By JACOB KRAMER
Theories abounded when David Merry began pouring sand and shells in a plot in the backyard of Cleaveland House, the home of Island author Cynthia Riggs, “There was all kinds of speculation — was it a bocce green, a tennis court, a place where I could burn brush, a garden, a memorial pet cemetery?” A writer of mysteries herself, Ms. Riggs no doubt relished the suspense. The public’s guesses were soon proved wrong when a 34-foot 1967 Egg Harbor pleasure yacht was trucked in to be berthed on the pad.
Though the boat may seem out of place on land, Ms. Riggs is no stranger to the water. Before settling down in her ancestors’ home (eight generations of Riggs have lived in Cleaveland House) Ms. Riggs made her life on the water. She has been a private captain on yachts and barges, and has delivered boats all over the world, including doing an Atlantic crossing in a 34 foot O’Day sailboat with a mutinous crew of one.
“After one day he looked at me and said he didn’t think he could stand 31 days with me,” she said of her treacherous first mate. “I found another crew member named Butch, who was a vegetarian, so I switched out all my Dinty Moore beef stew for tofu and bean sprouts. Then Butch couldn’t make it, and Larry the mutineer ended up coming with me. Larry was a strictly meat and potatoes kind of guy, and after a few days, we’re seasick, and all we’ve got is this tofu. How much more trouble can you have?”
Hopefully the Victorious (named after Ms. Riggs’s sleuthful nonagenarian protagonist Victoria Trumbull) will not be plagued with such tribulations. Formerly the Poseidon, the boat was salvaged from a lumberyard in Goose Bay, N.H. Ms. Riggs saw a similar boat advertised in Boats and Harbors, and while looking for a photo of the first boat, she encountered the Poseidon for sale on Craigslist for less. “I looked at it and could see that something could be done with her,” she explained, “and the restoration has been such fun. She’s such a beautiful boat.”
The Victorious is quite a sight. Perched on metal stanchions, her red white and blue hull arcs gracefully above sun-bleached clamshells. The boat is all wood, a rarity in these days of steel and fiberglass, and has the indolent bulk of luxury one does not always associate with fishing boats. “These Egg Harbors were the Cadillacs, no, the BMWs of boats,” she said, “Every little part has three, four, five uses,” she said, showing off how the cabin door opens, closes, converts to a screen for hot weather and can be sealed for a Northeaster.
The boat has come a long way, both geographically and aesthetically, since its residence in Goose Bay. Ms. Riggs bought the boat in October, and Jocelyn Marine of New Bedford replaced the transom, then transported it to New Bedford. From there, Ralph Packer barged the Victorious to Vineyard Haven, then Phil Hale brought it to Cleaveland House on the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. Repairs have ranged from removing the fly bridge for work and replacing rotten boards, to the reupholstering of the cabin settees.
As a temporary measure, Ms. Riggs has replaced the marine head with a composting toilet, whose ventilator stack reaches above the boat like a jaunty sea-green flag pole. “It’s strictly low-tech, you just add a compost starter,” she said. “But nobody’s yet had the courage to use it.”
Contrary to some rumors, Ms. Riggs is not renting out the boat to lodgers, though someone may be setting up an office in it, as it is a nice space with a WiFi signal. Ms. Riggs expects her repairs to be done in a few years, but in a few months the Victorious should be ship-shape enough for a “lawnching” party. Later will come the heavy-duty installation of engines and a generator.
For now, the boat provides an swooping visual counterweight to her colonial home and blooming garden. Ms. Riggs gives the vessel a glance and shrugs, “I don’t really see what the big deal is. Everybody ought to have a boat in her yard.”