Hemingway’s Fishing Boat
The Pilar is a 38 foot modified Playmate manufactured by the Wheeler company. Hemingway commissioned the boat and took delivery in Miami in 1934. She had dual engines, a livewell, and a special roller on the transom to aid in hauling large fish (tuna and sailfish in particular) onto the boat. At a later date the boat was equipped with a flying bridge. The name Pilar comes from a Spanish bullfighting shrine. Pilar was also Hemingway’s nickname for his second wife. The yacht was the inspiration for naming Playa Pilar on Cuba’s Caya Guillermo.
Hemingway used the Pilar for multiple purposes. When he first took possession of the yacht in Miami he cruised to Key West and lived aboard the boat for a while. Starting in 1935 he spent three summers fishing near Bimini. While he was there he discovered a technique to prevent sharks from attacking and dismembering his catch. That method involved both continuous retrieval of his catch and a Thompson sub-machine gun!
Hemingway spent a considerable amount of time in Cuba. During his first trip there with Pilar he was joined by a pair of noted ichthyologists. They studied white, blue, black and striped marlin. Their efforts on the Pilar resulted in the reclassification of North American Marlin variants.
His Thompson sub-machine gun wasn’t only used to keep the sharks at bay. It was his only armor against German U-boats. While his intent in patrolling for U-boats in the Caribbean waters during World War II was noble the machine gun would probably have not been a significant defense. It may be that his primary intent in this patrol was extra gas rations and a pass from Cuban police for driving drunk!
There is little doubt, however, that Hemingway’s primary use for the Pilar was fishing in the Havana Bimini Triangle. While on Pilar he caught many record breaking fish and won every tournament in the area. He set a world marlin record by catching seven in one day. He was the first person to successfully land a whole giant tuna that had not been ravaged by sharks. He kept meticulous records of his fishing excursions including not only fish caught, but weather, guests, currents, etc. Some of those records were later typed and are on display at the John F. Kennedy Museum and Library.
Since 1950 The Hemingway Fishing Tournament has been held in Cuba. This four day tournament awards prizes for marlin, tuna, wahoo, and other fish caught using a 50 pound line. Not surprisingly, Hemingway won the first three years.
Ernest Hemingway owned a 38-foot (12 m) fishing boat named Pilar. It was acquired in April 1934 from Wheeler Shipbuilding in Brooklyn, New York, for $7,495. “Pilar” was a nickname for Hemingway’s wife Pauline and also the name of the woman leader of the partisan band in his 1940 novel of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway regularly fished off the boat in the waters of Key West, Florida, Marquesas Keys, and the Gulf Stream off the Cuban coast. He made three trips with the boat to the Bimini islands wherein his fishing, drinking, and fighting exploits drew much attention and remain part of the history of the islands. In addition to fishing trips on Pilar, Hemingway contributed to scientific research which included collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. Several of Hemingway’s books were influenced by time spent on the boat, most notably, The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream. The yacht also inspired the name of Playa Pilar (Pilar Beach) on Cayo Guillermo. A smaller replica of the boat is depicted in the opening and other scenes in the film Hemingway & Gellhorn.
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