Follow the Gleam

Iconic American racing ship comes to Boothbay Harbor
Fri, 07/28/2023 - 10:30am

    Thanks to Windjammer Days, a rich marine history and a community of sailing enthusiasts, Boothbay Harbor sees its fair share of beautiful boats. It is hard for a ship to stand out amid other stunning vessels. But whether due to its sleek lines, long history, or because the 86-year-old boat still wins races, the Gleam turns heads.   

    Gleam’s presence in Boothbay Harbor is pretty special because she's not from here, and you don't see boats like that often here,” said Andy Tyska, owner of Bristol Marine in Boothbay Harbor. “It was important to bring her here and expose, not just Gleam to Maine, but Maine to Gleam.”  

    Tyska is co-owner of the Gleam, one of the most notable yachts in the harbor. The ship primarily splits its time between Boothbay Harbor and Newport, Rhode Island.   

    Tyska co-owns the boat with Dennis Gunderson, general manager at Bristol Marine.   

    "She's a unique kind of spectacle to see in the harbor,” said Gunderson. “In Newport, she's known as a 12 Meter racing boat. Here, she's known as a purebred vintage sailboat, which is really nice to see. She sort of has a double life in that way."  

    Gleam was built in 1937 at Henry B. Nevins Yacht Yard in New York, and designed by famous naval architect Clinton Crane, for him to race the 12 Meter class as his personal vessel.  

    The 12 Meter class racing ships are strong by design, according to Gunderson. They are long, tall and deep with a sizable ballast, which requires a significantly robust structure the shipyard was known for.  

    “Dating all the way back to the first moment that they started putting her together, she was built to that high standard,” Gunderson said.  

    Gunderson said he also has a personal history with Gleam: It was the first boat he captained. He and his wife had met shortly before, and they sailed together on Gleam as captain and mate.   

    In 2020, Tyska and Gunderson bought the boat, which was up for sale for the first time since 1975. They soon had it back in the water, swelled up and on its way to Bristol Marine in Maine. Gunderson said they did considerable work on the boat that winter, but it never needed a full restoration thanks to a line of diligent owners who have passionately cared for it.   

    “She's the only substantial and prominent classic and vintage both of her size and pedigree that is unrestored, she's just been maintained,” Gunderson said.   

    Alongside its construction, much of that pedigree comes from its racing capabilities, reflected in its name. It was inspired by Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Merlin and the Gleam,” encouraging readers to “follow The Gleam.” Many sailors have unwillingly heeded Tennyson’s words when racing against it.  

    According to Gunderson, the ship has a host of medals with wins in competitive regattas at famous venues such as New York Yacht Club, and it has been active in classic racing series throughout New England for three decades.  

    Gleam was an America’s Cup trial horse, a set opponent for a champion ship and crew to train against.  

    "She was used as a standard,” Gunderson said. “If you could say ‘We’ll get up to Gleam's speed,’ you'd have a chance to win the America’s Cup.”  

    Despite the ship’s age, it is still a contender in races. Gunderson said he and Tyska race Gleam in the classic New England yachting series in about eight or nine events a season. In Maine, they have raced in the Eggemoggin Reach Regatta and placed first in class at the 2021 Camden Classics Cup.   

    For Gunderson, racing the Gleam is a dream come true.   

    “That's where the rubber hits the road,” he said. "There’s no better feeling than racing on Gleam.... Racing the boat around the course is a terrific feeling. It takes a lot of work, experience, skill, and technique to very gracefully sail that boat quickly around a race course. It's not something that comes easy, but when you can do it well, it feels really good.”  

    This summer, Gleam will be in Boothbay Harbor in July and stay in the area for most of the season. Gunderson said the ship will be chartered out of the harbor when not racing, and then returned to Rhode Island for the end of the season.   

    When asked where her homeport truly is, Gundersun said Gleam does not have just one.   

    “She's been a Newport boat for a long time, and that area is definitely a home for the boat. But (Boothbay Harbor) is also becoming a home for Gleam,“ he said. "A boat like Gleam, she's got homes in many places ... She's welcomed in many places, and I think this is just another one.”