It seems that the only time that I have to write a letter is when I am flying from one place to another. I just missed my flight so I have plenty of time for this one.
So where to start? At the Wooden Boat Show in Beaufort, there were 39 to boats. Two Trumpy yachts, a Garwood, a Hackercraft and a Hershoff, plus many more. There was a boat building challenge during the show and two carpenters from Moores Marine Yacht Center (MMYC), Skip and Danny, entered the contest. They beat the world record by 44 seconds. So now the truth can be known, MMYC has the fastest dinghy builders anywhere. It’s too bad we aren’t in the dinghy business or are we? Hanging in the Myron building is the prized golden caulking gun award. It was really fun.
Jacqueline, Contract 399, built in 1961 for William Pugh is now in our small project shop. The 47-foot little Aurora is a “Back from the Dead” project. It’s our boat and you know what they say about shoemakers and their children. Nathan Smith, Alex Willis and the crew are replacing her main bulkhead and cabin sides, frames and planks and the list goes one. As I’ve said before, she’s big enough and small enough. So back to the dinghy.
Back in 2000, I worked with a naval architect on a pet project I have been dreaming of, the Trumpet, little powered launches. Little boats with appointments inspired by the masters. But this story started on a trip in 1978 to Nova Scotia. I had gone to buy a motor from Arcadia Foundry, a make and brake engine they built there back then. Make and brake was old school technology from the early 1900s. With money in hand, we drove to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, with a boat trailer in tow.
We arrived on Saturday and much to my surprise the foundry was closed. We would have to wait until Monday. If you have never been to Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, it’s an amazing place. We ditched the trailer and drove every nook there, stopping and talking along the way. An elderly man we spoke to pointed to the third peninsula and told us we shouldn’t miss it. I asked how we got there and he stuck out his finger “that way” and off we went.
Canada paves their roads to the width that the road is used. The roads were wide enough for one car so we drove down slowly. As we rounded a corner, there sat the most beautiful 26-feet black hull. The closer we came, the more our eyes opened. Then we saw the “For Sale” sign. We had to stop. Sitting blocked up was a Baby Bluenose. She was truly amazing even without sails. Motor in the middle, she was set up as scallop dragger with four-feet drags and lathes on each side. Walking around and around her, the little details were amazing such as the hooked bow, the bulwarks, the taff rail around the tucked transom.
No one was home, so we went down to some wooden sheds in a cove with yacht schooners. It was just magical. My old friends Steve Ryer and Bram Williamson and I met a man in one of the sheds. Steve started talking with his thickest Lubec accent and the man had an equally thick Novie accent. You would have thought we were in another country. Within minutes, we were helping him carry the masts and boom outside to him rig the boat.
When we asked about the little boat, the man looked at us and said, “That’s a Vernon Langille original.” She was a Tancook scalloper. The short, rather than long, on this story was that when career fishing captains and crew came to shore for the last time, no longer able to work the big schooners, they wanted boats they could use to fish along the coast. Since the 166-foot Bluenose, launched in 1921, was the most famous, for both racing and fishing, many of them would get Mr. Langille to build a baby version, from 25 to 35 feet long. These were great sea boats. However, in-shore fishing changed and faster and faster, and wider boats became the fashion.
“Those little boats are a part of our history,” the man said. We headed out the road, still no one was home.
We drove out the road, a little further. It had narrowed down to a mere path. There was a neat, little house with a small boat shop in the backyard. The doors were open and Steve hopped out. Bent over in the corner was an older man stooped over a grinder. When Steve touched the man’s shoulder, he jumped. This wasn’t a good way to start a conversation. He shouted us to get out and point the way out. I stepped forward and apologized.
I told him we were interested in the little baby Bluenose up the road. With a stern look, he asked us, “Do you know who built her?” I told him Vernon Langille. He looked a little shocked but then his tone softened. He was Mr. Langille’s son. The ice was broken and for the next three hours, he told us the history of the Tancook Islands, Big and Little, the families, the sea, whaling, and the area’s decline. I told him that we lived right near Canada, in Lubec, Maine. We had come to buy a motor to put in a dory I was building. He said he didn’t like the man who had the baby Bluenose his father built. He talked me into buying her, myself.
He reached under his work bench and pulled out a half model and handed it to me. “Don’t build dories, build one of them,” he said. That was it. I had to take her home with me.
When we headed back to the boat, this time, someone was home. With my heart pounding, we drove up in the door yard and we were met by the owner. This is a small town. He already knew that we had come up from Maine to buy a motor. The bad thing was he knew how much a make and brake cost. It was amazing because he was selling it at about cost. Steve Ryer stepped in with his best broke Maine accent, started talking. I brought him along because he’s a good haggler as well as good company. It turned out that Steve’s dad had bailed the man out when he needed some parts when a machine broke down at his sardine factory. So he dropped his price down to $500. “Sold,” I said. We loaded her up and as we were ready to drive out of town, a big man in a pickup truck honked at us until we stopped. He got out like he was a policeman. He walked around our truck and asked us a lot of questions. Then he said, “Do you want to see the real thing?” We didn’t know what he was talking about. There was a pause. “The Bluenose, the big one,” he said. It turned out he was the curator of the Lunenberg Atlantic Fisheries Museum. In the museum, there was a Langille scalloper under restoration. She was really old compared to mine.
Over the years, I gave the half model to an aspiring young boat builder in Campobello, Canada. As for the baby Bluenose, one hard Maine winter I was forced to sell her and never saw her again. That was a long time ago.
In March, up in North Carolina, when we were getting ready to launch the Innisfail. Alex Willis and I walked around her, admiring her lines. He has built 100 plus boats, from 25 to 85 feet, from sportsfish to U.S. Coast Guard approved head boats. But when I asked him whether he thought we could build a launch that beautiful but only 21 to 25 feet, he thought I was kidding. He said he never has, “but that don’t mean nothing.” He took another long look at Innisfail’s knuckle and her complex wine glass transom and said he might have to think about it for a while.
When I got back to Florida, I laminated some cedar and carved a half model. It has been quite a while since I’ve done that and I was a little rusty, but it’s like riding a bicycle. With the ideas roughed out, I handed it off to Bruce Marek, a naval architect/marine engineer, to design. Now, I am like a kid waiting for Christmas morning, waiting for the plans to arrive.
After the first one is built, there will be three versions, electric, 26 HP and 113 hp, four to five knots, four to eight knots and four to 25 knots. A putter, a sipper and a flyer. The hulls will be constructed of eastern Atlantic cedar and composites, light and strong.
These launches will be built in the spirit of Vernon Langille, to capture the essence of the great yachts of yesteryear but on a smaller scale. I want them to be so beautiful that you might just want to put them in your living room. I have three sold and the plans aren’t finished. I haven’t worked out the costs so I am not taking orders yet, but maybe at the end of the summer.
So why am I on a plane. Stephanie, Nathaniel and I were invited to the re-commissioning ceremony for Innisfail in Charleston. She is now ready for charters and I have included a copy of the local paper’s story on the event.
I love Charleston. Besides, it was like visiting old friends. Blue Moon, the 67’ cockpit Trumpy, Contract 409 built in 1963 is like an old friend. We did a major on her in 1998 and 1999. Then there is Wishing Star, with Capt. Bret and Roberta Todd. They have done great things with her. She had fallen into disrepair in previous ownership and it takes a lot to play catch up but they have. Then, there is the Innisfail. The crew has been busy with paint and varnish and changing the little things. Innisfail’s owners, Frank and Linda Lynch, have impeccable taste. The yacht’s furnishings fit the era. We are planning to update her photos on our website so look under Innisfail under the projects’ pages. There is also a link to the yacht’s website, www.yachtinnisfail.com.
Finally, let me tell you about the Summerwind project. She is coming along well. We have put a “Big Top” building over the project and what a difference that has made. It’s still hot, but we are out of the Florida sun and summer rain and that’s been great. I have enclosed photos. In our little paint shed, is a 40-foot, triple cockpit Garwood with twin 550 gas engines. We are refinishing her decks, stripping caulking, match staining and varnishing. Bernard is doing a great job as always.
Until next time,
P.S. My plane is finally here.