Violet in the Vineyard

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Violet: under sail, internal views, working on the keel

Gary Maynard has sent us these photos from Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, where he and his wife keep Violet. I’m a little shy of opening another fifie, baldie or zulu discussion I’m sure Jay Cresswell will put us right as he has before – but I think we can agree that she’s an outstanding old vessel, and that we’re delighted that the Maynards are looking after her. Many thanks for the information Gary!

Here’s what Gary wrote:

Violet was built in 1911 by James Nobles of Fraserburgh for Alex Stephens, who named her after his newborn niece Violet. Her original cost was £199.

‘Rigged as a typical zulu, she was fished by her owner until his retirement, probably in the 1930s, when his sons converted her to power, adding the typical skeg and vertical rudder discussed in your blog. She had a big Gardner engine with a Thornycroft gearbox and a very small wheelhouse added. Oldest son John skippered her through the war, with both younger brothers as hands. The youngest, Georgie, never married, but instead took care of Violet until they sold her in 1975 and retired. She was known locally as the ”Grand Old Lady of Fraserburgh” and was kept in very good condition.

When I bought her in 1986, she was on her second American owner, and in semi-derelict condition, hauled but on an old marine railway in Vineyard Haven. My wife and I spent four years rebuilding her before relaunching Violet in 1991 when she was 80 years old. Since then, we have chartered her and sailed quite a bit, including through the Caribbean, Panama, the Galapagos, the Marquesas, Hawaii, British Columbia and Alaska.

‘With her big rig, she is a good sailor, and has made some remarkable passages, including 3000 miles across the Pacific in 21 days, comfortably averaging 165 miles a day, and 2100 miles to Hawaii in 14 days. She powers at 7 knots with an 80hp Ford driving an offset feathering propeller.

‘My wife and I can sail her ourselves, but she is great with four to six crew.

‘I always thought she could be stiffer, so I decided to remove all the inside ballast and cast a 10,000 lb ballast keel and bolting it to the wooden keel, adding about 12in of draft. That’s when we discovered the keel bolt issues and got into the project shown in the photos.’

10 thoughts on “Violet in the Vineyard”

  1. Hello,

    I hope I have tracked down the current owners of the Violet.

    My great grandfather, Alexander Grieve Stephen had her built for , I think, £90. She was named after his baby daughter, Violet, my great aunt. My grandfather, John, became skipper about 1936 and was so until he retired in 1975, aged 73. I started going to sea aboard her when aged 12 during the school holidays and was a crew member for about 3 years before she was sold. My grandfather's brothers, Georgie and Willem were crew and it was Willem who never married, spending his life caring for the Violet. He lived with his sister, Violet, and an older brother, Sandy, who skippered the Zulu Vesper, until an accident forced him to retire at an early age.

    Where do you moor the Violet and would it be at all possible to visit her one last time?

    My grandfather would be absolutely amazed that she is still seaworthy


    Gordon Firth

  2. Nice work Gary.

    We have often said that one day we would sail to the US, cut the old keel off Ocean Pearl and fit a new keel there, because everything is bigger and better there. Well theres a nice piece of timber for the keel you have for Violet-and that has to be the biggest circular saw I have ever seen!

    We would love to see updated photos as the work is progressed.


    Nick Gates.

  3. Just come across these pix
    i recall her at the end of her career in fishing
    Violet was by far the best kept zulu boat left working at that time
    It’s great to see that she’s been getting some real tlc

  4. I am the current owner of Violet (I bought her from Gary in 2013). She currently lives in Chicago, on lake Michigan.

    I find it odd looking at this classic boat against the Chicago skyline – my beautiful boat so far from her roots.

    1. Hello Roger,
      I’ve just come across your entry by chance. Gary told me he had sold her and it was quite emotional for me. I had visied Gary at Martha’s Vineyard about 5 years ago and was astounded at how good the Violet looked. Unfortunately we were unable to sail her as she was in her winter moorings.
      It’s great that she is still being well looked after and I hope you enjoy her as much as my family did.
      May I come and visit her sometime?
      Gordon Firth ( great-grandson of the first owner)

      (email – or

  5. Just an update – we have now booked our flights and now at 60 years of age I’m going to sail on the Violet, the first time in 40 years. Thank you Roger for keeping her alive. And thanks Gary, all your hard work has paid off. I came ashore from fishing in 1993 and my last boat was named the Vesper!


  6. I worked with Gary Maynard and brother Hudson on Square-Topsail schooner Shenandoah in 1986 and I would say they are the finest sailors I have ever met.

    Thirty years later, I am blown away by remembrances of their seamanship, passion and skill. A few years after Shenandoah, I sailed with Gary and Kristi on the historical schooner When and If on exciting sail to Nantucket on a blustery late summer day. It was one of the greatest sailing experiences of my life.

  7. Just a technicality….Violet and Vesper were built by Wilson Noble in 1911….James Noble didn’t start his boatyard until 1932 although, as an apprentice with his elder brother Wilson, he could well have worked on both of them….

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