Royalty Renovated: May/June, 2015

As seen in PassageMaker Magazine 

Story by Bill Jacobs

Did Mark and Lori Dickert know that they were joining the privileged ranks of John Jacob Astor, Grand Duke Alexander of Russia, Admiral George Dewey, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Baron Nathaniel de Rothschild and Ed Wynn? All of them living in the Gilded Age had one thing in common: They all owned Elco yachts. Perhaps the Dickerts did, helping to explain how a young couple decided to renovate a 1930 Elco 48 Flat Top Motoryacht and become custodians of a piece of nautical history. But this is much more than just a restoration. The Dickerts and Moores Marine launched the antique Elco firmly into the 21st Century, retaining all her elegance in combination with a new hull and modern components to make her a seaworthy power cruiser. 

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THE SAWMILL

“You have to understand my family comes from wood,” Dickert said. His great granddaddy moved from his birthplace in Alabama to northern Florida in 1937 to harvest a large stand of pine. The Great Depression was winding down and pent-up demand for housing began to rise again. This in turn created a new market for wood. In that era sawmills were generally temporary, so that they could be moved close to the trees that provided the lumber.  However, by 1940, lumber demand remained strong enough that Mr. Dickert built a permanent mill in Parry, Florida, where it stands to this day. 

In 1982, his great grandsons Mark and Paul took over operation of the mill, gradually modernizing it to become a computerized high-production facility. In 1997 the mill was sold to Gilman Brothers. 

Mark remembers that his uncle also had a mill near the river in Steinhatchee, Florida, and built his own 65-foot wood motoryacht while his young nephew watched in awe. Someday, Mark thought, he would have his own yacht.

THE DREAM

With the responsibilities of raising a family behind them, Lori was just as enthusiastic about a wooden boat as Mark was. “She’s beautiful, authentic and hardly anyone else has one,” Lori said as we sat in the saloon of Duchess. 

Lori Dickert did the majority of the legwork, which occupied about three years. Beginning her search on the Internet, Lori called the listing broker when a boat struck her fancy. They initially were interested in Trumpys, but decided they had too much freeboard. All that windage would make it more difficult for two persons to dock the boat and it could affect stability in a seaway, in their opinion. 

They turned their search to Elco Yachts. The name is derived from the company’s original construction of electrically powered launches used at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Fifty-five of them, each 36 feet long, carried more than a million passengers on the waterways of the Exposition the entire year of the show. This exposure provided the foundation for the company’s success in the production of more than 6,000 pleasure boats and 1,500 military vessels during the next 50 years.

Elco also innovated in the marketing, sales and advertising of pleasure yachts. It installed the first powerboat showroom in downtown New York City. Henry R. Sutphen, president of the company, also created the boat-show concept in 1905, displaying fully equipped Elco yachts at the Sportsman’s Show. Two years later he placed his boats into the company’s display in Madison Square Garden.

Mark and Lori were fascinated by the historical significance of the Elco and after reviewing the specifications of eight boats listed for sale, all in the 50-foot range, made appointments to look at three of them. 

Lady Eileen, in Charleston, South Carolina, was the first, but they felt that the asking price was too high. After looking at the other two, which were priced more reasonably, the Dickerts decided not to make an offer and to focus on Lady Eileen, because theyreally liked the layout, which included a larger master stateroom. 

Several months later the owner passed away and the boat became part of his estate, which went to his nieces and nephews, none of whom was an experienced boater or had any interest in an old wood boat. The family hired a broker in Annapolis, Maryland, and had the boat delivered to his docks. After six months of dock and maintenance charges, and no offers, the price was lowered. 

The Dickerts went to Annapolis for a second look and hired a qualified marine surveyor to inspect the boat. His survey indicated some damaged planks, rotten floor timbers and need for serious work on her two motors. 

With the results of the survey in hand, the Dickerts got three quotes on the work needed to address the problems. After presenting their findings to the estate, they were able to negotiate a suitable price and completed a contract to purchase Lady Eileen in May of 2012. 

THE REALITY

Through their initial interest in a Trumpy, they had become aware of Moores Marine located in Beaufort, North Carolina, and Palm Beach, Florida. The company specializes in the servicing and rebuilding of antique and classic yachts and has completed more than 100 restorations, about 25 percent of which are Trumpys. Jim Moores founded the company in Florida in 1986 after a career in building workboats in Maine. In 2007 he opened a new facility in Beaufort, which is run by Nathaniel Smith, who joined the company in 1992. The Dickerts chose Moores for its reputation, location not too far from Annapolis, and easy access in Beaufort to many suppliers

of fittings, hardware, and special skills required in a substantial rebuild of an antique vessel. 

Their initial contract only included the work required in the survey, but Mark felt from the beginning that additional work would be required after the hull was opened up. His experience with the original sawmill prepared him for the futility of forever patching things, instead of doing it right in the first place. 

The work commenced in June of 2012. Further examination of the hull revealed that all of the ribs had deteriorated from the keel up and so had the planking. They’d retain the transom but replace the entire hull from the keel, which was sound and intact, all the way to the existing sheer cap. New steam-bent ribs and floor timbers were fashioned from oak. The new planking consists of four mahogany planks adjacent to the keel for strength and cedar above. The existing interior, cabin house and deck were supported by temporary framework while the new hull was built around them. 

After a complete survey on the two existing Perkins diesels, Dickert believed that he would be investing too much money in old motors and selected two 210 hp Cummins 6B sixcylinder motors with ZF transmissions to replace them. 

At the suggestion of Jim Moores, another surveyor, who specialized in mechanical and electrical systems, produced a list of 20 items that needed to be addressed. As a result of his survey, all new electrical wiring and components were installed in compliance with NMEA standards. The plumbing system was also completely replaced. A new 11 kW MasPower generator, hydraulic steering and an autopilot by Simrad were also added to Lady Eileen. After consulting with Jim Moores on the advisability of adding a thruster and its effect on the historical valuation of the boat, an electric unit from SidePower was added to the bow. In July 2013, she was renamed Duchess, and launched in Beaufort, North Carolina, just in time for Mark’s birthday. 

THE VOYAGE…SO FAR

With their daughter aboard, the Dickerts, left Annapolis and spent the first week cruising to Isle of Good Hope just outside of Savannah, Georgia. The only problem that surfaced was a minor adjustment to the steering system. 

With just the two of them now aboard, they left Georgia, traveling down the east coast of Florida, through the Keys and back up the west coast of Florida to their home port of Sarasota. On this leg, leaks developed in the transmissions, and these were eliminated by installing new fittings and hoses. Since those two minor items, they have had no further difficulties with the new drive system. 

Dickert was pleased with his choice of conventional diesels in lieu of the higher-horsepower turbo models. The motors push the boat comfortably at its targeted 9-knot cruising speed, delivering 2 nautical miles per gallon. 

This first cruising season has given the Dickerts an opportunity to participate in a number of yacht-club cruises, in addition to taking frequent day and weekend trips. They discovered that Duchess’ narrow beam and sharp entry provide a smooth ride in head seas, but that quartering seas induce a bit of roll. “We just don’t travel in uncomfortable weather,” Mark said. 

A significant amount of time has also been spent on finishing many details of the restoration, including varnishing of all exterior woodwork, replacing some of the cabin lights, reupholstering cushions and constructing custom furniture for the outdoor spaces on deck. 

Touring the boat is a completely different experience from that found aboard contemporary yachts. Her beveled glass windows refract the sunlight falling on the beautifully finished antique furnishings, the luxuriously cushioned settees, framed tapestries and teak inlaid cabin sole. Her intimately scaled spaces, as opposed to being commodious in volume, are typical of her day. The forward guest cabin contains two nested bunks located in the bow section ahead of a new modern galley. The saloon contains the helm station, a standup chart table, a sectional sofa and a writing desk. 

Three steps lead down to the after section of the boat, which contains a day bunk to starboard and a guest cabin to port. The shared head is substantially larger than the original version and features a full-size tiled shower stall. The after cabin is for the owners, and it contains a centerline chest flanked by two bunks. Every place in this boat feels cozy—each one inviting you to enjoy a rainy afternoon with a good book. Her twin Cummins diesels, the generator, and all systems are easily accessed from the forward stairwell, and all of the saloon floor panels can be lifted for unlimited access for major maintenance. 

To fully appreciate the deck one must start at the stern. The extended flat top for which the boat is known spans the distance from the brow of the windshield all the way to the stern. It serves a number of purposes, not the least of which is to shade the afterdeck, which is furnished with a custom sofa, teak chairs, and a folding table. Moving forward on either side, the laid teak decks are narrow, but provide excellent traction. The top also completely shades the roof of the master cabin, so the twin butterfly hatches can remain fully open to the breeze, but not the sun or the rain. Farther forward, the dinghy is stowed above the roof of the saloon, and antennas serving communication and navigation systems fill in the balance. Her foredeck is a busy place occupied by a stowage settee in front of the cabin, deck stowage boxes on either side, another butterfly hatch, the anchor windlass, and a lift arm to prevent the anchor chain from damaging the hull. 

Duchess is a sight to behold in her slip or cruising down the ICW. At the tender age of 84, she has entered her second life; that of a classic yacht fully capable of contemporary cruising. Mark and Lori Dickert are fully aware of the maintenance required by a vessel so grand, an even tradeoff for a cruiser that has fulfilled their dream.