tampabay.com

Yacht's owner says his trips are no 'boat ride'

By PAUL SWIDER
Published February 14, 2007


INDIAN ROCKS BEACH

The adage is to never mix business and pleasure, but for Chris Robbins, his business is his pleasure as he plies the waters of the Intracoastal chartering his historic Trumpy yacht Chesapeake.

"There are lots of charters, but those are boat rides. This is an experience," said Robbins, 60, a retired Air Force and airline pilot who runs the wooden 50-year-old yacht out of the Holiday Inn Harbor Side marina. "When you're in this, you can relax and go back in time."

Robbins has been running trips on the 60-foot boat for about 18 months now. The 90 charters to date are enough to keep the business afloat, but that's not his concern, he said. He'd keep the boat even if he had no business.

"There are a lot of wonderful, beautiful fiberglass yachts," Robbins said. "This is different. This is history on the water."

Trumpy yachts date to the middle of the 20th century. John Trumpy Sr. started building boats in 1910, his most famous being the longtime presidential yacht USS Sequoia, built in 1925. Other clients were the moneyed families of the day: DuPont, Guggenheim, Morgan, Chrysler.

Trumpy yachts closed in 1973, due in part to John Sr.'s death, a fire at the Annapolis, Md., boatyard, and the advent of fiberglass for boat building.

That only about 450 Trumpys were ever built and fewer than 100 remain adds to the cachet of owning - or even seeing - one.

"The biggest thing is, after a charter, when we get back, people don't want to leave," Robbins said. "So we sit and talk about history."

Chesapeake doesn't have the history of the USS Sequoia, which served every president from Hoover to Carter, but it's seen some sights.

A prior owner lived aboard the three-bedroom boat in Washington, D.C.'s Capital Yacht Club and entertained the likes of astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Tom Stafford, U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, and the musician Yanni.

"The yacht club style of life is interesting," said Dutch von Ehrenfried, who owned Sea Baron III, later named Chesapeake, from 1988-95.

Von Ehrenfried attracted astronauts because of a long connection with NASA both as a contractor and as a flight controller for the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions

Von Ehrenfried, who now works as a financial adviser for Raymond James, sold the boat when he moved to Florida, mainly because of its expensive maintenance costs.

Robbins said he's put almost $500,000 into fixing the yacht he paid half for in 2003.

Don Avoures, a retired naval architect, has rebuilt more than half of the Chesapeake over the years for Robbins and von Ehrenfried, and has worked on other Trumpys as well.

Historically, the high maintenance costs didn't matter to the wealthy owners because owning a Trumpy was a sign you'd made it, he said.

The boats also were built for cooler climes and for near-shore cruising. "They weren't intended for open water," he said. They were intended to allow barons to spend cool summers in coastal waters. "You wouldn't take a Ferrari for a drive in the mud either."

Robbins confines his trips to the Intracoastal and Tampa Bay, sparing the wood planking from the punishment of waves.

Spending so much on maintenance, Robbins said he's had little spare cash to advertise his sunset cruises, intimate wedding services, or spa cruises. He's considering moving the boat to downtown St. Petersburg to improve his exposure. Word of mouth is already increasing his customer base.

"I've been getting more calls lately," he said. "I just want to have it here so people can enjoy it."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

Fast Facts:

A historic boat

-Chesapeake was built in 1957, and was originally christened Aimie, later known as Sea Baron III.

-It weighs 95,000 pounds and is made of mahogany with teak decks.

-It still runs on two original Detroit Diesel engines, which at full speed can reach 10 knots.

-There is 2,040 square feet of living space on the 60-foot boat.