Ernest Hemingway’s Beloved Boat, Pilar

by Owen James Burke

50 years ago this week, Ernest Hemingway took his own life in Ketchum, Idaho

The Pilar was Ernest Hemingway’s faithful yacht, notorious for chasing big marlin, tuna and German U-Boats in Cuba with his captain of three decades: Gregorio Fuentes, upon whom many of his characters are said to have been based, including Santiago from Old Man and the Sea and Eddie from Islands in the Stream.

Hemingway commissioned Pilar from Wheeler Yachts after receiving a $3,300 advance on some short stories when he was returning from safari in Africa in 1934. In total, the purchase cost him $7,500, with customizations including a live well, extra large diesel tanks, a fly bridge and a wooden roller off the stern for boating large fish.

Hemingway and Fuentes had come to an agreement that as soon as either one of them died, Pilar would never sail again. Hemingway was forced to leave Cuba in 1960, and before he could return for Pilar, he ended his own life with his shotgun on July 2, 1961.

Roughly six weeks after Hemingway’s passing, his widow Mary Welsh handed the boat over to Fuentes, who kept his agreement with the skipper and donated it to Finca Vigía, Hemingway’s Cuban home between 1940 and 1960, which has been turned into a museum.

Hemingway (left) and Captain Gregorio Fuentes (right) at the helm aboard Pilar

The 38′ Wheeler Playmate was restored in 1965, and then left alone until 1987, when she underwent more thorough repairs and was placed under a garage. Unfortunately, due to the United States’ trade embargo against Cuba, no United States citizen has been permitted to make a donation to preserve and protect Pilar or Hemingway’s estate, leaving the entire initiative up to Cuba.

Thankfully, Cuba has been delicately restoring Pilar throughout the past decade, stripping paint to re-laminate the hull, fixing the engine, the head, and the roof. But a lot more could be done–especially with the aid of the United States–as her structural condition is becoming questionable.

Together, Hemingway and Pilar became and remain an integral part of American maritime history, invigorating us with deep-sea sportfishing and reinventing the private yacht, proving to the world that there is no friend as loyal as a boat.


To contribute to the Hemingway Preservation Foundation Inc. contact Mary-Jo Adams at (781) 729-0870 or

*via fullmoonfever and powerandmotoryacht, photos via wikihowardbanwell and printedandbound*

Facebook Comments