A Rather Unique Restoration

 Hard to see behind all of the plastic, but there is a fabulous 74-foot sportfishing yacht front and center in this shed. The flybridge under the plastic to the left was cut off so the engines could be removed out of the top of the boat through a hole cut in the saloon sole. Not for the faint of heart!

Hard to see behind all of the plastic, but there is a fabulous 74-foot sportfishing yacht front and center in this shed. The flybridge under the plastic to the left was cut off so the engines could be removed out of the top of the boat through a hole cut in the saloon sole. Not for the faint of heart!

And now for something completely different.

I had lunch last week with boat designer Chuck Neville, whose design office is on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay. Over a hearty lunch at an Irish pub on a chilly day, we got talking about the projects he is involved with in the area. He mentioned he has been visiting the site of a rather unique restoration, and his design and engineering background make him that much more appreciative of the work being done on this special boat project. He got my interest up and I asked if I could tag along to see this restoration in person.

I'd heard about John Patnovic and his Worton Creek Marina, and its reputation in the Mid-Atlantic region for restoring and rebuilding the venerable Bertram 31, a cult sport fishing boat that remains a legendary fishing machine designed for open ocean fishing. John and his crew have tackled about a dozen of these Bertrams over the years, as well as other larger project boats. He is currently finishing up a large Burger motoryacht as a personal boat that was all but destroyed in a fire. Other projects in the yard include a Vietnam-era PT boat that sadly needs a full, soup-to-nuts restoration from top to bottom. It is almost hard to look at, as its once proud stature is difficult to see through the rotting timbers and gaping holes.

Which brings up a lifelong observation. I truly admire and respect someone with vision and clarity where others see only chaos and turmoil. In the case of boat building, it is the rare man or woman who can see beyond the rust, torn timbers, corrosion, gunk and gook, and all the rest of the mess characterized by an unfortunate fire or decades of neglect. In the case of John Patnovic, it is an affliction that appears to consume him. He sees wonder and beauty where there is none, and his genius is his ability to reach beyond the overwhelming chaos and make the possible come to life.

So I jumped at the chance to go with Chuck on his next visit to Worton Creek Marina and see John's latest project, restoring a new luxury sportfishing yacht that had sadly wrecked on the rocks off Puerto Rico. As we sat in John's office, he showed us photos on his computer of this monumental project.

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 Patched up and floating once again. She is a beautiful yacht with exquisite lines. Well done, Spencer Yachts. Now, about that fuel economy...

Patched up and floating once again. She is a beautiful yacht with exquisite lines. Well done, Spencer Yachts. Now, about that fuel economy...

On the pre-dawn morning of January 14, 2016, the three-man crew hit Roca Lavandera Del Oeste, a rock shoal, at 30 knots. The sportfishing yacht had stopped overnight at Puerto Del Rey Marina in Fajardo, Puerto Rico on its way from North Carolina to its new home in Trinidad. With only 78 hours on the two MTU diesel engines, the shiny new multi-million dollar yacht is state of the art in every way, built to perfection by Spencer Yachts in Wanchese, North Carolina.

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Looking at photos of the propellers, one can only imagine that the force of the impact at 30 knots. The twin 2,600hp engines can drive this yacht to 48 knots in open ocean. It is amazing no one was seriously injured.

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The damage was catastrophic and the vessel settled on a rock ledge. Sea Tow Puerto Rico was able to kept the boat from going down even further while they prepared for the salvage effort to get her back on land. The boat was awash for four days before it came out of the water at Puerto Del Rey Marina. A complete loss with all of its major systems under water for the duration of the salvage effort.

As you might imagine in our relatively small marine industry, John Patnovic heard about this incident, and believed he saw an opportunity, so he spent three days in Puerto Rico looking the boat over. Winning a sealed bid auction, he employed local Island Marine to put temporary patches on the many holes in the hull, making her seaworthy enough to be towed to St. Thomas where a crane loaded her onto a ship as deck cargo for the run from the U.S. Virgin Islands up to the port of Chester, Pennsylvania. The above gallery of images show damage to the hull and wood structure behind the fiberglass. The fir looks like it exploded on impact with the rocks. Note the excellent temporary patches created by Island Marine.

Once the ship docked in Pennsylvania, the stricken yacht was lifted off the deck and lowered into the Delaware River, where John and his team were ready to rig some lines and tow her down from Chester to his facility on Worton Creek in the Chesapeake Bay.

I saw this boat almost a year after she arrived at Worton Creek Marina, and the amount of work that had already gone into this project was considerable. Despite the apparent disarray of structural components, damage to the hull, missing machinery and equipment, wiring, hoses, and everything else, the yacht is coming along nicely. John plans to install two new engines next month, and have her fiberglass and other work mostly complete so the yacht can go on the market in May. In every respect, she will be a brand new yacht, perhaps even better than when she was first launched in Wanchese. It is his firm conviction that every component on the boat be replaced, and no corners cut to make do with anything original that had been submerged. He wanted to ensure any buyers would get a completely brand new yacht, not something cobbled together in a fire sale to make a quick buck (although that image hardly describes such a project). This attention to detail and thoroughness is why John and his Worton Creek yard have their reputation. His team is first class and they are clearly stoked to be able to work on such a project, certainly not your typical boatyard repair.

As we toured the boat, John said that it was a shame no one started the engines when it got to the marina. Had that been done, they very well might have saved these incredibly expensive engines and transmissions from needing complete replacement. According to John, the two replacement MTU 16-cylinder 2000 M96L engines and ZF marine gears will cost around $750,000. Wow. These 2,600hp engines are massive, collectively burn 230 gallons per hour at cruising speed, and each weigh just under 10,000 lbs with attached marine gears. Not the kind of machinery we cruisers are used to! Each engine has three, exhaust gas turbochargers for sequential turbocharging. I’m not sure I even know what that means, as it certainly isn’t something we discuss when talking cruising boats.

 Out with the MTU engines, with only 78 total engine hours. I cringe just thinking about it. They will be parted out.

Out with the MTU engines, with only 78 total engine hours. I cringe just thinking about it. They will be parted out.

Everything was stripped out of the boat that had been submerged, all systems, batteries, machinery, the two Seakeeper gyro stabilizers, all wiring, hoses...everything. It is imperative to John that everything is brand new, despite the fact that everything on the boat already was brand new. His vision of the end goal keeps him clear of such details that might bog down others in such a project. There is no “It might be okay…” on this project. If it got wet, it gets replaced.

I may check back with the boat in a month or two, to see the finished yacht before it disappears again. The price of a new Spencer 74 is about seven million, not to mention the two-year wait for new construction. If someone wants a boat of this caliber and capability, this will be an attractive choice, especially as it will be a brand new boat...again.