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Whether in the tony Hamptons or historic Mystic Seaport, the 81-foot motoryacht Lady Elizabeth is a classic to be seen
By Kim Kavin
Some of the raft-ups are already ten boats across as the mid-July sun sears Three Mile Bay. Bikinis and beer bellies abound as boats snake along the channel single-file and jockey for anchor space amid the long-taken mooring balls. The annual July Fourth fireworks will explode over the water in just eight hours, and each captain wants the best view in East Hampton, Long Island, one of New York’s most exclusive of enclaves.
It’s a scene for boats to be seen, including a stunning blue-hulled 1976 Donzi launch and the 1929 motoryacht Belle, a beautifully restored 77-footer that calls Newport, Rhode Island, home. As the big boats vie for room to drop their hooks, dinghies meander through the maze with skippers pointing out the profiles of their dreams. Few fail to crane their necks for a better look at the 1971 Burger Lady Elizabeth, which at just over 81 feet long is the grandest dame at the show before the show.
The captain of the Viking motoryacht Crown Jewel, on the hook to starboard of Lady Elizabeth, can’t resist striking up a bow-to-bow chat with Capt. Mike Nesbitt about the tight squeeze. Nesbitt, a slow-talkin’ Southerner, responds with a grin as big as his home state of Texas. Crown Jewel’s commander says he’ll be careful not to swing into our classic beauty should the wind change so much as a hair.
“Well,” Nesbitt hollers back, offering to do his part to avoid bumping, “this just looks like a Grey Poupon boat. We’re really a French’s yella.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. A week aboard Lady Elizabeth is an experience in style—the elegant kind embodied by the dapper doyenne’s pretty lines, and the endearing kind that radiates from crew working hard to make sure guests feel at home. Whether in New England, where we cruised courtesy of her owner, or in the Bahamas, where she is scheduled to spend her first winter charter season following extensive renovations, Lady Elizabeth will charm her six guests with good fun and good folks—and at a good price, to boot.
Lady Elizabeth started out as Encore I three decades ago and has since been through five owners. The second changed her name to Firefly, and the next two called her Isabella. Each added his own touches, which gives her the kind of idiosyncrasies that can take a new captain a while to decipher.
Unfortunately, as Isabella, those idiosyncrasies also combined with half-finished renovations and rotating skippers to give the boat a reputation for breakdowns and problems. “When the owner got tired of paying for the boat, he also got tired of paying for the crew,” Nesbitt explains. “They walked off in the summer of 2001. There were already a bunch of charters lined up, and the captains who came onboard couldn’t figure out the boat in time.”
Her new owner set out to make Isabella a distant memory. He completed the renovations, priced Lady Elizabeth to bring business back, and hired experienced charter crew.
The boat re-entered the market this summer with rebuilt 12V Detroit Diesels, a good deal of new electronics, stabilizers with new electronic controls, new soft goods throughout, new bathroom fixtures, a new teak foredeck, updated air conditioning, new satellite phone and TV systems, new galley appliances and countertops, and a new hot water heater that provides instant hot showers. She’s priced at a base rate of $15,500 per week, which includes the owner’s 12-foot inflatable and Nesbitt’s center-console Dusky. “We should be a very attractive price,” he says, “especially with a 25-foot tender.”
Our charter party was the first to spend time aboard, just a few weeks after the revamped boat’s debut at the June charter yacht show in Newport. The excitement about Lady Elizabeth’s rebirth was palpable. As we cruised at 11 knots off Block Island, Nesbitt took two charter bookings via cell phone in just one hour. Read more
The work done on the interior and systems shows. The saloon’s leather sofa is comfy enough for cocktails, yet cushy enough for naps. We had air-conditioned staterooms and tons of hot water, along with flawless satellite TV service abovedeck and below. The yacht’s interior spaces are in keeping with her age—which means showers that may challenge anyone over 6 feet tall and a couple of twin berths sized more for children than adults—but she is a comfortable boat, and one that is well kept by Nesbitt and his wife, Trini Smith, who serves as mate/stew.
They met, ironically, in the pilothouse of a classic Trumpy and have been married for ten years, during which they lived aboard a 38-foot Chris-Craft powerboat and owned a share in a 42-foot Sea Ray powerboat. They later bought into a 60-foot Hyatt motoryacht, which they lived aboard as captain and mate/stew. They handled 11 weeks of charter in their first Florida/Bahamas season and learned from their mistakes, then moved up to a 72-foot Hatteras motoryacht. They stayed there until April 2003, when they came aboard Lady Elizabeth.
The couple considers the boat their home, and they welcome guests aboard in that fashion. They serve their clients well, but enjoy becoming friends, too. “We like to have a nice, relaxed, non-stuffy trip,” Nesbitt says. “If people want us to be constantly saluting, it’s gonna be a long trip. We can do it if we have to, but we’d rather not.”
They’re fans of children (the owner has three, all younger than 5), which is nice because the boat’s high gunwales limit the chances of youngsters toddling toward danger. The boat is also willing to discuss charters that include dogs, since the couple’s Yorkshire terrier, Desdemona, lives aboard in the crew quarters forward. She keeps to herself if guests are averse to her presence, but we welcomed her. She proved a worthy sea dog—keeping watch for dolphin from atop the settee at the helm, overseeing docking by poking her head through the hawseholes, and napping in our laps during passages.
Surprisingly (and to her great loss), little Desdemona never once begged for food as we dined on the aft deck. It’s the boat’s only eating area, but the distinctive meals we were served made it seem like a new experience each time we sat down.
There is no permanent chef aboard Lady Elizabeth, but Nesbitt says he intends to stick with two freelancers he knows well: Ross Miller, who dives for fresh lobsters to share with guests, and Nicole Gemereux, who was aboard with us. The Quebec native trained at the Art Culinaire of St. Adele, specializing in French and Italian cuisine, but her repertoire is quite varied. From a light, zesty lunch of chicken salad and piña colada dressing served in a hollowed pineapple, to a nicely portioned dinner of succulent pork tenderloin stuffed with apples and Italian sausage, to a decadent dessert of apple crepes with a creamy sauce of Kahlua, Bailey’s, and cinnamon, Gemereux never failed to please.
She says she relies heavily on preference sheets and welcomes guests on special diets. “I don’t mind doing three or four kinds of dishes in the same meal, as long as I know in advance,” she says. “Challenge makes you stronger.”
One of the few challenges we faced during our trip was dining under way. Lady Elizabeth has stabilizers, but if she catches a good-sized roller, the chairs on her aft deck slide. No matter; most meals were served in port, where we were treated to views of the sun setting over fishing fleets in Montauk, New York, and of the recreated old town in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut. The week before our visit, Nesbitt had to pull up the boarding ladder in Mystic because tourists thought Lady Elizabeth was part of the historic exhibits.
The boat is scheduled to spend winter 2003/04 in the Bahamas, where Nesbitt and Smith have cruised almost all of their careers and where access to the water is key. Unfortunately, the same high gunwales that will keep kids aboard make water access a bit tricky, as does the steep ladder to Lady Elizabeth’s narrow swim platform, but many guests should be able to step off the side boarding areas onto the Dusky’s bow for fun in the sun.
Enterprising guests will also want to make the climb up to the boat deck. We used it as our perch that night in the Hamptons, enjoying a bottle of Merlot and watching the crowds get rowdy during the fireworks. We were close enough to hear music from the bandstand: “The Rainbow Connection” by Kermit the Frog during the colorful blasts, “Moondance” by Van Morrison during the white streakers, and “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong as the finale approached.
We ooohed and aaaahed at the torched night sky and were particularly impressed with the launches that exploded in the shapes of smiley faces. The grins were a good 30 feet across if they were a foot.
Almost as wide as our own, thanks to the best show in town.