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Rebuilding a 1920’s treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida

Rebuilding a 1920’s treasure led to restoring vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida

Many boats meet undignified ends, scuttled, wrecked or just abandoned. Some though, are restored to life. In the summer of 1979 I was wandering through the storage field of Essex Isle Marina in Connecticut when I came across a long-abandoned gaff rigged Wianno Senior Knockabout Sloop named Simba.  Built in 1923, at some point she’d been left to rot in storage, but immediately her lines appealed to me.  It was the beginning of a long relationship, and the foretaste of how much her launch year of 1923 would influence my life and restoration of my vacation rentals in Tampa, Florida  Erehwon Retreat.

 

Wianno Seniors – a brief pedigree 

Since 1914, Wianno’s have had a reputation for rounding the mark and slicing past in a flash of brightwork, canvas and speed. Their ease of handling and seaworthiness made them popular both as racers and coastal voyagers. Fantasy #11 can be seen at Mystic Seaport Museum and Victura #94 – the boat purchased by Joseph P. Kennedy and sailed by his children and grandchildren – is on show at the John F Kennedy Memorial Library.

  
 

I found Simba to be able, safe and challenging – as did the many friends who sailed her – and for me, learning to get about without the fallback of auxiliary power allowed me to develop patience and a sensitivity to wind and tide that served me superbly when I moved, a decade later, to a Rhodes Offshore 40.

By 1986, the Wianno Association members were considering a fiberglass version.  A few years earlier, Sparkman Stevens had hauled in five wooden Seniors at mid-season, weighing and electronically measuring each one.  Using that study to determine the ideal characteristics of a Senior, the vessel was re-created as a three-piece fiberglass hull, deck and interior.  The fiberglass Seniors look great and sail well, but as a veteran of the wooden sloop, I notice that the sound of the boat has changed.

 

Wooden sailboat restoration – love affair and learning curve

Simba, originally Hull 51*, was a leaking bucket when I bought her; years of hard racing on Nantucket Sound had put enough leaks in the bottom that just keeping her bailed would have exhausted a strong man and the cabin seemed only to filter out leaves.  She was valued at no more than her unpaid yard bills – $500, so when I’d paid off her dues, I had her carefully loaded onto an overland boat carrier and moved from Essex to East Haddam, CT.

 
 

Her new home was the back yard of the wood boat repair shop run by Robert K. Wilmes whom I hired to serve as consultant for her restoration. Included in his consulting fee were storage rights on his property and the use of his tools, so, in season, we would meet every Friday evening for dinner before, on Saturday morning, list in hand, he would indicate exactly what I would need to accomplish in the next two day’s labor. I would leave NY City center with sufficient time to make the 15:30 Amtrak Boston train arriving at Old Saybrook station at 18:04 and then would come 48 hours of patience, practice and learning because, at least for the first few months, it was less accomplish than re-do. Getting the cut right was a literally painstaking process – winching in the curve to the right fit caused a beam to break and the wood flew back to within three inches of my head – a fraction further and I’d have been dead.

Wianno Seniors were constructed from native white oak which was used for framing the stem, keel, deadwood, sternpost, knee and horn. Simba, whom I renamed Corsair, was carvel planked using 13/16-inch cypress. This was standard until 1932, but Wiannos from that date onward had planks of Honduras mahogany.  They all had 600 lbs. iron on the keel as external ballast.

Bob Wilmes directed me to start with the deck, deck beams, demo the cockpit, cockpit staving, so that I could inspect, repair or sister her frames, which were 1 1/2 inches square, spaced 9 inches on centers.  The original frames were dovetailed and wedged in the keel.

Then, under his tutelage, I moved onto deck beams – oak spaced 10 inches on centers – and added a watertight cockpit floor made of fir plywood 5/8-inch-thick, before fiberglassing the surface.  The cabin trunk was the steam bent white oak that had nearly cost me my life.

The new cabin deck was 3/8-inch marine plywood, canvas covered, glued and ironed, the same for the process of fixing the deck canvas, covered with white oak rub rails I had fashioned.  The hull itself was wooded – removing all paint and exposing the bungs.  Following their removal, I drew out as many of the galvanized fasteners as I could, replacing each with a new stainless steel one.

The hull above the waterline received a coat of Penetrol followed by a primer and then Interlux French Gray with white intrusion line. The decks, received three coats of buff. The outside bright work was given two sealers and eight coats of spar varnish.  Below the waterline, after the garboard and shudder planks had been replaced by Bob himself, she received one prime coat followed by two coats of antifouling green.

By the time she was ready to launch in June 1982, I was ready to move from the NY City Centre Joffrey Ballet and accepted a position at the Guthrie Theater. It was, as people say today, a no-brainer; a new wood Wianno Senior would cost me $40,000 and anyway, I had thousands of hours literally grained into the wood of the boat, so I negotiated her transport to Minnesota as part of my relocation costs.

In Minnesota, I changed Corsair to Kirby paint, after consulting with the restoration team at Mystic Seaport.  They advised me to move away from paints that contained modern acrylics as these would harden the wood. Acrylic-free surfaces definitely made prepping the topsides much easier each spring.  Another advantage of moving to Minnesota was that some of the many talented craftsmen in the Guthrie scene shop were available to hire for boat work on the side.  The Wianno’s new tiller, fashioned as a copy of the original, was the result of one such collaboration.

 

Boat restoration – a bug you can catch

There was another unexpected outcome to the Minnesota move. Boats are one of those places that great friendships spontaneously and naturally develop, and it gives me great pleasure to recall teaching my boss, Ed Martenson, to sail.  He caught the bug, has restored two boats of his own, and we’ve crewed on each other’s boats for over a quarter of a century.

 

The history of Hull 51

 I sold Corsair following the 75th Anniversary of the Fleet at Osterville in 1989, where she won Best Prize for Restoration. But she wasn’t done with me. One evening I found myself wondering how many fiberglass Seniors had actually been built? Going through the Wianno Senior Class Association‘s members list by hull number and comparing that information with a page from the 75th Anniversary book revealed who had owned a Senior in 1935.  I discovered that, at that time, Hull 51 was named King Tut and owned by Lawarson Riggs Jr of Woods Hole.   A Google search later I had turned up a letter from his law office written, as Treasurer of the Woods Hole Institute, to the Rockefeller Foundation.  Riggs was born in St. Louis, where I went to college at Washington University.  He attended Columbia Law School and lived at 70 W 11th. When I was a similar age, I lived at 20 E 8th. His law focus was Estate and Tax, an area I follow intently as a career fund raiser. The parallels intrigued me.

In 1989, Victor M Tyler purchased Corsair through my boat broker and renamed her Hilda. Several months later I received a registered package containing her name board and brass letters along with a note asking if Corsair had ever been moored off of Bracketts Point?  I called him to confirm – George and Sally Pillsbury had indeed been gracious enough to invite me to place a mushroom anchor off their property.  His response was a deep sigh; he had visited his cousin Ella Pillsbury who lived right next door and Corsair was part of a boat class he had long known.

 

1923 – a year that has come to dominate my life

With Corsair gone, my awareness of 1923 slipped from sight, but it was simply waiting under the surface. When I retired to Tampa, Florida, I purchased a bungalow and cottage built in … 1923. It took me a year of restoration to achieve the 1920s ambience I wanted for the properties and when I’d finished, I named them Erehwon Retreat – vacation rental properties in Tampa that are lovingly crafted reminders of the glories of the Roaring Twenties.

* For those who love the genealogy of boats as well as people, Hull #51’s name history is:
1. King Tut
2. Golden Fleece
3. Simba
4. Corsair
5. Hilda

Port of Tampa Cruise Ship Terminal

Port of Tampa Cruise Ship Terminal

 

November kicks off the winter cruise season, which is the busiest time of year for Port Tampa Bay and Erehwon Retreat’s more complicated booking season. Each season we host a few cruise line passengers for a week’s visit preceding or following a cruise out of Port of Tampa.

From our historic perspective, the Port’s single largest embarkation took  place in 1898 when Tampa received 30,000 troops bound for the Spanish American War. The initial wave, which included Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, departed on June 7 with 16,000 troops bound for Cuba. The Tampa Bay Hotel was used as the Officer Quarters.  The Rough Riders were recruited mainly in the Menger bar in San Antonio and trained in front of the Alamo. Coincidentally, in my prior life managing the NY City Joffrey Ballet, whenever the company played San Antonio we stayed at the Hotel Menger next to the Alamo. I knew the story that they departed for the east by train, but that’s where the story stopped until I opened Erehwon Retreat. But that’s another blog post.

 

 

Port of Tampa Cruise Services

Carnival’s ships operate year-round four- and five-day cruises to the western Caribbean, including the popular destination at Mahogany Bay. Currently, the line also sails seven-day itineraries during the winter season and these will be offered year-round commencing January 2018.

Royal Caribbean’s two ships will provide four-, five- and seven-day cruises in the winter. And, for the first time, Royal Caribbean will operate four- and five-day summer cruises when Empress of the Seas begins sailing from Tampa on 30 April.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Jade, will offer itineraries ranging from four to 12 days that will include a stop at its new island destination, Harvest Cay in Belize.

Rounding out Port of Tampa’s passenger offerings, Holland America has increased its passenger capacity by replacing a long favorite among Erehwon Retreat guests, the Veendam, with the Oosterdam.

2017 saw a 6% growth in passengers to a total of 813,934 over 188 sailings.

 

Unique Accommodations for Cruise Passengers

Erehwon Retreat is located just 4.6 miles from the Port of Tampa Cruise Ship Terminal; we coordinate our two properties during winter cruise season to turn over the same day arrival/departures of Saturday and Sunday. This allows cruise ship passengers to easily enjoy an evening show at The Straz Center for the Performing Arts, visit Ybor city, the historic Cigar District.

With a host who is a sailor and also ex US Navy, one of the subtle differences of staying at Erehwon is having special amenities for guests preparing for sea or returning to land. There are adjustments to avoid land sickness for some, and we know how to prepare our property so that guests rest peacefully in our 1920’s environment. Old Seminole Heights is Tampa’s first suburb (1911) and has been designated as a National, State and local Historic Landmark District.

EIGHT or GREAT – one Vacation Rental’s Refresh Program

EIGHT or GREAT – one Vacation Rental’s Refresh Program

 

Bungalow Bedroom

Erehwon Retreat isn’t your average vacation rental – it’s a 1923 Arts and Craft home away from home. While AirBnB has revolutionized the way we book vacations, and TripAdvisor, Pinterest and VRBO have given the potential traveler a 360º view of every property, there’s still nothing like personal attention to detail.
 

Finding a vacation rental with the personal touch

So, what does that mean at Erehwon Retreat? To start with, as proprietor, I have a very different approach to this beautiful rental property.

Many ‘holiday homes’ are simply outfitted by somebody who’s retired to Florida and wants to find a source of income for themselves, so the quality and style of the furnishings slowly erodes yet the photos date to the opening. In our case we update with independent professional photographers every other year. AirBnB might have given consumers more choice, but actually choice is often related to location, rather than decorative arts. And worse, furnishings often are just the latest from Ikea. A recent guest reminded me that hotel rooms that are heavily discounted are designated for a ‘refresh’ but until they are taken out of service, they’re available for use at deep discount. You know – worn out mattress, dilapidated fixtures and lampshades with burn marks.

At Erehwon Retreat our focus is on timeless elegance. Working from a curators’ perspective, every aspect of the bungalow, cottage and grounds is examined to see how it can combine the historical pedigree of its era of construction alongside the very best of modern innovation in comfort and performance. That’s why I work with interior designer Nikki Couture, who confers with me annually to create a maintenance schedule that renovates or replaces the contents of both properties to keep them bandbox fresh. The cottage will commence its eighth season in November, which meant we looked at everything with an eye to replacement. Some items though, like towels and wash cloths are replaced annually.

 

Florida Vacation Rentals – how to find perfection in every detail

One of the secrets to success at Erehwon Retreat is that I spend a night in each property twice a year, giving me first-hand experience of using every aspect of using my vacation rentals, from the cutlery in the drawers, to the mattress on the bed, to sitting on the deck to enjoy the view. This allows me and my team to strive constantly to improve and ‘refresh’ so that the rental experience constantly improves.

In December 2016, this maintenance activity included:

  • Re-crowning the six dining room chairs with foam and then re-upholstering them with leather
  • The cottage’s reading chair being reupholstered by a specialist
  • Deck furniture being sent away for sand-blasting, repainting and sealing
  • Replacing the box spring and mattress in the cottage (our hotel grade beds are often favorably mentioned in our reviews!)
  • Changing deck boards where necessary
  • Adding a hand rail to cover the journey between the deck, path and parking area
  • Installing passive lighting to enhance the gorgeous tree cover in the evenings
  • New low-voltage path lighting around the property.

This fall the cottage has also received new seat cushions, bolsters and pillows to ensure perfect comfort for all vacation guests.

The period details of the property aren’t just window dressing – they contribute to the quality of every experience. The 1920s were the tipping point between craftsmanship and mass production, meaning that furniture and decorative items were made from high quality materials but with innovative and exciting design concepts – the ideal balance of form and function that makes these Florida vacation rentals lovely to look at and superb to stay in.
 

Choosing a vacation rental – top tips

Bungalow KitchenWhile looking at photographs can help you get a sense of a place, there’s a great deal to be said for looking at reviews too. It’s vital to find the perfect base for your vacation, and that means paying attention to such details as the quality of sleep that people say they get, the attention to detail that allows a kitchen to be fully supplied with everything necessary to cook a great deal, and the atmosphere of a property, which can make all the difference between a good vacation and an unforgettably great one.

Remember that the difference between a hotel (commodity industry) and vacation rentals (service industry) is entirely in the quality of the experience. As an example, if our guests take towels to the beach, we wash them overnight so they have fresh towels again the next morning.

And finally, in trying to be a great vacation rental host I love to make sure my guests are relaxed and happy because that will make me happy too!

Christmas in Florida – an Insider’s Guide

Christmas in Florida – an insider’s guide

 

tampas-christmas-tree2
RW Bridge Lighting2
Downtown at Christmas

Florida in winter is an amazing place to take a vacation – and while the weather can be variable, it’s usually warm during the day this time of year and Tampa Bay always steps it up for Christmas starting with the boat parade on the Hillsborough River in early December and taking place throughout December from Dunedin to Treasure Island, St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs.

Between December and the end of February, the whole of Florida is enjoying the time when holidaymakers from around the world come for our weather, the opportunity to bask in a little winter sun and swim in our fresh water springs with year-round temperature of 72 degrees.  In fact, once Labor Day is over, savvy travelers start to book their winter breaks to get the perfect vacation rental – so this is the time to make both winter and spring bookings. For those visiting from overseas, specialist tour operators can put together tailor-made packages using scheduled air services.

 

Tampa – a relaxed winter destination

Tampa takes it easy over the high season period – there are wonderful events taking place but they are a little more laid back, giving vacation rental visitors a chance to relax and take Christmas at their own pace. Winter gets a Florida twist with wonderful weather, good old-fashioned Christmas cheer and as peaceful a vacation as you can possibly imagine. What to expect?

  • The Busch Gardens become a wonderland of wintery delights, all beautifully lit with hundreds of thousands of tiny lights – live music, holiday shopping and seasonal entertainment turn the Gardens into a true Christmas celebration.
  • Stroll into Christmas at the Henry B Plant Museum which hosts a Victorian Christmas stroll every year. Fourteen gloriously decorated rooms with antique holiday artefacts, games and activities, spiced cider and cookies on the veranda make this a delicious experience for all the senses. We also recommend visiting Bok Towers. Enjoy a peaceful retreat along with your favorite seasonal music at Bok Sanctuary where carillon music will be played during daily performances. All concerts are free with Sanctuary admission.  We particularly enjoy the Candlelight Tour of Homes in Old Northeast, one of St. Petersburg’s historic neighborhoods.

 

December – February Vacation Rental in Florida

 

Top tips for a perfect vacation rental include:

 

  1. Remember to pack a range of clothing, some warm socks and a lightweight fleece or gilet alongside your shorts and sandals will help ensure you have everything you need to enjoy every minute of your stay.
  2. No need to pack your stockings – at Erehwon Retreat we’ll have them hung ready for your arrival. If you’re staying in the bungalow, they’ll be over the fireplace mantel and lucky guests spending Christmas in the bungalow also have an oven, so they won’t need the recipe in our fourth tip!
  3. Many grocery stores will not open on Christmas day, so be sure you’ve either bought your groceries in advance or booked a table at one of the many hotels providing wonderful festive fare over the Christmas period. If you’re lucky enough to be spending New Year’s in Tampa, you can book a very special dinner at The Refinery, Rooster and the Till, and Ella’s American Café.
  4. Want to cook your own turkey, but staying in the Erehwon Retreat cottage so you don’t have a stove? No worries, we have a recipe for you. Buy a turkey of less 12lb or less, and Thaw it thoroughly. Heat some vegetable oil in a Dutch oven or pot big enough to hold it. Fry some onion, carrot and celery until the onion is translucent and then put the turkey on top of the vegetables, adding around two inches of stock, white wine or water or mixture of all three. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Check every thirty minutes to ensure the liquid level doesn’t drop below an inch, if it does, top it up. After two hours, check with a meat thermometer – the thickest part of the thigh should record at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit.  Continue to cook for at least another hour, basting the turkey with the liquid each time you check the temperature which you should do every 15 minutes. Remove to a carving board, and cover with tinfoil to relax for 20 minutes before carving. While you wait you can be reducing that delicious stock to make gravy!
  5. Take time for a stroll, because there is something truly special about wandering through Florida’s lush landscapes at this time of the year. Our wonderful overhead canopy of tree growth is a century’s worth of verdant greenery. A fantastic way to start your day is to take a cup of coffee outdoors and enjoy this beautiful scenery first hand.
  6. And with all the time you spent sea shelling, remember many Floridians make their holiday unique by showcasing shells they’ve picked up on the beach. Why not add them to a string of lights or use them as decorations on your holiday tree? You’re only limited by your imagination.

 

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma

After a long day and night of heavy rains and 74 mph winds, we are very happy to report that Erehwon Retreat has suffered no damage. We’re returning to business as usual tomorrow and will be able to honor all future reservations. I thank the many former guests who voiced concern and sent prayers.  Florida took a pummeling coast to coast.  Many tears to those who perished and prayers for the thousands of families facing major rebuilding this year.