Yachts as art, thanks to John Trumpy & Sons

We cruised slowly and in a high degree of comfort. Aboard a 76-foot stately yacht, once one of the largest yachts in America, I cannot claim to have received a speedboat ride.

She was hand-made of double planked wood with no real worries about her weight. A displacement boat, designed to travel in the water (rather than plane atop it), her hull was designed to ride, really glide, through the water with minimum fuss. This Trumpy yacht was, as all are, a wonderfully executed naval design for comfortable shallow-water, low-speed cruising.

Honestly, wooden boats really do ride through the water differently than steel or fiberglass boats. All the parts that make up a screwed and bolted together wood boat, give slightly when underway. Behind the wheel or as a guest in the main salon, I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful wooden coasting experience.

We cruised towards the City of Baltimore on the Patapsco River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. As my eyes studied this Trumpy’s amazing details, I was under the spell of the most finely crafted wooden yacht built in 1964.

She was hull number 415 out a total of 448 built before the yard hung up its tools for the last time. Yet despite her age, her General Motors diesels moved her easily under the owner’s command. Long but blessed with a good amount of windage for a shallow-draft displacement hull, her owner knew his yacht and made it look easy. We were just out for a pleasure cruise and we all savored the experience this rare Trumpy yacht provided.

Then the owner looked at me and offered the helm. My concerns? She would roll if I took a wake at the wrong angle. Anyone taking the wheel needs to be aware of passing boats, the wind and larger waves. Nonetheless, I took the wheel and found she was easy to maneuver. My overall impression was one of old-world craftsmanship within a hull shape that was made for cruising protected waters.

Not so long ago, luxury yachts were the preferred transport for eastern seaboard blue-bloods, escaping the cold or returning to their northern homes after a balmy Miami winter. Those who sojourned in luxury’s pinnacle typically did it aboard a John Trumpy & Sons yacht.

Trumpy yachts are wooden masterpieces, hand crafted and custom-built to perfection by master shipwrights in Annapolis, Maryland. With a mere glance, knowledgeable boaters quickly spot the distinctive “T” embossed on each Trumpy yacht’s bow and knew they just might want to take a second look at her.

Built for the rich and famous, the yachts enabled a glamorous, comfortable lifestyle. People like Marilyn Monroe experienced the Trumpy brand both in real life (as President Kennedy’s rumored guest aboard the Trumpy yacht, Sequoia) and on film (when the Trumpy-built Enticer appeared with her in Some Like It Hot). It seems that folks from every important corner of American society including presidents, media moguls, entertainers and industrialists have owned, enjoyed or been hosted aboard a Trumpy.

The man behind the brand, John Trumpy was born in Norway. He was the fourth generation of boat builders in his family and, after naval architect training at home and in Germany, Trumpy immigrated to America in 1908. There he worked at boatyards in New York and New Jersey. In 1910 he joined Mathis in N.J. as a partner and also became their naval architect. (Mathis had started the company about 10 years earlier.)

Later Trumpy became Mathis’s general manager and in 1939, following Mathis’s death, became Mathis’s sole owner. In 1943, he re-named the Mathis Yacht Building Company, John Trumpy & Sons. He and his family moved the company to Annapolis, Md., in 1947. Sadly, the business was shuttered in 1973 due to fiberglass’s popularity.

So how can you acquaint yourself today with the splendor and caché of Trumpy Yachts? Visit Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts (MHCA) in Annapolis between May 12 – July 15, 2016. There you’ll discover a highly anticipated exhibit – A “Single Goal: The Art of Trumpy Yacht Building”.

Sigrid Trumpy, granddaughter of John Trumpy Sr., and Maryland Hall’s Director of Exhibitions, is the curator of this special exhibition. Founded in 1979, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts carries out its mission to deliver “art for all” through year-round performances, education programs and exhibitions. MHCA is located at 801 Chase Street, Annapolis. For more information, please go to or call 410-263-5544.

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