Recently, AYB had the pleasure of hosting a one-of-a-kind, 62′ Alden-designed, restored 1938 motorsailer, TRADE WIND, and her owners Marcy and Michael Brenner.
The Brenners made what they expected to be a brief stop at AYB while en route to the Islands for the season. As is often the case in full-time boating life, nature intervened and turned a single night’s stay into a more than 2-week stay complete with work on the Yard. We sat down and talked to Michael Brenner about TRADE WIND and his life with Marcy on their spectacular boat. (All photos courtesy of Michael and Marcy Brenner – Copyright 2011 unless otherwise noted. Attersee photo – Copyright 2005 – IOIA).
What brought you to AYB?
Like many people who know boats, we had heard about Atlantic Yacht Basin. Then we became friends with Roxy Darling, skipper of the ANNIE CAIE, who winters here. So we wanted to come by and see the Yard in person on our way south.
Of course, we didn’t know we were going to end up staying like we did. With water levels in the ICW at historic lows, we didn’t want to chance it. And after seeing what AYB could do, we decided to get some needed work done. Commercial yards often can’t handle a boat like ours properly and we won’t trust her to just anybody. We were especially glad to see the railway, as well as the friendly and experienced people on site.
It has the feeling of many of the best boatyards I have known over time. The atmosphere of the Yard is great — we have been like kids in a candy store walking through the sheds to see all the boats that are staying here. For classic boat lovers like us, this place is truly unbelievable.
What is TRADE WIND’s story?
TRADE WIND was originally custom-built in 1938 by Robert Jacob at City Island, New York as a support vessel for yacht racing. She had a massive double galley for preparing and serving meals to the crew and comfortable captain’s quarters for her owner, but no space for the team to bunk.
She was designed by the John Alden Company, true masters with a flair for open water motorsailers. Her classic lines plus incredible stability and functionality reflect that. Over time, she was a racing support vessel, a research boat for oceanographic expeditions, and a professional test boat for marine collision systems.
TRADE WIND always had these incredible lines and amazing core structure, plus her fascinating history. But we took her down to bare bones to create the vessel you see today. This is especially true of the interior and all of the appointments and features. Most of those were custom-designed for maximum live-aboard comfort, while keeping an eye for period detail as well as our personal history.
How did TRADE WIND come into your lives?
TRADE WIND was kind of a happy accident for us. We stumbled on her while looking through yacht listings as we always do. One look at that beautiful pilot house and both of us were hooked — we saw her potential even though she was in a rawer state in a lot of ways at that point. Following a painstaking, three-year restoration at Rockport Marine, she became the boat that you see today.
We knew we wanted to live on our boat for most of the year, so we designed TRADE WIND’s features to make it possible to host visiting friends and family. I have two daughters, 11 and 14, and Marcy has a son, 22, from our previous marriages. The mirror-image crew quarters and bath, as well as open-plan galley and living room area, make it possible for us to share TRADE WIND with the people we love. Another key thing is the heating stove — one thing I learned spending time living on boats in Scandinavia is that you cannot overestimate the importance of having a way to get warm and dry quickly onboard.
What does a “typical” year look like for you?
One of the best things about life on the water is the there is no such thing as “typical”. The element of surprise is very much alive and well in our lives — our time spent at AYB is a great example of that. We were waylaid on our annual southern sojourn from New England — first by Superstorm Sandy, then by a snowstorm, and finally by the situation with unusually low water levels on the ICW, which can be deadly for a deep draft boat.
So while we generally follow the patterns of summers up North (Maine, Nova Scotia, etc.) and winters in the Islands, with many stops in between, there really is no such thing as a “typical” year for us. We do have a quiet riverfront property up in Rhode Island with a little cottage and a great deep-water dock where we spend a month or two each year. We were based in Newport for a number of years after moving to the States. After selling our house in the historic downtown, we found this great place that could accommodate a boat like TRADE WIND and we love coming back to that home port from time to time.
How did you and Marcy meet?
Both Marcy and I love music and the open water. I was born and raised in Austria and trained as a classical violinist. I even did a teenage stint as a Mozart re-enactor in Salzburg, complete with instrument, wig, and period costume. But mostly I am a yachtsman and life on the water is my calling.
American-born Marcy had made her way to Austria and settled into life as a professional musician. She eventually played viola da gamba in the same orchestra I did some 25 years before we would actually meet. Mutual friends brought us together. The timing was finally right for us to discover how much we had in common and eventually marry.
How did you both come to love life on the water?
My parents were avid sailors. With five children who came along in a short window of time, they decided that the best way to survive that was to pack us up and take us along. Most of my early time on boats was spent on large lakes in Austria. Later in life, I spent time living on classic boats in Scandinavia and other places. Marcy is a long-time boat lover too and is as excited about the things we see along the way as I am. In fact, you are just as likely to find her as you would me, strolling the docks wherever we may be and excitedly looking at other boats. It is a true mutual passion.
What brought you to the United States?
After so many years living in Europe, we thought that might be where we would end up. We also have a 50′ schooner based over there and even considered shipping her over here to the United States at one point. Our original decision to come to the U.S. was based on the desire to take care of Marcy’s ailing parents. Ultimately, we decided to make this our home. We do still head over to Europe frequently though. It offers us the best of both worlds to do that.TRADE WIND is seaworthy enough for an ocean crossing, but we like to spend time in both places with both boats.
What do you like best about living aboard TRADE WIND?
Being able to live and travel on TRADE WIND is an amazing experience for both of us and for our families. Last winter, we went down to the Bahamas with my daughters to see the swimming pigs on Big Major Cay (Pig Island) – an indelible sight for all of us! And Marcy’s son, who is a champion competitive kiteboarder in Europe, hit some of the prime beaches in the world of this sport while spending time with us too.
It is the continual sense of adventure that makes us happiest in this life. Living aboard you have to constantly stay on your toes and things are constantly changing. Particularly on open ocean, you always have to be aware of the elements and your surroundings. It keeps things interesting and we feel lucky to be living this life together.
Where did you find TRADE WIND and how did you both know this was the right boat for you?
We found TRADE WIND in Chatham, MA. As I mentioned earlier, we had a habit of looking at boat listings regularly, but finding her was just a lucky surprise. Her potential was obvious to us from the beginning, because she was such a beautifully designed and sound boat. Our goal was to honor her past while also creating a comfortable place that we could call home. One of the first things that Marcy did was take out her viola and play onboard and it sounded great. It was an obvious fit from the start!
Commissioned by Mr. W. Gilmore, a coal magnate from Pennsylvania, TRADE WIND was originally designed to accompany the competitive sailing fleet to the Bermuda races. From those beginnings as a race tender, she went on to have five more owners, two of whom were commercial. We loved that she had this storied working history and was such a versatile boat. We only wish that she could tell us all about it all firsthand.
How long did the restoration take and what was the process like?
It took about three and a half years from start to finish to complete TRADE WIND’s restoration. Rockport Marine and their team of stellar craftsmen became like family as we worked together on realizing our ideas for her transformation from aging working boat to the boat that you see today. There were a number of reasons to take her down to the bones – but we tried to retain or restore her original flavor as much as possible.
In some cases, we were able to use period-appropriate or mint-condition fixtures (such as 1930s running lights, electric fans and toggle light switches) by sourcing them from eBay or from specialty suppliers around the world. Interestingly we crossed paths with another captain recently who gave us a 1930s classic lamp that matches ours almost exactly — he loved it but said it clearly belonged with us. TRADE WIND inspires that kind of response in people. I think everyone in Rockport had a hard time seeing her go even though we were all excited on the day of her launch. It was a really inspiring project for all of us. (Click here to see a multi-media presentation of the restoration by Alison Langley Photography – Copyright 2011).
What surprised you most about the entire process?
We knew that it was going to be a labor of love to work with and honor such a well-designed and classic boat. We wanted to keep the integrity of that design, while customizing her and making her comfortable in a modern sense — all without losing the feel and the quality of the era in which she was built. I am not sure we knew just how much we would love this boat at the end or how much the people working on her would as well.
Each of her features — whether original or added later — has a story behind it. We like it that she is not only beautiful to look at but incredibly functional as well. The best part is that she always has been. One somewhat surprising thing is how far afield we had to look for some of the materials — her light switches, for example, came all the way from New Zealand. They were the only place that still manufactured the right kind of toggle switch. But due to the miracle of express delivery, the switches got to us in about 5-10 days from when they were ordered.
We worked with a great distributor in Germany, Toplicht, that was able to order and find most things that we needed from manufacturers throughout the world – mostly Europe. Our main instrument panel on the helm is from them for example. They worked with us to quickly source many of the hardest-to-find items. We found it funny that, in most cases, it was actually faster to order through them and have items delivered to Maine than it was to get things directly from U.S. sources.
What are some of TRADE WIND’s other “secrets”?
One of her biggest secrets is the depth of design that goes into her simple and classic lines. There are very few actual right angles on a boat like TRADE WIND – in fact her panels and joints are all curved and incredibly precise. All the panels fan out from top to bottom and are custom built to accommodate her size and shape. Alden’s shop was masterful at creating an oceangoing vessel that is an intricately designed structure throughout. Part of why TRADE WIND was a working boat for so long is that she is really stable and sound — so somehow they were able to blend form and function, structure and beauty in this boat — which is a hallmark of great classics.
The pilot house is another standout. We have seen or been aboard other boats — both new and old — where the pilot house is almost an afterthought and sits clunky and square on top of the boat like a phone booth or a hot dog kiosk. To marry a pilot house of this size to an over 60′ foot boat capable of this speed and mobility is a real accomplishment. It’s the beautiful heart of a boat that has had a really interesting life thus far. This vintage motorsailer is quite seaworthy and rolls with the punches on the open ocean as well as calmer inner passages.TRADE WIND is very, very versatile in addition to being great looking.
An additional “secret” feature is the cabinet where Marcy stores her viola. We had to be able to store it in a spot that is protected from the elements, secure when the boat is moving fast or in choppy seas and where it can be kept at a consistent temperature and level of humidity. Interestingly, Marcy has to tune her instrument less when it is on the boat than on dry land, so the special compartment is more than doing its job.
What is the difference between traveling on TRADE WIND on open ocean versus other bodies of water?
Open ocean is the true test of any boat’s and any captain’s mettle. It requires an entirely different sensibility – one in which you are constantly in tune with the elements and what is happening now and what could develop. From doldrums to high rolling waves, you have to be prepared for all possibilities and ready to react. It keeps you on your toes in a way that we really like.
We like the quieter passages and rivers too. The risks are different there — depth of water, certainty of the charting and hazards underneath, proximity of other boats — these things become more important in those instances. But they also allow for a different kind of experience than open ocean does. We really like both experiences and living board allows us to have that variety consistently. We do occasionally take on additional crew members for more technically complicated parts of our journey – especially when we need to keep 24 hour watch or handle more rigging. But in general, we do this as a 2-person team.
How do you keep in touch while between ports?
Depending on where we are, we can communicate with shore via an array of options. Modern technology has also made it a lot easier for us, so we live on our laptops and iPad. That is something about life today on TRADE WIND that is very different from her early days. I used to be much more of a purist about not having electricity and insisting on minimal to no modern amenities on my boats – but I have mellowed about that. Life on TRADE WIND enables us to experience the best of both worlds.
What are some other elements that you particularly like about TRADE WIND?
We love our tender boats (dinghies) and their lifts. Rockport Marine did a particularly masterful job of fabricating the metal work from scratch out of bronze. Once again, something that is beautiful is also very functional and fits with the historical period in which she was built. Our canvas work was also a lucky find — from the color to the custom fit of each piece to their great durability — we’re going on 18 months now in battering elements and they are still going strong. We also stumbled onto Jason Dmitriev out of Rockport who did the work and could not be happier with the result.
Our bathrooms on board actually have fixtures that are normally found in houses rather than onboard boats. So we have a heated towel rack in the guest head and a nice deep bathtub in the master version. The wheel and the table in the pilot house are old beauties that are also the originals — it is nice to have those pieces of the boat’s working history still part of our daily lives. People tend also to remark on her brightwork, her decking and decorative elements like her stern and its insignias.
What is different about TRADE WIND than the other classics on which you have lived or sailed?
I think TRADE WIND came along at a good time in our lives. When I was younger, I was a little bit more militant about doing things exactly as they were done historically and things on board were definitely not as comfortable. Of course, we are also living on her in much more hospitable climates than winter on the Baltic, which is something that I definitely have under my belt. TRADE WIND is ultimately more spacious throughout than the other boats, plus she travels more places and, most importantly, Marcy is also here with me.
Growing up, my family sailed a lot on the Attersee, a large glacial lake in Upper Austria, which had very predictable elements. You could almost set your watch by the timing and intensity of the winds throughout the day. It was a great place to learn and a lovely one in which to get hooked on boating life.