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Pilar (Ernest Hemingway's Fishing Boat)

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I had a build log of Pilar before all the content was lost and I plan on reposting the build log photos soon as well as the completed model photos.  This history of Pilar was at the beginning of my build log, but I thought the Nautical History forum would be more appropriate.


I’m very interested in the historical aspects of boats and ships and this vessel appealed to me.  I read a book about Pilar and another about Ernest Hemingway's life as well as what I could find online.  I thought I would share what I learned when I researched this famous American boat.  I’ve included some unnecessary photos of fish caught from Pilar, but I expect some of you may have caught a fish or two before.





Book on Pilar




An article in Woodenboat Magazine written by Hemingway's niece is available online.  It covers the creation of a film-double of Pilar in the movie Hemingway & Fuentes, about Hemingway and his longtime captain Gregorio Fuentes, directed by Andy Garcia and starring Anthony Hopkins and Annette Bening.


Hemingway's Pilar by Hilary Hemingway




Pilar was Ernest Hemingway’s faithful yacht, notorious for chasing big Marlin, Tuna and German u-boats.  Many people call it The Pilar or El Pilar, but it is just Pilar.  In 1926, Hemingway had gone to the bullfights in Zaragoza, Spain.  It was there that he witnessed the Pilar shrine (in honor of the patron saint of Zaragoza).  It was the name of the heroine in "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and also the nickname for his then wife Pauline.  


When he got back from African safari in 1934 he commissioned a fishing boat to be built to his own specifications from Wheeler Shipyard, Inc. in Brooklyn, NY.  Hemingway liked the company's signature model the Playmate, known throughout the boating industry, but he wanted a few changes.


These modifications Hemingway ordered for Pilar at Wheeler raised the cost $495 from the $7,000 base price:


⦁    Four 75 gallon galvanized gas tanks

⦁    Two copper lined fish boxes

⦁    A live well

⦁    Hull to be painted black

⦁    A 40 hp 4-cylinder Lycoming engine for trolling in addition to the standard 75 hp Chrysler Crown reduction gear engine (It could do 16 knots with both engines)

⦁    Cockpit enclosed with copper screens

⦁    Starboard-side bunk to be a foot wider to better accommodate the bulk of Pilar’s master

⦁    Wooden roller spanning the transom to aid in hauling large fish aboard

⦁    The back 10 feet of the stern lowered 12 inches for fishing


 It could sleep six in the cabin and two in the cockpit.  Later, a flying bridge was added.






Wheeler Shipyard Playmate




Pilar was delivered by Wheeler to Hemingway in Miami and then on to its homeport of Key West.   He made three trips with the boat to the Bimini Islands wherein his fishing, drinking, and fighting exploits drew much attention and remain part of the history of the islands.







Pilar at sea






Hemingway & his first captain Carlos Gutierrez 1934



In Cuba, Pilar was docked at Cojimar, a small fishing village east of Havana, which was the inspiration for Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea".  Pilar has been restored and is now on display ten miles east of Havana at Hemingway's Cuban home between 1940 and 1960 Finca Vigia, which has been turned into a museum by the Cuban government.  Hemingway's famous visitors, included Gary Cooper, Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, and Ava Gardner, who is most fondly remembered here for stories of her nude swims in the swimming pool (sorry, couldn‘t find any photos, but I‘ll keep looking).






Hemingway & family after a day's fishing












Big Tuna




On one trip, Hemingway’s fishing partner Mike Strater hooked a trophy Black Marlin and when he got it close to the boat, sharks appeared.  During the landing of the fish, Hemingway used a Thompson submachine gun to shoot the sharks in an attempt to ward them off. The effect of the shark blood in the water attracted a pack of sharks to Pilar’s  stern, which eventually did their damage to the fish.  The Marlin weighed more than 500 lbs in its half eaten state.  It was projected to be more than 1,000 lbs when whole.  In the end, the state of the Marlin recalls somewhat that of the monster Marlin in Hemingway's later masterpiece, "The Old Man and the Sea".





Henry Strater's Black Marlin, Bahamas, 1935



In addition to fishing trips on Pilar, Hemingway contributed to scientific research which included collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution.  During his first visit to Cuba with Pilar, Hemingway hosted Charles Cadwalader who was the director of the Philadelphia Academy of Natural History and Henry Fowler, who was the Academy’s chief ichthyologist. These two scientists were in Cuba trying to determine the taxonomy of Marlin species. They were attempting to determine if White, Blue, Black, and Striped Marlin were different species, or just color variants of the same species. As a result of their efforts on the boat, they reclassified the North Atlantic Marlin variants.






Hemingway at the helm






Hemingway on the flying bridge




(To be continued)

Edited by birchbaysider
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During World War II, Pilar was converted by her master into a patrol boat, armed with light machine guns, hand grenades, bazookas, satchel charges and HFDF or “Huff-Duff” high frequency direction-finding equipment.  The idea, authorized by the American ambassador to Cuba, was that Pilar’s crew might be able to lure a German sub to the surface and cause some damage and maybe lob some grenades down the open hatch.  They were disguised as a scientific vessel conducting experiments.  A u-boat was spotted once moving fast on the surface, but even  Pilar’s marlin-fighting engines couldn’t keep up with it.  Pilar never saw any action.

When Ernest left Cuba in 1960 with fourth wife Mary, he knew he would be back. But the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 cut off his return and separated him from his beloved Pilar





Hemingway & longtime captain Gregorio Fuentes



Hemingway had specified in his will that the boat be left to his long time fishing companion/cook/bartender/mentor and captain of three decades in Cuba, Gregorio Fuentes, upon whom many of his characters are said to have been based, including Santiago from "The Old Man and the Sea" and Eddie from "Islands in the Stream", although many say that it was Hemingway’s first captain, Carlos Gutierrez that was the inspiration for these stories.  Hemingway and Fuentes had come to an agreement that as soon as either one of them died, Pilar would never sail again.  After Hemingway's suicide in Ketchum, Idaho, Fuentes considered scuttling the boat out at sea, but left the boat to Hemingway’s estate, Finca Vigia in possession of the Cuban government.











Restored Pilar in Cuba



The link below is to a facinating video documentary on the restoration of Pilar and Finca Vigia and Hemingway's life.


Hemingway in Cuba




A full scale replica of Pilar is on display in the World Wide Sportsman-Bass Pro Shops store in Islamorada, Florida.  Maybe some of you have seen it.









Pilar replica in Florida






Completed model




If interested you can look for my reposting of the build log photos and the finished boat in the completed gallery.

Edited by birchbaysider
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