Saturday, April 01, 2006


Cuba to restore Hemingway's 'Old Man and The Sea' boat


March 30, 2006


HAVANA, Cuba -- The boat Ernest Hemingway used to fish marlin in the Gulf Stream and track German submarines during World War II will be restored at the writer's estate in Cuba, American conservation experts said on Thursday.

Hemingway bought the 40-foot boat he named Pilar from a Brooklyn shipyard in 1934 and used it for deep-sea fishing trips that inspired "The Old Man and The Sea," for which he won the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.

But tropical humidity and termites have damaged the Pilar, a two-engined Wheeler Playmate, and the canvas cover of the cabin top needs replacing, said Dana Hewson, a watercraft preservation specialist.

"She has been very well cared for and it is going to be a reasonably moderate restoration project," said Hewson, senior curator at Mystic Seaport, a shipping museum in Connecticut.

"This is a tremendously important boat. Hemingway spent so much of his life in Cuba and the boat played an integral role in his life while he was here," Hewson said at Finca Vigia (Lookout Farm), the Spanish colonial villa on a hillside outside Havana where Hemingway lived from 1939 to 1960.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, America's foremost heritage organization, last year declared the estate, including the Pilar and a treasure trove of 9,000 books, manuscripts, letters and hunting trophies, one of its most endangered sites, the first foreign property to be listed.

Builders are busy repairing the house and replacing its leaky roof. All Hemingway's furniture and personal belongings --from his typewriter to the Martini and gin bottles he left behind on the drinks tray-- have been stored in containers.

Cuba is paying for the restoration because the Bush administration, citing long-standing trade sanctions against Cuban leader Fidel Castro's Communist government, did not allow the Boston-based Hemingway Preservation Foundation to send money raised in the United States, only expertise.

Humidity and temperature data loggers, and a rain gauge, brought to Havana last week by a team of conservationists, must be removed from Cuba by August 31 under a U.S. Treasury license.

"Unfortunately, the U.S. government has not allowed any financial backing. It considers that to be helping Fidel Castro," said Ada Rosa Alfonso, director of the Finca Vigia museum. "Our motives are not economic, we just want to preserve Hemingway's heritage," she said.

Modifications requested by Hemingway to the shipbuilders made the Pilar an ideal boat for sport fishing. They included a roller across the stern to haul in large game.

During 1942-43, the writer armed the boat for a different kind of hunting trip: patrolling the islands of the Gulf Stream for German U-boats that came to refuel off Cuba's north coast.

The weapons included .50 caliber machine guns, a handful of grenades and a bazooka, Alfonso said.

"It wasn't a military mission to destroy German submarines, just to detect their presence," she said.

Hemingway's anti-sub patrols have been dismissed as curious activity by a bored man of action who wanted to contribute to his country's war effort.

Hewson said such patrols were a real practice along the U.S. East Coast where many American yachts went into government service patrolling for U-boats. But they usually had Navy or Coast Guard crews. Papa Hemingway prowled the seas by himself.


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