Restoring General Patton’s Schooner

Back when General Patton was Colonel Patton, after the First World War and before the Second, he commissioned the building of a 63-foot schooner.

“When the war is over, and if I live through it,” Patton said, he would sail it from New England to Catalina Island, where he spent summers as a child. The When and If was designed in 1938 and built in Wiscasset, Maine. Meanwhile, Patton went to war, leading troops in the Mediterranean theater and the Battle of the Bulge, but died in 1945 after the Allied victory, before he could return home.

The When and If stayed in his family for years until it was gifted to Landmark School in Beverly Massachusetts where it was used to teach children with dyslexia. Patton himself who had lived nearby in Hamilton was also dyslexic.

Growing up on the North Shore in Massachusetts, I regularly saw the When and If (back when it had a white hull) outside Manchester harbor where it was somewhat of a icon. Obviously, a classic 63-foot schooner surrounded by much more modern yachts demands attention, and the When and If became one of those boats I remember specifically looking for whenever I went out of the harbor.

But in 1990, a gale hit the North Shore and the When and If broke free from her mooring. I remember going with my father and his good friend, both sailors, on a sort of yankee rubber necking pilgrimage to view the damage.

A photo of the When and If hangs in the editor's childhood home. 

Seeing a magnificent schooner like the When and If laid up on the rocks was a bit like coming upon a racehorse with a broken leg. Everyone kind of helplessly stands around muttering what a shame it is while waiting for someone to do something. Really not much can be done though.   

As it turned out, the damage was quite extensive. An insurer basically called it a complete loss. Somewhat miraculously though, Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway, the renowned shipyard on Martha’s Vineyard, decided something could be done and they reached a deal and agreed to take on the restoration. A charity case, it seems, if there ever was one for a boat.

Three years later she was restored and Walter Cronkite, who knew Patton from covering the war, presided over her launch in Vineyard Haven. Until recently, the When and If was used for charters and spent winters in the Caribbean. But now change has come once again for the old schooner.

The owner of a vineyard in the New York Finger Lakes region bought the vessel and is giving her a full restoration. Among those documenting this project is the photographer/blogger Alex Solla. You can see pictures of the beautiful restoration job here

The thing about a boat like the When and If, or similarly a landmark building, is that you can develop a sort of personal relationship with it, even if you’ve never stepped foot on it or in it. You grow an opinion about these iconic objects, even though you really have no perspective, let alone ownership. I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels a connection with the When and If, without ever even sailing on her.  

Now it appears the When and If will be a Finger Lakes schooner. The new owner says he plans to use it for charters and family cruises after she is restored. Old things are worth saving and I’ll miss seeing the When and If around Massachusetts, but I couldn’t be happier she’s getting the love she needs to keep sailing.

Photo courtesy of Nick DeWolf photo archives