ancestryink fisherman

Monday, February 10, 2014

History of Cape Cod Boat Building Emerges from Annual Show in Hyannis

I had the pleasure this cold February weekend, of attending the annual Boat Builders Show held in Hyannis, Mass.  What a treat to wander amidst the beautiful hulls and lines - the fine workmanship of devoted boat builders.  Many of whom have been in existence since the 1800's.

Boat Builder's Show bulletin

I was particularly taken with the gorgeous varnished hull of a cedar-strip wooden kayak, custom made by the Witmers, a couple who, once a year, build one of these lovely vessels for the benefit of Habitat for Humanity, Cape Cod.  It turns out there is a raffle for the kayak, winner to be drawn October 19th.  Of course I bought multiple tickets.  You should too!  She's a beauty.  Here is the website and info:

There appears to be no image of the kayak on that webpage, so I will include a quickly-snapped (and rather blurry) photo of her fair bow with it's unique detailing.  Trust me - she's a beauty.

Varnished hull cedar strip kayak raffle

The history buff in me wanted to get a sense of just how many of these small boat yards/builders dated back to much earlier times.  Here is a partial copy of the list present at this show:

And here is just a quick sampling of what I found, after a little boat building research: (quotes taken from their respective website histories.)

 -At E.M. Crosby (Barnstable) Ned Crosby, Jr. continues a boat building legacy dating back to the 1700's.
"...His great-great-grandfather, Horace (1826-1894), has been widely celebrated for having designed and built the first of what became known at the Crosby Catboat.

- Herreshoff Yachts. After graduating from MIT, Nat Herreshoff and his brother John began, in 1848, a boat building tradition by first designing steam powered vessels.  By 1890, the brothers were engaged in building yachts of the finest quality for elite buyers such as the Whitneys, Vanderbilts and Morgans. 

-Beetle Cat, Inc. "The Beetle Cat was named after the Beetle family of New Bedford, MA who originally designed and built the small 12' gaff rigged wooden sailboat for their children in 1921. Famous for their Beetle Whaleboats, they used some of the same mass production techniques that enabled them to build quality whaleboats in record times. With interest growing in the Beetle Cat, and the demise of the whaling industry, the Beetles shifted production to the Beetle Cat boat."

-Cape Cod Shipbuilding:  The history of this boatbuilding yard began with the crafting of wagons in the 1800's.  By 1899, the brothers Gurney decided they need to expand their focus:

"While they occasionally built small skiffs for personal use they couldn’t part with one of their skiffs when an offer was made to buy it but they offered to build one just like it.  With that, their new venture was decided.  The Gurney brothers named their new business Cape Cod Power Dory Co.  Charles did the drafting & designing.  During this time, Cape Cod Shipbuilding Corp. built wooden pleasure and commercial boats (including coast guard boats). "


This is just a tiny sampling of shipyards that date back well before 1900.  And even some of the smaller boatyards, manned by single craftsmen of recent years, often hearken back to ancestors who in some way or another,  began a family legacy of boat building.

By the way, this is in NO way meant to deflect you from the incredible, newer boat builders featured at the Hyannis show.  Their adherence to tradition and ingenuity of new designs, coupled with months and months of hard work, is nothing short of awe-inspiring.  All for the special joy of being on the open water in a superb vessel. 

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