Today in Transportation History – 1934: A Legendary Writer Acquires a Prized Boat

Influential novelist and short story writer Ernest Hemingway acquired a 38-foot (12-meter) boat that would become an important part of his life and legacy. The boat had been constructed by Wheeler Shipbuilding of Brooklyn, New York, at the company’s Coney Island yard.

Hemingway, who paid $7,495 for the customized boat, assumed ownership of the vessel in Miami, Florida. He dubbed the boat “Pilar,” which was a nickname for his second wife Pauline (to whom he was married from 1927 to 1940).

Hemingway used the boat Pilar for regular and often ambitious – and sometimes even record-setting — fishing trips in the waters of such locales as Key West, Florida; Cuba; and the Bahamas. Hemingway’s considerable amount of time spent fishing off the boat proved to be a key inspiration for his 1952 novel “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Hemingway also used the boat for significant marine life research when, during the summer of 1934, two scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia spent a month with him on Pilar in Cuban waters to study the taxonomy and other features of Atlantic marlin species. Hemingway and the scientists spent that time on Pilar catching, measuring, and classifying a number of marlins. Their efforts resulted in more accurate classifications of marlins found in that region of the world.

During World War II, Hemingway extensively used Pilar to help monitor Caribbean waters in search of German U-boats. Hemingway used those wartime patrol experiences as material for his novel “Islands in the Stream,” which was written by him during the 1950s and posthumously published in 1970.

Hemingway left Pilar in his will to the boat’s longtime first mate Gregorio Fuentes, who eventually donated the vessel to the people of Cuba. The boat is now on display at Hemingway’s one-time Cuban residence Finca Vigía, which is about 15 miles (24.1 kilometers) east of Havana.​

Photo Credit: Pilar on display in Finca Vigia in Cuba (courtesy of Natalie Maynor, Creative Commons)

For more information on Ernest Hemingway’s boat Pilar, please check out

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