Newport Life
Bob Tiedemann profileFall 1995


By Beth Bodek Simone

They have a sort of mystical bond. When Bob Tiedemann is at the wheel of the antique, 12-meter Gleam, she does things for him that she does for no one else. As she responds to his slightest touch, it's almost as if she doesn't want to let him down. Maybe that's because, twenty years ago, Tiedemann rescued this racing yacht from near ruin off the coast of southern New Jersey. Today, thanks to Tiedemann's hard work, Gleam has been restored to her original majesty, and can be seen all summer long sailing gracefully through Newport waters.

Gleam was the first of what has become a small fleet of classic wooden boats Tiedemann has lovingly restored. Matching mahogany has been found to replace rotted pieces. Winches have been recast at local foundries to replicate long-lost parts. "It's an emotional thing for me," the tan, fortysix-year-old Tiedemann says of antique yacht restoration. "It's much more than a business."

Tiedemann's Seascope Systems charters the fleet, which pays for the restoration process. The most requested boats are Tiedemann's "jewels," the 12-meters Gleam and Northern Light. The two share a long history: both were built at the Henry

Nevins boat yard in New York; Gleam in 1937, and Northern Light the following year. Though the two raced together, neither has competed for the America's Cup, which didn't start using 12-meters until 1958. Today, however, Gleam and Northern Light offer the chance to "experience the thrill of being Dennis Conner for the day," as Seascope's promotional copy proclaims.

Corporate clients including General Electric and IBM have used Tiedemann's 12meters to give their executives a lesson in team building. Elissa Powell, manager of meetings and conventions for HoffmanLaRoche, booked a charter last year. "The weather was wonderful and the boats were absolutely beautiful. My boat won two out of the three races. It was really exciting."

The excitement of sailing these vessels never dims for Tiedemann. He can be found every day during the summer on one or another of his boats. Off-season, he puts in ten- to fifteen-hour days restoring or maintaining the boats. There's nothing he'd rather be doing. "As far as I can remember, I've wanted to sail. When I was a kid, I talked my father into buying a 19-foot day sailboat." By sixteen, Tiedemann was skippering the family's 54-foot Alden yawl, Mariner, a boat he now owns. "I can remember as a kid sneaking into boat yards to look at the boats."

Tiedemann doesn't have to sneak into boat yards anymore. He's considered to be one of the premier experts on vintage (pre-World War 11) 12-meters and yachts, and is invited all over the world to share his expertise with fellow boat enthusiasts. In 1983, Tiedemann formed the Antique 12-Meter Association,and helped to form the Museum of Yachting in 1979 to encourage others to get involved in restoration. "I try to educate people about the beauty of these boats, and the need to save them. If I had the money," Tiedemann declares, "I'd buy a huge warehouse so I could save them all."

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