Stay in touch with the coast.
Sign up for our newsletter »

D.N. Hylan: Penobscot

Rebirth for a classic 90-year-old sailing yacht

Penobscot was built in 1923 in East Boothbay for a family in Deer Isle, Maine. The R-class racing sloop had been for sale in Florida, but did not find a buyer until she was brought back to her namesake waters in Maine. Photograph by Benjamin Mendlowitz
By Maynard Bray When the owners of newly restored Penobscot sailed from Deer Isle’s Sylvester Cove to East Boothbay last summer, they retraced in reverse the route taken 90 years earlier by the historic R-class yacht’s first owners. The Hitz family of Deer Isle commissioned Penobscot in 1923 from Hodgdon Brothers yard in East Boothbay. In 2013, D.N. Hylan & Associates of Brooklin restored the yacht for Lindsay and Moira Merrithew of Toronto. Soon after Penobscot’s relaunching in July, the Merrithews made a point of showing off the newly rebuilt yacht to Hitz descendants, as well as revisiting the boat’s birthplace in East Boothbay. Penobscot is the only one of the handsome R-class racing sloops ever built for use in Maine (Marblehead, Long Island Sound, and the Great Lakes were their epicenters). Unlike the rest of the yacht’s near-sisters (this was an “open,” not a one-design class), Penobscot sailed most of her life on the bay for which she was named. Until the 1990s, that is, when a Florida owner had her trucked to Biscayne Bay and raced her successfully there. Eventually, however, the time came to sell. After several years of trying, without success, down south, Penobscot’s owner and broker brought the boat back to Maine hoping for better luck here. The move worked. Within weeks the Merrithews had bought the boat and arranged for a complete restoration with D.N. Hylan & Associates. Once into the process, they elected to go all the way and make sure the yacht emerged as good, or better than new.
How does she sail? She’s one of the best sailing boats I’ve ever skippered, and easier than ever to handle.
Editorial confession here: my wife, Anne, and I once owned Penobscot, and we live near the Hylan yard. We were able to watch the progress and help a little as Doug Hylan, his partner Ellery Brown, and their crew infused our dear old boat with new life. Coaxing the humped and drooping sheerline back to its original sweet curve was a major task that had to take place before any wood in the deteriorated hull could be renewed. Afterward came replacing the backbone, along with a new transom, frames, and floor timbers—these for the second time as Penobscot had been rebuilt once before in the 1980s. Much of the bottom planking was beyond repair, so renewals were called for there as well. Her leaking teak deck was torn out and replaced by a stronger, lighter, and more durable one of red cedar, plywood, and Dynel. A bright-finished mahogany trunk cabin —its sides constructed with rails and stiles and mortises and tenons instead of from a single plank—was installed to accent new varnished coamings, covering boards, and toerails.
The dark-stained varnished topsides of 1923 disappeared long ago under white paint. They’re now painted off-white and accented by a gilded cove stripe. New sails by Nathaniel Wilson of East Boothbay, blocks by J.M. Reineck & Son, and a cruising interior (two settee-berths, a toilet, and provision for a galley) completed the project. How does she sail? She’s one of the best sailing boats I’ve ever skippered, and with the self-tending jib she’s carrying now, she’s easier than ever to handle. Penobscot is spending this winter again at Hylan’s, in anticipation of her 91st sailing season. Maynard Bray is WoodenBoat’s technical editor, a co-founder of the classic boat website and author of many books and articles about boats. He and his wife, Anne, have owned many great boats, including Penobscot.

Share this article: