An online acquaintance from Mystic provided me with some information on the Mon Lei he researched last year. Here is what he wrote:
There is a lot of conflicting information on the history of this boat... probably because Riply is dead and the current owner (or at lease recently current owner) seems to be prone to weaving a good yarn. Here is what I know.
•Dates for the boat's construction range from 1854 (sourced from a 1973 news paper article where the then professional captain claimed it was "119 years old") to 1920. No source that I was able to find put her build date at any thing younger than 1920. None of the sources sound any more or less authoritative than the last, but based on the other news paper comments about the captain who said she was "119 years old", I would give his account the least credance.
•One source indicated that she was built in Aberdeen, near Hong Kong
•The boat is 50 foot, with 3 masts, 2 cabins, a galley and a bar.
•In 1937 the boat was sold to "5 Englishmen", unidentified by name. They sailed her from Hong Kong to San Francisco for the 1939 Worlds Fair, taking 83 days to get there.
•At some point between 1939 and 1946, Robert Ripley bought the boat and renamed her "Mon Lei", meaning "Infinity". He used her for promotional junkets and relaxation, keeping her on the east coast and making as far south as Florida and as far north as New York.
•Ripley died in 1948 or so. At some point after his death, the boat transfered ownership to Mystic Seaport.
•In 1954, Alen Sands York buys the boat from Mystic Seaport. Sands is apparently a flamboyent raconteur, working in advertising and living a lifestyle akin to that which you would see on Mad Men. The boat becomes part party barge and part advertising prop for his business.
•In 1959, the boat is leased by North West Airlines for a promotional junket to advertise NWA's Asian routes. According to an article from time, the boat was in pretty bad shape and required a substantial refit. She is sailed up and down the coast as part of that junket.
•The next mention I can find of her is in 1974, when Sands apparently lent the boat to a friend / client who had her in Florida. The friend also sounds like quite the booze hound / play boy.
•I can find mention of Sands still owning the boat in 2002, and it still being on the NYC waterfront. I don't have any mention after that date.
The articles that indicated the build date as being 1920 were actually about Robert Ripley, with no reference to Alen Sands. Which leads me to believe that they were sourced directly from Ripley. As he was the preceding owner, I would suspect that his data would be more accurate than Sands data. But Ripley was also known for tales that beggard belief.
This seems to make more sense than the stories claiming she was built in the 1860's or 1890's. Also, the NOAA Vessel Documentaion website lists her as being constructed in the 1930's.
NOAA: Mon Lei Documentation
Soundbounder: Mon Lei
Frogma: Mon Lei (scroll down)
Tugster: Mon Lei
Sailing Anarchy Forum: Mon Lei Thread