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The story of Avocette III began in 1931 when she was displayed at the New York boat show at Grand Central Palace. New York yachtsman Fred Voges, age 30, set his eyes on her. Frank Huckins had set her price at $27,000, but the savvy Voges bought her at the show for $17,000, in the middle of the Great Depression.

The colorful history of American yachting is peppered with significant and innovative boats, from the presidential yacht Sequoia to Ernest Hemingway’s Pilar and Richard Bertram’s first Moppie. One yachtbuilder at the forefront of innovation was Frank Pembroke Huckins, creator of the PT boat design that John F. Kennedy famously piloted in World War II. The precursor to the PT boat was a Huckins named Avocette III. She’s the oldest Huckins on the water today, and it was my job to help bring her back to life.

An on-deck air plenum was integrated into the wide step connecting the aft deck and the sun lounge.

An on-deck air plenum was integrated into the wide step connecting the aft deck and the sun lounge.

The story of Avocette III began in 1931 when she was displayed at the New York boat show at Grand Central Palace. New York yachtsman Fred Voges, age 30, set his eyes on her. Frank Huckins had set her price at $27,000, but the savvy Voges bought her at the show for $17,000, in the middle of the Great Depression.

Voges counted many famous guests, including actress Ginger Rogers, aboard Avocette III in her early days. According to the book Huckins—The Living Legacy, Voges kept the boat in pristine condition for 50 years. He was commodore of the Port Washington Yacht Club in New York from 1943-44 while he owned the boat. In an odd historical coincidence, I was commodore of the Port Washington Yacht Club in Wisconsin from 2018-19 while redesigning the boat.

In 1980, Voges sold the boat for just $20,000. She quickly fell on hard times, sitting in storage at City Island, New York. Damaged by fire, she was rescued and restored piece by piece by Jerry Bass of Florham Park, New Jersey, in the late 1980s. That was the first time the boat was saved, but a quarter-century later she’d once again fallen on hard times.

Fast forward to January 2016, when Bill Morong of Yachting Solutions in Rockport, Maine, called and asked if I would be interested in helping to bring this classic yacht back to life. With a passionate owner in place, the project was ready to go. Yachting Solutions had restored another Huckins, Northern Spy, a few years prior, and had converted the boat from having an engine room just forward of amidships—like so many vessels from the early days of powerboating—to a pod-powered boat with engines at the transom.

What looks like a mahogany mast is actually aluminum, hollowed out to conceal the electronics cables running inside.

What looks like a mahogany mast is actually aluminum, hollowed out to conceal the electronics cables running inside.

Thus began the remarkable opportunity to reimagine Avocette III for the 21st century. Yachting Solutions restores boats with a “resto-mod” flair, keeping the essential styling of the original vessel but dialing up the appeal with highly custom, modern touches. The owner of Avocette III wanted a unique yacht and was on board with making major alterations to prep her for a new era. These alterations would include moving the engine room aft 22 feet, and adding Art Deco highlights just in time for her 90th birthday.

Before the project began, we discussed the merits of giving Avocette III such a drastic overhaul. The project would require moving the fuel tanks from the transom to where the engine room had been. This move came with the distinct advantage of placing the liquid loads much closer to the boat’s center of buoyancy, so the trim would not be affected by full or near-empty tanks. The former engine room space would also provide room to carry many of the modern conveniences that were not yet imagined in 1931, including a gyrostabilizer.

Avocette III’s hull was hogged, so the shipwrights at Yachting Solutions straightened her. After that, we laser-scanned the hull and turned 1.2 billion points in a digital cloud into usable 3D surfaces in a computer model. They were accurate to within 2 millimeters over the length of the boat. My office has designed boats for Huckins before, so Huckins owner Buddy Purcell was happy to share the original hull lines from 1931 for reference as we went about transforming Avocette III.

With any new design or refit like this, we undertake a detailed weight study where we identify, position and assign an accurate weight to every individual component in the boat. This spreadsheet runs to more than 1,200 lines for a boat of this size, and it gives us a high degree of confidence about what the boat is going to weigh in various load conditions. Just as important, this exercise tells us where the boat’s center of gravity is located.

We undertake the weight study early in the process before finalizing the hull shape. Since this was an existing boat, many items were being added. Modern features such as a stabilizer and air conditioning add weight that the original hull was never designed to carry.

The working area at the bow is an unlikely combination of craftsmanship and functionality.

The working area at the bow is an unlikely combination of craftsmanship and functionality.

With the owner’s wish list tallied, we knew we needed to add a few thousand pounds of buoyancy to the hull’s underwater volume, to carry the new boat’s increased weight. And with more power than ever before, the boat’s top speed was now calculated at 37 knots, much faster than Avocette III had ever gone. We needed to refine the shape of the hull bottom for these higher speeds, and re-engineer the hull’s structure to support higher loads.

The first step in changing the bottom was to add just over 2 inches in depth to the hull, effectively adding a few thousand pounds of buoyancy. Second, we made the hull bottom surface more efficient, eliminating a slight warp in the bottom by analyzing the waterline curves. The straighter the contours, the more efficient the hull bottom is at planing speeds, all other things being equal.

Once the hull shape was optimized for a heavier, faster boat, we turned our attention to re-engineering the hull structure. The original wood hull was built using the traditional plank-on-frame method, meaning that thousands of wood screws fastened hundreds of thin planks with thousands of feet of seams that could potentially leak. We don’t build wooden boats that way anymore. The modern method of building wooden hulls is by cold-molding, which is a confusing term. The builder doesn’t create a mold and lay up a hull like one would for a fiberglass boat. Instead, cold-molded hulls are built with large sheets of marine plywood that are epoxied together in multiple layers. In the case of Avocette III, the hull bottom consists of four layers of quarter-inch-thick wood plies, all epoxied together for immense strength with very few seams (and no screws).

We spent months working with the owner to reimagine the interior arrangement. Everything was on the table as a possible option during this remarkable project, so we replaced the original stuffy main salon with a bright, airy galley that includes a center island and a sunroof. The owners can now begin the day with coffee under an open sunroof and end the evening with a glass of wine under the stars. This modification is just one example of many new ideas for an old boat. Another one that you’d never know from such a casual look is that the boat actually has two helm stations; a hidden helm can be found at the forward end of the galley under a wooden lid.

The original salon amidships was replaced by this galley with an island under an opening sunroof for morning coffee in the sunlight or an evening libation under the stars. 

The original salon amidships was replaced by this galley with an island under an opening sunroof for morning coffee in the sunlight or an evening libation under the stars. 

The aft cabin originally housed twin berths, a head and a galley near the transom. With detailed input from the owner, we transformed these three spaces into two—a full-beam head all the way aft, and a salon with a lounge, two chairs and an Art Deco-inspired fireplace. The lounge easily converts to a double berth for romantic fireside evenings at anchor.

Older yachts are typically narrower than today’s vessels, but even with Avocette III’s slender 11-foot, 1-inch beam, the salon is remarkably spacious with a wide sole. And while it was critical that we maintain the original boat’s exterior look, we added a couple of extra inches of headroom for her tall owner. This added height is carefully hidden in a slightly higher sheerline, and with fractions of an inch added to the various cabin sides. The increased headroom in the aft salon gives the interior a more spacious feel.

Designing the interior furniture and other joinery gave us an opportunity to make a cohesive statement between the boat’s past and present. While the original Avocette III was launched in 1931, she was light on the Art Deco details that prevailed in that time period. The owner wanted to pay homage to the era but not overload the boat. So, we went with the theme of “Art Deco echo,” a subtle nod to the period. Details such as the repurposed fireplace set the foundation from which these details reverberate throughout the boat.

Part of the aft cabin was transformed into this salon with a lounge and an Art Deco-inspired fireplace.

Part of the aft cabin was transformed into this salon with a lounge and an Art Deco-inspired fireplace.

One of the biggest changes to the exterior of the yacht was the side windows. The original boat had twice as many cabin windows in the profile, creating an architectural, but quite busy look. While we didn’t change the overall window layout, we replaced the span of windows with half as many that were twice as long. The change in window shape makes the interior more airy and gives the boat another resto-mod element.

Providing natural ventilation in this resto-mod alteration became a challenge, as the long, narrow windows do not open. We searched among window vendors around the world for an opening port that would be truly frameless from the outside. We contemplated developing a custom opening window, but the units we found from Bomar were ideal and CE-certified. The final look is perfect—just a glass-to-glass shut line that blends seamlessly.

One of the biggest challenges in moving the engine room 20 feet and filling the boat with more horsepower was getting enough air moving through the engine room to keep the machinery cool. On the original Avocette III, the smaller engines didn’t need as much air as the new Volvo Penta IPS engines do. Small deck cowls took in sufficient air for the original engines, and I doubt that much attention was paid to the temperature of the space as it related to engine performance back in 1931.

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Art Deco influence can be found throughout the retrofitted Avocette III. The details are a subtle nod to the time period in which she launched.

Art Deco influence can be found throughout the retrofitted Avocette III. The details are a subtle nod to the time period in which she launched.

With today’s high-horsepower engines under the aft deck, it was difficult to fit air vents on the hullsides at the point of lowest freeboard and highest splash. And there’s no cabin structure aft to hide air boxes. What to do?

Design challenges drive innovative solutions, and this was no exception. We proposed an on-deck air plenum that was integrated entirely into the wide step connecting the aft deck and the sun lounge.

This addition accomplished a number of good things. Moving the air intakes inboard virtually eliminates salt spray from even touching the intake grates. The intake is higher than the hullsides, further removing it from seawater. And it disappears into the step, so it doesn’t disrupt the classic lines of the original boat. The solution works great and looks great.

The elegant mast solved another design challenge. We needed to mount all the necessary modern electronics aloft, but we didn’t want to emphasize them. Badges on the antennae were removed, and the bodies were painted black. Then, the antennas were mounted atop what looks like a mahogany mast. In reality, the mast is welded aluminum, and it is hollow to conceal the cables. It is hinged at the deck to drop down easily should the boat be transported by truck for seasonal relocations. The faux wood-grain paint is indistinguishable from the real wood found all around the mast.

The windows, a key resto-mod element, were lengthened for a seamless look that introduces more light to the interior.

The windows, a key resto-mod element, were lengthened for a seamless look that introduces more light to the interior.

One final paint detail is particularly resto-mod. While most traditional yachts adhere slavishly to the gold cove stripe below the sheer, we took the opportunity to do something unique. My friend Ray Drea is the stylist at Harley-Davidson, and a world-class painter. Ray flew to Maine from Milwaukee to hand-paint the cove stripe in red against the glossy black hull. It’s a cool detail, and it makes for a great conversation piece.

After three years of work, Avocette III has been given a second chance at life thanks to the passion and support of her owner, as well as the skill of the crew at Yachting Solutions. The boat is different now, to be sure, but better in many ways. I hope Frank Huckins, her original builder, and Fred Voges, her owner of 50 years, would approve of what we’ve done to the boat. I’d like to think they would.

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