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    Saturday, April 01, 2023

    Coronet comes to Mystic

    The Coronet, widely considered one of the greatest sailing schooners of its time, under sail in 1894. (Photo courtesy of Detroit Publishing Company photograph collection, Library of Congress)
    Crewmen on deck of the Coronet, underwa)y around the turn of the last century. (Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport
    The yacht after arriving in Mystic in December. (Photo by Erik Hesselberg)
    A floating crane lifted Coronet from land in December and placed it into Newport Harbor. photo courtesy of @coronetnyc / Instagram
    Photo courtesy of Mystic Seaport Museum
    From left, Lead Shipwright Scott Gifford, talks to John Fahlbush, a marine surveyor with Castlerock Risk Services, and Thomas Krempecki, marine department senior Vice President of Epic Insurance Brokers and Consultants, representing the owner of the yacht, Friday, Dec. 9, 2022 about the work that was done on the Coronet before arriving at the Mystic Seaport shipyard. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
    Buy Photo Reprints
    INTERIOR VIEW OF PILOT HOUSE, WITH CONTROLS FOR ADDED DIESEL ENGINE. - Schooner Yacht Coronet, International Yacht Restoration School, Thames Street, Newport, Newport County, RI Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER RI,3-NEWP,82-
    DETAIL OF FROSTED GLASS DOOR WITH "CORONET," ACCESS DOOR TO OWNERS' CABIN Schooner Yacht Coronet, International Yacht Restoration School, Thames Street, Newport, Newport County, RILibrary of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER RI,3-NEWP,82-

    The whistle signaling the start of the great ocean race sounded at 1:10 p.m. For the 133-foot schooner yacht Coronet, the sound struck like the lash of a whip.

    “In one second,” The New York Times wrote on March 13, 1887, “she was transformed from a stately pleasure craft to a flying greyhound of the sea. Up went the helm, over went the foresail to port, away went the main sheets, and the great boom swung far out over the port quarter. The wind was nearly dead aft.”

    It was the era of transoceanic yacht races, with sporting gentlemen dueling in sleek schooner yachts and large wagers at stake. At the time, the 121-foot schooner Dauntless reigned supreme, but oil tycoon Rufus T. Bush, owner of the newly built Coronet, believed he had a better boat. He challenged the owner of Dauntless, Cadwell Colt, to a trans-Atlantic match from New York to Ireland, putting up $10,000 in prize money.

    “Colly” Colt, as he was known, was the son of Hartford arms magnate, Samuel Colt, but the younger Colt preferred yachting to running the family business and spent about 10 months of the year aboard the Dauntless. However, as insurance for the trans-Atlantic race, he brought along a ringer, Captain “Bully” Samuels, the most famous skipper of his day who had helmed Dauntless in several America’s Cup challenges.

    The bluff old captain was staggered by the heaps of roses covering the deck of the Dauntless on the day of the race, but he grew worried when he observed Colt fingering a strange object presented by a friend—“a gilded tortoise whose shells opened to reveal a cuspidor.” That’s an “ominous gift for a race,” he grumbled.

    Coronet was the first to cross the starting line at 1:10 p.m. By 3:20 p.m., 35 miles out, she had opened a two-mile lead. She never lost it, arriving in Ireland a full 30 hours ahead of her challenger Dauntless after a 14-day passage.

    Dauntless is just a memory, but Coronet is still here, having been saved in 1995 by the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, Rhode Island, which undertook a decades-long restoration.

    A major milestone was reached in December, when the 1885 schooner yacht was lowered by crane into the waters of Newport Harbor and towed—through Rhode Island Sound, Block Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound and up the Mystic River through the Mystic Bascule Bridge—arriving upriver to the Mystic Seaport’s Henry B. duPont Preservation Shipyard for final fitting out. Here, her carved mahogany interior paneling, all carefully numbered, will be painstakingly reassembled, a fine teak laid down, and eventually her twin 135-foot masts stepped. Throughout the process, the yacht will be on display to the public.

    “We are truly honored to have her here,” says Walter Ansel, a shipwright and Mystic’s shipyard director. “Coronet is America’s sole surviving Gilded Age sailing yacht. There’s no other vessel like her.” The project is expected to take from two to three years, Ansel said.

    In the Gilded Age, sailing yachts were extravagant symbols of the wealth, social power and taste of their owners. But Coronet was in a class by herself.

    Built entirely of thick-planked oak and pine in 1885 by the Poillon brothers boatyard, C. & R. Poillon in Brooklyn, New York, the schooner yacht was intended for crossing the ocean in style. Her main dining saloon boasted a piano, and her six staterooms were adorned in richly carved mahogany. There were marble steps and porcelain sinks that folded up like scallop shells.

    Under a series of eight owners Coronet circled the globe to great fanfare. In 1888, she was the first registered yacht to round Cape Horn, at the tip of South America, from east to west. In 1896, under the command of skipper-owner, the railroad baron Arthur Curtis James, Coronet carried a scientific team from Amherst to Japan to witness the eclipse of the sun. A skilled mariner who taught himself celestial navigation, James put 50,000 miles under Coronet’s keel.

    But it wasn’t all smooth sailing. A bleak chapter for Coronet began in 1905, when the schooner yacht was bought by the Rev. Frank W. Sanford, a charismatic but sadistic leader of a religious cult in Maine known as “the Kingdom,” or the “Holy Ghost and Us Society.”

    A college baseball star who was good enough for the pros, Sanford’s life changed dramatically when he was out walking in the woods and supposedly heard the voice of God warn him of “Armageddon.” He established a community called Shiloh, with a great tabernacle on a sand hill in southern Maine, and soon had 1,000 followers flocking to the area.

    Shiloh was just back of the water, so for Sanford, who had grown up around boats, a floating missionary seemed logical. Coronet made several pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and then in 1910 about 70 of his followers, men, women and children, were loaded aboard the schooner yacht and a barkentine Kingdom, setting sail on a voyage to Africa. However, when the Kingdom was wrecked in a storm, everyone was packed aboard Coronet. For the passengers, it would become a floating hell.

    Not only was the ship dangerously overcrowded, but Sanford also failed to adequately provision the vessels with food and staples, and passengers and crew began to starve. Despite his suffering cargo, the pitiless skipper refused to allow Coronet to make landfall, instructing one of the “Holy Ghosters,” as they were known, to stand on the bow and blow a trumpet, a signal that the end was near. And for some it was. During a nightmarish four months, six men and one child died of scurvy and were buried at sea.

    When Coronet limped back to port in Maine in October of 1911, the grand sailing yacht appeared a “ghost ship,” her hull covered in barnacles and her sails hanging in tatters on her great masts. Sanford was promptly arrested and charged with manslaughter, eventually serving a 10-year sentence, suspended after six years.

    However, despite this disgrace, Sanford continued to be revered by many of his followers, who reverently preserved Coronet as if it had been the Ark. As late as the 1960s, the grand sailing yacht, berthed in Portland, Maine, carried church members on excursions Downeast and up the coast as far as Nova Scotia. When the Kingdom disbanded in 1995, their prize ship Coronet was acquired by Newport’s International Yacht Restoration School.

    Ansel says Coronet’s new owners, Alex and Miles Pincus, co-founders of the restaurant group, Crew, based in New York City and New Orleans, envision a new mission for the storied schooner yacht, setting sail on adventure cruises around the globe. They may even recreate the great trans-Atlantic race of 1887.

    The Pincus brothers are lifelong sailors who have worked with Mystic Seaport over the years to maintain vessels in their existing fleet, most recently, Pilot, a wooden schooner with a nearly 100-year history that serves as a seasonal oyster bar located at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 6.

    “Working with Crew has always been a pleasure, and they understand the historic preservation of their fleet,” said Chris Gasiorek, senior vice president of operations and watercraft at Mystic Seaport Museum. “We look forward to this exciting project to bring Coronet to life.”

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