Winter is the ideal season when wood shavings fly, drills and sanders sing and Vineyard boat builders assemble and repair boats.
At one of the Island’s smallest boat shops, Rick Brown of Far Cry Boats in Vineyard Haven is working on two. Space is a premium inside his 15 by 36-foot workshop with limited heat. His fragrant shop is at Maciel Marine, next door to John Thayer’s cabinet shop, and has one of the best views of Lagoon Pond. The air smells of fresh-cut oak.
This week Mr. Brown put the final touches on an 18-foot wooden, diesel-powered harbor launch for a customer in Edgartown. He began the boat in September.
The white hull is lapstrake, made from Alaska yellow cedar on a white oak frame. The boat is handsome, with plenty of bright work. Her interior hull is varnished. The boat shines all the way down to her new copper fastenings.
At the entry to his woodshop are the sad remnants of a 16-foot wooden sailboat. The boat will become Mr. Brown’s fourth complete Herreshoff 12 1/2 rebuild.
To accomplish the task, Mr. Brown is assembling a new boat within the old hull. As new pieces of wood replace the old, he is preserving her original shape. “It was all I could do to keep the original boat in one piece,” Mr. Brown said.
When done, she’ll have every frame and every plank replaced. And she’ll be ready in time for summer sailing.
“This is the busiest time of year for me,” Mr. Brown said. “Nobody wants you working on their boat in the summertime.”
At Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, also in Vineyard Haven, the crew is making a 24-foot wooden catboat, designed by boat yard owner Nat Benjamin. The work began before Christmas and the catboat will be launched come summer. The boat is for a customer on Cape Cod.
“What could be more fun than putting together a traditional wooden boat in the winter?” Mr. Benjamin asks.
Unlike most Cape Cod catboats, Mr. Benjamin said this vessel’s hull is deep and narrow. She’ll have some lead in her keel.
But in keeping with the design tradition, she’ll look like a catboat, be gaff-rigged and have a centerboard. In the Gannon & Benjamin boat yard tradition, she is being built of both tropical and local woods.
Her keel and transom are of angelique. And the knee that connects the stem to the keel is a piece of white oak from a stump that came out of John Keene’s pit in West Tisbury.
Ross Gannon, another partner in the Vineyard Haven boat building business, is building a 45-foot sloop for himself. That vessel was started last March.
Up-Island, plenty is going on at Menemsha Boat Works. Lynn C. Murphy and his wife Susan are restoring two boats for the coming summer. One is an old 24-foot Brownell that once belonged to Robert Flanders of Chilmark and was called The Gale. The boat is more than 30 years old and was built in Mattapoissett.
The second boat is a 38-foot Down East lobster boat called Tenacious that once belonged to Emmett Carroll and was called the Kathie C. She’ll never go lobstering again when the Murphys get done with her.
“She will be a yacht,” said Mr. Murphy. “She is getting new topsides, cabin and being completely refastened.”
At 79 years of age, Mr. Murphy makes fun of himself. “I am too old to be around,” he said. “Susan is the woodworker. I do the patch work.”
Mrs. Murphy’s talents are extensive. Though for many years she was the Chilmark postmaster, and spent most of her day moving mail, she went through years of training in fine wood cabinetry.
Winter is busy for the Murphys. “This is the time of year we jump from one boat to the next,” Mr. Murphy said.
He has a philosophy about working with anxious customers and setting priorities on who gets their boat done first: “Whoever complains the most.”
After a pause, Mr. Murphy adds: “And that doesn’t worry us either.
“We know whose boat goes in the water and what time of year they want it,” he said.
At Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard in Vineyard Haven, this winter has offered an unanticipated surprise.
“We haven’t been this busy in a couple of years,” said Phil Hale, president of the shipyard.
“We are fortunate. We’ve got some major repair and upgrade work going on. Several boats are getting major refits.”
In Edgartown, at Herring Creek Marine, the attention is on tuneups. Winter is outboard motor maintenance season. Steve Swartwood said customers continue to have a misperception about his boat business.
“They think we are quiet,” he said. “We are really busy.”
More than 400 boats are in storage at the facility, and quite a few need attention, not to mention those boats that are off site.
“This is the season when we try and spiff up everyone’s boat,” Mr. Swartwood said.