GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 26, 2007

A Piece of History: Volunteers restoring sister of Hemingway's fishing craft

By Nate Rice, Correspondent

T o steal a line from Ernest Hemingway’s novella, “The Old Man and the Sea,” “A man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

The same might be said for a classic boat. The Valhalla, a classic wooden 1934 Playmate Series motor yacht that sank like a stone last year, is being restored by a crew of volunteers at Rose Marina off Rogers Street. The Valhalla is a sister ship of the Pilar, Ernest

Hemingway’s fishing boat, which Hemingway was aboard when he was inspired to write “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Jake Hammond and Jennifer Pette of Gloucester are the co-owners of Valhalla, whose name means “the gateway to Viking heaven,” or “the valley of gods,” Pette said.

The 34-foot antique craft sank last August, when it became wrapped up in a mooring line in Danvers. It went down in a minute and a half.

The Valhalla was sold by Wheeler Yachts in 1934 for $9,000 in Brooklyn, N.Y. It originally sat in New York Harbor, until it changed owners, and was used for seasonal travel to Florida. Then a gentleman from Danvers bought the boat and began showing it off at antique boat shows. It was the flagship in an antique boat show in 2005.

After sinking, it was pulled out of the water and put up for auction, but no one bid on it.

Then, in late September last year, Hammond and Pette bought the vessel.

“I bought it because I wouldn’t want to see a beautiful wooden boat like this destroyed,” said Pette, a Brooklyn native. “I feel honored.”

Even though it sank, the boat has all its original 1934 fixtures, including the boat hook and swim ladder.

“It’s quite a boat in history and heritage,” said James “J.B.” Meyer, Valhalla’s renovation manager. “It’s a piece of history.”

The boat was built before Hemingway’s Pilar and there is a strong possibility that he had Pilar customized around Valhalla’s design, Meyer said.

For the last three weeks, Hammond and Pette, who buy and sell bluefin tuna for DFC International, have been putting in 14-hour days along with Meyer and others, restoring the boat.

What is their motivation behind spending so much time restoring the vessel?

“For the love of antique wooden boats,” Meyer said. “And the history and heritage that goes along with it. It’s a labor of love.”

By Thursday, work on the outside of Valhalla will be completed and the vessel will be launched. But more work will need to be done once it’s in the water.

“By the end of the summer this thing should be all tightened up,” Hammond said. “It’s a lot of work, but what else are you going to work for?”

People in the community have noticed the hard work and have offered support to the project. Individuals have donated money, food and tools. The crew is especially thankful for the hospitality of Frank Rose and all of the employees of Rose Marina.

“The karma that comes with this boat is unbelievable,” Pette said.

The vessel will be docked at Commercial Street for the remainder of the summer and will be open for people to look from the dock. Donations will be accepted either at the dock or 44 Commercial St.

“We’re a nonprofit bunch of people restoring a piece of history,” Meyer said.