Some are calling 2021 “the great resignation,” but from what I’m seeing it’s been more a year of restoration. As we are forced to isolate and are longing for life to return to normal, I’ve noticed a trend among friends, family, and employees to work hard to shore up, strengthen, and rebuild those things that are within their immediate control—like meditating, exercising, eating healthier, taking an online class, and doing projects. That trend towards personal restoration is being reflected in our professional work as well: All of our major projects this year have been restorations of boats that are particularly dear to their owners—boats as full of happy memories as they are of wood, bronze and varnish. As we bring these boats back to life, I feel that in a small way we are bringing back a piece of way things used to be.
GRAMPUS is a 26′ open launch, built by J. O. Brown on North Haven in 1927. Her visit to Artisan Boatworks this winter is possibly the first time she’s ever spent a night off-island, and given her condition, probably the first time she’s had any extensive work done.
She was built for Rev. George Strong, one of North Haven’s early rusticators who named her LINWOOD A. Sometime prior to WWII she was transferred to George Burr, who changed her name to GRAMPUS and painted her gray to be ready for military service should the need arise. In the 1960s GRAMPUS belonged to Howard and Ellen Kingsbury, and then from 1980 through 2017, to Henry Cobb who in turn passed her along to the current owners.
One of GRAMPUS’s trademarks has been “her charming tilt to port”—a genuine twist in her hull due to an offset fuel tank at the transom and the lack of support while resting ashore on a short wooden cradle.
When she came into the shop in September, we stripped out her old gas engine, her deck, her ceiling planking, and everything else that covered up the basic structure. As it turned out, most of the frames were rotten at the turn of the bilge, the lower parts of the stern knee and transom frame were rotten, as was the forefoot where the stem and keel come together.
Since the top half of the stem and most of the keel were in good condition, we opted to laminate a husky new forefoot using 1/8″ white oak veneers and G-flex epoxy. During the re-framing, we were able to jack up the transom nearly 4″ to restore the hull profile and eliminate the twist. All iron fasteners throughout the backbone were replaced with bronze.
This week, as the new pre-painted ceiling planking goes in, new purpleheart engine beds are being prepared for a new Volvo D2-60 diesel engine, and new cedar garboard planks are being fitted. GRAMPUS will return to North Haven next summer at 95 years old, not repaired, but restored; an important distinction and one we’re proud to have been trusted to facilitate. We wish her owners and their family many happy times and years of safe and reliable service from GRAMPUS, the boat I imagine they will eventually pass along to yet another generation.
After GRAMPUS rolls out in early February, KAZE, a 30′ Idem class scow-type sloop, will take her place. Idems were designed by Clinton Crane in 1899 for racing on Upper St. Regis Lake in the Adirondacks. Thirteen of these gaff-rigged beauties were launched in the year 1900, and amazingly, twelve of them, still using cotton sails, continue to race. The thirteenth Idem, restored a few years ago here in Maine, still exists but instead of sailing is on display in the Adirondack Museum.
KAZE has been kept afloat these past 120 years through excellent care and small fixes as needed. But to stay competitive on the racecourse, the time has come for a more holistic and extensive restoration—particularly if she’s going to keep up with two other Idems that we restored in 2010 and 2012 which win more than their share of races.
Capt. Nat’s personal daysailer, the 26′ ALERION III, was built in 1912 for his use during winter vacations in Bermuda. After a season of sailing, he found minor ways of improving her, so in building a near-sister in 1914 named SADIE for Commodore E. C. Benedict, he added some ballast and slightly increased the beam and the forward overhang. The ALERION/SADIE design went on to become one of Herreshoff’s most beloved and when scaled up to about 36′ with a full-keel added, became the Newport-29 cruising class.
Isaac B. Merriman Jr. once owned a Newport-29 named COMET and was a Herreshoff patron and the last private owner of Capt. Nat’s original ALERION III which he donated to Mystic Seaport in 1964. But missing her, he subsequently commissioned Halsey Herreshoff to build him a slightly smaller full-keel version in fiberglass for use at his winter home at the Ocean Reef Club in Florida. Merriman named his new boat ALERION and the design—a scaled-down Newport-29—became known as the Alerion 26. To date about thirty have been built—all in fiberglass and by three different builders.
Merriman’s ALERION soon passed on to fellow Ocean Reefers Allen Mills and Alfred Sanford, with Mills taking over as sole owner and relocating the boat to Nantucket where he sailed her a great deal, often alone, until he died in 2002 at age 94. The boat was then retired and, under shrink-wrap, gradually deteriorated. The heat and lack of ventilation peeled the varnish off the exterior woodwork and blistered the paint off the hull, while condensation rotted the bulkheads. The mast and boom disappeared, and to conventional thinkers, ALERION was a goner.
That is, until Allen Mills’s granddaughter Danica started thinking how nice it would be if her children could have the same sailing experiences she had had while sailing with her grandfather aboard ALERION. At the recommendation of the boatyard on Nantucket, ALERION was trucked to Artisan Boatworks for restoration.
Our first step was having Adam Langerman of Herreshoff Designs of Bristol, RI, design a new wooden mast and boom. We built those spars from old-growth, tight grain Sitka spruce in a hollow box configuration, fitted with custom bronze hardware.
A few months later, we brought ALERION into the work bay and stripped her down to bare fiberglass. The plywood bulkheads were then replaced, and all of her surface coatings are presently being renewed using 2 part Epifanes products. She will soon receive a new complement of Harken blocks and travelers.
Fiberglass boats are really quite wonderful in that their hulls, unlike wooden ones, can survive long periods of neglect. There are many that were beautifully designed and exceptionally well built but have been allowed to run down to such a degree that one solution has been to grind them up. But another option, and often a better one, would be to strip them bare and completely redo them with all new wood, new paint and varnish, and new hardware—after which you’d have, essentially, a brand new boat. Some great candidates in my opinion include the Cape Dory Typhoon, Pearson Ensign, Graves Constellation, and Cape Cod Marlin.
Progress on the 1946 Bugatti runabout YOU-YOU is coming along nicely. Having rebuilt the hull (see last newsletter for more), Jerry is re-installing the original deck frame, seats, coamings, covering boards and deck. When judging the success of a restoration, a major factor in my opinion is how much the restored boat maintains the look and feel of its original self. This was a concern during the YOU-YOU project because the entire hull needed replacing. But after seeing all the original material coming back together in perfect harmony with the new planking, we are very pleased that YOU-YOU is still YOU-YOU, with no appreciable loss of soul or character. Her original 3hp custom Bugatti engine will be rejoining the boat soon, fresh from Leydon Restorations in Philadelphia, PA—and she will return to her mothership, ATLANTIDE, which is being restored by Royal Huisman in Holland.
We have 80 boats in the fold this winter, mostly wooden, and the finishers in the paint shop are as busy as ever attending to their annual paint and varnish regimen. As with larger projects in the carpentry shop, this seems to be a year when owners are focused on making upgrades and improvements, applying a few extra coats, painting the bilge, and generally ensuring that their boats will be in as good condition as ever. Regardless of what else is happening (or not happening) in the world next summer, our boats will be there, as will be the water, and hopefully, some breeze.
2021 was a challenging year, and we’re so grateful to our dedicated, talented and hard working crew for staying safe, rolling with the punches and continuing to turn out exceptional work with smiles on their masked faces. Three Cheers!
Photos by Bryan Coppede and Alison Langley.
BOATS FOR SALE
Here are our current listings—click on each photo for more details, and check out our Brokerage pages as we add new listings.
Congratulations to the new owners who purchased boats in 2021!
We are accepting select new listings and are always glad to represent buyers who are beginning their search. For help finding a classic wooden boat, or to list your current boat for sale, please visit the Brokerage pages, or call me directly at (207) 542-0372.