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Haida 1929: How Pendennis restored a classic

6 November 2020 • Written by Risa Merl

First published in the November 2018 edition of BOAT International

Launched in 1929, this classic motor yacht has had 11 owners, saw service in the Second World War and had long been admired by owner No 12. Having finally bought her in 2015, he set about reviving this piece of maritime history and making her fit for a whole new charter adventure. Risa Merl reports on a 16-month labour of love

From the moment her owner first laid eyes on this classic beauty, he knew it was the only yacht for him, but it would be a decade before they could be together. “He has loved this boat for 10 years,” says Haida 1929’s captain, Daan de Witt. “He told me once that he won’t own any other boat if he can’t own this one.”

Haida 1929 is indeed the owner’s first yacht, and his passion for her propelled a thorough 16-month refit, set on restoring the 66.5 metre (71.1 metre with bowsprit) motor yacht to her former glory, and then some. The yacht’s new name gives away her advanced age – she was launched in 1929 by Krupp Germaniawerft for the American yeast tycoon Max C Fleischmann, who christened her Haida, after a native Alaskan tribe. Over the course of a long and storied life, she’s had 11 owners and varied roles, including heroic service in the US Navy during the Second World War. She’s also gone by many monikers, such as USS Argus, Sarina, Rosenkavalier, Haida G and Dona Amelia.

All photography by Christopher Scholey

As Dona Amelia, she had been laid up on the River Fal in Cornwall, not abandoned but certainly in disuse. After a few years, brokerage firm Edmiston was tasked with finding a new owner – and so in 2015, her current owner finally had his chance. Though he had pined for Haida from afar for many years, he took his time with the courtship. Before inking a deal, he visited her on the River Fal for a year. “And every time he would come back with new ideas,” says de Witt.

Restoring a classic yacht is quite an undertaking, and certainly for a first-time yacht owner, but Haida 1929’s owner was nothing if not prepared. Some owners come to a project with magazine clippings or a mood board of ideas. By the time Haida 1929’s owner had finalised the purchase of his long-sought yacht, he had three MacBooks full of in-depth designs as well as his own hand-drawn sketches. He just needed the right team.

“He has a good eye for detail,” says de Witt. “The boss didn’t want a designer – he wanted someone to make his ideas work.” While the owner had created an extremely comprehensive brief, he had to collaborate with a professional who could make his ideas technically viable.

“He was an unusual client in that he had a very, very clear idea of what he wanted to achieve,” says designer Adam Lay, who was introduced to the owner by Alex Busher, sales broker at Edmiston. “I thought it was a fantastic design brief – it’s exactly what I would’ve done with the vessel.”

Haida 1929's crew took on some of the work, such as repainting the engine room

A word used frequently in the brief was “fresh”, both in terms of freshening up the exterior spaces and creating a light, bright and natural interior. Yet everything also had to be elegant and chic, evocative of the romance of the 1920s and 30s whence she came. The refit plans were sympathetic to her history and included maintaining her original direct-drive engines and moving the tenders back to a position on the side decks. This would not be a modernisation so much as a restoration and any modern updates, such as the addition of new exterior staircases, a sundeck paddling pool and spa room on the main deck, were thoughtfully considered and employed with care.

“The Edmiston yacht management team prepared the initial refit specification, which expanded considerably, and identified a number of potential refit yards to visit with the owner,” says Nick Edmiston, the company’s founder. As chance would have it, the yacht had been left near Pendennis, a yard renowned for its experience in classic restorations. “[They] did an extremely good restoration of Malahne and understand classic yachts,” Edmiston adds.

Edmiston’s project managers remained at the yard throughout the refit, along with Captain de Witt, who knew the yacht well having been with her since 2011 during her days as Dona Amelia. Prior to that, he crewed on her big sister Talitha. The captain’s second in command has also been with the yacht for a long tenure – Haida has this way of casting a spell and making people stick around.

Haida 1929 arrived at Pendennis in July 2016 a ghost of her former self. The time she had spent on the river without continual maintenance had caused her steel – much of it original – to corrode. “The fact that steel plates that are nearly 90 years old were heavily corroded didn’t surprise us much,” says Nick Kearton, of Pendennis’s project team. “More surprising was the more recent steel repairs [from 15 to 20 years previously] were so poorly executed below the waterline.” This work from an earlier refit had overlapped with the original hull plate in some areas, acting as a doubler plate, which accelerated the corrosion of the original riveted hull.

“In total, we replaced well over 100 tonnes of steel within the hull structure,” says Kearton, “mainly below the waterline, including 100 per cent of the engine room plating, the majority of the hull boundaries of the three freshwater tanks and the chain locker.” The black and freshwater tanks and the chain locker were totally ripped out.

Replacing the steel in the engine room proved particularly challenging. “We discussed removing the engines to do this or leaving them in place, because they weigh 40 tonnes, and then you have to realign them when you put them back in,” says de Witt. In the end, the engines were left in place and propped up while the steel was cut out from under them. It would have been far easier to tear out the original engines and replace them with modern propulsion – from the outside no one would have been any the wiser. The twin diesel Krupp engines are a relic from 1929 and start via compressed air. Pendennis says they might be the oldest working engines of their type still in situ. There is no manual and you can’t buy parts off the shelf.

The refit took 16 months, with the first five months spent investigating the status of all structures and systems

“We had to open up the gears and work stuff out,” says de Witt. There are no throttles in the wheelhouse; the captain steers the boat but doesn’t control its speed. Instead, a telegraph system transmits down to the engine room where his engineers – there are four on board – receive the signal and slow the engines accordingly.

There were pleasant surprises – the original riveted steel above the waterline was in fantastic shape, with some areas showing less than 5 per cent wastage of thickness – however, much of the original pipework was condemned. “There are always challenges with old boats. Sometimes you open something up for a small job and there are bigger problems,” de Witt says. “At some stage, I wanted to make a T-shirt with a boat on the back and the funnel as a tin can with worms coming out.”

Was the owner ever daunted by the growing scope of work? “He likes a project,” assures de Witt, “and he says he only wanted to do it once. We should do things in a way that we don’t have to do it again.” Every six weeks the owner visited the yard, staying for a few days each time and making decisions on the smallest details. As challenges arose, he never wavered from his original plan: to return Haida 1929 to her original beauty while improving the functionality.

A priority was placed on the enjoyment of exterior decks and the ease of traffic flow. Narrow, steep ladders common to classic yachts wouldn’t do; a new staircase now connects the main deck to the owner’s deck, another links the main deck to a lounge area on the fantail, a pair of staircases were added from the owner’s deck to the sundeck as well as one on the starboard side going to the sundeck. “They needed to look like they’ve always been there,” says Lay. This was a case where 3D designs alone couldn’t be relied upon. Full-scale mock-ups in plywood were created at the yard to ensure the stairs matched.

The refit was not a modernisation so much as a restoration

“Following the owner’s priority that the yacht be restored as closely as possible to its 1929 origins created several significant conundrums,” says Kearton. “One of the largest of these was fitting new tender davits back in the original side deck positions. To conform with current rules, one of these had to be certified to launch a SOLAS rescue boat in five minutes. Creating a traditional looking but technologically suitable solution required the input of a specialist company.” When the tenders are launched, exercise equipment is rolled out in their place, creating an al fresco gym.

Moving the tenders opened up the owner’s deck for a dining table for up to eight, where he will enjoy breakfast. The preferred dining space to host guests is the main aft deck, with a table that extends to seat 16 but is usually set up for 12. The formal dining saloon, forward on the main deck, is ideal in inclement weather, especially with the addition of a fireplace. “The owner likes to have a formal dinner in there once a week – he thinks it’s fun when his guests come in black tie but without shoes!” says de Witt.

The sundeck saw the biggest refresh, with an extension over the owner’s deck, a new bar forward of the funnel, a rebuild of the awning shade structure, new seating and sunpads and the addition of a pool, replacing a small spa pool. The latter was by far the most complicated procedure owing to the weight that needed to be supported. “The solution we settled upon was a steel rack built on the sundeck beneath the pool, which was then supported by a series of connecting columns down through the vessel to the hull,” says Kearton. “This meant we not only had to transfer the load down to the hull, but also fit the support columns where they were hidden from view.”

The new interior is, as the owner desired, light, bright and calming

Some of these steel columns had to go through extremely tight spaces and required pipework, cabling and joinery modifications. One cut right through the owner’s bathroom – far from ideal, but Lay was able to hide this cleverly. Now two architectural columns frame the entrance to the bathroom – one holding the steel support, and the other one faux to match it. The owner’s bath has an enormous tub athwartships at the centreline, while the shower incorporates a steam room.

The owner’s cabin was redesigned to create a fresh, clean and calm look. The previous four-poster bed was cut down, and the complexity of the mouldings on the bulkheads was simplified to make them look more refined. The windows in the master open, letting a fresh breeze and plentiful light into this space.

The new interior is, as the owner desired, light, bright and calming. The yellow-cream paint from Dona Amelia has been replaced with a gleaming white. The white soft goods help lighten the interior, while the carefully chosen furnishings help keep her in her era. Floors throughout are mahogany, and the joinery is mahogany or teak, to accent the white Calacatta oro marble. Soft, white carpeting from Loro Piana is used in the guest cabins, while a plush white rug is under the bed atop a wood floor in the master.

While Pendennis had to replace “well over 100 tonnes of steel” in the hull during the refit, this was mainly below the waterline

Five guest cabins are on the lower deck – two twins, two VIPs and one double, as well as a single berth for a nanny. The air conditioning had to be updated throughout the guest cabins to bring it to modern standards, and new grilles were incorporated into the interior décor with care. “Things that seemed quite easy to do, because of the nature of the vessel, wound up being more complicated,” says Lay of this task.

The owner’s lounge is on the upper deck and can be used privately or as a shared saloon. The bar was redesigned, with a refrigerator, sink and coffee machine added behind doors. “We were always trying to incorporate modern conveniences, but in a discreet way,” says Lay. To use it as a cinema, a projector is hidden in a round detail in the bookshelf, so you wouldn’t know it’s there until a movie screen drops down from the ceiling. The lounge also acts an office space, with a desk area.

The main deck has decorative storage for wine, which had previously been relegated to a storeroom on the lower deck, a space that’s now been cleared for the spa. From the start, it was planned that Haida 1929 would charter – “[the owner] knew it was no good to have crew just sitting around”, says de Witt. The spa and wine storage are a few things you might not expect to find on a classic, but will be very welcome on a charter yacht. Set all the way aft on the main deck, the spa has a hammam and hosts guests for massages, hairdressing or cut-throat shaves from a resident barber among the crew.

From those original inspiration-packed MacBooks, the owner had a good idea of what he wanted for the furnishings, much of which he sourced himself. For the plush sofas, Lay suggested Dudgeon in London. Wicker chairs, a reference to the furniture on board the original Haida, are found in the guest cabins and the dining saloon. This loving attention to detail is why, despite the updates, the refit has kept Haida 1929 so faithful to her history. “Talitha is more a modern version of a classic,” says Lay, comparing the Krupp-built sisters. “Haida 1929 is more true to her era.”

The new interior is, as the owner desired, light, bright and calming

The luxury of a fireplace

Curling up with a good book on a cold day in front of a roaring fire – is there anything more romantic than that? “The owner wanted to reinstate the fireplace in the owner’s saloon,” says designer Adam Lay.

He also wanted a fireplace added forward in the formal dining room. Along with one in the main saloon, there are now three fireplaces on board Haida 1929. Designing fireplaces or fire pits on a yacht is never easy. So to be able to have a fireplace where you can actually feel a bit of heat on a cold day is a luxury indeed. The fireplaces on board Haida 1929 “burn small blocks that are like biofuel, which are the same sort of fireplaces that would be installed in apartments in New York City”, explains Captain Daan de Witt.

There are three fireplaces on board Haida 1929

“If you retrofit a city apartment, you can’t build a chimney, and these don’t require a chimney or flue.” What makes bioethanol fuel fireplaces ideal for blocked chimneys or flat walls in a home is what makes them an equally handy solution on a yacht. Unlike some onboard “fireplaces” that use steam and LED light to produce a fire-like effect, the biofuel used on Haida 1929 generates some real warmth without the need for a chimney. “They don’t create a lot of smoke, but they do create a bit of heat,” de Witt says. Even when not being used in the summer, the fireplaces add a touch of elegance to the décor all year round.

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More about this yacht

Krupp Germaniawerft   71.1 m •  1929

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