Tag Archives: Martha’s Vineyard


The readers of this blog are simply THE BEST! Roberta, out of West Tisbury, MA, sent this great photo and article from the MV Times to me.

Roberta – we all thank you!!!

Keep those Mah Jongg sightings coming!!!

The boat

Boat with storied past gets a grand restoration

Mah Jong returns to the water after three-year restoration.

A restored 52-foot yawl, once featured in National Geographic and designed by Sparkman & Stephens and built by Cheoy Lee Shipyard in Hong Kong, is back in the water after a three-year restoration by Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven.

“They did a great job,” Pat Ilderton, owner of the Mah Jong, said. He specifically pointed to the work guided by Ross Gannon and Brad Abbott. “They are not only first-class craftsmen, but they are first-class people.”

Mr. Ilderton, a South Carolina contractor, first fell in love with wooden sailboats 25 years ago. One of his employees at the time was a wooden boat enthusiast. “That’s where I got my introduction to sailing and wooden boat ethos,” he said.

Fast-forward to three years ago, when he found the Mah Jong for sale. “I finally had the time and the money to look at doing something,” Mr. Ilderton said.

He was actually in England with Ross Gannon of Gannon & Benjamin, and passed on the purchase of the sailboat they went to see. Mr. Gannon told him about the Mah Jong in Tortola, one of the British Virgin Islands. They went and looked at it, but it would take six months for Mr. Ilderton to pull the trigger. Once he bought the boat, it was shipped to Newport, R.I., and then sailed over to Vineyard Haven.

Since then, he’s been saying yes to all of the necessary repairs, including the harvest of live oak in Georgia and scouring eBay and marine shops for brass fittings. The boat’s ribs, floorboards, and planks have been completely replaced, Mr. Ilderton said. The boat’s hull, ballast, and engine are intact. “We basically rebuilt the boat,” he said.

Mr. Gannon said it’s been a great and challenging experience for the crew. “It’s unusual when you find an owner that gives as much freedom to do our best work,” he said. “In his quiet way, Mr. Ilderton pushed us to do the best work we can do.”

All told, the purchase and repairs cost more than $1 million. “With no regrets,” he said. “The boat deserves it because of its history.”

Built in 1957, the three men who commissioned Mah Jong got a deal on the plans for the yawl because they were still available from the Baccarat, also built by Cheoy Lee.

A Southeast Asia sail of the Mah Jong was featured in National Geographic in 1958. “I have two copies of the magazine,” Mr. Ilderton said.

Now that the boat is fully restored, Myles Thurlow of Myles Thurlow Rigging is getting the masts rigged, and Ben Sperry of Sperry Sails is helping with the sails. “It’s a real local effort,” Mr. Ilderton said.

Immediate plans for the 1957 boat include an appearance at the WoodenBoat Magazine annual Wooden Boat Show in Mystic, Conn. Mah Jong will also compete in the Vineyard Cup, as well as other regattas, Mr. Ilderton said. He also plans to charter the sailboat on the Vineyard, in South Carolina, and in the Caribbean, he said. The boat’s captain is Alex Goldhill, a former employee at Gannon & Benjamin.

Though Mah Jong translates to gray sparrow, it’s also a Chinese gambling game.

Mr. Ilderton knows it was a bit of a gamble to buy the yawl and have it restored. “It’s a gamble that’s paid off,” he said. “It’s been great to be a part of this great partnership. I’ve gained a lot of friends. I could see it was a special project for them.”


Lisa is one of my star students – she is playing the game now like a true pro. And when the new 2016 card came out, she studied and analyzed it and her hard work paid off. Look at that smile on her face as she declares Mah Jongg with a quints hand of FFFF NNNNN 11111!IMG_0214

BTW, I have received emails from people looking for MJ games in Lower Westchester County, Martha’s Vineyard, and Omaha, Nebraska. If you know of any games in these locations, please let me know.


I’m back home now but I must say that I had such a great time on Martha’s Vineyard. Everyone I met was so warm and friendly and the weather was perfection. Let’s start out with a glimpse of the cliffs:

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This will be my last post for the next few days as I am leaving in the morning for Martha’s Vineyard to go to my first speaking engagement to promote our soon-to-be-published book, Mah Jongg: The Art of the Game. I’ll take pictures and give you a full report when I post again on Thursday. This is getting exciting!  We already have some book signings scheduled but if you have a favorite bookstore, please make sure they are going to carry the book and ask if they would be interested in hosting a book signing – we would love to come to your hometown!

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