Mother Nature didn’t cooperate yet nothing can stop antique yacht, car and plane fanatics from having a good time at this annual event.
Cherished TV and movie characters, heroes, superheroes, and villains mingled with mere mortals of the like of, ahem, presidential candidate Donald Trump—and together they threw one hell of a party. Cinderella made her entrance in a chariot pulled by a mouse, fairy godmother and prince in tow. Captain Jack Sparrow brandished his pistol, while Uncle Fester, Cousin Itt, Gilligan, Batman, and the entire crew of the Starship Enterprise (including two Minions) showed off their moves on the dance floor.
That’s how they roll at Vintage Weekend, a four-day celebration of antique and classic planes, automobiles and yachts at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida. Organizers and attendees of the event held on December 3-6, 2015, deserve accolades for their zeal and good spirits since for the first time in 21 years, the annual hoopla at the renowned and private club received so much rain that air and land shows were canceled, including the highly anticipated Concours d’Elegance Drive By. It’s a spectator favorite during which nearly 100 antique cars roll by on a red carpet announced by organizer Ron Elenbaas (aka Batman, and a car collector for more than 20 years) who regales the audience with the story behind each entry. The thrilling Aerobatic Air Show with flight demonstration of old airplanes over the Keys’ waters didn’t take place either—in fact, only four of the more than 20 scheduled aircraft made it to Ocean Reef’s runway. The inclement weather didn’t prevent the Yacht Exhibit viewing, however. As Vintage Weekend Chairman and Founder Vicki Goldstein joked, “Plane and car people didn’t realize it but the boat show went on.” In spite of the rain, any attendee will tell you that the event was a success.
“It’s a ball… it’s so much fun,” said Mark Hyman (aka Gilligan) of St. Louis, Missouri, a first time participant whose car, a 1936 Daimler DE 36 Drop Head never made it out. “I don’t really care that I didn’t get to show it, it’s really more of a social event.” That seemed to be the consensus.
Indeed, aside from its display of antique conveyances, Vintage Weekend consists of a full schedule of social gatherings that includes a tailgate party, road rally, lectures, a dinner dance with costumes, and an awards presentation. It’s not only a rare opportunity for non-members to visit the 2,500-acre resort but also a chance for classic and antique conveyance aficionados to mingle with current custodians and other giants in the world of means of transport. Where else could a “regular Jane” chat with and dance along Burger Boat Company’s President Jim Ruffolo, aka Uncle Fester?
“Everybody is here to have a good time,” said Herk Strumpf of West Palm Beach, Florida, among the very few pilots who braved the weather to bring his 1947 Stinson Voyager. “It’s a shared thing; we all love mechanical machinery.” The aircraft’s canopy cover earned it the Best Disguise Award—it was a tie with Garrison Lickle’s 1943 Stearman. (Organizers proved their creative and fun side with unique award titles.)
Those who didn’t mind the rain got an exclusive and in-depth look of the two dozen yachts on display at the docks and on land. There were Trumpys, Huckins, Ryboviches, and more. The largest boat on display, the 1971 Feadship 123-foot Blackhawk (the prized possession of the family that owns the Chicago Blackhawks), allowed Ocean Reef guests to board her for the very first time, and proudly displayed the Stanley Cup for all to see. “We’re here no matter what, and I’m so pleased that all the boaters opened their boat for the show even with the rain,” Ruffolo said pointing to the 75-foot 1974 Burger Loose.
For many, there was only one rule to get aboard: shoes off. “Go inside, look and break something,” said Allen Zwickel in jest to a young boy as he entered the cabin and salon of his 1917 Consolidated Yacht, the oldest boat in display. Had it not been for Zwickel— who calls West Palm Beach, Florida, home—52-foot Blue Mist might still be half sunk in the waters of The Bahamas, where Jim Moores of Moores Marine (with locations in Riviera Beach, Florida, and Beaufort, North Carolina) found her nearly two years ago. Moores convinced Zwickel to restore Blue Mist, the last of her kind, and the longtime sailboat liveaboard owner gave in. “I’m a sailboat guy and I don’t have a sailboat,” quipped Zwickel who sold his 30 footer to dedicate himself to Blue Mist.
For Peter Aldrian, the story of how he came to own his 1942 Chris-Craft 19-foot Gambler’s Taxi started with a commercial shoot nearly four decades ago. At the time, Aldrian of Captiva, Florida, headed an advertising and marketing company and it was during a calendar shoot using a Chris-Craft that the owner convinced and helped him get his very own. “The beautiful thing about that boat is that it’s the same age that I am,” boasted Aldrian, who added that only four of these mahogany boats were built. “The boat looks better than I do though.”
Stories of love and devotion abound at Vintage Weekend. Fate might have come into play as well for Michael Fernandez, owner of Pilar, a 1933 Wheeler—the sister ship of Ernest Hemingway’s famed boat of the same name. Fernandez, who was born in Cuba and moved to South Florida, grew up devouring Hemingway’s books. In 1999, he travelled to Cuba to meet Gregorio Fuentes, Pilar’s first mate. But it was at a dinner at his Miami home that the “magic” really happened when longtime friend Andy Garcia, taken by Fernandez’s encounter with Fuentes, revealed plans for a movie—the search for “Pilar” began. They found her in upstate New York and after sending her to Moores Marine for an extensive rebuild, she now gets to cruise along South Florida’s ICW—until she makes her big screen debut, that is. At the docks, a “Papa” lookalike greeted visitors and posed for pictures. Event participants were also treated to an hour-long lecture on Pilar’s re-creation.
Disappointment faded fast for aircraft aficionados with the rare opportunity to see up close a 1909 Curtiss Pusher—reassembled on the runway and exhibited in a display tent—and a special presentation from owner and club member Bill Nutt; Century Aviation of Wenatchee, Washington; and the Collings Foundation of Stow, Massachusetts, whose collaboration brought the Pusher back to life. It was in the attic of a home of the prominent Sturtevant family in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts, that a curator found wooden and metal parts wrapped in 1915 Boston Globe newspaper. The aircraft, a predecessor to the more famous Curtiss Model D, was restored with an original engine of the era to be flyable. “The problem is getting qualified test pilots,” said Nutt, who explained that the aircraft’s flight controls are “atypical,” such as leaning left and right to control the ailerons.
As for car lovers, they found comfort in watching some of the antique and classic automobiles that made the Drive-About in Ocean Reef and road rally to a nearby eatery, and later parked on a lot for all to enjoy. A Locomobile, a few Rolls-Royces and a couple of Ferraris among others were in attendance. If that weren’t enough, the Batmobile decked out with guns showed up and stuck around throughout the show earning oohs and aahs from all generations.
Rain or shine, Vintage Weekend is a must for antique plane, automobile or boat enthusiasts who get to mix with like-minded folks, exchange anecdotes and create long-lasting friendships. But spouses and partners be warned—the love of mechanics and machines is contagious. But forget the weather. As Goldstein put it, “There’ll be fewer complaints in the bleachers next year about the heat.”
— Story & photos by Nathalie Gouillou, Southern Boating January 2016