A Sailor’s Dream

How Matt Sutphin, captain of the schooner Tyrone, came to own this remarkable and storied boat and how others have shared the magic in a charter.

By Marlissa Briggett | Photography by Luke Simpson

From Chatham’s Stage Harbor pier, you get a full-on view of the majesty of the Tyrone, a classic wooden mackerel schooner. She’s the kind of boat that warrants a second, maybe even a third glance before you give in and simply stare at her.

She’s regal. She’s beautiful.

Harwich native Matt Sutphin is the lucky owner. He found the Tyrone on the internet back in 2006 when he was trolling for boats (which he jokingly refers to as “boat porn”). From his initial viewing online, he could tell she was special.

The idea of owning her was daunting as he’d never owned anything larger than a 23’ long Chatham scallop boat, a simple boat made of plywood and boasting just a console and an engine.

He kept an eye on the Tyrone for over a year wondering why she wasn’t selling. He knew that an old wooden boat is not for everyone. “It’s not simple,” he says. “There’s significant upkeep. She needed remedial work on her wood.”

At 75 feet long, she was big, but perhaps not big enough for those with deep pockets.

No doubt, she was built of good stock. Built in 1939 in Dorchester, she was designed by well-known marine architect Sam Crocker and built by the Simms Brothers. Her original owner was A.C. Tener, an Irishman transplanted to Pittsburgh who wanted a boat that could take him back home to Ireland. He christened her the Tyrone, after his home county.

Her original home port of Booth Bay Harbor, Maine helped preserve her wood. “There’s nothing better than cold, briny water,” says Sutphin. “It’s like pickling. The salt in the wood won’t allow organisms to grow.” Tener kept her ready for adventures by employing a full-time captain and cook for 22 years. It meant that Tener had likely taken good care of her, and Sutphin reasoned that this made her younger than her years.

Sutphin made a trip to New Hampshire to see the Tyrone. Once they met, he had to figure out a way to own her. He had to get his wife on board, literally and figuratively. It was rainy on the day his wife Cynthia made a first encounter. That night, they slept in a bunk with leaks from the deck surrounding them, rain dripping on their necks and faces.

Tyrone_LukeSimpson_0007The rain didn’t deter her. When asked about it, she simply shrugs and says, “I like the outdoors.”

In order to own her, Sutphin had to sell the houses that they had bought as retirement investments. He knew
he also had to commit to providing substantial sweat equity and to treat her as a “retirement income platform.”

He’s absolutely enamored. You can see it in the way he shows you around the teak decks, the way he points out the sitka spruce spars, the bronze fastenings, and the double sawn white oak frames. You can see it in the way he babies her. During Hurricane Irene in 2011, he stayed on board alone with her, riding out the storm to make sure she was okay.

Yes, he admits, he talks to his boat. “Schooners have personalities,” he says. “She needs an explanation if I’ve screwed up in some way and she gets my praise when she deserves it.”

Sutphin is a good fit for an old boat. For many years, he built handsome luxury homes in Westchester County where he had a special expertise in repurposing old barns. He disassembled the barns, moved them to New York, and rebuilt them piece by piece, converting them to lovely homes worthy of Architectural Digest. So he knows his way around wood, around tools, around repairs and restoration.

And he’s resourceful. When he recently found himself without a dinghy, he borrowed a dinghy from the dock and paddled out to the Tyrone with an oar borrowed from another dinghy. He does what it takes to get the job done.

There’s something inherently satisfying about seeing Matt Sutphin realize his dream of owning this beautiful schooner. Even more satisfying is that he lets others vicariously live the dream, by chartering her in a variety of arrangements to suit your tastes and your budget (see insets). Many attest that time spent on the Tyrone will be one of the most thrilling and magical times of your year. So, join her down in the Caribbean for a winter break. Or take a simple sunset sail with friends. Or serve as crew in a real sailing adventure by racing the Tyrone in regattas.

Just get out there.

Memorable Charters on the Tyrone

On A Midnight Watch You Realize

For the last two years, Jeffrey Weinsten of North Salem, New York has chartered the Tyrone with friends and family for weekend trips to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. Two years ago, he brought his friend Dennis who had never sailed before. When they arrived at the Tyrone at 11 p.m., Sutphin decided to take advantage of the tides and weather by sailing to Martha’s Vineyard immediately. Dennis stood at the helm while Weinsten and Sutphin worked on the rigging. By choice, Dennis never relinquished the wheel for the entire six and a half hour ride to Martha’s Vineyard. “The footnote to that story is that he was so in love, he bought his own sailboat this year,” says Weinsten. “It changed his life.”

Racing the Wind

People with a taste for racing can sign on to crew for Sutphin during regattas. At $250 – $500 to participate in a race, Sutphin says it’s a bargain: “It’s a hell of a lot cheaper than owning her!” The Tyrone is proving herself a contender. In each of the last two years, she has won the Fisherman’s Cup, a schooner race from Gloucester to Provincetown. The night before the race, the crews from all the boats share a banquet together and then visit one another’s boats. Don Milbier, who has crewed both years, describes his first regatta as “exhilarating.” The record breaking speed made it “like a sleigh ride surfing the waves.”

A Posthumous Sail

Before Walt McArthur passed away in 2011, he had asked that his ashes be scattered over his favorite fishing spot, northwest of Martha’s Vineyard. His sister Bet asked Sutphin to sail down to Woods Hole to pick up Walt’s family, friends and a bagpiper who stood on the deck and piped them out of Woods Hole. They spent a beautiful June day sailing the Tyrone, all of the sailors in the group taking the helm at some point in the day. In homage to Walt, a blues harp musician, they listened to “loud, stompin blues,” raised Walt’s tye-died shirt on the yard arm far above them, and took turns flinging his harmonicas into the sea.

Reconnecting with an Old Flame

Architect Don Grinberg first became acquainted with the Tyrone in 1967 when he sailed her in Norway and Sweden during college. For years, he wondered what had become of her. A couple of years ago, he learned she was docked close to his summer place in Bass River. He tracked down Sutphin and the two became quick friends, bonding over their shared love of the Tyrone and sailing. Now Grinberg juggles his work schedule so he can “steal moments” on the Tyrone. He likes to recall moments on the Tyrone when “it’s blowing strongly. She’s heeling and moving really well. I love to be at the helm and share the vibration with the other people on the boat. It’s an idealized moment.”