The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society doesn’t have a whaling ship for its museum, nor a schooner. Although there is plenty of maritime history connected to the Vineyard, such great vessels would be too much of a burden to maintain. But the historical society does have an attractive old catboat and soon it will sail again.
Tom Hale, historian and long-time friend of the society, announced on Sunday afternoon that the society had received sufficient money to restore one of the most loved of wooden boats on the Island. Vanity, a 20-foot historic Manuel Swartz Roberts catboat that once belonged to Oscar C. Pease of Edgartown, will be restored.
The vessel came into the society’s hands shortly after Mr. Pease died in 1995. It will be restored at Gannon and Benjamin marine railway as a historic vessel.
The announcement was made at the annual historical society and catboat association clambake, held on the society yard. “This is going to be a genuine museum-quality restoration,” Mr. Hale said. “It probably would be less expensive to just build a new boat, but we want it to be the same boat, restored ‘sailable,’“ Mr. Hale said.
Mr. Hale said three boat yards bid on the restoration and Gannon and Benjamin came in lowest. “She will be rebuilt and restored to her original color and everything,” he said. “We hope to be done in a year from now; it could be launched for this same event next year.” The engine will not be reinstalled.
The catboat was built in the winter of 1928-29, at the site today of the Old Sculpin Gallery. The vessel was built for Oscar’s father, Thomas Walker Pease, at a cost of $1,000. Oscar Pease was 16 years old at the time. The Old Sculpin Gallery gets its name from the boat builder. Manuel Swartz Roberts had the nickname “Old Sculpin.”
The restoration of the Vanity may cause a resurgence in interest in Island maritime history. The historical society has a whaleboat and a Noman’s Land boat. “When we heard of this gift in the middle of last winter, it spurred some of us to very seriously consider the necessity and rightness of having a maritime heritage center,” Mr. Hale said.
He noted the Vineyard is rich in whaling history. Coasting schooners used to fill the outer Vineyard Haven harbor by the dozens during the winter. “Very few people know about this great history. Last year the society received one of the cabin doors from the City of Columbus. We have had exhibits on shipwrecks,” Mr. Hale said. A maritime heritage center committee is in the early stages of meeting and looking at the possibilities.
With the planned restoration of Vanity, Mr. Hale said his group hopes to acquire a proper place to properly store this vessel and others.
At the Sunday event much praise was shared with those members who have led the Vanity restoration project. They are John Morgan, Judy Bruguiere, Steve Gentle Jr. and Mr. Hale. Money has also come into the restoration fund through the sale of posters of the Vanity.
Jill Bouck, the society’s curator, made a presentation to Pinkie Leavens, the widow of the founder of the catboat association and a long-time Vineyard catboat and maritime enthusiast. “We consider her the mother, grandmother and friend of the catboat association,” Mr. Hale said.