January / February 2021

The Wheeler 38 LEGEND

A new chapter in the saga of Ernest Hemingway’s PILAR
The Wheeler 38 LEGEND

LEGEND, a reimagining of the 1934 PILAR owned by writer Ernest Hemingway, is being considered a “Spirit of Tradition” power cruiser and the first in a new line of semi-custom 38’-waterline production yachts. She retains
above-the-waterline elements of Hemingway’s original boat—including the break he specified in the sheerline to keep the transom’s freeboard low—but has modern construction and adaptations.

In September 1934, after the writer Ernest Hemingway’s first months with his new boat, PILAR, a 39' 5" LOA power cruiser from Wheeler Shipbuilding Company, he wrote a letter to friends about it: “Boat has been lovely—comfortable and a marvelous sea boat—all we hoped for and more.” Eighty-six years later, on another September day, another new cruiser, this one inspired in turn by PILAR, has also been exceeding expectations.

The new boat, LEGEND, built at Brooklin Boat Yard in Maine, is best described as a modern interpretation of PILAR, which Hemingway made famous over the nearly three decades he owned her. For his Wheeler 38 Playmate, the numeral referring to its waterline length, he specified modifications to suit his newest passion—saltwater trophy sport fishing. The outward appearance of LEGEND would be as familiar to Hemingway as PILAR was, especially at the time the original boat was delivered fresh off the ship from New York to Miami. His additional alterations came later, with early versions of a flying bridge, a sportfisherman’s fighting chair bolted down in the cockpit aft, and long outrigger trolling poles. He would have been shocked, however, by the sea trials in which LEGEND reached a top speed of 34.5 mph (in statute miles), significantly more than the 30 mph anticipated, and more than double the original boat’s top speed of 13 mph.

As impressive as that was, for Wes Wheeler, a grandson of PILAR’s designer, the new boat represented more than a set of particulars and estimates of speed. It is a bit of a nod to a famous owner’s famous boat, surely, but more than that it is a celebration of his family’s history. Wheeler Shipyard rode the roller-coaster of the first half of the 20th century, with two world wars, an early boatyard fire, the Roaring ’20s, the Great Depression, two bankruptcies, and multiple boom-and-bust cycles. At its peak, the company employed some 6,000 people and built a staggering number of boats—about 4,000 of them, including some 800 military craft. The Wheelers of the current generations, including Wes, have that memory seared into their DNA.

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