More than 80 people gathered at Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven Saturday for the launch of Nat Benjamin’s 100th design, a custom 26-foot, gaff-rigged sloop called Marta.

As people assembled, Marta sat balanced between the wooden arms of the lower of the two cradles that carry boats in and out of the harbor. On the cradle were four sets of white-oak uprights that support the wooden arms that keep a boat standing.

While the ceremony was getting underway, a bunch of children more or less attached to the gathering climbed the ropes that hung slack from the tops of the uprights. They realized they could stand on the tiny stages the blocking made, above the heads of the clustered audience. When one child wearing a red Little League uniform grabbed onto the rope and swung down from his pillar, another popped up in his place.

Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon started the boatyard together. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Brad Abbott, who manages the yard at Gannon and Benjamin and who, along with Ross Gannon and Nat Benjamin, owns the business, stood at the staging in front of the boat to address the audience.

“We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for this community,” Brad said to the crowd. “We appreciate everything they do for us.”

“We started lofting her in the beginning of December,” Brad continued. “We’ll be sailing her next week. It took everybody in the shop to make that happen.”

Nat and Ross stood on the staging next. The pair have worked at the boatyard together since they started it in 1980.

Community gathered at the boatyard Saturday, with kids and dogs too. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“We’re grateful to everybody who allows us to keep doing it,” Nat told the crowd, while wrapping his arms around Ross.

Nat joked about boggling his grandchildren’s minds when, impressed by the number 100, he told them he usually only drew a couple of boats a year.

Earlier, Andy Chapman had climbed up on the staging with his two-year-old child to take a last look at the boat as a project before it became a boat on the water with a life of its own. Andy was with Nat when they began the process of drawing the boat on the shop floor in December and, along with Lyle Zell, was responsible for the progress of the boat through all of its construction stages.

Co-owner of the boatyard Brad Abbott address the crowd. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Blessings were said by Woody Bowman, and then Nicola Groh, the shop’s office manager, exploded a bottle of champagne across the boat’s stem.  As Marta headed down the track, gravity drew it into the water with a rumble and the crowd cheered when it made a splash.

As soon as he drove the boat out of the cradle, Lyle had to use its new propulsion system with urgency to avoid crashing into a powerboat that had motored up to get a closer look at the festivities.

Marta has an electric inboard motor. Because she is a spec boat, her builders thought she would appeal to more people if she was easy to use. Solar panels and batteries have improved to the point that with one small solar panel, Marta’s eventual owner could use the motor to come and go from her mooring regularly without ever going to a dock to recharge.

After Lyle brought Marta safely back to the dock at Gannon and Benjamin, his father Ross Gannon was there to catch dock lines.

Another beauty heads to the water. — Mark Alan Lovewell

“She seems like she’s got plenty of extra power,” Ross said.

“Oh yeah!” Lyle said.

Andy, who was on board with Lyle, gave his verdict: “This thing rips.”