Howard & Houseboating
The legendary Howard Hughes had many personas…record-setting aviator, motion picture producer, billionaire tycoon…houseboater?
The legendary Howard Hughes had many personas…record-setting aviator, motion picture producer, billionaire tycoon…houseboater? That’s right, according to John Bermingham, New York antiques dealer and current owner of “Eleanor”, a 1939 Trumpy executive style motoryacht (the forerunner of modern houseboats) which belonged to Hughes in the 1950’s and kept at his ready in Miami, Florida for entertaining friends and clients.
The yacht was known as “Vita” when Hughes owned her and has had several name changes since, but besides the name, little else about "Eleanor" is different from the day she was launched in Camden, New Jersey over 64 years ago. The 71’ yacht is one of only 15 or so Trumpy motor yachts in existence from before World War II, and certainly one of the most faithfully maintained and restored, according to Bermingham. “The staterooms have even retained their original twin-bunk arrangement and original mahogany furniture so often removed in remodeling projects. It’s a throwback to more modest times… before mega-yachts and fiberglass”. The interior of the “saloon” or deck-house is paneled in richly varnished mahogany, mounted with German-silver fittings shaped like seashells which pivot to allow a brass crank to roll each window up and down.
The feel of the boat is decidedly “40’s” with slip-covered club chairs and custom built furniture all in a slightly “deco” style. The yacht originally had a crew of three and there are "call-buttons" everywhere, mounted into walls and furniture to ensure that first class service was always within Hughes' reach.
A boat like this is not left to any boatyard to restore, which is why Bermingham has made the trip to Riviera Beach for “Eleanor’s” annual haul and refit. “There is only one firm I would trust with a project like this", says Bermingham, “and that is Moores Marine in Riviera Beach. “They are the Trumpy specialists.” Plans for "Eleanor" include the usual maintenance on the wood hull as well as special attention to the brightwork throughout the boat. “With the success of the movie ‘The Aviator’, I want her to look her best this year”," says Bermingham. “I expect she will get more than the usual amount of attention, especially if she goes to the Palm Beach Boat Show in March”.
Owners of boats such as this know the importance of regular maintenance, since the smallest problem can quickly grow to monumental proportions if left unchecked. “Every year one or two of these ‘old ladies’ gets chopped up in a yard due to neglect” says Bermingham. “It’s very sad and completely preventable.” “We’ve benefited by the maintenance done by previous owners and expect to pass 'Eleanor' along to the next owner in better shape than we found her with the help of Jim Moores. It’s like a sacred responsibility.”
Little is known about the years which Hughes owned this antique gem. According to the book “Trumpy” by Robert Tolf, Hughes saw a listing for the vessel in a trade publication and purchased her immediately. The extent of his personal usage is not completely known due to the mysterious nature of the man, but at least one instance of Hughes traveling on board can be confirmed by Trumpy historian Jerry Foster who was in Ft. Lauderdale when Hughes took possession of the yacht.
Foster has kept track of every known Trumpy yacht for the last thirty or more years and has a special affinity for the boat builder John Trumpy, whose name was synonymous with the finest craftsmanship available in its day. The presidential yacht “Sequoia” was built by Trumpy, as were yachts owned by other celebrities such as Josephine Baker and John Wayne.