A little bit of Stockton shipbuilding history was restored in April with the relaunch of one of the Stephens Brothers Company’s 56-foot luxury vessels 63 years after it originally slid into the Delta.
Two brothers, Roy and Thod Stephens, grew up mesmerized by the different styles of boats they saw along the Delta. They went to work in their backyard on Yosemite Road and built a 33-foot sloop - the Dorothy - familiar with one mast and an ability to move through the water with dexterity and efficiency.
They sailed their boat to Santa Cruz as the best form of advertising. The reward was a $1,000 down payment to build a vessel for a client. The company they founded, Stephens Boating Company, would stay in business for 85 years and be one of the great success stories of Stockton. Able to adjust to different eras and changing needs, Stephens Brothers and their heirs would produce spud boats for moving potatoes, sail boats, speed boats, runabouts, boats that assisted the military in wartime, and private yachts that are accurately called stunning pieces of artwork.
Sixty-three years ago, a 56-foot luxury vessel was given a traditional champagne baptism before sliding into the Stockton Channel at the Stephens Boat Works.
The Amelia Marie was a year-long project commissioned by Theodore Brix. She was his fourth boat, all named in honor of his wife, who by most accounts preferred not to be on the water. An airplane pilot in his 20s, Brix was his own sea captain when he bought the Amelia Marie in his late 50s. He outfitted the boat as a home afloat and planned to cruise as far as South American waters.
Brix could afford the best toys. He accumulated a fortune selling his tire company to Goodyear, figuring out how to earn enough to amass a significant real estate portfolio in Fresno and Coalinga. By the time he commissioned the Amelia Marie, he was described as a ‘charming dilettante with deep pockets.’ How long he kept the boat is lost to history, and the Amelia Marie herself disappeared for decades.
The Stephens Boatyard has a unique place in the heart of Stockton’s Haggin Museum. The curator is proud of the 27-foot boat on display and can boast they have the complete Stephens Brothers’ archives. He says he receives 12 to 15 requests a year from all over the world from people who want to restore a Stephens boat.
One of those calls came from Rusty Areias. A former California State legislator, adventurer, and businessman, Areias had already partnered in the restoration of two Stephens boats. He saw pictures of the Amelia Marie years before he was able to find her. She was not even the Amelia Marie anymore. Her name had been changed to Joie de Vivre, the French expression for delighting in living your life.
Areias and his friend and business partner, Ted Harris, bought the Joie, originally intending to complete the restoration in Los Angeles. Instead, adjusting to the rigors of the pandemic, they towed the boat to the Delta. More than two years and considerable funds were spent restoring the boat the Stephens built for Brix to her original glory.
They listened closely as the curator turned the pages of the early documents of the Amelia Marie with his white-gloved hands. He explained the nuances of the vessel, the materials used, the fidelity of her lines, and the disputes and agreements that are part of her lore. They decided to keep the new name. The result is that a brilliant memory of Stockton that sleeps nine comfortably, has a displacement of 42-tons, a top speed of 20 miles an hour, and a cruising range of 1200 miles finally found its fit again in the water.
Areias, along with family, friends and community supporters, relaunched the Amelia Marie/Joie de Vivre with a champagne splash on April 23 at the Five Star Marina — the old Stephens Boatyard — in Stockton.
“We sent her out the same way to taste the Stockton water for the first time like she did in 1960,” said Areias.
Restoring the Amelia Marie/Joie de Vivre wasn’t an easy project by any means.
“While I was State Parks Director I ran the Office of Historic Preservation. I learned the concept of adaptive reuse. The key is that it doesn’t take away from the historic nature of the boat. These projects aren’t for the faint of heart,” said Areias.
“When I began working on the Joie we set aside a certain amount of money and we exceeded that about four times. Everything that could’ve gone wrong with the boat was wrong with it. We bought it cheap, but then the fun began.”
Despite the dry rot, termites and degrading metal they found when starting work on the project, Areias is glad that he put in the work.
“I’m really pleased with the outcome. I think we’re going to be very happy with the result and it’s largely a new boat. I’m fond of saying we saved the lines and that’s about it,” he said.
“It feels great. There’s a lot of enthusiasm for the history of Stephens Brothers, the history of shipbuilding in Stockton. I’m a son of the 209. I’m 209 proud. This is an important part of the 209 heritage.”