Tag Archives: Wheeler Playmate

The Old Dude and the Dinghy…

Hemingway’s Pilar – fishing, done right.

I’ll admit it right here: aside from his choice in boats, I’d never been much of a Hemingway fan. I know, as a writer, Hemingway is considered legendary, and I suppose it might be in my best interests to understand why – or at least make an attempt. But the truth of the matter is the trauma of high school assigned reading still haunts me, and the mere whisper of such things as Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea still conjure up unpleasant memories of incomplete book reports and the stern glares of frustrated teachers who tried to instill in me a love of all things literary. It wasn’t that I didn’t love reading – it was a rare day when I didn’t have some dog-eared old hard-boiled detective novel nestled between the pages of my textbooks – but why did it seem that class assignments always centered around the most painfully tedious tomes wrought with hidden symbolism and utterly miserable characters.  Ethan Frome? Seriously?  Too much angst. And The Old Man and the Sea…well, I went into that one with higher expectations, after all there was one thing I did know about Hemingway. He had a boat. Not just any boat, but Pilar, a graceful 38’ Wheeler Playmate, one of the most beautiful sportfishing boats ever created, and he was an avid fisherman.  I spent some of the best years of my childhood aboard a 38’ Wheeler, and I loved to fish. This book was inspired by his time fishing aboard that boat. Boats, fishing.  That sounded promising. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. But there wasn’t any Wheeler to be found motoring along within those pages, or any real plot that I could recall. It was a beaten down old guy in a rowboat, and he never truly lands the fish, at least not in one piece. A dude in a dinghy, along with some deep and profound hidden message that held little significance to me at that point in life. Epic battle?  Epic yawn. All that kept running through my head was, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  The sharks chowed down on his prize, my eyes glazed over and my interest switched back to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, sipping gin and calling the shots as he righted wrongs, cruised aboard his houseboat, the Busted Flush, and rumbled along in Miss Agnes, his electric blue Rolls Royce pickup. No matter that my teachers declared those paperbacks worthless trash; Travis was way more interesting than Santiago. If there was something moving about Hemingway’s story, I just wasn’t getting it, and I’ve never had the desire to revisit that tale to figure out what, if anything I missed in the first place. But recently I read something that surprised me about Hemingway, and that got me to thinking about the legend that surrounds him. Apparently, Hemingway was actually rather introverted. It stands to reason: he was reportedly intensely private, intuitive and introspective, and I suppose as writers go, those are useful qualities. Introverts by nature are more content to listen and observe than to talk about themselves, which serves us well for building characters and plots. We’re not shy, we’re just reserved, and we’d much rather hear what others have to say. We’re listening and we’re thinking. True, Hemingway was known for his bravery and adventurous personality, but he also valued his solitary time, as evidenced by his prolific body of work. Looking through black and white photos of Hemingway, I notice he’s most often alone or with one or two others, and he seems to carry an expression of intense thoughtfulness. So what is it behind the legend? Was he actually the most interesting man in the world…or the most interested one?

The boneyard and Butch…

Among the projects we have planned for Annabel Lee is the addition of a proper mast for a steadying sail and mounts for the radar and other electronics. Most of Annabel Lee’s sisters left the factory with spars; we managed to find one of the few boats that didn’t. Directly across the river from us is an old boatyard in which, I’m told, many a boat has met its end. My old friend Butch, who passed away a few weeks back, had always told me I should visit there. He also warned me to be careful; surrounded by old boats he felt I could get in trouble, though that was back when I had a far more simple boat to care for. But now, being that I have an old boat of my own I figured I would be less inclined to adopt some new project. All the same, in all these years I’d yet to visit that marine graveyard… until last weekend.

Saturday the temperature was once again pushing 100 with extreme humidity, no clouds and no breeze. Frank couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to spend the day grinding away at fiberglass and suggested we take a ride instead. So off we went, winding our way up the Hudson to the Bear Mountain Bridge and back down the other shore. Despite living here my entire life, despite all the times I’ve seen this stretch of the river both by land and water, the beauty of it still amazes me.

We located the boatyard, parked and looked around. I stepped into the office, occupying the basement of the house on the property to speak with the manager. I explained that I was looking for a mast, and there based upon my friend Butch’s suggestion. “A shame about Butch,” he said. “He’ll be missed.” I nodded in agreement. I’d known Butch for years, from long before I’d worked in another boatyard with him to long after I’d left. The manager mentioned not making it to the viewing; I told him I’d been there. He asked how I’d known Butch; I explained and he said he never knew Butch worked in that boatyard. The Butch I knew had worked there for decades. He reminisced about his memories, referring to Butch as a ‘big happy fellow’, always with a smile. Now I was really confused. Those were the last words I’d ever consider to describe him. I told the manager, “I’m beginning to wonder if your Butch and mine were one and the same.” The Butch I knew and loved dearly was hands-down the grumpiest old bastard I’ve ever known. The more we compared notes, the more the Butch he spoke of and the one I knew were two entirely different people, literally. It turns out there were two Butches, one on either side of the Hudson, who both passed away recently, leaving the world an emptier place.

Anyhow, here’s some pictures of the boneyard. It’s a fascinating place, though tragic to see some magnificent boats sitting derelict and beyond salvage, no more than failed and forgotten dreams. There was much for me to fall in love with, much I could get myself into trouble with if not for the fact that I already have a boat that owns me.

You were right, Butch.

That plumb bow in the middle has such magnificent lines, even as a derelict the elegance is still there. 

An old Tollycraft and a Viking. These two looked like they could be brought back… with MUCH work.

The nesting ground of the old Evinrudes.

Ladders? Lots of ladders.


And swim platforms! Several of these looked to be in better shape than ours.

A forgotten Wheeler Playmate, buried behind other boats. This was as close as I could get.  The cabin looked like a greenhouse with vines climbing between the curtains.