Meyer bought Endeavour from the Englishman who had paid $22 for her, promising as part of the deal never to divulge the amount she gave him. Her next move was to find and talk to the original owner, Sopwith, who was 97 at the time and disinclined to listen to yet another dreamer talk about restoring Endeavour. Not until he had his banker check out her finances did he decide Meyer was worth an interview.
"You're a damn fool," Sopwith bellowed when the two finally faced each other at his home in Hampshire. "These boats were preposterous even in the '30s."
"Then you think I shouldn't do it?" said Meyer.
"I didn't say that," Sopwith said, and until his death in 1989, at 101, he contributed invaluable advice to the reconstruction project.
Returning to Calshot Spit, Meyer set up a makeshift boatyard, erecting a plastic shed over her broken-down prize and hiring six people to work on her full time. She herself oversaw the rebuilding of the steel hull and the new, 70-ton lead keel. But after a promising start, things went less smoothly. Because Endeavour was so big and, literally, one of a kind, most of her hardware had to be custom-made, which proved to be time-consuming as well as costly. The reconstruction fell far behind schedule, and the enormousness of Meyer's task began to dawn on her. "God knows why I'm doing this," she said at a particularly low point. "I'm so scared. Sometimes I wake up at 4 a.m., shaking."
Meyer's difficulties were compounded by British immigration officials who, she says, hassled her; by the local tax man who dogged her footsteps; and by the county council, which, she says, tried to stick her with an exorbitant rent for her yard. In addition, an anonymous malefactor repeatedly cut the power to the yard. Even when, after 18 months of work, Endeavour was finally ready for relaunching, Meyer's old worries were replaced by new ones. "I kept thinking, The boat is going to go in the water and I'm going to sink to my knees with grief. She's going to be ugly and funny-looking and weird."
Then on Aug. 10, 1986, before a crowd of 600 well-wishers, Meyer smashed a magnum of Louis Roederer champagne across Endeavour's bow and the boat slipped gracefully into the English Channel. Meyer's relief was palpable. "O.K.," she said. "The boat looks great. Nobody's going to laugh at me for doing this. I realize the social insignificance of it, but I think in human terms it is significant. To me, it's like restoring the Statue of Liberty."
With Endeavour finally seaworthy but still an empty shell, Meyer had her towed to the Royal Huisman Shipyard in Vollenhove, Holland, reputedly the finest yacht yard in the world. In June 1987, Endeavour moved into Royal Huisman's biggest shed. There, joinery craftsmen slowly created, at a cost of approximately $3 million, an elegant Edwardian-style interior far different from that of the original.
Today Endeavour is as unconventional as her owner, an intriguing mix of historic preservation and modern maxicoat technology. Below decks are five elegant staterooms and, in the main saloon, a marble fireplace surrounded by gleaming cherry cabinetry. On deck are the latest in coffee-grinder winches, as well as a 51-foot spinnaker pole made of carbon fiber. In another departure from tradition, Meyer rejected brass or bronze hardware, which requires constant polishing, in favor of nickel, platinum and stainless steel.
"Elizabeth restored Endeavour in such a grand style that the boat is really a piece of art," says Jobson. "Endeavour is the finest yacht in the world today."