By Jesse Terry, CYOA Board Member/ Photo: Sharon Green
I was recently fortunate to be able to talk to Captain Max Petrushonis about the 2024 East Coast return of the 1941 S&S designed yacht GESTURE. The 57’ sloop will be a welcome competitor in the CYOA Classic Yacht Challenge Series in 2024. I was only recently acquainted with the boat and her pedigreed history as I read a couple of notes about her from 1971 in the 2023 Marblehead to Halifax Sailing Program. Few may know about this first post-war Bermuda Race (1946) winner as she has been on the hard for several years waiting for the right owner. Although Max has been extremely busy getting her ready for the Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco and then delivery to Rhode Island, he was able to share some of his experience with the newest member of the CYOA fleet.
Based on a discussion with Captain Max Petrushonis:
The owner, a highly competitive solo ocean racer, coincidentally ran into a friend sailing on SANTANA in Camden, Maine. It appears that the exposure to Humphrey Bogart’s old boat was impressionable enough to push him towards the Classics for his next chapter in sailing. A connection was soon made to Jeff Rutherford, whom happened to have the perfect project back in Richmond, California at Rutherford’s Boatshop. GESTURE was sitting there waiting. Rutherford (owner of the shop since 1982) was ready and had already restored CANGARDA, EAGER, and JOYANT to name a few.
The owner had a childhood relationship with the yacht as his grandfather raced against her on PALAWAN during the New England summers long ago. The pedigree was also compelling. She was the last pre-war Sparkman & Stephens yacht built before the war in the Quincy Adams Yard in 1941. GESTURE, considered a Maxi of her time, was hidden during the war. She won the first post-war Newport to Bermuda Race in 1946 and only lost the 1953 Fastnet by three seconds corrected.
Additionally, the technology in design suggested that she would thrive on the ocean and last the test of time. She was built to be very stiff - double planked hull with teak decks over plywood and monel ring frames to support the mast. She was the first ocean racing yacht with an extruded aluminum mast, a now commonplace construction method. The mast is being donated to Mystic Seaport.
It was certainly the right boat, but she needed a restoration.
Rutherford started the project and was two years into it when Max packed up his stuff in Newport, RI and headed to California in November of 2022. At that time, the salon and forepeak were mostly together, but the boat was otherwise gutted. Much of the structure had been replaced including the frames (now laminated white oak), part of the stem, stern post, new rudder, and new wood mast. But a deadline was set. The owner wanted to race in the 2023 Rolex Big Boat Series in San Francisco Bay.
With so much left to do in less than a year, Max had to work backwards to determine what was essential to sailing/racing. He worked with naval architect Greg Stewart to layout the deck (including a new winch package – no more coffee grinder), and to finish the mast. The boat received a new B&G electronics package. A new engine was installed. Max worked with the Rutherford team to finish installing the interior including building a nav station and head. The priority was to highlight the 1941 details. For example, the nav station chart plotter folds discreetly out of sight so as to maintain the original appearance.
It was “full send mode” getting the boat ready for launch in August, approximately four weeks before the regatta. The team then faced sea trials and rig tuning in San Francisco bay. The first day off the dock saw 27 knots of breeze, just a typical day on the bay. The story ends on a happy note as they made the race and only lost by 1 point to YUCCA, an 8-meter.
Max is now preparing the boat to be shipped east to Rhode Island in November (2023). The owner is looking forward to racing against a much larger and more competitive east coast fleet in the CYOA Classic Yacht Challenge Series. GESTURE will be able to experience a more match-like racing environment with yachts like SANTANA, MARILEE, KIRAWAN, POLLY, SONNY, DORARE and the NY32s. Max expects that she will participate in most of the series events in 2024 with longer term goals like competing in the 2026 Newport to Bermuda for her 80th anniversary. There are still many details to wrap up on the restoration before next summer, not the least of which is re-installing the soapstone fireplace before she gets to Maine.
Thank you Max for sharing GESTURE’s latest chapter. I think we can all agree that it will be great to see another classic on the water.