BELFAST, Maine — The Atlantide ran a gauntlet of dive bombers and artillery shells to rescue Allied soldiers trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, during World War II. The turn-of-the-century Cangarda, gutted and in dire need of repair, sank to the bottom Boston Harbor 17 years ago.
Both historic luxury yachts have been fully restored and are living quieter lifestyles. They’re taking shelter in Belfast for the winter and while they undergo minor repairs and maintenance at Front Street Shipyard.
“The boats we take care of always carry a huge value for their owners,” JB Turner, president and general manager of the shipyard, said. “But we’ve been trusted with these two incredible yachts that carry not just value for the owners but for history.”
Steve Cobb is captain of the Atlantide, a 122-foot steel-hulled vessel built in 1930 in Dartmouth, England. Last week, he brought the ship to Belfast, where Front Street Shipyard plucked it from the water and brought it into one of the shipyard’s buildings for winter storage and repairs.
At the time of its construction, the vessel was called the Caleta. It was built to serve as luxury accommodations for the crews of sailing yachts that the Caleta followed around to regattas around the globe.
Less than a decade later, its use changed dramatically. The British Navy requisitioned the yacht to serve as a scout ship around the outset of World War II, using it to patrol the English Channel.
In 1940, as Nazi forces swept into France, thousands of Allied soldiers were cut off on the beaches of Dunkirk with no means of escape. The Atlantide was among hundreds of military and private vessels that answered the call to rescue the more than 330,000 stranded soldiers. They crossed the channel repeatedly, under frequent assault from planes and artillery. The boats of all shapes and sizes became known as the Dunkirk Little Ships.
As these ships age, fewer and fewer are still in operation. Those that remain belong to an organization called the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships to this day. About 100 vessels are listed, according to the association’s website.
“My understanding is that this is the only larger boat left from those rescues,” Cobb said during a tour of the Atlantide on Wednesday. “We don’t know how many sailors she helped save, but it was hundreds and hundreds.”
After the war, the Navy released the Caleta and returned to private yacht status. It changed hands and names numerous times in the decades that followed. In the late 1990s, its then owner launched a total rebuild of the yacht.
Today, the renamed Atlantide is based out of East Blue Hill, where its owners spend their summers, according to Cobb. It also was housed at Front Street Shipyard in late 2012 for repairs and maintenance work.
Cobb also has ties to the other luxury yacht that will be housed at the shipyard this winter. A 1972 graduate of Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Cobb was hired in the mid-2000s to help restore the Cangarda, a 115-year-old steam-powered yacht. He served as an engineer, helping to rebuild and maintain the ship’s original steam engine and boiler, which was retrofitted to use diesel fuel. Originally, the boat’s boilers ran on coal.
“It’s a unique transition vessel between sail and power,” Cobb said.
The Cangarda is a rarity, one of just three Edwardian steam yachts in existence, he said. At one time, Cobb said, there were likely more than 600 similar boats across the globe, but many were scrapped as part of war efforts or disposed of when they fell out of style or into disrepair.
Cangarda was built in 1901 at a shipyard in Delaware for a Michigan lumber mogul before it was sold to a wealthy member of Canadian Parliament. It later would host prime ministers of England and Canada, as well as the Prince of Wales, who went on to become King Edward VIII.
During World War II, the yacht’s owner donated it to the Canadian Navy for use as a training ship. It returned from military service in rough shape.
Like the Atlantide, it changed hands many times after the war. The yacht was gutted in the 1990s as part of a restoration effort that ultimately failed. The vessel continued to fall into disrepair and sank in Boston Harbor in 1999. It stayed submerged there for about two years, according to Cobb.
Several years later, its hull was rebuilt from scratch, and a new owner recovered the engine, Cuban mahogany woodwork and other original pieces that had been removed and put into storage before the failed restoration effort that preceded the boat’s sinking. The rebuilt Cangarda returned to use as a private yacht and occasional museum ship, allowing the public a chance to walk through the ship and glimpse its engine.
Today, Cangarda is based in Islesboro, where its owners spend summers, Cobb said.
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.