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Malabar VII is setting sail on Seneca Lake

WATKINS GLEN—“True Love” has come to Seneca Lake. The Malabar VII, a sister ship to the departed Malabar X, arrived in Watkins Glen in mid-June. Owned by Chris Russell and Joshua Navone, she was another winning boat in the series of racing schooners designed by John Alden.
The ship takes passengers out on the lake three times a day for morning, afternoon and sunset cruises, filling the gap left by the sale and departure of the slightly larger Malabar X—the VII takes a more intimate outing of up to 22 passengers instead of the 30 passenger capacity of the X.
Built in Wicasset, Maine, she won the Newport-Bermuda Race in 1926, spent most of her sailing life in the Virgin Islands, and played a starring role in the 1955 movie “High Society,” along with Bing Crosby and Grace Kelly. Rebuilt in 2003, she was sailed from the Islands to Marathon, Fla., where she was refurbished over the winter, after Russell and Navone purchased her.
Russell says it took about two weeks to sail the boat north from Florida this spring, plus another five days or so to navigate through the Erie Canal. With pleasant weather and fair winds, the boat sailed up sweetly, handling much like the Malabar X. Russell can easily compare the two, having previously worked on the Malabar X for about seven years.
Crew member Mickey Keatron says working on the boat is a return to her roots. She once worked for a sailing school in North Carolina, then did a stint bartending. “Getting back into this is exactly what I want to do,” she says.
Keatron notes passengers get to experience the lake in more than one mode during a cruise. “Depending on the wind, we’ve had it up to nine knots,” she says. A knot is a nautical mile-per-hour, approximately equivalent to 1.5 miles per hour on land. The cruise generally takes passengers along the east side of the lake, as far north as Hector Falls, then turns and wends its way westward before heading south, back to the pier.
“They love the fact that it can be an exciting fun day on the water and at the same time, relaxing,” Keatron says of their passengers. “As you’re heading upwind it’s faster and you’re heeled over and it’s exciting.” Then, when the boat comes around downwind, the sailing becomes more leisurely. “Especially when the sun is setting, it’s relaxing and tranquil,” she says.
For fellow crew member Heather Drake, a Syracuse, N.Y. native who spent most of her childhood summers at her family’s cottage on Seneca Lake, working on the Malabar VII “Feels like another angle of home,” she says. “It’s great to see where you’ve been sitting and see the lake from another perspective.”
She adds, “It’s also a great way for people who are visiting to get a real feel for what Watkins Glen is like. We can tell you about it, because we live here.”
And while most of the passengers are area visitors, many are also locals, from cottagers who watch the Malabar from their own docks to repeat customers, some of whom enjoy comparing this ship to her predecessor.
Russell notes this year’s slow-starting summer weather was a little worrisome, but the cruise business has begun to get busier. “The wineries and local things around Watkins Glen are doing pretty well, so it takes a little bit of that worry away,” he says.
Co-owner Navone says he’s been out on the boat a few times, but his work as an assistant district attorney in Schuyler County and his legal practice speak for most of his days. He got involved in this project, “Because I’ve had an extensive history with sailing and schooners,” he says. He helped build the schooner America in 1995, “and I minored in boat design as an undergraduate at Buffalo State,” he says.
Navone went into the business with Russell partly as an investment but also, he explains, because “the real goal is to bring back a beautiful schooner to Seneca Lake. If we can make money on it too, that would be great.” Asked whether boat design would have been more enjoyable work than law, he quips, “The jury’s still out on that one.”
The boat will remain in the area through the end of September, when it will be sailed back down to Marathon, Fla. for the charter season there. For more information or to reserve a seat on the cruise, call 607-535-LAKE.

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