Have you ever spied an old wooden boat sitting quietly in her cradle and wondered about her past? How beautiful she must have been! Why, oh why, was she left there to rot? Could she be returned to her days of glory? Would anyone ever invest the time and money to rescue her from the grave of neglect? It would take a special someone to handle the task.
Captain Neal Parker was just that sort of person. As his friend and mentor, Professor Carl Beam once told him, “Whatever you do, do deliberately.” He applied that philosophy to his restoration of Wendameen with conviction and, in the process, discovered her colorful past.
Neal first saw Wendameen in a shed on City Island, New York, as a teenager. Later while looking for “the right boat,” he discovered Wendameen once again . . . sitting in the mud in Connecticut and for sale. He knew little of her past but, as he worked to get her home and start the refit, the pieces began to fall together. From letters and news clippings sent from relatives of previous owners and through his own research, he put together her past and found her future.
He discovered that Wendameen, a 67-foot John Alden-designed schooner, was launched in 1912. The original owner, Chester Bliss, was president of the Boston and Albany Railroad. The next owners were Robert and Erwin Uihlein, sons of Schlitz brewery president August Uihlein. Next in line came a trio of Chicago lawyers, K.R. Beak, Eugene L. Garey, and Paul L’Amoreaux. It was then that yachtbroker Gerald Ford purchased Wendameen. She was hauled for survey and would spend the next 51 years in storage. With the Depression in full swing, there was no buyer for her. As Gerald worked to keep her fit, the hurricane of ’38 hit, leaving thousands without homes. There was no one to finish the effort, and Wendameen fell into disrepair. It was here that Neal Parker first saw her sitting in her storage shed, and the rest is history.
While the author went to great lengths to provide the reader with an unsurpassed view into her history, I could not help but feel shortchanged on the actual restoration work. He does go into some detail about his struggle to finance the restoration and about the project itself. But I expected to read in detail about her refit and launch. Despite this expectation, I did find the book quite interesting and would recommend it to anyone interested in old yachts.