Longtime Newport, Rhode Island, sailor Bob Morton was telling war stories to his grandson, Ty, this past winter, and just like that, with a click or two of a mouse, the two were staring face-to-face at an old family friend.
Bob comes from a racing family that spent the 1970s and ’80s tearing up the waters of Newport and Annapolis, Maryland, with Brigadoon III, a 57-foot Sparkman & Stephens raceboat that was launched as Equation in 1968 and bought and renamed by Bob’s father in 1972. She was the first S&S design after Intrepid, which, with her revolutionary split keel and rudder, won the 1967 America’s Cup.
Brigadoon had a similar underbody, and she was fast. “We won every day race we entered,” Bob recalls of that first summer. The good times were short-lived, however. His father soon became gravely ill, and the family, fearing it couldn’t afford to maintain the boat, sold her in 1974.
They shouldn’t have. Mr. Morton recovered, and the clan wanted its boat back. Finally, in 1980, after Bob had finished a career with the Navy and started a new company, he used his pension payout and the Mortons bought Brigadoon back. She quickly returned to her winning ways. They campaigned her up and down the East Coast, and in 1982, she took home top honors at Newport Bermuda, beating thoroughbreds such as Nirvana, Carina, Kialoa III and Ondine on corrected time.
A year later, she was chartered for the Miami-Jamaica race. Bob remembers watching The Today Show when news broke that two yachts — one his — had been seized by Cuban gunships. It took intervention by Ted Turner and Sen. Claiborne Pell to get Brigadoon sprung.
Through it all, the boat became part of Morton family lore. Then in the mid-’80s, Bob’s father died and the family sold Brigadoon once again, which, in hindsight, triggered her slow, agonizing decline.
Once, in Key West, Bob spotted the boat’s distinctive 15/16th rig and found her unkempt and tied to a run-down pier. His last encounter was in Antigua. All the wood was stripped off her, the interior was gutted and the mast had been replaced with a spar made from a utility pole. Bob figured that was the end.
But then Ty clicked away. On YouTube, he found a video about a Sparkman & Stephens raceboat that had just been restored for cruising by its new owner, Pieter Schram, at the Dutch yard Ventis. She was bound for Croatia with the name Nicole Maria on her transom. More details were discovered on Facebook, and in no time, Bob was in touch with Pieter.
In March he shared the good news with sailing friends, concluding, “It sure is nice to see her back on the water because she truly is a classic and an important part of our family’s history.”
If things go according to plan, that history might someday soon include a Croatian charter and reunion with his old flame. Stranger things have happened.