LA BUSCADORA - HISTORY IN THE MAKING
As seen in the "Nautical Scene" publication
The BVI is filled with classic charters telling historic tales but none is quite so fascinating as La Buscadora, a 1941 Peterson 80' luxury wooden yacht custom built as a private commuter. It all started when a Wall Street tycoon, living on Long Island, wanted a faster way to get to work. John H. Wells was commissioned to build a double caravel planked vessel out of white cedar in the Peterson Yard on the Hudson River. With inner and outer fastenings of silicon bronze, WASP as she was originally commissioned, featured four staterooms, with private heads, a large galley, a dining salon and an open-air aft deck.
WASP had a
top speed of over 50 knots with three propellers powered by
three Curtis Wright gasoline engines and a total horsepower of
2000. Soon after commissioning, she was procured by the US
government for use in protecting US shores from enemy submarines
in WWII as an offshore patrol vessel. 50 caliber machine guns
were mounted both fore and aft - along with two depth bomb
racks. President Truman held high level meetings on the yacht
and, an interesting note here, is that a very similar design,
also by Wells, was incorporated into the famous PT boats. After
the war, she was given back to the original owner and used
privately for about ten years.
During the 1950s the luxury yacht charter was sold, renamed Bink II and loaned to the CIA for use in Cuban reconnaissance running guns, ammunition and people from Key West to Cuba. It was during this time that the vessel was converted from gasoline to diesel and outfitted with three 6-cylinder Detroit 6-110 diesels. During one of these trips into Cuba, possibly the Bay of Pigs invasion, the vessel received a hailing of bullets.
In 1961 she changed hands again and was renamed Paratus. She was donated to the University of Florida and then sold to a young widow, Lady X, who was conned by a couple of Southern gigolos. Running off with Lady X's money, they left her with the newly named Kaywin, a boat she didn't want or know how to use. Lady X then sold the yacht to a man who promptly suffered a heart attack. As the final payments had not been made, Lady X held onto the luxury yacht charter for another 4 years during which Kaywin deteriorated to the point of barely being afloat.
Enter Mike Hallett, today one of the BVI's top yacht charter owners. Upon leaving Southern Illinois University, Hallett left Chicago in 1969 to work in the Bahamas on a luxury yacht charter boat, Highlander IV , with Skeet LaChance's Adventure Cruises. Hallett always wanted to work in the charter industry. While walking the dock one day in Ft. Lauderdale he spotted Kaywin half afloat. Seeing the possibility to realize his dream he purchased the boat for $10,000 as a derelict wreck and renamed her La Buscadora - "searchress" of the good life.
later, after much rebuilding, Hallett sailed La Buscadora
throughout the Caribbean. He tells me, "In 1985 I picked
Tortola and the BVI as the place to be. It's where the people are
the friendliest and the water is the cleanest. After ten years of
chartering out of Road Town, La Buscadora changed her base of
operations to Sopers Hole, West End, and has remained there ever
fame does not end here, however. In 1989 she was featured in the
movie "HAVANA" starring Robert Redford and directed by
Sidney Pollack. Filmed in the Dominican Republic, this movie
brought instant attention to yacht charterers. Her guest list
includes international writer, Frederick Forsyth, Sportsman of the
Millennium Sandy Koufax, and Donnatella Versache and family.
This success in chartering is due in large part to the skills of Sandie Merriman who came on board as Hallett's better half in the early 90s. Hailing from Hampshire, England, and a graduate of Leiths Culinary School of London, Merriman has helped La Buscadora become one of the top luxury charter yachts of the BVI.
The two just returned from a well-earned holiday in Bali and are looking forward to another great season. Hallett will continue his 16 year involvement in the Charter Yacht Society of the BVI, where he has been a past Chairman and is a current board member. The two reflect, in every way, the excellence that this proud luxury yacht charter deserves. And, if the BVI is lucky, they will continue to represent the best in motor chartering throughout the Caribbean.
- By Nancy Terrell