Credit: Tom Kiley
This story is told by Tom and Ry Kiley, wood
boat enthusiasts (that's putting it mildly!) and life long
sailors, Tom works for Rockport
Marine, thus knows a thing or two when it comes to wood
boats. Some people have a rescue hound or cat, these two
went out and came back with a rescue boat (to add to their
menagerie of other- yes you guessed it - wood boats!)...
In the fall of 2008, my husband, Tom Kiley,
mentioned to me that there was a Nielsen boat he wanted to
buy and “fix up.”
It was the fall of ’08 for Pete’s sake, and
we were all watching the economy tank. There wasn’t a soul
anywhere who thought that buying a boat was a smart idea.
“Buy a boat?!?” many asked. “In what kind of
shape?!? ...... Are you nuts, Kiley?”
And then there were my thoughts: “We already
have a Nielsen boat.” I stated rather bluntly, referring
to Snow Star, our much-loved 37’ Nielsen/Walsted sloop.
“Why do we need another one?”
“We’re not going to keep her,” Tom answered.
“It’s just a rescue mission.” His plan was to put
this boat, called Star Song, back into working condition
and then sell her. He couldn’t sit back and watch a
Nielsen boat disappear. “If she doesn’t get back in the
water soon, she’ll never get back in the water,” he
That was the first hook. I’m a sucker for
beautiful wood boats. In fact, I’ve fallen deeply in love
with a few of them. So the thought of a wood beauty
disintegrating due to lack of use was… well… not an
option. This particular Nielsen boat happened to be in a
shed just down the road from us, in the neighboring town
of Rockland, Maine. So off we went to have a look, with
Tom fully anticipating my blessing for his winter project.
Star Song, the 43’ near sister ship to our
Snow Star, sat in the dark at the back of a fairly large,
oven-hot, dirt-floor Quonset hut. We flipped on some dim
lights to expose a blotchy looking hull, partially
stripped of paint. She looked sad and left-behind…. dirty,
lonely, unkempt, deserted. And yet she radiated an
absolutely stunning silhouette.
Uh oh. Stunning.
“How long has she been like this?” I asked.
“12 years,” Tom replied.
Ouch, I thought, my gut starting to churn
We leaned a ladder against the toe rail and
climbed into a grimy cockpit, its condition reinforcing
the left-in-the-dust theme. Walking forward with a
flashlight in hand, I found a smattering of initiated
projects in a long-ago neglected restoration attempt. It
was apparent that he owner had the very best of intentions
but perhaps no time to finish anything.
Climbing below meant crawling over the
oil-covered engine that had been pulled off its mounts and
left at the foot of the ladder. I navigated over it and
into a cold, dark main saloon, stepping from beam to beam,
as the floorboards were nowhere to be seen. And then,
whoosh, I was struck by the second hook into an affinity
for Star Song. The SMELL…. the Walsted wood boat smell! It
was so THERE, behind all the dust and grime and randomly
strewn parts. She smelled like Snow Star! I was grinning,
and Tom could already see that his winter project was a
I wandered forward running my hand over beautifully crafted combing. I checked out the chest of hand-dovetailed drawers, the small soapstone wood stove, the leaded glass liquor cabinet with its all-wood locking key, still in place and working. I leaned into the head. The impeccably made stainless steel sink & counter were identical to Snow Star’s but a bit larger and facing forward rather than aft.
“When was she built?” I asked.
Same vintage, I realized, though Snow Star is
a spritely 3 years younger. Under the dust and dirt, I
noticed parts of Star Song that were actually in better
condition than Snow Star. Simply from a lack of use, the
interior cosmetics were free of dings and dents. The hull
ceiling was in perfect shape and, other than being riskily
dry, her structure was sound and strong.
I continued into the forward cabin. The
similarities to Snow Star were striking, though just a bit
bigger, including a port forward bunk built wider than the
starboard forward bunk.
“She’s stunning, Tom,” I said as I walked
aft. “She just needs some TLC. And, by the way, if we ever
go cruising on this beauty, I get the port bunk.”
The next chapter is a multifaceted ten
months, and is all about Tom, and Patrick Jones, his
trusty partner in this fixer-upper caper. Patrick was
excited about becoming half-owner of Star Song, and
therefore, half-owner of all of her much needed
improvements as well. I heard, however, that a few of his
family members thought otherwise. Patrick showed his new
project to his oldest daughter and, that night, overheard
her telling her grandmother, “Daddy bought a hulk!” That
winter, Star Song was dubbed “The Hulk.”
As any wood boat owner knows, every
improvement takes a long time to complete and often leads
to the discovery of one or two more new jobs for the To-Do
list. Some might call that the dominoes effect, or a
lesson in exponents, or perhaps a thru-hull left open in
one’s checking account. No matter the number or depth of
the tasks, Patrick’s help and humor were invaluable in the
success of the restoration.
New cosmetics on every surface inside and out (The list of paint & varnish used is comical, as it was all cast-offs or leftovers from various Rockport Marine projects)
A new plywood/glass/epoxy deck put on with Rockport Marine’s help
A few new planks
A new forward hatch (beautifully built by Ray Dodge)
A new/used mast (That was a project in itself. It is an old mast donated by a friend and Nielsen sister ship owner. The rig just happened to fit Star Song’s mast opening. It was shortened by 3 inches, cleaned, resurfaced, fared, primed, awl-gripped, and refitted.)
A “new” head (another gift off another boat, and yes, it got cleaned)
A new Yanmar diesel engine
New bunk cushions & upholstery.
Mountaintop Boatworks, as our barn came to be known, burned lots of late-night candles that winter. My own assistance in the whole project was occasional and minimal. Tom, however, did his usual eight hours at work (Rockport Marine) followed by eight hours on Star Song. I started calling her “the other woman” even though I fully supported the affair.
Spring arrived and Tom & Patrick’s work
of art was ready to go down the hill to the harbor. It was
a rainy day but that didn’t slow Alan Drinkwater and his
truck & trailer. He zoomed down Rt. 90 with 25,000
pounds of Star Song flashing her shiny topsides despite
the raindrops, a parade of slicker-clad fans in cars
following close behind.
For the launching there was no champagne and there were no flowers on the stem. But the Rockport Marine pumps were ready for action. Star Song was smiling when her bottom finally felt the ocean again. She lapped up the water like a thirsty and excited puppy, swelling her belly until she could hold no more. It took only four hours before the pumps ran dry. After twelve years of being on the hard, a dry bilge in four hours is testament to her designer and builder, and to Tom, Patrick, Rockport Marine, and the numerous extra helping hands.
Our goal that summer of 2009 was to race Star
Song in the Eggemoggin
Reach Regatta (ERR) and then sell her, hopefully to
someone worthy of such an amazing boat. By late spring
Patrick’s Star Song bank account had reached its pre-set
limit (smart man), and he was ready to get back to his own
boat (and family). Fortuitously, my sister, Liz O’Leary
could also see Star Song’s quality and was not deterred by
the depth of the project. The timing worked for her to buy
out Patrick’s half of the consortium. Having grown up in a
sailing family with 210’s, 110’s, and a 40’ Crocker
cutter, Liz and I are wood boat sailors to the core.
Thankfully, she did not hesitate at the opportunity to buy
In the meantime, my two avid sailing
daughters, Brydon and Lizzie Mitchell, hatched a plan that
Star Song would have an all-female crew for the Eggemoggin Reach
Regatta, and Snow Star’s crew would be all male.
Indeed, their plan may have had a bit of encouragement
from Liz and me. But regardless of who was going to race
her at the ERR, Star Song had a few “kinks” still to work
out: The renovation of the donated mast took
longer than anticipated, the centerboard was giving us
trouble (as in, it stuck in the up position), and the
electronics couldn’t be completed until the mast was
stepped. As a result, the brand new Pope sails weren’t
bent on until the day before the ERR. We were definitely
going into this race a bit blind, but that did nothing to
Star Song’s crew for the sail from Rockport
to Brooklin was Liz and myself, Brydon and Lizzie, and
Lily & Eleanor Conover (Brydon & Lizzie’s great
friends); all female, all great sailors and all veterans
of the ERR. And, we were three sets of sisters onboard
Snow Star’s sister ship! Our departure from the Rockport
Marine dock included lots of hooting and hollering of the
female variety. It was indeed a launching of a different
sort, and I think if Star Song had been able to make any
noise, her hooting would have been the loudest of all.
Credit: Tom Kiley
Star Song and Snow Star. At the end of the 16 mile race there was a 2 second difference between the boats. (Star Song to the right of the picture)
That sail from Rockport to Brooklin was
beautiful, though it was minimally enough practice for
sailing the boat, let alone racing her. We sorted out
which strings went to which cleats, tried to get the
centerboard to cooperate, and did a few sets and gybes
with a too-small, borrowed MPS which would have to suffice
for a spinnaker since Star Song did not yet have a
spinnaker pole. We were heading into the ERR totally
green, but as ready as possible. Tom had told me that
morning, “In 50 years of sailing, I have never felt so
ill-prepared for a race as I do for this one.” He didn’t
feel that either boat (Star Song or Snow Star) was ready
for a race. But…. the jovial spirit flowing between our
two boats that night was nothing short of ebullient. Lily
and Eleanor broke out their violins and serenaded us and
the whole ERR fleet in Naskeag Harbor. Friday night
violins have long been a tradition for the Snow Star crew
- and now the “SnowStarSong” crew.
Race day was wonderful, but turned out to be
a hard one to swallow for this competitive skipper. In
short, our start was lousy, our centerboard was stuck in
the up position, the resulting weather helm felt like a
bucket tied to the rudder, we got hung up on a pot buoy
and actually stopped for a decent chunk of time, we lost
the boathook in the releasing of that buoy, and we just
never got Star Song going like we knew she could. Tom,
however, sailed Snow Star brilliantly and came home with
the Joel White Trophy, winner of all plank on frame boats.
Maybe he should go into more races ill-prepared!
Our bottom line coming out of that 2009 ERR
was that we had no choice (!) but to hang onto Star Song
for one more year, until after the 2010 Eggemoggin Reach
Regatta. Enough said.
Twenty-ten brought an early spring and
incredible summer weather. After all the rain of ’09, we
regained our faith in why we live here in Maine! The
Kiley/Hills/O’Leary “fleet” of Nielsen boats (including
Primrose, a 15’ Nielsen day sailor) was launched once
again. Supper sails, practice sails, a restored and usable
spinnaker pole, an extra-heavy-duty original issue 45 yr.
old spinnaker, and a repaired centerboard brought Star
Song ever closer to racing trim. Tom was wonderfully
supportive and totally selfless of our continued wish to
show Star Song’s potential with an all-female crew. It
grew to include 11 women – 9 under age 26, and two of us
Race day was, in my opinion, one of the best
ever for ERR sailing conditions: clear skies, a steady
southwest breeze, the usual Eggemoggin Reach and Jericho
Bay tides, and a competitive fleet. Our crew prepped for
the day with French braids all around and SnowStarSong
t-shirts hand-printed with “Same Sass,
Different Ass.” (Snow Star is a double ender, Star Song
has a square stern.) Our 3-woman foredeck crew held a
quiet huddle on the bow, which ended with the three of
them kneeling down and kissing the foredeck. I confessed
to them later that when I had woken up that morning I had
actually leaned over in my bunk and kissed the hull
ceiling in a blessing of my own. Star Song had to have
been feeling the love!
We sailed a good race, maybe 90% perfect.
That 10 percent: After hearing and seeing a block get
sucked into the spinnaker pole jaws, we erred on the side
of caution and doused our spinnaker very early on the
approach to Egg Rock. Our take-down ended up being
problem-free, but its timing cost us precious seconds
(maybe a minute or two) in the fleet.
But, on the beat from Egg Rock to Halibut
Rock, Star Song gave me a gift that is hard to put into
words, and one that I will remember forever. We rounded up
around Egg Rock, called the trim, made a few adjustments,
and settled in for the ride. Three of us were in the
cockpit – one on the main sheet, one on the jib sheet, and
myself on the wheel. The rest of the crew was sitting on
the windward rail, watching our competition, the tide, and
calling wind shifts. We all felt a mixture of calm, power,
thrill, and joy. Star Song felt it too, and she simply
took over under my hands. She felt suddenly set free – a
race horse out of the gates, charging forward on her own,
wanting to show us her stuff after a long 12 year wait. I
was just barely touching the reins – her wheel. Her
telltales were flying straight, there was no weather helm,
she was balanced and in her groove - showing us her
potential. Perhaps I’m a sucker for sails, wind, and
water, and particularly for this boat, but Star Song knew
what to do. Her pedigree came shining forth and she was
free to fly. She was alive. It was a total honor and
somewhat humbling to be at the helm of this beauty that,
18 months previously, had looked so forgotten.
We sailed the remainder of the race with
competitive spirit, loving every second. Our crew of
awesome women showed talent, humor, strength,
concentration, and a passion to race well. There was never
a shouted command. All voices were welcomed and heard and
respected, decisions and tactics were unanimous and
timely. It was, in short, a full-on blast.
On corrected time, we finished second behind
Fidelio, a 38’ S&S yawl which was beautifully sailed
and deserving of the victory. Admittedly I will always
wonder about the outcome had we not doused our spinnaker
too soon on that first leg. But that’s what every skipper
does. “If only……”
Star Song is a phenomenal vessel. It goes
without saying that she sails beautifully, but she is also
incredibly comfortable and roomy below. Ten of our eleven
crew members slept onboard: six in bunks, one on the chart
table (it can be removed and the space converted into a
seventh bunk), two on the cabin sole, and two in the
cockpit. And everyone was comfortable. We raced with full
water tanks (girls need their water and Star Song can
carry 120 gallons), a jam-packed ice box (girls need their
sandwiches, seltzers, munchies, and beer), an almost
jammed freezer (girls need their frozen veggies for quick
dinners), a liquor cabinet with a variety of wine (girls
need to be ready to entertain properly), and eleven duffel
bags all easily stowed. The only weight we removed for
racing was the anchor, primarily to just get it out of the
Those two summers with Star Song were enough
to seal the deal – I was undeniably and totally in love
with another Nielsen/Walsted boat. Liz and my two
daughters were equally smitten. We all recognized that
Tom, with his incredible knowledge of wood boats, had
rescued a treasure. And his utter selflessness and trust
had allowed us women to be the recipients of Star Song’s
awe-inspiring opening days. I will be forever grateful.
And.… we knew we could not own two boats. Tom had a new owner waiting in the wings, and “delivery” was scheduled for shortly after the ERR weekend. The only redeeming factor to selling Star Song was the fact that she was going to an absolutely wonderful family who would love her and care for her with the highest of standards.
Credit: Tom Kiley
After that 2010 ERR and our sail home to
Rockport we gave Star Song the full-team spit &
polish. Then Liz and I left the rest of our crew at the
dock and quietly motored Star Song out to her mooring. We
deliberately took our time tidying up the last few lines,
straightening any wrinkles in the sail cover, looking for
reasons to stay onboard. Then we climbed into the dinghy
and rowed a slow circle around the boat in silence, tears
in both of our eyes, giving her a “hug” and saying
goodbye. Sounds sappy, but all you wood boat lovers out
there know exactly how we felt. Kiss the foredeck indeed!
Tom & Ry Kiley
© 2017 Sailing The Atlantic. All Rights Reserved | Design by HOOORAYINK