The year was 2004. Stuck in a mud bank on Dog Island was a 45' sailboat laying at a 40-degree angle.
Filled with water and encrusted with barnacles, her once shining hull and fine lines were all but hidden. Her former beauty and pedigree could only be imagined at this point. It took vision to think that she could be brought back from the brink of total ruin and once again sail with the grace and grandeur of her former yachting days. In her glory days she enjoyed the world of yacht racing and cruising that befit her earlier days in South Florida. From the drawing board of noted naval architect Charlie Morgan she was designed in 1966 and built in 1981.
This former classic beauty now found herself lying open to the elements, and by all accounts, dying a slow death with every rising tide and passing storm. It was in this condition that Mason Bean from St. George Island first laid eyes on her. He looked beyond the barnacle-encrusted hull that was filled with mud and an engine that was a mass of rusted iron and a mast whose base had corroded away from salt water saturation. Mason had a vision of this beautiful hull once again sailing as she did in her earlier days.
As someone always looking for a project, whether it be a house or a boat, he wasn't discouraged by her condition. Mason tracked down the owners and asked what their plans were for her. They said they'd sell her, for $50,000, as is. Mason countered with an offer for $4,000 and threw out the word "closure.” A week later the call came; he had a boat. As much as he may have wanted this, the reality of owning her now set in. The long road to salvaging and rebuilding her had not even begun.
With a full moon tide, she was floated off the mud bank on Dog Island and towed the seven long miles to nearby Timber Island in Carrabelle. After six months dockside at Timber Island, she was finally pulled out of the water so the work could begin in earnest. It soon became apparent to Mason that a project of this magnitude needed to be closer to home in order to get the work done efficiently.
In 2010 she was trucked to St. George Island and unloaded at a nearby bayfront lot that Mason owned. Keep in mind that safely loading; trucking and then unloading a 45' long, 11' wide, 15-ton vessel is, in itself, no small feat. Once she was carefully unloaded at her new home, scaffolding was erected around her. The rebuild began to gain momentum.
Then, about a year ago, in January 2012, Martin Ben Baruch entered the picture. As a multi-talented boat builder, electrician and rigger, Martin was just the perspiration, inspiration and talent that this project needed. With Martin on board, the pace picked up and a launch date in the not-too-distant future became a reality.
By summer's end, Lady M was nearing completion. Once again, she was loaded, trucked back to Timber Island and again unloaded. On October 7, 2012, Lady M. was launched at Timber Island as a nervous but proud owner, along with family, friends and onlookers stood by.
For Mason, it was a relief to finally see her floating again and in such beautiful condition. However, this was just the beginning of a new chapter in Lady M's story. She remained docked at Timber Island as the many final preparations and changes were made in order to sail her around to her new home port of Apalachicola. With final tuning to rigging and sails, Lady M. was ready, ready enough anyway. The day had come, on December 14, after eight long years of blood, sweat and tears, her dock lines were cast off and Lady M. was finally headed home, under sail!
Mason's dogged determination to breathe new life into a sunken 31-year-old boat had finally paid off. Standing at the helm on that gray, damp, December afternoon, he was a very proud owner as Lady M flew through Bob Sikes Cut on a rising tide under full sail. It was as if she were once again alive, as the wind drove her powerful hull through the waves. With all the grace and speed seldom seen in boats of more recent design, Lady M's classic lines and sweeping sheer will truly set her apart wherever she sails.
Future plans for Lady M include youth sailing programs in an effort to encourage and motivate young people in our area.
About the author: David Damon is an avid sailor, boat builder, photographer and writer. He teaches sailing for the Boy Scouts and other organizations, including programs encouraging sailing for those with disabilities.