Fishing for Hemingway Daiquiris on a 100-Year-Old Sailing Yacht

Plus: Get the recipe for famed literary lush Ernest Hemingway's signature rum cocktail.
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Legend has it that one of our favorite cocktails, the Hemingway Daiquiri, was dreamt up in a bar in Havana. Ernest Hemingway, World War I volunteer, writer, boozer, fisherman, and celebrated bon vivant, nipped into La Floridita sometime in the 1930s to answer nature’s call. He noticed that patrons were bragging about the fantastic daiquiris being served. So he ordered one and took a sip. Never a man of meager appetites, he then ordered another. And another. As he had a hereditary aversion to sugar and death by diabetes, he asked for these to be made with no sugar—and double the amount of rum. 

And so the Hemingway Daiquiri, in its original incarnation, was born. Lime juice and lots of rum. Nothing more. Nothing less. According to Phillip Greene, author of the book To Have and Have Another: A Hemingway Cocktail Companion, Hemingway proudly boasted to have downed 17 “Papa Dobles” as they were also affectionately known, over the course of one afternoon in 1942. As Greene notes, “that’s a hell of a lot of daiquiris.” 

Hemingway is a man dear to any rapscallion’s heart. And dearest to our heart is his tale of The Old Man and the Sea. In which a humble old fisherman sets out to prove the younger, stronger, cockier men wrong in their assertion that he is all washed up. And catches the fish of a lifetime. Unfortunately for him, it then drags him far out to sea before he conquers it. And he has to strap it to the side of his all-too-small boat to bring it home. Many a trial, tribulation and challenge ensue as he battles mother nature to return to shore. 

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We couldn’t help thinking of this as we set sail this summer from Antigua to Nantucket on a classic sailing yacht, the Blue Peter, launched in 1930. Kitted out in white linens, stocked up with fine Davidoff cigars, and ready to mix up our own version of the Papa Doble [see sidebar]. While we fished over the side for the catch of our lives. The route north from the Caribbean to the whaling islands off Cape Cod took us through 1,600 miles of open water, threading the needle of the Bermuda Triangle and bisecting the Gulf Stream before hitting the continental shelf a hundred or so miles off the east coast of the United States. 

As we sail into the doldrums, the ocean is as flat as glass and we are as far out at sea as the Old Man. The water around us reflecting the raging cyan lightning bolts crashing all around us from above. Electric thunderstorms engulfing us in an eerie blue light. Directly above, in the eye of the storm surrounding us, are clear black skies suffused with all the stars we’ve never seen in our life because of light pollution ashore. And by the next evening, we’ll see planet Mars just above the horizon, glowing red in the night sky; a beacon to Elon Musk, and dreamers everywhere since time began. But right now we’re trying to figure out how we make it out of this ring of chaos alive. It starts to rain sideways, and the winds begin to howl. Our captain, a veteran of ocean crossings and sticky wickets, steels himself to head forward 50 feet up the teak deck to bring in the jib and staysail. We’re trying to pull down the sails and motor through this. So that we don’t end up at the bottom in a beautiful 100-year-old yacht reminiscing with Davy Jones. 

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For safety reasons, we split our watches into three-hour stints. The four of us making sure someone was always at the helm. Twenty-four hours a day. Keeping our eyes peeled for supertankers or great whites bearing down upon us. And making sure we were on course. As I sat there on my watches, a warm cup of PG Tips in hand at 4 a.m., I would witness a carpet of stars unlike any I had ever experienced. And watch it transform over the next hour into golden pink sunrises through puffy cotton candy clouds. Vanilla skies and nothingness stretching as far as the eye could see. 

Strapped into the captain’s seat, lifejacket on, safety straps locked to both sides of the boat, I had time to reflect, to meditate, and to find inner calm. To ponder the trip we were making. And the trips of others over the years since man first set sail to adventure into the unknown. 

While some may consider me skilled in the dark art of bespoke clothing, and to have more than a fair claim to the nuance of cocktails and other things ephemeral, I’ve never considered fishing to be my forte. I’ve caught brown trout in burns around Glasgow, mackerel in Scottish lochs, salmon in Alaska, and enormous sailfish and bigeye tuna from sailing yachts in the Indian Ocean. So perhaps there were a few fishy prequels. But none in a white linen suit while drinking Papa Dobles. 

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Linen historically has been my least favorite of cloths. Put it on, and you look like you’ve been dragged through a bush backward within five minutes. Creased to the max. Disheveled chic so to speak. A recent trip to balmy Jaipur instigated a resurgence of the stuff in my wardrobe, however. And it seems to have stuck. 

As we pulled into the harbor in front of Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven, purveyors of beautiful handcrafted wooden sailing yachts, we pondered ten days at sea. Incredible sunsets. Carpets of stars. Too much Quinn Rosé. And the fish that got away. As well as the ones that didn’t. 

The Hemingway Daiquiri 

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As those in the know will tell you, the Hemingway Daiquiri has evolved into a genre of the drink rather than an exact recipe. Sometime after Ernest’s very acidic and boozy lime and double rum version, barmen continued to tweak the recipe until it contains today a generally agreed lexicon of ingredients, but in proportions which seem to vary based upon the venue and particular mixologist’s palate and pleasure. Some combination of rum, lime, grapefruit, maraschino cherry liqueur, and sugar syrup seems to do it. 

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Here is the DQ version created in collaboration with James Beard-winning mixologist William Elliott of Maison Premiere in Brooklyn, NY:  

  • 2 oz. Boukman Botanical Haitian Rhum
  • 1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
  • 1/4 oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • 1/2 oz. Bordiga maraschino liqueur

Pour the ingredients in reverse order of alcoholic proof into a shaker, then add ice to just cover the liquid. Shake vigorously for about 30-45 seconds and strain into a chilled coupe; express a grapefruit rind over the drink and garnish with the peel. Then, if you like, drink it like Hemingway himself in three large drafts.