NEWPORT, R.I. — The Coronet, an 1885 schooner that crossed the Atlantic Ocean in just under 15 days, circumnavigated the globe several times, crossed Cape Horn from East to West, and traveled on prayer missions, is preparing for a shorter voyage: from Newport to the Mystic Seaport Museum shipyard, where she will undergo restoration for two to three years before setting sail across the globe.
The transport to the seaport shipyard is part of an ongoing restoration of the ship, which was built during the Gilded Age and is set to become a vessel for adventure cruises, according to one of the ship’s new owners, Alex Pincus. He and his brother Miles, the ship’s new owners, are the co-founders of the restaurant group Crew, which owns restaurants in New York City and New Orleans.
Pincus told CT Examiner that he and his brother want to recreate the 1887 transatlantic voyage when the ship traveled 3,000 miles from the East Coast to Queensboro, Ireland, in just under 15 days. The New York Times wrote at the time that the schooner “skims the rough waters like a petrel.”
But before that, the ship will have to arrive at the Seaport for many years of restoration.
On Friday, shipbuilders, captains, and the current owners gathered at the dock behind the International Yacht Restoration School, or IYRS, for the first step of her voyage: using a giant crane to lift the 133-foot-long vessel into the water.
Before the ship can be moved to Mystic, she will have to sit in the water in Newport for a few weeks.
According to Sarah Armour, who has been with Mystic Seaport since 2020 as the captain of the schooner Brilliant, sitting in the water will expand the wooden planks, causing them to press against the caulking and making the boat watertight.
When the weather was favorable, Armour said, the ship would travel out into Rhode Island Sound, to the Block Island Sound, Fishers Island Sound and then up the Mystic River, a journey that should take about eight hours.
The Coronet has lived at the IRYS school of Technology and Trades in Newport since 1995, where current and former students have learned shipbuilding skills by working on the vessel.
In 2007, the boat was purchased by a new owner, Bob McNeil, and Jeffrey Rutherford became the project manager for the ship restoration, traveling back and forth from California to the East Coast every few weeks.
“There’s no question about it. That’s my baby,” Rutherford said.
When it comes to restoring boats, he said, the more pieces of the original vessel that can be saved, the better.
“Owners who get involved with these projects, they don’t want a replica,” said Rutherford. “They want to be able to say, ‘I own this original boat from whenever it was from.’”
But with the Coronet, it wasn’t so easy. Rutherford said that McNeil offered him a $500 bonus for every piece of original frame he could save. But out of about 1200 frame pieces, he was only able to save a dozen.
“The boat was extremely rotten. So even with the incentive, we didn’t save much,” he said.
Rutherford said that, unlike McNeil, who wanted to keep the boat as close to the original as possible, the Pincus brothers were willing to put engines in the boat, which he felt was a more realistic idea, particularly if they wanted to use the boat for adventure cruises.
Alex Pincus told CT Examiner that he and his brother had been restoring boats since they were children. He said when the opportunity to buy the Coronet came up, he couldn’t say no.
“I didn’t really have any choice, emotionally,” he said. “This kind of thing doesn’t really happen to you regularly in your lifetime.”
Pincus said he saw the Coronet as “the most important sailboat in the world.” Although he and his brother had an agreement in place with the former owners, the purchase was only formalized on Friday afternoon. He said he felt great.
“As I said to my friends, it’s like getting married into royalty,” Pincus told CT Examiner.
And as for the cost of restoration?
“I have no idea,” said Pincus. “A substantial amount.”
Just getting the boat ready for the move to Connecticut has been hard work. Casey Cochran, a shipwright with Mystic Seaport Museum, described what he’d done so far to make the Coronet seaworthy.
“About 95 percent of the boat had to be caulked with cotton fibers and oakum, which is tarred hemp fibers – they had to be driven into the seams, and then seaming compound over the top of that and the bottom paint had to get done, ” he said. “And there was about a month or so of work to put cleats on board for the dock lines and for the tow when we bring it to Mystic.”
He said a crew of six or seven workers took care of the caulking. He said that when the building that housed the Coronet was torn down, it slowed down the work, forcing them to come in at night and work.
Jamie Kirschner, a shipwright with Mystic Seaport Museum, said one of the biggest challenges about moving the ship to Mystic was putting together the lifting gear to get it into the water.
“It’s basically a giant mobile that’s hanging above the ship and hooked to the yellow straps and so figuring out all that, how it all went together, and just the weight of everything and. moving stuff around and logistics of getting it into the water,” he said.
Krit Singh, also a shipwright with Mystic Seaport Museum and a former IYRS student, said the biggest difference between the Coronet and other boats he’d worked on was it’s sheer size — he’d gone from working on vessels that were 12 to 26 feet long to one that is over 120 feet long.
But it’s not just the ship’s build that stands out — Armour and Singh both pointed out the Coronet’s long history as one of the things that makes the boat unique.
“it is from the golden age of yachting … there were things like marble staircases inside, a cigar smoking lounge. Certain things that you wouldn’t typically find in a boat that’s built today,” said Singh.
Armour said that the Mystic Seaport Museum still has much of the interior of the original boat, which will be put back into the frame as it’s restored. She said the museum even has the original Steinway Piano used on the ship.
“There were just, like, tycoons all over the place,” added Armour, speaking about the time period the boat was built in.
Timothy Murray lived part of the boat’s more recent history. He moved on board the ship when he was 12 years old. His father was captain of the ship from 1955 to 1961. A church owned the boat at the time, and his father took church members and youth groups up and down the East coast as far as Nova Scotia.
In the boat, Murray shared the main state room with his brother. Their parents had the state room across the hall. He said the boat’s interior had ornate woodwork in “19th-century classic yacht style.”
“We didn’t know it, but we were living in the lap of luxury,” he said.
Murray learned how to operate and maintain the ship while living aboard. When he was in college, he worked on the boat during summers.
“I must say I considered myself to be in the best of all possible worlds, living on board the ship for those years,” he said. “Anytime we took a cruise in the summer, I was part of the crew and my dad taught us piloting and navigating … It was a wonderful way to grow up.”
He continued working on it for 40 years, becoming the ship’s captain in 1988, until it went to IYRS in 1995.
“I have a very strong emotional attachment to this vessel, and I’m delighted beyond words to see it being restored,” said Murray.
Rutherford told CT Examiner that the decision to move the boat was a positive one for everyone. The city no longer wanted to renew what was originally a four-year permit for the building that housed the boat, IRYS wanted to use the property for other things, and the new boat owners already had a relationship with the people at Mystic Seaport.
Singh added that he felt that Mystic Seaport was the ideal location to continue the boat’s restoration. It provides a permanent structure rather than a temporary one, and it also will be a draw for people coming to the museum.
“We’ve got the shipwrights and the talent to work on it — because, before, it was a smaller crew, or students working on it, like myself, through the summer. So progress was very slow,” he said. “We have the best ship lift on the East coast, so we have the ability to haul it and work on it out of the water, and all the tools that we need to finish [a] project of this scale.”
Jay Coogan, director of IRYS, said at least a half dozen alumni from the school are working at the shipyard at Mystic Seaport.
“At least one or two of our graduates from this year’s group are going to go down to Mystic after they finish here,” he said, adding that they will be working on the Coronet.
Peter Armstrong, Director of the Mystic Seaport Museum, said the Gilded Age details of the Coronet tie into the the themes of the “Sargent, Whistler, and Venetian Glass: American Artists and the Magic of Murano” show currently on view.
“It was a ‘super yacht’ of its period,” Armstrong said. “It was like a piece of artwork – it was beautiful.”
Rutherford said he was pleased about the Pincus’ goal to eventually use the boat for adventure cruises.
“Boats like to be used. They don’t like to sit in a museum. They like to be operated, so I think it’d be great if they can make that happen,” said Rutherford.
But he’s not sure if he’s going to make it on a cruise himself – especially considering how expensive it will be.
“That thought has crossed my mind more than once,” he said. “Maybe there’s an empty berth onq one of these cruises, and I can just slip into that one.”