Fred Brehob is a historian of the Rhodes 19 and, not surprisingly, he is a veritable fount of information about the boat. I learned that in 1952 distinguished yachtsman George O’Day formed his own company to build affordable, trailerable sailboats. (George O’Day was the first American to win both an Olympic gold medal in sailing and the America’s Cup.) In 1958 O’Day arranged with the original designer, Philip Rhodes, to use his name to identify the boat. The next year, O’Day officially changed the name to Rhodes 19 and began to market the boat up and down the east coast.
Stuart Scharaga is an entrepreneur who lives in Florida and a Rhodes 19 enthusiast. By 1980, the O’Day Corporation had fallen on hard times. In December 1982 Stuart Scharaga bought the Rhodes molds and inventories when he found they were for sale.
R-19 historian Fred Brehob was impressed with Scharaga’s fast action. “Thanks to his dedication and integrity, Rhodes 19 fortunes took a sharp upturn”.
Scharaga said, “I put the whole load on a truck and drove to Maine, where I planned to open a boatbuilding business.” After negotiating with the town of Rockport, he set up Stuart Marine. Two years later operations were moved to a larger, less expensive site in Rockland. Naval architect Jim Taylor, from Marblehead, Mass., was hired to develop production methods and molds that would produce a profitable, sound boat.
Jim Taylor told me the problem with the O’Day design was that it used old-school fiberglass technology. “It was labor intensive.” Jim came up with a three-piece unit: a hull, a deck and an IGU or internal glass unit. The boat’s aesthetic appearance was maintained, but it was easier to produce. Rhodes 19 supporters initially objected, until they tried one out and liked it. “They liked it even more after they won a race,” Jim laughed.
Meanwhile Stuart Scharaga had discovered that building boats was a tough business as he rapidly went through his available cash. What he thought would be a fun “retirement project” was turning out to be a grind. “The boat business is a tough way to make a living,” he told me. “There is a saying, ‘if you want to end up with a million in the boat business, start off with two million’. Boy, I found that out to be true.”
In 1988, Dave Whittier bought Stuart Marine and Stuart Scharaga returned to his real estate business in Florida. Dave Whittier has directed Stuart Marine operations in Rockland ever since. Dave modestly describes himself as, “a small businessman in Maine who runs a one-man office. We do whatever it takes to keep the lights on.”
During the course of his boat-building career, Dave has followed some basic business axioms, not the least of which is setting up multiple profit centers to help his business get through hard times. On their website one sees that, in addition to selling boats, Stuart Marine is a parts business, a brokerage business and a repair and refurbishing business.
The Rhodes 19 is not designed for cruising, although there are exceptions to every rule. Dave Pyles is retired and lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. When he turned 60 in 2004, he decided to celebrate his birthday by sailing alone up the Intracoastal Waterway. After looking around for just the right craft, he met Dave Whittier at a boat show and bought a fixed keel Rhodes 19.
Dave sailed his R-19 1,000 miles from Stuart, Florida up the Intracoastal Waterway to Norfolk, Virginia in 22 days. Dave told me he slept on board the boat more than half the time. (He also admitted that sleeping under the cuddy was a bit of a squeeze.) Most mornings he got underway as the sun was coming up and continued as long as there was daylight. “In May the days are long and I could go until after 7:00 PM” he says.
I asked Dave if he had any memorable experiences and he told me about a couple of times trawlers came close to running him down. Apparently the trawler helmsmen were studying their charts so intently that they didn’t see him on their radar screen. His only resort was to yell as loud as he could. He remembers the horror on their faces when they swerved to avoid him at the last minute.
Dave told me he made a lot of friends on the trip, especially when folks found out how far he was going. “You mean you aren’t just going across the bay?” Dave described the experience as “incredibly rewarding”. When his wife saw the letters and pictures he received, she said, “Now I understand why you did what you did.”
Dave Whittier has been building the R-19 for over 20 years. When I asked him why the boat has continued to be so appealing, he said, “The Rhodes 19 has a reputation as being very forgiving. You can go out and do stupid things and the boat will take care of you. It will get you home safely.” Stuart Scharaga adds, “The appeal of the Rhodes 19 is that it is both a great starter boat, and that it is also attractive to people coming down from bigger boats.”
Naval architect Jim Taylor sums it up. “The R-19 story is that the boat has suited so many people so well, in so many different ways, for so long. If I were redesigning it today, I might change some details, but the overall parameters are still pretty darn good.”
Harry Gratwick’s latest book Mainers in the Civil War was released in April. For more information, visit harrygratwick.com.