Refitting a 1967 Huckins Linwood
A 56-year-old, refitted Huckins Linwood yacht becomes groom-to-be, Shane Scott’s marriage counselor.
Photos by Robert Holland and Keith Johnson
Love and Boating
A 56-year-old, refitted Huckins Linwood yacht becomes groom-to-be, Shane Scott’s marriage counselor.
By the time you’re reading this, we’re smack dab in the middle of April and you’re likely sitting at your work desk, fighting off palpitations aroused by the thought of where you’ll dock this Spring. Well, at least your fluttering hearts were induced by this joyful interval … for me, it’s the other famous season that has me in its clutches. The season surrounded by unending decisions between orchids or lilies, and linen or satin. The season that marks the end and the beginning of a young man’s life all at the same time. Yes, folks, I’m talking about wedding season.
You might be asking yourself, well, what does marriage have to do with boating? The answer is simple—everything.
Allow me to rewind the hands of time back to 2022 for a moment. Somewhere in the months before winter, my boss, Dan Harding, asked me to attend an end-of-the-year classic boats, planes and cars event called Vintage Weekend, held in the Florida Keys. It was a trip I had to take my girlfriend on, he said, before going on to explain a time when he had gone stag to the very same event years prior and was forced to spend intimate dinners staring at other couples and families from his table for one, and later from the balcony of his hotel room as he sulked quietly in his private two-seater jacuzzi. He felt awkward and alone and wanted to spare me the experience.
“I can’t go,” Lauren told me with little hesitation. It wasn’t the first time she’d rejected a getaway idea from me. With a strict, traditional Japanese mother who hails from the Land of the Rising Sun, she’s the kind of girl you have to get home by sundown.
Fast-forward to November, and somehow, I had convinced her family to let us go on a trip to Hawaii, to visit her sister in Oahu. While we were there, I asked her to marry me. And to my pleasant surprise, she said yes. What better way to celebrate this accomplishment than a romantic trip to the Keys?
“Now, can you go with me to Florida” I asked. “No,” she said, reminding me that we are engaged, not married.
Fast-forward another month, and I’m sitting by myself in a candlelit room, staring at all the happy couples. Humbug. Among the thoughts that loomed in my mind was that I’m going to need marriage advice. But little did I know I’d receive it so quickly.
The next day, during a walk down the docks, I came across a beautiful 53-foot vintage Huckins Linwood, called Miramar. It was a boat that I heard about in days prior to the event, and I expected her to be the refit story I was looking for. What I hadn’t expected was that a 56-year-old boat would become my marriage counselor.
Stepping down into Miramar was more like stepping into a well-furnished living room than a yacht. I mentioned the thought aloud as I walked across the pleasantly fluffy blue carpeted interior.
“That’s exactly what we were going for,” the boat’s owner Keith Johnson, a 58-year-old former Air Force flight line worker and retired Dunkin’ Donuts franchise owner (which he owned with his wife), responded. “My wife Kerry designed all of it,” he added, explaining how he got to pick the engines in exchange for Kerry getting free reign on the interior.
For the Johnsons, refitting Miramar has been about an 18-month project, nay, journey, filled with compromises, starting all the way back with finding the right vessel to call their own. Little did they know it, but in the eyes of a young groom to be, their entire process became the epitome of matrimony.
“For a while we became professional boat shoppers,” Kerry said. “I was less concerned about the size but I wanted functionality in the boat as well so that we could enjoy any guests we had on board, but also make it a boat that was easy to navigate in inside and on the waterways,” she added, admitting that originally she wanted nothing bigger than 48 feet.
Keith on the other hand, hankered for a big boat, with his eyes set on a 57. Thus, once again, compromise was key. To get the engines out from under the salon and below the cockpit instead, Kerry accepted something five feet longer, while Keith relinquished 4 feet; in July of 2020, they settled on the 53-foot Miramar. But when they found their dream boat, it wasn’t exactly dreamy; far from it. Much of the vessel was rotting, it had no engines, the waste tank was full (for God knows how long), all the cabinets were stuffed with visibly expired food, the paint was ugly and worn, the interior décor featured unique touches like a vanity mirror that appeared to be made from broken beer bottle pieces and to top it all off, the boat reeked of an intoxicating combination of waste, fuel and oil. But, “Boy, she had some great lines,” Keith said.
The couple decommissioned Miramar themselves, taking everything out from trash and rotten food, and whatever else people had left on board, to the sanitation systems, the wiring, the flooring and the mattresses. They even scraped wallpaper off the walls and took the insulation and ceilings down on their own, all the way to the bare wood—well, some of it was wood.
“We thought we had real wood under here and we thought we were going to have a nice woody boat you know, in the salon, the smoking room is what I refer to them, as back then they looked like that,” Keith said.
When the couple got to sanding one of the doors, they got excited, exclaiming “Look at this beautiful wood underneath!” Keith sent a photo to their carpenter and asked what kind of wood it was. He couldn’t tell. The carpenter had him bring a piece to the shipyard. The next day, as Keith was walking proudly toward him, the carpenter could tell from 15 feet away. “That’s not wood, it’s Formica,” he said.
It turns out, back in 1967 the whole salon was done in Formica, which is simply plastic phenolic resin laminated onto layers of ordinary brown kraft paper, to which a decorative layer is added and coated for wear resistance.
“When you went back to the owner’s manual, it shows that’s the way this boat was built, with Formica, in a lot of places and you know, mahogany plywood, so it was kind of interesting to see that,” said Keith. “And then we said, ‘OK, what’s our struggle of keeping that?’ And that’s where we maybe took somewhat of a right turn.”
The couple decided to paint the whole salon in an off-white to give themselves a blank slate—reckoning that they could always add wood trim as they saw fit.
“We like what we have,” Keith said of the off-white scheme. “It’s very clean, open and very bright and that’s probably one of the major comments that we get when people walk down. It’s a 1967 boat and you know, you can see their eyes kind of roll like ‘Oh, my God. What are we going into?’ And then they come downstairs and they go, ‘Wow, this is so bright!’”
When they had totally stripped the boat down to its bare state, the gears began turning within the Johnsons’ minds on how to put things back together. They worked with carpenters, electricians, Cummins and other professionals to redesign their classic yacht.
In the Air Force, Keith worked as an aircraft armament technician, which means he loaded bombs onto planes. But it also means he spent 21 years troubleshooting and repairing armament systems on A-10s, B-52s, F-4s and F-16s. Some skill built on the job, coupled with years of childhood experience putzing around the garage with his father, gave Keith the aptitude to tackle Miramar’s mechanicals himself. So, as much as he could muster on his own, he did, including refitting the electrical, plumbing, sanitation and installing the air conditioning. He’d have experts in the boatyard inspect his work regularly to make sure each step met ABYC standards. And as the Johnsons were putting Miramar back together, the challenge they continually faced was maintaining the character of their vintage boat while modernizing her for their own present time needs. The couple would save the little things—doorknobs, handles, hinges—and take them home to soak and scour with steel wool to get off any old paint or corrosion.
“I think it was amazing how the old products came back to life,” Kerry said. “It was something that first I thought, these will be replaceable, but you really didn’t need to because so many of these small parts really were built to a different standard—and they’re solid pieces. So that was a lot of work, but it was something we could just do over time you know, while we were decommissioning things and while they were being put back together.”
Of the original parts that the Johnsons kept intact, perhaps the most vintage of all are the mechanics. There are no hydraulics on Miramar, instead Keith utilizes sprockets and chains with a turnbuckle that connect to a series of pulleys. These go all the way to the engine room and rudders for steering the ship. The throttle and transmission are also operated by a series of chains and pulleys. The only electrical components on the engines are the RPM, oil pressure, temperature and voltage gauges.
“Salt can get into a circuit board and kill your modern motors, but on ours it can’t happen” Keith said. “As long as you got air and fuel, you’re good to go. Plus [with the way it’s set up] it tracks very well, it’s very straight.”
After hearing so many technical refitting details from Keith and Kerry about Miramar, I decided to get down to the nitty gritty.
“How do you two feel doing this refit and how has having Miramar affected your marriage?” I asked.
The Johnsons turned to each other, and my question was met by immediate laughter. It was the kind of laughter that comes with seeing the same person’s face every morning and night for 20-plus years.
“Well, there were some interesting discussions during the process,” Kerry said, still laughing.
“We are very different people in the way we work, so that gave us some challenges,” Keith added.
With a career background in project management, Kerry is someone who likes to understand the process of things, so she dug deep into knowing the ins and outs of their boat. She read a lot of articles about the process of refitting, and everything pointed to the fact that they were in over their heads in time and cost (two major factors both spouses admit they underestimated). At least every other week, Keith would go to the yard for a week and manage the work being done on Miramar. And he’d come ready with Kerry’s concerns as well, on areas of the boat that didn’t seem to be making as much progress as others. Through this touch and go system of checks and balances, the couple managed to keep the momentum of their refit steadily moving forward.
From the beginning, Kerry knew she wanted their boat to be as quiet as possible, so the Johnsons could have conversations with guests while underway. The shipyard workers took the couple to listen to a variety of engines so they could narrow in on which option made the most sense.
Where the compromises and communication really started to come into play was with the salon. Kerry worked with the contractors to add sound attenuation to the salon. Then came working with painters and furniture companies on the coloring that the spouses both wanted.
“And you know we didn’t we didn’t fall into the traditional nautical theme that a lot of people think of on a boat, but we wanted very durable goods on the boat because we know; they’re going to get wet, there’s going to be spills, you know, things like that,” Kerry said. “So, we focused a lot with the Sunbrella products and then we went down the road and I would lay stuff out with Keith and kind of show him what I thought. And then we kind of talked through what made sense or what didn’t.”
Mr. and Mrs. Johnson both had their knacks. Keith’s was the electronics and the engines; Kerry’s was the interior. Putting their know-how together, the couple filled each others’ gaps in the ways that were needed to turn their boat into a home. Kerry would come to Keith with the stove that she wanted in the galley, and Keith would balance that thought against the infrastructure, considering whether they had the amperage or voltage and if a measurement fit available space.
“That would kind of be our back and forth; I’d say, “Well, you can have this, but it needs to fit in a 24- by 20-inch space versus a 30 by 36,” Keith said, noting that he took countless photos using his hand or a tape measure in an area of the interior in order to translate the furniture and appliances Kerry saw online, and how they would actually fit on the boat.
At one point during our talk, Keith gestured me to follow him down toward the galley.
“There’s something I want to show you,” he said.
There, attached to a wall at eye level, was the original, steel hull number plate, with first launch dated as February 14, 1967—Valentine’s Day. Somewhere around winter of 2021, Keith and Kerry had an idea. They were going to relaunch Miramar on the exact day, 55 years later—whether or not the boat was completely finished.
“I told the shipyard, whatever we need to do, this boat will be on the water with Keith and Kerry on it February 14th,” Keith said.
“She was not in tiptop shape then, I don’t even know if we had a seat at the helm,” Kerry said. “But we took her out anyway for a little spin to see if she was ready to go.”
“Well, was it romantic?” I asked with a shrug.
Keith and Kerry turned to each other again with a laugh—the kind of laugh that had me wondering if after enough years go by with someone, that adjective becomes funny.
“No because we were still talking about everything else that needs to be done,” Keith said, before adding, “I’m kidding.”
It was only their second time out on the boat, so they were a little nervous, hyper-vigilant toward any sound or shake as they were underway.
“I don’t think we had champagne, but I think we had a bottle of water,” Keith said, still laughing, though Kerry assured me they uncorked a bottle later, when safely off the water again.
From here, the Johnsons plan to get to Rhode Island for a wedding in August and stay up there for another two or three months. They’re still deciding if they’ll stage their boat somewhere on the East Coast or bring it all the way back to Florida, but they’re set on starting their Great Loop adventure soon after.
“I want a picture of us on the hook with the Statue of Liberty and the New York Bay in the background,” Keith said.
They may not have said it, but from what I can tell, a lot of the values in Keith and Kerry’s own relationship and their experience together went into refitting Miramar. They’ve built something together that will continue their voyage into the autumn years of love. When I reflect back at my own journey with my fiancé Lauren, it’s exciting how far we’ve come, but for the most part, we are still looking ahead. I hope by the time we get the chance to look back at our own voyage together we’ll have as much to smile about as Keith and Kerry. Oh, and don’t worry, once we tie the knot, she assured me that she will be joining me on every work trip Dan sends me on.
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