Jay Fiondella, 63, is a restaurateur by trade and a swashbuckler at heart. Over the past 25 years he has poured some $200,000, by his estimate, into the building of what was supposed to be a 65-foot replica of a Spanish galleon, aboard which he hoped to sail to Tahiti one day with his wife, Lucy, 29, and baby son Chazz. But on Nov. 6 Fiondella’s dream foundered—not on some uncharted coral reef but on the unforgiving pavement of a California highway. There his unfinished boat languished for almost two days, creating what may have been the most monumental traffic jam ever caused by a shipwreck on dry land.
The 26-ton Bridgette Smith (named for Fiondella’s grandmother) was being hauled on a trailer from a storage facility in L.A. to Marina Del Rey. Disaster struck shortly after midnight on Culver Boulevard. “We came to a bend; I saw the boat tip slowly,” says Fiondella, who was following the trailer in his car. “She fell and cracked at the midsection.”
Traffic was hopelessly blocked as workers spent the day lifting the stricken vessel onto a bigger trailer with cranes and jacks. After 13 hours, they succeeded in moving Bridgette 100 yards, only to have her capsize again. Nothing more could be done but abandon ship. The next day bulldozers did their noisy work as Bridgette’s owner saw his galleon—she had four sleeping cabins, a fireplace, even an on-board Jacuzzi—reduced to scrap. “My boat had been an island in a world of troubles, my shrink, my Shangri-la,” laments Fiondella.
A longtime yachtsman, treasure hunter and bit-part actor, Fiondella owns a 10-table, steak-and-seafood restaurant called Chez Jay in Santa Monica that has been a watering hole for celebs with names-like Sinatra, Newman and Redford. Having salvaged a few pieces, such as port windows, Fiondella plans to hold a memorial service for the Bridgette Smith. But proving his humor survived the wreck, he has renamed his erstwhile dream boat the U.S.S. Never Sail.