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A survivor of sailing's Gilded Age

It's not often you get to see a magnificent historic yacht, one listed on the National Register of Historic Places, cruising down Interstate 95, at times taking up the entire northbound band of the highway.

But that was the unusual sight some motorists were treated to shortly after noon on Tuesday, as the 78-foot, 1905 Doris, the largest surviving wooden boat from the renowned Herreshoff Manufacturing Co. of Bristol, R.I., made her way by trailer from New London to Stonington.

The remarkable move, which included a team of escort trucks with flashing lights, is the beginning of a new restoration attempt, a project that has started but failed several times under different owners during the some 30 years the boat has been out of the water.

This one, under the direction of the respected Taylor & Snediker Yacht Restoration company of Pawcatuck, appears likely to succeed.

Not only will it eventually put a famous American racing yacht back in the water, but it will be a little economic development engine here.

David Snediker said his firm will increase the number of employees from 8 to 12 or so, and probably as many as nine of them will be working full time for the next five years on Doris.   

The firm also will employ dozens of subcontractors, like metal fabricators and cabinetmakers, to rebuild the yacht to museum-quality standards.

The boat was moved Tuesday to the company's location on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck, where the work will begin.

But since it is not feasible to build a new building there that can accommodate the boat, the firm eventually will move to a new location, with a new building, and Doris will go along.

The yacht's new owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, is a customer of Taylor & Snediker, who was intrigued after learning that the abandoned and badly deteriorating Doris was probably going to be destroyed.

Snediker credits the owners of Crocker's Boatyard of New London as the heroes of the story of saving Doris because of all the years they kept the boat, even though tens of thousands of dollars of yard storage fees went unpaid for so long.

The latest effort to save her began when Crocker's notified people at Mystic Seaport that they were going to finally have to destroy the boat, which lost its deck and interior in one of the restoration attempts, unless someone would step forward.

Snediker, who is the brother of Quentin Snediker, director of the shipyard at Mystic Seaport, said he originally crafted a plan to at least buy the boat some more time, and then his customer grew more interested.

The customer eventually agreed to buy it from Crocker's, for what Snediker described as a very modest amount. A marine lawyer also had to be hired to clear the title, since so many liens had been placed on it by creditors over the years.

The boat, once it is restored, will retain its original U.S. Coast Guard documentation number from 1905, the one issued to S. Reed Anthony, a founding partner of the investment banking firm Tucker Anthony & Co.

Anthony originally paid Herreshoff Manufacturing $18,000 to build the boat, the first significant vessel of its kind built under more modern racing measuring rules that allowed boats to have more volume.

In reality, not much of the original boat will remain in the new version, although some equipment that was retained by one of the former owners who tried to restore it will be used.

The work, Snediker said, will be done in a way to ensure that the project is considered a restoration and not a replication. The building of a new structure will occur within the old one.

The boatbuilders at Taylor & Snediker joke that it's boatbuilding in which the old boat actually gets in the way.

Indeed, the restoration of Doris will be more complicated and costly than a replication, Snediker said.

In the end, it is sure to be true to the intentions of famed yacht designer Nathanael Greene Herreshoff. They have copies of hundreds of pages of the original plans for Doris from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has his papers.

Someone who once found pieces of the interior from Doris, rescued from a dumpster, also has come forward to donate them to the project.

And on Tuesday, a gaggle of wooden boat enthusiasts gathered to greet Doris as she arrived in Pawcatuck.

She is charmed, Snediker said, to have made it this far.

This is the opinion of David Collins.

d.collins@theday.com

Twitter: @DavidCollinsct

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