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Lots of boats come to Oriental, some tie up at the Town Dock for a night or two, others drop anchor in the harbor for a while. If you've spent any time on the water you know that every boat has a story. The Shipping News on TownDock.net brings you the stories of the boats that have visited recently.

S/V Surprise
Wooden charter with a motley history
February 22, 2023

parkling white masts raked aft, a gentle sheer line camber, wide teak decks, and low profile cabin houses.

The elegant lines of S/V Surprise are more than just pretty. She has roots spanning the Eastern Seaboard, connecting boatbuilding, drug smuggling, a famous female deck officer, and a successful chartering business.

S/V Surprise.

Reminiscent of working sailing vessels of yesteryear, the near two-tonne Surprise was influenced in build and design by the traditional tall ships of New England and skipjack sloops of the Chesapeake Bay.

All with the center cockpit of a modern cruising boat.

It’s no surprise then, that the new owners of the 1967 57-foot wooden ketch Surprise, and subsequent East End Charters business, have had big shoes to fill.

“We feel like we are stewards,” said Hannah Miller, co-owner and first mate.

Hannah describes a typical charter situation; Erick tinkers in the engine compartment.

“To have [someone] walk up to us yesterday in Oriental, or anywhere along the Eastern Seaboard and say ‘Is this Pat Mundus’ boat?’ is not a surprise,” added captain and co-owner Erick Tichonuk. “That happens a lot. It’s been a well-travelled boat, and around for a while.”

People also recognize the design, Hannah said. It was drawn by Spaulding Dunbar, a yacht designer and naval architect who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1926.

The builder’s stamp above the companionway.

Surprise stopped in Oriental on the way south to the Bahamas in early November. The Vermont natives were picking up a new mizzen sail from Inner Banks Canvas, who’d done work for them the year prior.

They’d added lazy jacks with a sail stack-pack system for the ease of dropping the mainsail. Forward on the bowsprit is a genoa on a roller furler. The original stay for the stays’l was removed ages ago for better use of deck space on charters.

Some of these Erick referred to as “modern intrusions.”

Hannah in the galley. Old tech charts sit atop the top-loading refrigeration, near the new tech electrical panel.

Erick, clad in coveralls, is down in the engine compartment. There’s enough room to work standing upright. It’s a good thing; he spends a lot of time there. In the belly of the ship is a 1986 120 horsepower, six cylinder Lehman marine diesel motor. Before being re-powered, Surprise had a GM school bus engine.

“They call these forever engines,” Erick said in between spray painting. “They require constant maintenance. One of the many great things about this boat is the engine room. So many new boats, for charter or just in general, they really cram the engine and minimize the space you have to work on them.”

Pictures of the family that commissioned the ketch to be built on the Chesapeake Bay.

Not only do Erick and Hannah have their hands full with combustion maintenance, but with the care of a 55-year-old wooden boat in general. Down below are binders full of their meticulously maintained maintenance logs, a tradition started before they became owners, but adhere to strictly.

Most people, commercial or recreational, are not traveling the waterways by wooden boat. The vessels require continual maintenance to keep them alive. It takes a certain kind of interest in preservation to own and operate a wooden yacht.

“Many wooden boats of the vintage 1967 era didn’t make it,” Hannah said matter of factly, barefoot on the teak cockpit floor

“Many,” Erick echoed.

Bronze and red brass fittings decorate the deck.

Surprise looks pristine with the gloss of Awlgrip paint and freshly sanded and oiled teak. The electronics are streamlined. On her decks are solid bronze self tailing winches and fittings, red brass pulpits, and soft shackles attached to rigging blocks.

Down below the accommodations are luxurious – when it’s just the two of them. But Surprise is suited for guests and crew.

Erick and Hannah live aboard, but in their homeport of Greenport, NY, they operate East End Charters. They bought the established day-sailing business along with Surprise in 2020.

Monogrammed pullovers for East End Charters out of Greenport, NY.

During the height of summer charter season, and when guests are on board, Erick and Hannah share the modest crew’s quarters in the aft cabin, currently home to dive bottles and scuba gear in anticipation of the Bahamas.

To accommodate overnight guests, the couple also remodeled and rebuilt the main cabin, changing the bunk layout, adding a saloon table, and upgrading plumbing systems.

Captain Erick maintaining the engine.
S/V Surprise, showing her net weight.

Surprise was commissioned to be built in 1967 by a wealthy family on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay and constructed in Urbana, VA, on the Rappahannock River.

The region is known for the traditional Chesapeake deadrise oyster and crab workboats of today. Before the deadrise became the norm on the bay, the Skipjack ruled. A tall ship sailing sloop with wide open flat decks and a giant mains’l. Only a few still exist on the bay in maritime museums and as passenger vessels.

Surprise was built to modern cruising boat specs at the time, but the influence of the Chesapeake style is apparent.

A peek inside, with a special Halloween guest on the settee.

After a decade of ownership the boat was sold to a brokerage. And Surprise “slipped away, disappeared for a while,” Hannah said. Another decade went by before the boat showed up in newspapers. It had run aground off Cape Cod, and. was found to be transporting copious amounts of cannabis from Columbia to Massachusetts. Crew and cargo were apprehended, and the boat impounded.

The wooden ketch was donated to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and used as sail training ship.

Then her history gets blurry again. A professor’s son allegedly lived aboard while attending John Hopkins University, but that’s all Erick and Hannah know of that time.

When Surprise fell into disrepair.
Surprise at the Oriental Marina docks in November 2022.

From there, the boat fell into disrepair.

That’s how legendary sailor woman Pat Mundus found Surprise: on the hard in Cape Cod.

Pat was now a retired merchant mariner after a maritime academy degree, master’s license and career at sea on tankers. She had been chief mate, when it was exceptionally rare for women. They had been permitted admittance to the academies only a few years before Pat applied.

Unlike her famous father, Frank Mundus, Pat’s heart was in sailing. She took to it on her own, learning the ropes on deliveries and Caribbean charters after high school. Frank, said to be the grandaddy of offshore sport fishing, a famous shark hunter on Montauk Point who inspired the movie Jaws, disapproved of sailing and her career.

The bowsprit, host to a furling heads’l.

After retiring from tankers and ships, Pat spent time restoring Surprise and building a successful charter business over the next 15 years. She mentored young female captains, and enjoyed many successful voyages around the tip of Montauk Point to the Caribbean aboard.

Pat sold the couple the vessel and her charter business in 2019.

“The boat is very stoutly built,” Erick said, with the confidence of two years of ownership and operation.

Erick takes a minute to look up.

Surprise’s bottom planking is long leaf yellow pine, the side planking mahogany with white oak framing. Her main mast is just short enough to fit under the bridges of the ICW and her four foot draft perfect for the shallow waters of the Bahamas. This is what the boat was technically designed for – recreational cruising – despite any workboat influence or application.

“Walking the line between historic preservation and modern has become a constant dialogue,” he said. “We’re under no obligation to maintain it in any particular fashion. Obviously we love the history of the boat and it has intrinsic value on its own.”

To his point, they’ve outfitted Surprise with a hard bottom inflatable and outboard hanging astern, GPS and other satellite communicators, and autopilot hydraulic steering. These modern conveniences are augmented by paper charts, a wooden sailing dinghy, the bronze cast ship’s wheel.

Shades of blue aft, and a comfortable cockpit seating for charters.

“Living aboard, running a business, and keeping the boat true to its nature is always a compromise,” Hannah said. “Every decision, we consider how it will impact our lives, the integrity of this vessel, and the comfort of our guests.”

The 2022-2023 season aboard Surprise is Erick and Hannahs first full year in business sans COVID. They ran 120 charters during their season on Long Island, and were enjoying a little break while passing through Oriental to the Bahamas. There, they are taking on charters from February through April, before heading back north for another season in Greenport.

Before venturing into the live-aboard life and charter business, Hannah and Erick worked in the non-profit sector.

A happy Hannah.

Erick was involved in underwater archeology as a diver, documenting historic ship wrecks. His work helped construct replicas for the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. From there, he became the captain of an 88-foot historic canal boat replica, and toured for over a decade.

Meanwhile Hannah was an outdoor educator travelling between New Hampshire and Ecuador. Wanting more sea experience, she signed on for a Transatlantic crossing on the three-masted barque training ship Picton Castle. Eventually, she returned to earn a degree in Ecology from the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine.

Erick and Hannah, tied up in front of the Oriental Inn.

Her sailing interests had her cruising yachts in Switzerland and Italy to learn aboard smaller boats, before accepting a job back in Vermont…at the maritime museum on Lake Champlain where Erick worked on the canal.

They partnered with the shared intention to live and work on a sailing vessel of their own. At first they thought they might live aboard a 40-footer, and do something else entirely for work.

Or, they could find a boat to live aboard and charter.

A friend knew what they were considering, and suggested they look at Pat’s boat, Surprise, in Greenport.

“And the rest,” Erick said, “is history.”

S/V Surprise.

Story & photos by Emily Greenberg.

Posted Wednesday February 22, 2023 by Allison DeWeese

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