Labor of Love

BY Lee Lowrimore

Buying a boat can be easy if you’ve got the funds. Simply go to a dealer pick out a sleek new model and write a check. But for some people finding just the right boat is not a matter of money. It can mean months or even years of time and effort first finding and then restoring a boat that’s already on the water. Here are three couples who finally found the boats that were meant for them and discovered in each case that bringing them back was a labor of love.

Tug at my Heartstrings

Elizabeth Noble

We searched for a couple of years to find the boat we wanted ” Bob Rodman begins “we just couldn’t find the right one the one that…”

“That touched our hearts ” finishes Bob’s wife Anne.

“Then I saw an article in the newspaper ” continues Bob. “It showed a picture of a tugboat and we both said ‘That’s what we want. That’s it.’”

“The article was about a museum in Annapolis ” Anne says. “It had nothing to do with the boat the photo just showed the boat in the harbor there so Bob called the museum to find out if they knew what the boat was. Not only did they find out they found the owners and had them call us.”

“And of course they didn’t want to sell their boat ” Bob says wryly.

“But we discovered exactly what it was we were looking for ” says Anne.

The search for their dream ended in1997 in Wiscasset Maine with the discovery of the Elizabeth Noble a 37-foot Lord Nelson Victory Tug. Built as a cruising vessel the Noble has never actually worked as a tug. Nevertheless it has the charm and ride of one of those stout work boats. “People love this boat ” Anne says. “It floats differently. The ride is very flat very stable. Everybody who gets on this boat is just so enchanted with it because it’s so different.” She says kids always ask if Popeye lives there.

Bob had planned to truck the boat to North Carolina but a friend told him he needed to bring it back on the water. “I said ‘All the way from Maine?’” remembers Bob. “He said ‘If you don’t you’ll miss the trip of a lifetime.’” So the couple flew to Maine and brought it back on the water. “It was a great trip. Lots of adventures ” he says.

“We worked almost every weekend and a few whole weeks that first year ” Bob says. While they’ve done no structural work on the boat they have replaced the exterior teak trim and refinished all the interior woodwork. They’ve replaced all the curtains and cushions painted the boat completely and done some major engine work.

For years they gave pleasure cruises on the waterway as prizes for charity-sponsored events. Then recently in Ocracoke they saw a boat offering short local cruises to the public. “We thought ‘Wow! We could be doing that ’” says Bob. While they still work with charities the Rodmans started Wrightsville Cruises at the end of last year with the hope that it will grow into a viable business for his retirement. This has occasioned Bob to get his captain’s license and hire a group of local captains to pilot the cruises when he’s in Greensboro.

“The neat thing about this boat ” says Anne “is that you can bring your small group and have a very intimate time instead of being with a couple of hundred people.”

“Probably the most surprising pleasure of this whole deal ” Bob says “has been the people who’ve come on board. We’ve met people from all walks of life. The most interesting people you can imagine.”

Quite a Catch


The odd thing about the first time Randy and Kim Busey saw the Mystic was not that the boat had lain for eight years untouched and uncared for. Rather it was that they both believed the boat would become their home. “I saw the boat and I’m nautical and I loved the lines of the boat and I saw the potential of it so … we bought it ” laughs Randy who as a tugboat captain for McAllister Towing docks ships at the state port.

The Mystic began life as a 56-foot long-line commercial fishing boat whose wooden hull was laid by James Gillikin at the legendary East Bay Boat Works on Harkers Island. But now it was a hulk with rotten decks rusted out generator and no bilge pumps or batteries. Somehow though through the storms of summer and the winters of neglect the boat stayed afloat.

The Buseys had it towed to Bennett Bros. “And we put it on the hill ” says Randy “and commenced work.” They got a roll-off dumpster and just to get started threw away 8.2 tons of garbage. “We paid the bill so we know exactly how much it was ” Randy says.

They removed all the old wood then took a jackhammer and removed all the concrete from the fish holds. “We de-commercialized it ” Randy says. “So we just had a hull.”

From debris removal to rebuilding the interior Mystic was a family project. The Buseys’ children Brian and Kelli were 16 and 13 at the time work began. For almost a year all four Buseys focused on turning the boat into a home.

At the time they started Randy owned Wilmington Rod and Custom on Market Street. He would close the shop at 7 p.m. and then work on the boat until midnight. Kim who works full-time as an executive assistant at PPD would get the kids from one practice to another and keep Randy fed and clothed. “I told her that if she would just take care of me I’d get it done ” says Randy. “And we just plugged away. We did 95 percent of the work the first year and 5 percent over the next six.”

“I call it the ‘sacrificial year ’” says Kim. “We just worked nonstop on it.” She looks over at Randy as she tells the story. “He was the driving force. He kept us all on track and on schedule toward getting it done.”

Brian and Kelli worked on the boat as well every weekend during school over holidays and during the summer. Even the kids’ friends pitched in. “Their friends had to come help in order to see them ” Kim says.

“But they did have some good experiences from it ” remembers Randy. “It was work but it wasn’t bad work.”

And when it was finally complete Mystic was re-launched in November of 2000. Three weeks later the Buseys moved it to Seapath where it is berthed today.

As spacious as Mystic feels now it’s difficult to imagine what it was like to fish this boat in the open waters of the sea. What are now the salon and galley comprised the entire living quarters for the crew. This was where they cooked ate and slept.

Today the galley is an upscale affair filled with stainless steel appliances and custom lockers. With a standup refrigerator range convection oven and a surprising amount of counter and storage space it’s functional as well as beautiful. “I had to have it ” says Kim. “A family of four lived here with the kids going to school and us working.”

The cabin that serves as the pantry also houses a full-size washer/dryer a fold-down ironing board and the central vacuum system. Across the passageway the smaller stateroom is separated from the day head by a pocket door which Randy installed in order to create a guest suite.

The master head is a comfortable affair with a large shower lots of storage space even a phone and TV. “You can watch CNN as you’re getting ready to go to work in the morning ” Randy says.

The forward stateroom has storage everywhere. The two closets each have double bars one near and one behind for out-of-season clothes. There’s shoe storage under the bed and numerous built-in bookshelves. There’s even shallow attic space that provides additional storage. “We have room for everything we need and nothing more ” says Randy.

The Buseys added a flying deck aft of the wheelhouse to give Mystic a trawler look. It’s home to what they call their “Tiki Bar ” as well as a million-dollar view looking out over marsh grass the waterway and the barrier islands beyond.

“I love living aboard ” says Kim. “I’d be hard pressed to go back to a house.”

Everyone loves a Picnic


“I had known Parker Kennedy for years ” says Nicole White Kennedy an artist who shows her work at New Elements Gallery in Wilmington among other places. “He’d come to visit my parents in Connecticut. He and my father talked about opening restaurants together. I said ‘I hear you’re getting married.’ And he said ‘I’ve got a picture of my fiancée in my wallet.’ He pulls out this picture and it’s the boat.”

“She knew she still had a chance ” Parker says laughing.

“I had no idea this guy I knew for 15 years in New York had this wonderful old wooden boat ” Nicole says. “The next day we drove up the Hudson River and he took me out on it.” That boat she says had a lot to do with their courtship.

“‘Picnic boat’ is the appropriate thing to call this boat ” Parker says. “It implies a boat to take a day cruise on. Anchor out somewhere. The big couch at the back end with lots of seating. The table is designed for lunch.”

The Duchess a 34-foot Elco with a hull of Port Orford white cedar was delivered to its original owner in Huntington Harbor on Long Island on July 3 1929. Parker and his father discovered the boat in upstate New York in 1977 when it was about to be destroyed. “Yeah they were going to cut it up ” he says. “We bought it for $500 and worked two years renovating it and getting it back in shape.” He and his dad did all the work.

“We shipped the boat down on a trailer ” says Nicole. “And it arrived in the Pamlico in Little Washington.”

“We did a lot of work on it ” adds Parker “and got it all ready. And then we took it out for the first overnight. We anchored got ready to have dinner and as soon as the sun set what was it…”

“About a billion mosquitoes ” laughs Nicole.

“A cloud of mosquitoes like something out of the Bible ” Parker agrees.

“Literally a cloud.”

“We locked ourselves up down below.”

“In the heat of Little Washington.”

“With the doors and windows closed ” finishes Parker. “It was terrible.”

“It was my whining that made us move it down here to Seapath ” says Nicole.

“I made the mistake of bringing my wife down to Wrightsville Beach ” Parker says “and that was it. We had to move.”

“It was here for Floyd ” Nicole says as she begins a family story. “The dockmaster didn’t leave the island. He was up in one of the condos watching the boats. And he said the day after the hurricane; it was a real calm day here. And they kept hearing a …”

“… A boat trying to start ” Parker interjects.

“An engine turning over ” Nicole continues the tale. “An engine just turning over and over. They said it was extremely eerie like being in a ghost marina. And it was this boat. Apparently water had gotten into the keyhole for the ignition and it was making contact and the boat was trying to start itself.”

“The boat was made in New Jersey ” laughs Parker “it was trying to go home.”

“One of the fun things about having an old boat ” says Nicole “is when we take it out people wave people want to come aboard and look at it. People on sailboats people who don’t usually like motorboats like our cruiser.”

“If you look at these new boats ” concludes Parker “they don’t have any kind of real room like this. When you say “picnic boat ” it epitomizes a day like today when people will be outside with sandwiches and a glass of wine just talking and having fun and that’s what this boat is all about.”