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June 1, 2018

$7M Maine-built yacht delivered to 94-year-old with need for 'a project'

Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Brooklin Boat Yard completed delivery this week of the $7.1 million Sonny III, a highly customized high-performance 91-foot yacht designed for day sailing and blue-water passages. The owner is 94-year-old Albert Phelps, who said, "I need a project."

Brooklin Boat Yard completed delivery this week of the $7.1 million Sonny III, a highly customized high-performance 91-foot yacht designed for day sailing and blue-water passages.

The yard's delivery crew landed the yacht in Jamestown, R.I., where owner Albert Phelps, who is 94, keeps his boats.

Yard owner Steve White told Mainebiz that Phelps is a retired real estate developer with homes in Norwalk, Conn., and Boynton Beach, Fla., and he keeps his boat in Jamestown.

"He likes sailing in that area," White said.

Brooklin Boat Yard built the Sonny and Sonny II, both 70-footers designed by Dieter Empacher of Marblehead, Mass.

'I need a project'

Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Sonny III cruising to its new homeport.

The first Sonny was launched in 2000.

"He came to us 10 years later and said, 'I'm too old to sail anymore; I want to donate my boat to the Maine Maritime Academy,'" White recalled. Phelps did that, but called White again, months later, and said, "'I've made a terrible mistake. I want my boat back.'"

It was too late for that. So instead, White and his crew built the Sonny II, identical right down to the interior and color.

Nineteen months ago, Phelps called White again and asked him to build a bigger boat.

"He said, 'I don't need another boat, but I need a project. I need something to keep me interested and keep me thinking at night,'" White recalled.

It's unusual for older sailors to go bigger: Many tend to go either for a smaller sailboat or for a powerboat. But Phelps has a paid captain.

"He's used to having a crew, and he thought a bigger boat would be more comfortable for him," said White.

'Breakfast with Bert'

Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Sonny III was built for the owner of Sonny I and Sonny II.

Back in 2000, Brooklin Boat Yard was one of several bidders on the first Sonny. Phelps chose the yard even though it wasn't the lowest bidder.

"I think he liked the working relationship with us," said White. "He's become a real friend."

That relationship includes Phelps's close involvement in the project.

"He called me every single morning about 8 o'clock," said White, with a pleased chuckle. "I called it 'Breakfast with Bert.' Seven days a week, he called at least once a day, and often two or three times. He just wanted to talk about what we were doing, maybe some idea he had. He likes access and he likes quick responses, and we were always able to get back to him quickly with drawings or changes or ideas he had in mind."

The biggest challenge was a shorter time frame than usual for the size of the job.

"Because he was 93 when we started, the contract said he wanted to have his boat before he died," said White. "We were literally building the boat as we were designing it, trying to stay ahead.

Designed by Bruce Johnson and the Brooklin Boat Yard design office, construction took 18 months.

"I would expect a design process of six months for a yacht of this size and complexity before the yard could even begin to cut wood," Johnson said in a Brooklin Boat Yard news release. "Due to the aggressive build schedule we began construction six weeks after we started working with the owner. This project could not have been possible without Brooklin Boat Yard's in-house designers who were invaluable, producing exceptional construction drawings."

Due to the tight build schedule and other construction commitments, Brooklin Boat Yard subcontracted the hull and deck construction to Rockport Marine of Rockport. Brooklin Boat Yard has had similar arrangements in the past, including the construction of the composite deck for Sonny II by Front Street Shipyard and the construction of the hull for the 76-foot sloop Goshawk by Rockport Marine.

Classic styling, with accessibility

Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
Courtesy / Brooklin Boat Yard, Billy Black
A nighttime view from the deck.

Sonny III provides numerous solutions to the owner's mobility concerns, including chair lifts at each companionway, a power reclining chair in the master cabin, a side-boarding ladder and a transom-boarding platform.

"He uses a cane and, for any distances, he'll use a wheelchair," said White. "There are a lot of locations on the boat where you can essentially plug in stainless steel handrails. So when he goes from the dock, he's got a nice set of stairs he can walk up, and then there are a couple of sets of handrails plugged into the deck and cockpit that help him get from the deck to the cockpit. The handrails can then be pulled out and stored away. Both companionways stairs have chairlifts. Then you can turn the chair 90 degrees and he'll be sitting in the cockpit in that same chair while the boat is sailing or motoring along. And there are handholds everywhere down below."

Other features include classic styling, a flush deck, an aggressively raked bow and reverse transom, teak deck and varnished teak toe rail.

The twin cockpit configuration keeps guests in the center cockpit while sail handling is in the aft working cockpit. Low, varnished-teak cockpit coamings and canvas dodgers protect each companionway opening. A double headsail rig operated by hydraulic furlers was built by Harken. The carbon mast is from Offshore Spars with 3Di sails by North Sails.

The interior layout includes a crew cabin forward with private head and stall shower, two guest staterooms forward of the mast, one with en suite head and stall shower and the other with a day head, also with separate shower.

The main salon has an elliptical dining area, a pair of reclining chairs and a navigation station. Access to the full-beam master stateroom is either through the portside passageway or the large galley to starboard. The master stateroom features an en suite head with stall shower.

The interior is finished Herreshoff-style with white and cream paintwork offset by American cherry joinery, leather upholstery and a teak and maple cabin sole.

The cold-molded, laminated-wood hull used West System epoxy resin and vacuum bagging. The hull and deck have carbon reinforcements in specific high-load areas.

The yard just started construction of a 55-foot sloop designed by the Spanish design firm Botin Partners, expected to splash next spring. White expects construction of a 32-foot powerboat to start in July.

Like most boatyards, it's difficult to find skilled employees, said White. He said he has enough now, but "we're always looking."

His recruitment strategy: "Hire the best and keep them with you."

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