Joe Ruffini in the salon of the Naval War College, where a photo of onetime visitor John F. Kennedy hangs. The”admiral’s barge,” below, will be among the wooden boats on display at the Monmouth Boat Club Saturday. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
After a brief online bidding war, the Red Bank roofer ended up owning a well-maintained, 50-foot wooden yacht, built for Navy admirals, that has hosted at least two American presidents.
On Saturday, the public will get a chance to step aboard, when Ruffini’s prize goes on display as part of a wooden and classic boat show in Red Bank.
Originally equipped with a 50-caliber machine gun on its foredeck, the vessel was designed by marine architect Ed Monk and built in the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in 1957 to serve as a “command cutter” or “admiral’s barge.”
It spent the next 58 years at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, where it was used in part to entertain visiting dignitaries, including Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, Ruffini told redbankgreen during a tour of the vessel last week at its new dock, in Oceanport.
“There’s the head where Kennedy peed,” he said, noting a closet-sized facility next to a bar.
One of three identical Monk vessels, it’s the only one that survives, said Ruffini.
Ruffini bought it sight unseen after coming across it on a federal government auction site a year ago. He entered the minimum bid of $30,000, and figured that was the end of his brief dream of ownership.
“I thought it would go for at least $100,000,” he said.
Ruffini said he wasn’t even following the auction until urged by his girlfriend, Lisa Shupe-Terrill, to see where his bid stood as the deadline neared. To his amazement, it had been topped by an anonymous second bidder by just $20.
Ruffini soon found himself locked in a bidding war in which each of his offers would be topped by just $20. At last, he entered a bid of $43,000, and the other bidder folded.
“Then I thought, holy crap, I didn’t even look at this thing,” Ruffini said. “It could be a piece of junk.”
In fact, Ruffini later learned from war college officials that he’d apparently been up against a bidder who only wanted the vessel for it’s scrap value, meaning he got it for “just above scrap,” he said.
The boat, however, is anything but. Though the Navy had put it on the block for budgetary reasons, the vessel had gotten several overhauls over the years, and needed only cosmetic work.
With a hull of Alaskan cedar over oak planking, the Naval War College features expansive teak decking and mahogany paneling and trim. Because of its exposure, keeping the wood gleaming means endless hours of manual labor, much of it spent sanding and varnishing, Ruffini said.
“I knew it was going to be a lot of work,” said the Navy veteran. “But I had no idea.”
Still, he said, “I feel like I’m dreaming. When I first saw it, I couldn’t believe it. I said, “this is my boat?'”
An insurance appraiser valued the yacht at $150,000, said Ruffini, who now plans to install a heating and air-conditioning system to make the vessel his retirement home. (Until then, his primary residence remains the Maple Avenue house atop which he built an unusual roof deck a decade ago, as reported by redbankgreen.)