Golden-Eye: Giving new life to a 42ft cutter yawl

When Richard Emmert purchased Golden-Eye in 1972, he dreamed of sailing around the world in the beautiful, classic wooden yacht.

The 42-foot cutter yawl was designed by Philip L. Rhodes and built in 1937 at the Minneford Yacht Yard in City Island, NY – famous for building several America’s Cup yachts. Legend has it that she competed in the 1938 Newport to Bermuda race, but she sailed right past the island. She exchanged owners a few times – all in western Long Island Sound – and continued to race
heavily there and all along the Eastern Seaboard.

By the time Richard Emmert took the helm and brought her to Hempstead Harbor, NY, it quickly became apparent that he’d need to put a lot of work into her before achieving his dream.
“She basically would sink every time he sailed her,” recalls Richard’s son, Michael Emmert, who is now co-owner of Golden-Eye along with his father. “Even a pretty-looking boat can still sink,” he adds.

But any boat worth saving, can be.

So in 1976, Richard got to work. A master carpenter by trade, Richard knew he could not only restore Golden-Eye to her original beauty, but also extend her life for generations to come. He had her hauled out of the water and brought her to his backyard in Glen Head, NY where he spent several years on a restoration that included replacing and sistering 56 frames, planks,
garboards. “You name it, he fixed it,” remarks Michael.

Even after his expert wood restoration, Richard decided to glass over Golden-Eye’s hull. He’d developed a friendship with shipwright Allan Vaitses – the man who’d literally written the book on fiberglassing wooden boats. Using Vaitses’ method, Richard applied nine layers of fiberglass
from stern to bow and encapsulating her decks and cabin.

Richard relaunched Golden-Eye in 1981. From that year on she sailed from Maine to Bermuda, Antigua and all throughout the Caribbean. In the 40 years since being returned to the water, she’s won multiple regattas throughout Long Island Sound and along the East Coast. Notably, in
2017 (her 80 th birthday year) she competed in the Around Long Island Regatta, taking the PHRF non-spinnaker fleet, and corrected out over every spinnaker boat in the regatta.

Golden-Eye has passed down to Richard’s son Michael, who has been working alongside his father in the construction business since he was 13 years old. Though he has taken over the vessel’s responsibilities, Michael says he and his father will always be “co-owners” of Golden-Eye, until one day when Michael can pass her down to his three children.

“She is part of the family,” he concedes. “Most people would never put in the amount of time or money or effort to do what we’re doing. I could have replaced her ten times over with the money that I’ve put into her. But she’s part of the family and when your family member is sick, you do whatever you can to make her better.”

The Emmert family has been diagnosing and refurbishing Golden-Eye for as long as they’ve owned her.

“Every single year of sailing her, we learn something new,” says Michael. “And we constantly look for improvements, whether it’s a tenth of a knot here, a different angle there.”

Their most recent efforts have focused back to the yacht’s interior wooden hull, this time using laminated frames and silicone bronze fastenings. This includes all new floor timbers, mast step, and chain plates.

Work began in the winter of 2019, re-framing the ship from the stern up to the companion way. The following winter they completed the main salon. This year, 2020 into 2021, they worked on the galley and head area (the midships) which includes all new silicone bronze chain plates, new
chain plank fastenings, as well as new floors and a new mast step.

To complete all this work, the Emmerts enlisted the help of shipwright Julian Davies of Urbanboatworks in this restoration process.

“Julian is a good friend of the family and master wood craftsman,” noted Michael. “I wanted to have an extra pair of hands on this, because don’t think anything like this has been done before in the way we are doing it. Reframing a boat from the inside out that has a fiberglass hull
around it is challenging, but the problem-solving as we go is fun.”

Thanks to Golden-Eye’s unique “boat within a boat” structure, the Emmert family are able to complete the entire restoration without hauling her ashore, or missing even a day of good-weather sailing.

“Because she has a fiberglass hull around her wood hull, we can do all this work while she is still in the water. We’re actually able to remove the sections of the planking that we feel are bad and we scarf in new planking into the fiberglass hull and the existing wood hull,” says Michael.

And while a classic wood yacht encased in fiberglass might elicit frowns and wrinkled noses from purists, Michael says he has no plans to remove the exterior glass hull despite having that option available.

“Knowing that the vessel below you, when you’re out in the ocean and it’s blowing 45 knots and waves are frosty on top and getting larger, it’s really great to know that she’s pretty much
bulletproof.”

Michael believes that the work he, his father, and Davies have done will ultimately sustain Golden-Eye for another 60 to 80 years. He predicts that by the end of this winter, he’ll have 85% of the work completed.

Once they finish out the re-framing of the bow, Michael and his father plan to sail Golden-Eye down to the Caribbean. A solid ship beneath them and the spirit of adventure filling her sails.

“I truly believe that wooden boats have a soul,” Michael concludes. “They have a heartbeat. And if you listen to what they tell you, they will always take care of you.”


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