Story of Legend at the Vero Beach Marina

PHOTO PROVIDED

For anyone with the heart of a sailor and/or a love of Ernest Hemingway, seeing “Legend” will take your breath away. Legend  is a virtually exact replica of the author’s beloved Pilar, the only boat he ever owned and with which he sustained a relationship that lasted longer – 30-some years – than any of his marriages.

Yesterday, Legend stopped overnight at the Vero Beach  Municipal Marina on her way to the Palm Beach Boat Show.  Aboard were owner Wes and Marianne Wheeler, of the Wheeler Yacht Company,  and Steve White, owner of the Brooklin Shipyard in Maine, where the Legend was built.

Vero Beach is a lot more than a convenient stop on Legend’s 2,000 maiden journey.  The Legend and the Pilar  have a connection to Vero. Island resident Eugene Wheeler is the grandson of Howard Wheeler Sr. who founded the Wheeler Ship Corporation, the same company that built both  Pilar and  Legend.

The original company had been dormant for years when, last year,  the family was asked, by Ernest Hemingway’s niece Hilary Hemingway, to build a replica of Pilar  for a movie about him with which she was involved. The movie didn’t happen, but  it was then that Wes Wheeler  became intrigued by the boat’s story and determined to bring the company back to life and go ahead with the Pilar job.

A fine synthesis of boat-building history and modern technology, Legend was  built  by hand in an amazing fete of reverse engineering from historic documents. Her exterior  is a detailed, authentic  incarnation of Hemingway’s 1934 customized 38-foot Wheeler Playmate. As was Pilar, Legend was built with only African Mahogany, Douglas Fir and Teak. Beneath the skin, however, she is crammed with high-tech state-of-the-art electronics.  Wes Wheeler scoured the world seeking equipment from the original Playmates, but often had to create a  duplicate. A  pair of (faux) analog clocks  are “actually driven by  electronics. The compass,” he pointed,  “is real.”

Wes Wheeler says recreating Pilar  cost more than Legend’s cool $1.6 million price tag. And today, 86 years later, fisherman can haul in the big ones from the deck of their own “Pilar.” (fighting chair can be included.)

Today ‘s generation of Wheelers sees the beautiful Legend as a tribute to her predecessor,  Pilar: “a fitting metaphor for Hemingway’s life – full of adventure, passion and a welcome place of solitude.”

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