In Search of the Mach Turtle

Page 4 of 7

Monday dawns clear and still, an excellent day to sail, notes Newton. If we can find the boat.

Kellerman hires a jovial, rotund cabby named Cristobal Reinaldo to drive us around the marina and flash a photocopy of the Mach Turtle at anyone and everyone we can find. Nobody has seen the boat. We stop and ask a menacing-looking guy sporting dark, wraparound glasses and a ponytail. Our questions make him nervous. His demeanor makes us nervous. Nothing.

Reinaldo mentions that there are two other marinas on the north coast of Cuba at Cojimar and Varadero. It's a three-hour, 160-kilometer, $180 cab ride, but there's really no choice. The person who stole the boat may have got wind that someone was looking for it and squirreled it away somewhere else. Kellerman, ever eloquent, puts it this way: "If there's a marina on the coast, we need to check it out. Otherwise we're just here pulling our dicks, waiting for Christmas."

Cojimar turns out to be a small inlet with room for only 20 or 30 boats. The Mach Turtle is not among them. A few kilometers to the east we stop for lunch -- fresh grilled lobster on a bed of pan-seared vegetables -- and the group's mood turns foul. Kellerman and Newton are coming to the realization that they've been had. Newton thinks the boat's been sold. Kellerman thinks he's been lied to by his informant, a Fort Lauderdale boat captain named Mike McGhee. Kellerman paid McGhee $2500 for the tip. "To have someone feed me bullshit information, I've never had that happen before," he says. "I can't believe he'd be that stupid. He lives ten miles from me."

Before the lobster arrives, Kellerman is outside on the pay phone calling Hernando, his Cuban contact. He returns to the table fuming. Hernando doesn't know a thing. Hasn't seen the Mach Turtle. Has no idea who Kellerman is or what he's talking about.

"McGhee's life just took a turn for the worse," says Kellerman, hacking savagely at his lunch with a steak knife. "I guarantee it."

We continue east to Varadero for good measure, but the Mach Turtle isn't there. It's not in Cuba, and it never was.

Does Stephen Seaton remember the Mach Turtle? Silly question. Do mothers remember their children? Do artists remember their masterpieces?

Of course Seaton remembers. Her deep hull cutting a graceful, rising arc from stern to bow. Her blocky superstructure. Her twin spun-aluminum outriggers that performed double duty as stabilizers in heavy seas and as boat booms. And that pilothouse, sporting reverse glass that sloped inward from top to bottom, affording the captain a commanding view of the vessel and its progress on the mighty ocean.

"It's always been one of my favorites," says the affable Seaton between forkfuls of Cobb salad at the Bimini Boatyard restaurant. "They're all like my children."

Seaton, age 54, was a young man just starting out as a boat designer when he created the Mach Turtle in 1972. It was good enough to earn a mention in Robert Beebe's book Voyaging Under Power, considered a seminal work on recreational, open-ocean cruising. Beebe writes, "Her interior is interesting. It was designed for the owner's queen-sized double bed and the bathtub, both of which were so large the vessel had to be built around them. The forward cabin is laid out for grandchildren, with other (convertible) sleeping facilities in the saloon." Seaton also had to build a steering system around an old wheel and compass his client insisted on installing. "We had to figure out how to make the antique work with the modern," he says. "We did it. The boat has a really nice feel to it."

The Mach Turtle is one of less than a dozen Seaton-designed trawlers built by the now-defunct Durbeck boat yard in Bradenton. Seaton's Durbeck trawlers are prized to this day for their solid construction, fuel economy, and angular good looks. A professor in Tennessee recently purchased one and spent $250,000 refurbishing it, Seaton says with obvious pride.

Seaton has made a name for himself, creating hundreds of vessels from sailboats to powerboats, yachts to dinghies. He's now part owner of Peer Gynt Yachts Inc., a Fort Lauderdale boat-building company that counts some of the wealthiest people in the world among its clients. But the remarkable thing about Seaton, apart from his resemblance to a pre-booze-bloated Ernest Hemingway, is the fact that he remembers virtually every boat he's ever designed. And he knows where most of them are. People call him regularly with updates, saying they saw the such-and-such at so-and-so place just the other day.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Bob Whitby