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Mountain Home Magazine

Now, the When and If

Apr 17, 2014 06:31PM

General George Patton realized his dream of becoming a famous war hero in World War II.

But he had another ambition—to sail around the world.

In 1938, Patton hired the prominent yacht designer John Alden to create a stunning and seaworthy vessel.

Patton survived the war and is best known for leading the 3rd U.S. Army in a successful sweep across France in 1944. But he died in a car accident in 1945 before returning home.

Patton’s schooner, the When and If, lives on and she’s now being lovingly restored by Doug Hazlitt, Finger Lakes native and co-owner of Hazlitt 1852 Vineyards.

Doug Hazlitt is my father and a great sailor who’s raced on Seneca Lake and sailed from Maine to the Caribbean.

The name When and If came from Patton’s desire to sail around the world when and if he returned from World War II alive. The name is still painted in gold letters on the side of the sixty-three-foot schooner.

When Doug Hazlitt stands at the base of the wooden schooner out of the water, it is easy to see how the vessel was a good fit for Patton.

The part of the boat that would normally be covered by water, painted a pealing yet rich red, is over nine feet tall. It could keep the boat steady in almost any storm, Hazlitt said.

He first saw the schooner in the early 2000s when he traveled to Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts, to help with the launch of another classic schooner.

He’d read in a favorite book of Alden designs that the When and If was built to withstand rough sea conditions, originally weighing 84,640 tons with a double-planked hull of cedar and mahogany. “She is very robust and sea-kindly,” Hazlitt said. “She was obviously designed for off-shore cruising.”

At the time, Hazlitt didn’t think he’d ever get the chance to sail the When and If out of the harbor. Ten years later, he was pleasantly surprised when he discovered her for sale online at a remarkably good price.

Hazlitt had recently sold another Alden schooner called Malabar X he’d restored for three years and owned for seven. He missed owning a traditional wooden yacht. And so he bought When and If in May 2012.

It was amazing how much of the When and If was original and in good shape, he said, including about seventy percent of her planking. But a lot was also in desperate need of repair.

Cody Cook of Watkins Glen is helping with the boat’s restoration and remembers going with Hazlitt to first survey the boat in early May 2012. When he opened the steering-gear box, he found a mushroom the size of his palm growing inside.

Justin Armstrong, a former Ithaca resident also helping with the restoration, knew right away the transom needed help. “It was both rotten and misshapen,” he said. Armstrong developed a computer program that simplified boat designing, so he drew up a new transom guided by Alden’s designs.

Keeping the When and If as original as possible is something Hazlitt stresses. “It is really important to keep her heritage alive,” he says.

Many have contributed to the When and If’s legacy.

After Patton’s death, his wife Beatrice Ayer inherited the When and If. She sailed it with her children in Manchester Harbor. When Beatrice passed away in 1953, she willed the boat to her brother Frederick Ayer.

In 1972, Ayer’s son Fredrick Ayer Jr. donated her to the Landmark School for Dyslexic Children in Manchester. (Patton himself was dyslexic.)

Ayer family members still fondly remember the When and If, said Virginia Jones, a native of Martha’s Vineyard and member of the Association of Yachting Historians.

An Ayer descendent named Anne Brownell often visited the schooner in Martha’s Vineyard.

“She used to kayak out to the When and If frequently just to give her a loving pat,” Jones said.

The Landmark School created a semester-at-sea program for students with the When and If called the Watermark Program. It lasted until 1993 and gave students a chance to sail in the Chesapeake and Puerto Rico.

“It was without question one of the most positive programs the school had,” said current Landmark Headmaster Bob Broudo.

In 1990, a November gale pulled The When and If from her mooring and her port side smashed into rocks.

The wreck came after the Landmark School discussed selling the boat to Jim Mairs, an editor for W.W. Norton. An insurance agent declared the schooner a complete loss, but Mairs still wanted her.

Mairs teamed up with the boat building firm Gannon and Benjamin. Together, they spent two and a half years repairing the ship. 

After the renovation, Mairs and his wife Gina Webster sailed When and If primarily between Vineyard Haven and Maine.

Candy Ruitenberg and her husband Paul purchased the When and If in 2007, originally to use her as a “movable guesthouse.” But the ship became much more.

“All of the kids loved the boat,” said Candy, a mother of three and cardiac nurse in New Jersey, “We had some fantastic family vacations and so many good memories.”

The When and If spent most summers in the Vineyard and winters in the Caribbean while the Ruitenbergs owned her.

Ginny Jones helped the Ruitenbergs organize fundraisers for non-profit organizations such as Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard and Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a program that teaches Island locals to sail for free.

“The When and If’s decks are a good size to get wheelchairs on board,” Candy said.

Candy put the When and If up for sale in 2010.

Although giving up the When and If was hard, Candy said she is thankful for all the hard work Hazlitt is putting into restoring her.

The restoration will hopefully be complete by September.

New teak, a light-colored tropical hardwood that resists rot, must be laid on the aft deck. Then the deckhouses will be reinstalled and finally the hull must be painted Hazlitt’s favorite traditional schooner colors—red, white, and black.

After the restoration, Hazlitt plans to charter the When and If for extended cruises in the Northeast and possibly even the Mediterranean. But, he also always keeps Patton’s dream in mind.

He wants to continue the educations of my siblings Megan, thirteen, and Patrick, fourteen, while traveling the world or creating a documentary about circumnavigating as Patton would have using traditional methods.

“It is a really fantastic opportunity,” Hazlitt said. “There are no boundaries in terms of where she’s going to go.”

First-time Mountain Home contributor Shannon Hazlitt enjoys sailing and studying Magazine Journalism at Syracuse University.