A sailing convert from an early age, Joseph Robillard tells Grace Trofa about his passion for saving classic boats
My love for classic boats started when I was 11 years old, when my father took me sailing on a seven-metre Howard Chapelle sloop on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. I had been out on small boats before, but this was a whole new thing. Later I started racing scows, dinghies and small keelboats, and after college and moving to New York, I started buying classic boats and never stopped. I think my first classic boat was a 7.5-metre Rhodes Idler. I rebuilt it and, after college, sailed it from Annapolis to Key Largo, which put wanderlust in my veins.
I am a member of the Black Watch syndicate with four other New York Yacht Club members. She’s a 1938-built 20-metre custom Sparkman & Stephens yawl, and we race it all over the place. Doris (1905, 24m) was my first Herreshoff boat, and yes, I went big. The boat was on the hard for decades, and not much was left when I bought it. My partner in crime, Dave Snediker of Snediker Yacht Restoration, convinced me we needed to save it. The restoration has been going on since 2014; we are taking our time and enjoying the process. The enthusiasm for our project is a wonderful thing. People send us nice notes, even drop off pieces and hardware from the original boat that many knew as Vayu. When it is finally finished, probably another three years from now, I think we will do the classic yacht series, like the Camden Classics and the Opera House Cup.
Everyone loves my nine-metre Venetian water taxi Intermezzo. The previous owner had it shipped over in a container from Venice, where she fell in love with the boat. But then she decided to sell it, and only to someone who would take care of it. Again, Dave got me involved. What started as a minor restoration turned into a multi-year project. We keep it on the Chesapeake. It goes 27 knots, which is good if you need to escape a thunderstorm, but mostly we just putt-putt around rivers and creeks.
Our latest project, the 31 metre Feadship Nereus, is not something we were considering, but we fell in love. We have taken it as far up as Maine and as far south as Ocean Reef for Vintage Weekend, where she won the People’s Choice award. We completed the drivetrain but, other than that, the interior was beautiful and the exterior perfect.
Of the many memorable moments in my boating life, a special one was when we won our class in the 2012 Newport Bermuda Race on Black Watch. We sailed into Bermuda with 17 crew members five minutes ahead of the second boat on corrected time. I’ve done the race twice, and I intend to do it again. But restoration is my passion, maybe even a madness.