the marina into a patch known locally as Hurricane Gulch, brought her up to speed, and with an ear-to-ear grin plastered across my face, we raced across the harbor. I don’t think Jennifer has ever seen me so happy before. I hadn’t been on that piece of water in 35 years and I felt like a kid again. We stuck our heads out of the breakwater and glimpsed the dark-blue crossing we would make the next morning. After 22 years of waiting, we only had one day and 22 miles to go.
The Catalina Channel is one of the deepest channels in the world and the 20-foot Bertram felt pretty small that morning as we crossed, but I finally had my own boat on the island again. I wasn’t landlocked any more and I could finally share my favorite place on earth with my family. We ran up and down the leeward side all week, stopping for snorkeling and lunch at the Isthmus along the way. Coming back to Avalon we rode the backs of following seas, drenching me with spray while the setting sun dried the salt on my skin, with my grandkids asleep in the bow curled up on their beanbags, I was in heaven. Approaching town one afternoon we came upon a rare pod of Reese Dolphins with Jace and Hallie Kate at the bow being treated to a show of nature that few ever get to see. We were living the dream with our little Hellcat.
After seven months of hard work and $90,000 in restoration costs, I was asked if it was all worth it. Yes. It was worth every penny, even if it were the last time I would ever experience it. It wasn’t so much a boat restoration as a restoration of myself. It was the fulfillment of a dream and I felt young again. And that is priceless.
This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.