2008-08-16 / Top News

Getting Hands on History: Barnwell To Restore Bernida

By Ryan Schlehuber

The Bernida sits idle at Arnold Transit Company's dry dock mill slip in St. Ignace, but is soon to be transported to Mackinac Island, where she will undergo a major restoration by local boat builder Roman Emory Barnwell. Almost all of her planking is in good condition, however, her deck and keel will need the more attention, said Mr. Barnwell. The Bernida sits idle at Arnold Transit Company's dry dock mill slip in St. Ignace, but is soon to be transported to Mackinac Island, where she will undergo a major restoration by local boat builder Roman Emory Barnwell. Almost all of her planking is in good condition, however, her deck and keel will need the more attention, said Mr. Barnwell. Roman Emory Barnwell is getting his hands on history with his new project of restoring the Bernida, the wooden sloop that won the inaugural Bayview Yacht Club Mackinac Island race in 1925.

"It will be restored to it original look as much as possible," said Mr. Barnwell about the boat, pronounced ber-nee-dah. "Ninety-five percent of the mahogany planking is in good condition and the hull is pretty sound."

What needs the most attention, he said, is the deck and keel. His goal is to have it restored in time for the 2010 Bayview Yacht Club race to Mackinac Island.

To further enrich the project with Island history, Mr. Barnwell is using mahogany wood stored at the Pt. Aux Pins on the back side of the Island by the late E.M. Tellefson .

Roman Emory Barnwell (left), with a friend, Dan Calvin, enjoys a leisurely ride in his 11-foot-long boat, Leena Bee, that he finished building this spring. His next project is restoring the 32-foot Bernida this fall. Roman Emory Barnwell (left), with a friend, Dan Calvin, enjoys a leisurely ride in his 11-foot-long boat, Leena Bee, that he finished building this spring. His next project is restoring the 32-foot Bernida this fall. Mr. Barnwell will use the sloop's original blueprints to work with.

George Owen, a well known sailboat designer and Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor, designed the boat, originally named Ruweida III, in Boston, and tested in 1921. She was double planked with white cedar finish on the inside and Honduras mahogany on the outside, with white oak frames and keel.

"It's great to work on a project with so much history behind it that involved a famous designer," Mr. Barnwell noted.

She was renamed Bernida by Russ Pouliot, who brought her to Detroit. He raced it in the inaugural Bayview to Mackinac race in 1925, competing against 11 other boats. Only the Bernida and three other boats finished the 251- mile race, which was hit with a big storm.

Bart Huthwaite (left) hands over the title of the historic wooden sloop Bernida to local boat builder Roman Emory Barnwell, who plans to restore the boat in time for Mr. Huthwaite to skipper in it the 2010 Bayview to Mackinac Yacht Race. The Bernida won the inaugural race in 1925. (Photographs by Sam Barnwell) Bart Huthwaite (left) hands over the title of the historic wooden sloop Bernida to local boat builder Roman Emory Barnwell, who plans to restore the boat in time for Mr. Huthwaite to skipper in it the 2010 Bayview to Mackinac Yacht Race. The Bernida won the inaugural race in 1925. (Photographs by Sam Barnwell) The Bernida would make one more run in the Bayview race in 1927, winning her class.

Summer resident Toby Murray found her in a warehouse in Frankfort in 2005, and he and cottager Bart Huthwaite spearheaded a project to restore Bernida to use her as a centerpiece for a maritime museum program in the Straits area. That plan failed, but when Mr. Barnwell returned to the Island after studying boat building in England for a year, Mr. Huthwaite saw an opportunity to more forward.

He signed over ownership of the 32-foot sloop to Mr. Barnwell in late July. In exchange, he will get to be at the helm when Bernida races to Mackinac once again in 2010.

The restoration will take place on Arnold Transit's Coal Dock, which is also being rebuilt.

"Our other efforts didn't work out," Mr. Huthwaite said, "but with what we're doing now, it's worked out far better than I could have expected."

Last winter, Mr. Barnwell began working for contractor Matt Myers on Mackinac Island and in his spare time, he made an 11-foot wooden sailboat, the Leena Bee, this spring.

"It is a dream for me to be able to work on a bigger boat, and not only that, I get to rebuild a historic boat on the Island," said Mr. Barnwell. "That is something unique and I'm looking forward to it."

Mr. Barnwell intends to transport the boat from Arnold Transit's dry dock in St. Ignace to the Island soon, and will begin his restoration project this fall. He will work on the project in the evenings and on his days off.

"This has been a culmination of a two-year search to find a proper place to restore the Bernida," said Mr. Huthwaite of the Coal Dock restoration site. "It's going to be restored within sight of the Round Island Lighthouse, which was the finish line for the 1925 race. It's going to be great for people to come into the harbor and see the restoration take place."

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