As of last weekend, Rusty Areias and Greg Harris can relax and truly embrace the joy of living. They'd officially completed the rebuild and relaunch of a locally-manufactured classic wooden yacht that's more than half a century old.

The partners took on the project of restoring the 56-foot luxury vessel, which was built and set afloat in the old Stephens Boatyard in Stockton 63 years ago. After 50 months, untold amounts of money and plenty of struggles, the boat once again touched the water last week in a familiar setting.

An enthusiastic crowd of approximately 150 cheered on a sunny Sunday as the 1950's boating classic came full circle in its relaunch at the former site of the Stephens Boatyard, currently called the 5 Star Marina. One major difference was the name. The vessel originally christened Amelia Marie is now called Joie de Vivre, French for “Joy of Living.”

 “I love the history of Stephens Brothers (boats); I love how important this is for the maritime history of Stockton,” Areias said. “I love everything about it.”

But would he take on a project of this magnitude again?

“No,” Areias said with a laugh. “The boat is a source of incredible heartache and expense. However, she also brings real joy to our families and the people who can’t help but stop and look at her and recognize the genius of the workers and the artisans and the dreamers who made her possible.”

Harris agreed with his partner, staying it was a very difficult task to bring the boat out of its state of disrepair — but worth it.

“It was difficult, but the combination of honoring Stockton and Northern California by restoring one of the best crafted boats ever seemed like a responsibility,” Harris said. “Really, it was an honor to respite it to its current state.”

Ted Harris (right) speaks as partner Rusty Areias looks on while aboard one of Areias' other Stephens Brothers' boats, the “Miss 102.” (Joshua Brewer)

Areias and Harris said that to truly understand why they undertook such a grueling project, it's important to take in account the history of the vessel's original makers.

Roy and Thod Stephens founded Stephens Brothers Boat Builders and Designers in 1902, a business which would last 85 years and produce sail boats, speed boats, runabouts, boats that assisted the military in wartime and private yachts. The Amelia Marie was commissioned by Theodore Brix.

Areias, a former California Assembly member and a partner in the consulting firm California Strategies, had a long passion for Stephens vessels and set about to find and buy the Amelia Marie.

“It was in horrible shape. I’m fond of saying that the only thing we saved was the lines,” Areias said. “It barely floated. We took is down to Catalina once, and it almost sank.”

The partners paid for the restoration themselves. Areias said he chose not to ask his accountant how much it cost, recalling that at least 26 months of the 50-month project took were “intense.”

And their work impressed everyone, especially the members of the Stephens family who were at the relaunch. Theo Stephens, who was at the original launch, marveled at how good the boat looked.

The crowd watches as the “Joie de Vivre” is prepared to be launched. (Joshua Brewer)

“We’ve known Rusty a long time, and we’ve seen him do this with other boats. Similar, but not as grandiose,” Theo Stevens said. “It looks great, he’s brought it all back, and he’s not done yet.”

Among those at the relaunching was Gerry Kamilos, commodore of the Classic Yacht Association, who called the transformation of the boat “amazing.”

“Rusty is an active member of our Northern California fleet, and he and Ted own a number of Stephens yachts,” Kamilos said. “They are very passionate about the restoration of these yachts.”

The owners watched the boat take off on its second madden voyage into the northern California waters. As the onlookers took turns embarking the vessel, it was clear all their hard work had been worth it.

“As they say: all’s well that ends well,” Harris said.

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  1. Folks with the means will do this sort of restoration on a boat or car with no thought to return on investment. I wish we could find someone who would take that same attitude with some of our old buildings.

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