erik nickel's acania yacht

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My Life In Boats: Erik Nickel on reviving his 38m yacht Acania

23 November 2023 • Written by Grace Trofa

A love of classics motivated the owners of 38-metre Acania to revive her, they tell Grace Trofa...

Back in the 1970s, while my father and uncle were on a motorcycle trip up in Seattle, they stumbled upon this 26-metre 1939 De Vries Lentsch motor yacht then named Lycon. They bought it, did a reasonable mechanical/structural refit and kept her in Sausalito. I was about seven when I spent my first California summer vacation on board, and through high school, I spent one month each summer travelling along the coast to the Channel Islands, the San Juans and into Vancouver. For a landlocked kid from Oklahoma, it was more than an adventure, it was a life-changing experience.

Courtesy Of Owners

I finally moved out to California full-time when I was 29 to join my uncle in the wine business in Napa Valley. Lycon was renamed Far Niente after the winery my uncle rebuilt, and I worked with him to build our new winery, Nickel & Nickel. My partner, Michael Loftis, and I eventually decided to move to Santa Barbara. Michael too had grown up landlocked but spent time sailing, particularly in the BVIs. He had always been drawn to the sea and could not wait to live somewhere by the ocean.

Her new owners found Acania's original plans at the Hagley Museum in Delaware
Credit: Getty Images

In Santa Barbara, we quickly realised there were no true sailing destinations other than for day trips, and the time we did spend on the water brought back all those old memories and got me thinking, wouldn’t it be cool to find an old boat that needed us to renovate and tour the coast? I credit Michael for discovering Acania. After reading the provenance, I said that’s it, there was no question she was our girl. On Michael’s 43rd birthday, we headed up to Everett, a town near Seattle, to see Acania. She had sat for more than a decade in a backwater slough, a graveyard for forgotten boats. Of course, she was far worse than we imagined, but there was no turning back. 

Courtesy Of Owners

Three weeks and three days after we signed the deal, we were preparing Thanksgiving dinner for my family in Oklahoma when Michael got a text message, “Hello, do you have anything to do with the motor vessel Acania? If so, she sank last night.” Michael quietly put the phone in his pocket and didn’t say anything until the next morning. We did a dead tow across to Delta Marine, explained the situation, and for whatever crazy reason they said they would help. If not, I don’t know what we would have done. Most people said it was time to scrap her, but we were in love.

Credit: Getty Images

She has quite an illustrious past: she was built for a Wall Street banker, was owned by an actress, was a mine-sweeping ship during the war, did nuclear surveillance research for the Air Force, humpback whale research and was part of the TIGHAR Expedition searching for the wreckage of Amelia Earhart’s aeroplane.  We are still working with a historian to confirm she was a silent build for Al Capone. There was a speakeasy bar on board, and you had to push three different buttons, one located in the wheelhouse, to open a wall to enter the bar. We are planning a documentary on her 90-year history.

Credit: Getty Images

We’ve been at it for six years now and still have a couple more years to go. We kept her original superstructure underneath, the original riveted steel tanks, and the engine is all original, so the heart and soul are still there. We were fortunate to find her original plans in the Hagley Museum in Delaware. Both Michael and I love architecture and design, and we love to see old things come alive again. We are heavily involved in the aesthetics so we are taking our time. People ask, how can you wait so long? I remind them we are in the wine business. It takes a long time to create something good and we are enjoying the process.

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