Monday, July 9, 2012

21st WoodenBoat Show @ Mystic Seaport_2: Gannon and Benjamin Tribute

Matt Murphy, Editor of WoodenBoat, opens the proceedings.

Matthew Stackpole

Emily Bramwell

Jon Wilson

Nat and Ross, and Carl Cramer,publisher of WoodenBoat








above photos copyright Thomas Armstrong

Rebecca launch


Rebecca's interior

Ross and Nat sailing Rebecca

all Rebecca photos courtesy Alison Shaw

Always a treat at the WoodenBoat Show is the tribute dinner, recognizing folks who have made a considerable contribution to the wooden boat community. This years recipients were Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon, owners, creators and resident gurus of the internationally acclaimed Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway on Martha's Vineyard.  The Railway was born in 1980 as a result of the pair's sailing into Vineyard Haven Harbor and finding no railway to haul them out and so effect repairs. What has grown from their initial impulse has become a unique establishment dedicated to producing the highest quality wooden boats, and something of a cultural fixture on the Vineyard.

As in other years, there was a lineup of several speakers which included Matthew Stackpole, former executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Museum is currently working on the CW Morgan restoration, Emily Bramwell, Vineyard resident and owner of the 24' gaff sloop Nell a Nat Benjamin design built by the yard, Scott Dibiaso, skipper of Juno, the teams largest to date, a 65' schooner, again Nat's design, built at the yard, Brian and Pam Malcolm, current owners of Rebecca which they have sailed 25k miles,designed by Nat and built at the yard, Steve Corkery, legendary boat broker and Jon Wilson, founder of WoodenBoat magazine and who knew these guys before there was a WoodenBoat. 

What emerged over the course of the evening was a portrait of a boatyard unlike any other.  Called a 'magic place' and a 'temple of work' by Matthew Stackpole, he attested to a mingling of the tangible and spirit at the yard. No one, he allowed, is simply a visitor or client at this 'temple', all have a tool thrust into their unsuspecting hands, with some instruction. Emily Bramwell described how the addition of the railway/boatyard had a place in the forging of the islands identity. She related how, after a devastating fire in 1983, the community fell in and helped to save what could be salvaged and participated in the boatyard's resurrection. Scott Dibiaso had worked at the yard prior to becoming the skipper of Juno, recalled that the doors were unlocked and the lights on 24/7 and owners encouraged to work on their boats. Brian and Pam Malcom of Rebecca described the 2nd floor sail loft as pristine and compared it to the chaotic workshop, ankle deep in sawdust. Steve Corkery related an anecdote, which, if I could recall it all, would be titled "you call this a LEAK?". The last speaker was Jon Wilson, and he opened his remarks by reminding us all the work of these two giants of contemporary wooden boat building would not have been remotely possible without the behind the scenes support of their families. He went on to say that the Gannon and Benjamin boats are amazing to sail, a result of the blend of wisdom and experience brought to their design and construction. 

What I took away from the evening was a picture of a place somewhat paradoxical, and therefore very real. A place where a sort of hippie openness, a reverence for tradition, and the highest of work ethics and skill combine to indeed create a 'temple of work'.   I feel I must investigate at first hand!

Now, a disclaimer and an acknowledgement. In the above text I may or may not be quoting directly, but certainly within the spirit of the respective comments. Also, my own photos of Rebecca, taken at the show, were sadly ruined by an undetected bit of stuff on my camera lens, but serendipity came to the rescue. I have recently been contacted by the writing/photo team of Tom Dunlop and Alison Shaw, per a separate matter I'll write about later. These two produced the exquisite book 'Schooner', published by Vineyard Stories. The book is about the building of Rebecca and Alison Shaw kindly sent me some photos from their (highly recommended) work. I can't thank you enough. 

All three boats pictured above are Gannon and Benjamin productions and were present at Mystic for the weekend. The schooner Charlotte is the subject of a documentary film. She is Nat's personal boat, and an archive of her build is found here. Eleda is Ross' boat, designed by his nephew Antonio Salguero

Originally posted on 70.8% by Thomas Armstrong 


Anonymous said...

A couple of revisions or additions:

JUNO is skippered by Scotty Di Biaso but owned by a New York family. Ross built ELIDA (designed by his nephew Antonio Salguero of Port Townsend, WA) for his family and launched her in 2010; Nat designed and built CHARLOTTE for his family and launched her in 2007. Following from the lead of Captain Robert S Douglas (owner of the square topsail schooner SHENANDOAH and the Gulf Pilot Schooner ALABAMA) Nat and Ross, and their crew, have made Vineyard Haven Harbor into a legendary harbor for wooden boats -- both sail and power, traditional, classic, old/new, big/small, yachtsa nd work boats -- in fact there are more wooden boats in Vineyard Haven Harbor than any other harbor in the world absent a museum.

Thomas Armstrong said...

Thanks for the clarifications.