It isn’t every day that Ernest Hemingway’s niece calls people to warn them of a pending call from a movie star. Wes Wheeler answered that unusual call, and became a man with a mission.
Wheeler’s grandfather was Wesley L. Wheeler, who designed Ernest Hemingway’s iconic yacht, Pilar. Inside Hook reports that Hilary Hemingway called the younger Wheeler to say he should expect a call from actor Andy Garcia.
The call came about 10 minutes after Wheeler got off the phone with Hilary Hemingway. “Wes, I’m looking to make a movie,” Wheeler says Garcia told him.
The actor went on to say he’d co-written the script with Hilary Hemingway and was “‘looking for an actual boat from the 1930s to look like the Pilar.’”
Hemingway commissioned the company to build his Wheeler Playmate in 1934. When Wheeler Shipyard Corporation shut down 31 years later, it had built over 3,500 boats.
Thanks to Papa’s beloved Pilar the name was famous, but the builder seemed done for. Until that special request asking for a 21st-century recreation.
The movie, about “Hemingway and his captain and confidant Gregorio Fuentes,” according to Inside Hook, is in limbo. But Wes Wheeler went through with his mission and soon you’ll be able to buy your own Pilar, with tech updated to 2021. Here are more details from IH:
The first boat from the new Wheeler Yacht Company is the Wheeler 38, an authentic recreation of the Wheeler Playmate model that Hemingway bought back in 1934.
While it may not be what you picture when you read The Old Man and the Sea — it’s a dual-motor yacht with a fully enclosed cabin that sleeps two — it is the spitting image of the boat on which Hemingway dreamed up his Nobel Prize-winning work.
Wes Wheeler had to get creative in building a new Pilar from scratch. The plans for the original were long ago lost in a fire. So, the younger Wheeler went to Papa’s boat at Hemingway’s Havana home, Finca Vigía, and reverse-engineered it.
The residence is a museum today. Thanks to Hilary Hemingway’s presence, Wheeler told IH, they were permitted to “board the boat, crawl all over the boat, in the engine room.”
“We took detailed measurements of the entire boat,” Wheeler said, “came back to North Carolina, compared all the measurements to my family’s catalog from 1934 and they matched exactly.” he says.
It took Wheeler “three or four years to get all that engineering done,” he said, because he was busy at his day job as president of UPS Healthcare, “but we finally decided to build it about a year ago.
Wheeler assembled a noted team of designers and builders to make the new Pilar and they went the extra mile. Wheeler told Inside Hook that “everything you see inside the boat is exactly like the period, the 1930s period.”
The team wanted to be “sure the boat would be as rugged and seaworthy as the original” and “meet Coast Guard specs for today for commercial use,” so they used exceptionally sturdy materials like African mahogany and teak for the decks.
Those 21st-century touches Andy Garcia wanted are there, too, as amenities like air conditioning and a refrigerator are available, but to keep the timeless feel of the original boat, they are concealed behind wood panels. Wheeler’s team scouted around the world for other period-specific items, including the wheel, compass, and searchlight.
According to Wes Wheeler, Ernest Hemingway ended up paying $7,500 for his Pilar, which would be about $150,000 today. But the new Wheeler 38 will set buyers back to the tune of $1.3 million — at a minimum.
Ultimately, Wheeler’s sense of mission in building a new 38 — the first new boat, dubbed Legend, made its maiden voyage in 2020 — came from a personal place. He told Inside Hook that he’d dreamed for years of rebuilding the Pilar, and it seems clear he regrets not being able to finish it before his father passed away “about three years ago.”
His dad, Wheeler said, “would have loved to see this happen.”
Learn more about the Wheeler 38, its connection to Hemingway, and progress in building new yachts at WheelerYachts.com.