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Alden's Malabar X reconstructed

Jan 1, 2003
From Ocean Navigator #119
January/February 2002
The call of the sea can reach far inland to unlikely places. Like to a boatyard on the shore of Cayuga Lake in upstate New York. That's where a $1.1 million wooden schooner is nearing completion. She's a reincarnation of John Alden's ocean-racing Malabar X, a victim of Hurricane Bob and the ravages of time. Doug Hazlitt, a seventh-generation grape grower on the family vineyard overlooking Seneca Lake, bought the hulk in 1997. He hoped to fix her up and put her to work in his Seneca Day Sails charter business he had started up several years before, in conjunction with the family winery, Hazlitt 1852. His plan was to carry up to 24 passengers up and down Seneca Lake in the summer and then head south via the New York canal system and the Hudson River to salt water for a winter of week-long charters in the Caribbean.

The nearly complete hull of Malabar X is finished in traditional, fishing-schooner black -- "to hide the rust stains."
   Image Credit: Susan Gately Photo

But the 67-year-old hull was tired. Iron fastenings and old oak planking had loosened, and much of the vessel's backbone had deteriorated to a point beyond repair. Hazlitt got hooked on ocean sailing as a youth aboard his aunt's 30-footer on Narragansett Bay. Subsequently, he did offshore yacht deliveries and worked aboard a Maine dude schooner for several summers before operating a 38-foot William Atkins-designed gaff schooner on Seneca Lake for eight years. He was not about to give up; Seneca Lake neeoeed a new schooner. With the help of another former salt-water mariner and boatbuilder, Dennis Montgomery, he would see that the old schooner was revived.

In 1999, work began in Ithaca, N.Y., at Montgomery's boatyard on a reincarnation of the 59-foot Malabar X. It was decided that the old cast-iron keel, original fittings and most gear would be fit to a completely new wooden hull. A 30-foot-long log of angelique was milled on site and the keel fashioned from it. The new hull, built to inspected vessel standards, included custom, cast-bronze floors, metal knees, and bronze and copper fastenings; this heavy construction has made the new hull stronger and more durable than the old. Clear, cedar-like silver bali was hung for planking, angelique for ceiling planks and teak for the deck. (Angelique is one of the most durable, rot-resistant hardwoods known.) The yard used special plane irons and a cobalt bandsaw blade to work the tough wood.

For two years, half a dozen men worked on the hull (occasionally taking time out to work on other projects while Hazlitt hustled up some additional liquidity to keep Malabar afloat). As he freely admits today, "I didn't have a clue," about what he was getting into on that fateful first trip to Greenport, Long Island, to look at the boat. The initial projected completion of repairs to old Malabar in 1999 slipped to an all new hull for 2000, then was set back another year to fall 2001.


Bronze hanging knees provide strength and ambience

But the project kept rolling along. The old 20,000-lb, cast-iron keel was attached. The 1930 Edson steering gear was rebuilt and installed, a new 140-hp Yanmar installed. The teak decks were laid. Old portlights were cleaned, polished and fitted with new gaskets, hatches were built, and the old windlass was bolted on. Twenty-six-foot, clear, old-growth Douglas fir was salvaged from the vats of a winery on Lake Erie and was re-milled and scarfed into 60-foot lengths to build up a new, hollow main mast. The rudder was hung, the bowsprit fitted, and the launch date slipped again to spring 2002. This time it wasn't the boat construction that caused the hold up. This fall, low water in the Cayuga Lake outlet posed the problem.

No one seemed sorry though. Like one of the Hazlitt Winery's pinot gris or Chardonnays, this magnificent wooden hull is a product that should be allowed to proceed at its own pace. When finished, the reincarnated Malabar X will have a gaff rig with main topsail, two jibs and a fisherman staysail. She'll be 75 feet overall, 59 feet on deck, with a 14.5-foot beam and an 8-foot draft. She'll weigh-in at around 70,000 lbs, and she'll be ready to go anywhere. Keep tabs on the boat's progress by visiting the virtual boatyard at www.cayugawoodenboatworks.com. Susan Gately