The Annapolis Yacht Yard
From 1937 to 1947, the Annapolis Yacht Yard operated on Spa Creek at what is now 222 Severn Avenue.
In the early 1930s, Chris B. Nelson and N. Erik Almen were partners in the New York firm of Nelson-Reid, Inc. Chris Nelson was a 1921 graduate of MIT in naval architecture and began a career as a draftsman for a New York firm of yacht designers, Tams, LeMoyne and King. He left there and went to work at the Dawn Boat Co. eventually becoming a designer and vice-president. Erik Almen apprenticed at the John Hanson Company in New York and became a knowledgeable yacht broker and gifted salesmen. They became friends and associates, and nurtured a successful relationship in the yacht brokerage business.
Chris and Erik talked about relocating their business to another area on the East Coast, preferably on the Chesapeake Bay. They thought it would be a good idea to have a boatyard to build and sell their own designs. Chris came to Annapolis and saw the dormant Chance Marine Construction Company property on Spa Creek. They saw Annapolis as a growing yachting community, and their business was building yachts; very fine yachts for wealthy people. Chris thought it was a great place. So he came back to New York and told Eric about the yard and Annapolis. They wanted to get out of New York and when they envisioned the opportunity in Annapolis they decided to relocate.
In 1937, Chris B. Nelson, Frederick L. Reid, and N (Nils) Erik Almen purchased Chance Marine Construction from the Reconstruction Finance Corp and founded The Annapolis Yacht Yard at what is now 222 Severn Ave.
What the Nelson-Almen partnership purchased from the RFC was a collection of buildings which dated back to 1913, but the buildings were functional. There was a large boat shed, a machine shop, joiner shop, lumber sheds and offices - all the space needed for Chris Nelson to begin designing the Annapolis Cruiser - a beautiful motoryacht that Erik Almen was a master at selling.
July 1937, An ad was placed in Motorboating magazine announcing the acquisition of the “finest yacht-building plant” on the East Coast. The Annapolis Yacht Yard was open for business after renovations and upgrades. Annapolis Yacht Yard offices were located at 110 East 42nd Street, New York and the plant at Annapolis, Maryland. Officers of the new corporation: Chris B. Nelson- President, Frederick Reid- Vice President, and N. Erik Almen- Secretary-Treasurer.
Repair and yacht maintenance provides cash flow to any boatyard. Nelson and Almen recognized this as a major income stream to augment their new business of yacht design and construction. It kept the men working when orders for new yachts were slow. William T. Morris, president of the American Chain & Cable Company in York, Pennsylvania owned a 99-foot yacht, Sayon. It was a George Lawley design built in 1926, and a classic 1920s houseboat. Morris cruised the waters of the Chesapeake Bay aboard the yacht whenever he had the opportunity. During the late 1930s, Morris frequented Annapolis - he enjoyed the quiet surroundings of the harbor and the Annapolis Yacht Yard was a place that provided a facility to have his yacht maintained. A friendship developed between Morris, Nelson and Almen. On many occasions they spent time together at the Annapolis Yacht Club talking about boats, business and politics. Morris, a wealthy industrialist, was captivated by the entrepreneurial spirit of these two young gifted men. One of the topics they talked about was the war in Europe and the possibility of America’s involvement. Planners in Washington were watching as events began to evolve. The United States Navy was particularly concerned and the Navy began assessing its requirements for the future.
World War II
With the war looming in Europe, business growth and to help with production. The offices in New York were closed and moved to Yard in Annapolis. N. Erik Almen took over general manager of the plant while Chris B. Nelson concentrated on contracts and designs.
Realizing the United States would eventually become involved in the war, Chris Nelson traveled to England in late 1940 to secure the rights to build a 70-foot Vosper PT boat at the Annapolis Yacht Yard for the British Royal Navy. PT boats were a new concept in coastal naval warfare and the British were on the leading edge of design and construction. Nelson went because he won the coin toss with Almen. If it had been tails this story would be about Erik Almen. But, Nelson returned to America on March 12, 1941, with a bundle of plans he believed were detailed drawings of the 70-ft Vosper PT boat designed by Peter DuCane, a naval architect who headed Vosper Limited. Nelson went to the British Purchasing Mission in Washington to secure a contract to replicate the design and build the boats in Annapolis. The reply was surprising: Sorry, but Lend-Lease was passed yesterday by Congress, you will have to negotiate such a contract with your navy. Chris Nelson went to the Bureau of Ships and met with Admiral Ned Cochrane, head of the Bureau. After he told his story and unveiled his plans, the Annapolis Yacht Yard was soon awarded the first of many contracts to build Vosper PT boats in Annapolis for the British Royal Navy and later, the Russian Navy.
One month later, on April 1, 1941, the Annapolis Yacht Yard was awarded its first contract to build two 110-foot subchasers for the U. S. Navy. It later served in the Pacific and the occupation of Guam in 1944. One month before the end of the war the boat foundered in the Solomon Islands.
On July 16, 1941, the Nelson-Almen partnership received its first contract to build a 70-foot Vosper PT boat for the British Royal Navy - the first of 28 PT boats to be built in one year’s time. New facilities would be needed and a larger shed was required. The Annapolis Yacht Yard began an expansion program, thanks to an investment of more than $200,000 from William T. Morris - the mentor to Chris Nelson and Erik Almen.
The first Vosper Torpedo Boat was launched the spring of 1942. At the height of the war, the Annapolis Yacht Yard completed a PT Boat every 5 days.
During the war years, celebrities visited factories, military installations and yes, even boatyards. Hollywood actress Ann Baxter visited the Annapolis Yacht Yard in 1943 to promote a war bond drive. The Yard was very active in raising funds for the war effort - hosting Basketball and Baseball games, War Bond drives, and dinners at Carvel Hall.
By 1943, the Annapolis Yacht Yard had more than 500 men on the payroll. It was the largest single private employer in Annapolis. The paychecks helped to anchor the many small family-owned businesses in the local economy during the war years. In March of that year, the yard received a contract to build 30 Vospers for the Russian Navy.
On May 14, 1943, Annapolis Yacht Yard was awarded the Army-Navy E flag “for meritorious and distinguished service to their country in time of need.” The ceremony took place at Annapolis High School with Rear Admiral John R. Beardall presenting the flag to Chris B. Nelson.
Lt. Col Paul J. McGahan, representing the War Department, presented the employees with an “E” pin.
By the end of the war, The Annapolis Yacht Yard had produced, 10 sub chasers for the US Navy, 28 Vosper P.T. boats for the British Royal Navy and 100 Vosper P.T. boats for the Soviet Navy.
After the conclusion of World War II, the Nelson-Almen partnership returned to designing and building the Annapolis Cruiser. The designs became more sleek and even more graceful and luxurious.
After Chris B. Nelson’s sudden death on July 5, 1947, and a slow down of production, The Annapolis Yacht Yard was sold to John Trumpy, Sr.