I found the correct dock at Bahia Mar quite easily. A 1955 Volkswagen Beetle, painted a soft creamy khaki, sat at the C dock ramp with dignity and confidence.
First I noticed the small rear window, the proud badge of Beetle age, and the original and rare manual accordian sunroof. I peered into the driver side window and oohed and aahed at the original red interior, the clean floors and the unbelievably skinny stick shift.
Farther along I found the congenial Capt. Tony Stewart finishing a hard day at the office “ the 83-foot Ferretti M/Y Unforgettable. I complimented him on his newest acquisition. He gave a welcoming grin. This Beetle had been on the road four days, so it is a work in progress, but what a cutie. He bought it in Tennessee, out of the proverbial country garage, and brought it to his workshop in Ft. Lauderdale to get it road ready.
Stewart likes to work for a hobby.
He does all his own work: rust repair, welding, frame replacement, mechanical repairs, glass installation and painting. Upholstery is the one thing he subs out. And he prefers to make his Volkswagens into “modern-driving, old-looking cars.”
This choice reflects safety and performance criteria he says are important. He has been driving his 1959 VW Micro-bus 14 years because of this type of personal restoration. In fact, since 2007, he has put 11,000 miles on the bus, many by caravanning to VW shows in Tampa, Daytona, St. Petersburg, and Charlotte, N.C.
The 1955 bug has new disc brakes. He plans more upgrades, including changing the original 36 horsepower engine to a larger one. The rims and wheels are from a 1970s VW. Stewart says he aims for a respectable “eight out of 10” on his vehicles “ definitely not “trailer queen” status.
Cars have figured in Stewart’s life since childhood. Growing up in Port Townsend, Wash., he was surrounded by uncles who created street racers and hot rods, big American cars. He would drag a car out of a field, take it apart and put it back together in running condition. He did not, though, hang out on big yachts; just small boats.
But he did earn an associate degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Arizona in 1995. After graduation, he returned home to work in a fine dining, Pacific Rim cuisine restaurant. Another new employee had recently left yachts and encouraged him to give it a try.
Looking for adventure, he landed in Ft. Lauderdale and found work 48 hours later. After just six months, he was in the Mediterranean on a 120-foot charter yacht.
Three years later, he opted into the dive business as captain and dive instructor with a partner in Key Largo, running a small boat out to the reefs and wrecks for recreational divers for almost five years.
After selling his business, he responded to an invitation to the deck from a captain, as he had little interest in returning to the galley. After stints as mate on a 120-foot Broward and as captain on a 106-footer, he is happily at home on this private Ferretti.
Stewart admits that he has been lucky that his jobs have kept him in South Florida so he can go home at night and enjoy a hobby. He plans vacation time around VW events.
“It’s less expensive and more rewarding than going to a therapist,” he says, assuring me that he does not really need therapy.
I absolutely agree and I think I know why.
Julianne L. Hammond is a chef/mate on megayachts. This column is meant to show off some of the hobbies that keep yacht captains and crew engaged off the yacht. If you know someone with an interesting hobby, choice car or other diversion from yachting, tell us about it at email@example.com .