Sailing on board the ultimate nautical antique
Elegant 1920s yacht Canim is the ultimate nautical antique in Marty Sutter’s extensive collection.
US yacht owner Marty Sutter has been collecting nautical antiques since his 30s. “I have one of the most foremost collections in the country,” he says. “That includes compass binnacles, telegraphs, builder’s plates, navigational instrumentation and even a lot of furnishings that came off 19th and early 20th-century cruise ships.” Only one thing, though, would provide the icing on the cake. “It occurred to me eventually that the ultimate nautical antique I wanted to own was a large wooden motor yacht.”
Together with his wife Lisa, a country-wide search began, starting with vintage Trumpy boats, so-called thanks to the name of the naval architect who built them, John Trumpy, and favoured by the aristocracy back in their heyday. “We looked at about every Trumpy that was for sale but none of them passed the smell test! My wife has a sensitivity to mould and she’d be able to smell it in them,” says Sutter.
Yacht owner Marty Sutter and his wife Lisa
Yacht owner Marty Sutter and his wife Lisa
It was only after years of searching that they happened upon a 1920s motor yacht called Canim, entirely by accident. “We have a villa in the British Virgin Islands which looks onto Virgin Gorda. We saw this magnificent wooden boat in the water there.” The couple ventured down to the ocean to investigate and it was love at first sight. “It was so elegant and beautiful, I had to have it,” says Sutter.
Fate then intervened and back in Harbor Springs, Michigan, while flicking through Wooden Boat magazine in a grocery store, Sutter happened upon a full-page sales ad for that very boat, built by Ted Geary. “Geary cut his teeth designing sailboats in Southern California but he ended up migrating to Seattle where he started designing motor yachts,” explains Sutter. After a few false starts with the existing owner, he finally bought Canim and set about doing a restoration. “The previous owner had done a structural refit,” says Sutter, “but aesthetically, it could have been better.”
It was always important for the couple to retain a sense of Canim’s rich history. “During the roaring twenties, eight of these boats were built, and eight are still floating,” says Sutter. “Ours was the last one, commissioned by a certain Colonel Blethen. He owned the local newspaper which made him a very powerful man. In our minds, we always assume that Canim was meant to be the belle of the ball, the most elegant of the eight.”
Another of the boat’s previous owners was Hollywood movie star Buster Keaton. “He had married the middle daughter of a very powerful Los Angeles businessman, but he was a notorious philanderer and she had enough of him. He bought the boat for her as an olive branch for his philandering ways. She accepted it, then divorced him anyway!”
Since then, there have been good owners and bad owners, but for Sutter – renovations would take all of them into account. “We feel that it’s almost a responsibility to be a custodian of something of historical value,” he explains. That’s not to say they haven’t put their own mark on the boat, and in fact, the Dutch craftsman who helped out with their restoration work was even drawn to offer an added feature. “As he was approaching the finish, he asked if he could do something at his own cost to put his thumbprint on the boat,” explains Sutter. “He wanted to inlay a large compass rose on the forward salon sole of 80 exotic hardwoods. He did that and it is just brilliant.”
Canim is not the couple’s only leap into the world of historical yachts. For six years, they also owned a 1973 Burger boat by the name of Chanticleer, before donating her to a charitable organisation. She was originally owned by Ogden Phipps, a famous horse breeder and tennis champ, but in 1986, she was sold to Frances Langford Evinrude.
“The boat’s second owner Frances really made it famous – she was a Hollywood songstress and an amazing business person, and she loved boating,” says Sutter. “When I acquired the boat, the interior was almost entirely pink. She bought Chanticleer in her late 80s and owned it until her death.” Even after the renovations, Sutter paid homage to Evinrude, designating a Francis Langford Stateroom, complete with posters and movie memorabilia.
Canim, meanwhile, turns 90 this May. “It is our intention to own the yacht for another ten years until it reaches 100,” says Sutter. For now, the couple is spending more time than ever on board, cruising up and down the coast of Western Michigan – revelling in the boat’s rich past and remarkable present.