This is Pilar, Hemingway’s legendary fishing boat.

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pilar hemingway
Image source: wheeleryachts.com

If you walk near Ernest Hemingway‘s old home in Cuba, near Havana, you will find a museum dedicated to him and inside is the legendary Pilar, the boat the writer had built for himself in 1934 by the Wheeler shipyard.

Pilar, Hemingway’s fishing boat

Legend has it that Hemingway was so attached to this hull that Pilar was his only fishing boat. Actually it was much more than that, since in his sailings and experiences related to this 28-footer the writer found the inspiration to write several short stories, not least the famous “The Old Man and the Sea,” inspired by the time the boat was docked in Cojimar, a small fishing village east of Havana.

It had all started in 1934, however, when Ernest Hemingway stopped in New York to attend some meetings. Crucial was the one with the publisher and co-founder of Esquire, Arnold Gingrich, from whom Hemingway obtained an advance of $3,300 for some stories. Hemingway, then 35 years old, went to the Wheeler shipyard in Coney Island and used the money as a down payment to start construction of the Pilar, a wooden yacht of about 12 meters. The final cost of the boat was about $7,500 and once finished it was taken to Key West and christened Pilar. The name has a double meaning: on the one hand it is the name of the heroine of For Whom the Bell Tolls, but also the nickname of his then wife Pauline.

The basis was given by the Playmate, among Wheeler’s flagship models, and in production between 1920 and 1939. Hemingway had it adapted with the addition of a flybridge, a livewell and other fishing accouterments. He also had it equipped with larger tanks so it could have more cruising range.

Propelling the hull were two engines. One, the main one, was a centrally mounted Chrysler “Crown Marine,” while for trolling there was a second 40-horsepower engine.

Hemingway’s boat? They build it (again)!

As of 2021, the Wheeler 38 is back on the market, and the reason is particular. Andy Garcia, an actor, and Hilary Hemingway, the writer’s granddaughter, were embarking on a film project precisely about Hemingway and his relationship with sailor Gregorio Fuentes. It became necessary at that point to acquire a hull like the Pilar, since the original cannot leave the museum where it is located and would probably not be in seaworthy condition. They thus turned to the grandson of Howard Wheeler, builder of the Pilar, to seek a solution. Having taken the measurements of the original, work began and today it is possible to purchase the faithful but updated replica of that mythical boat. For those who love classics a real treat.


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