A new boat-building enterprise with a strong educational component has been launched in the concrete building at Five Corners in Vineyard Haven.
On Tuesday, Myles Thurlow of West Tisbury was inside lofting the first of two new 32-foot rowing boats. With volunteer labor and contributions from the community, they'll be in the water by the end of the summer.
The new vessels are being built for Vineyard Voyagers, an Island nonprofit organization committed to giving Island youth the experience and skill of building and sailing wooden boats.
The future of boat building and the future of Vineyard Voyagers was made even brighter this winter when the Black Dog Tavern Co. Inc. entered into a long-term plan to make improvements to the old building and dedicate it to the craft. Ross Gannon of Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway has joined in the project, and will help supervise the building of these boats.
Rob Douglas, 32, chief executive officer with the Black Dog Tavern Co. Inc., owners of the building, said this week he and his family want the building to become a center for boat building now and in the future. Mr. Douglas said they've entered into an agreement with Vineyard Voyagers and other boat builders to keep the garage as a working boatyard, open to the public.
The inner workings of the garage will be less of a mystery than before. Mr. Douglas's father Capt. Robert S. Douglas bought the building in the 1960s and has used it to store boats. The old boats within have gathered both dust and sawdust and that will change.
While from year to year boats have been restored, built and stored in the shed at Five Corners, the younger Mr. Douglas wants to do even more, making it a destination for anyone interested in learning about wooden boats. In almost all but name, the facility is a maritime museum. It houses a number of historic craft, including a 30-foot Azorean whale boat dating to 1920, a 32-foot Dover catboat built in 1910 and one of the last of the Vineyard 15 sailboats.
Inside this shed, Gary Maynard and Kristina Kinsman once restored the 45-foot sloop Violet, originally built in 1911 in Europe and relaunched 80 years later in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Maynard also rebuilt the 48-foot sloop Macnab, which was relaunched in 1994. The shed also stores gear from the 110-foot topsail schooner Shenandoah and the 90-foot pilot schooner Alabama, both owned by the Douglas family.
Toward the front of the building, the 29-foot wooden power boat Active, the Coastwise Packet work boat, is getting a new deck this winter.
The company has already set up one of two retail shops. BD Gear, a maritime related store of Black Dog paraphernalia, opened last summer. This summer, there will be a surf shop where Mr. Maynard once housed his office for Five Corners Shipyard. It has 350 square feet of space.
The remaining part of the 50-by-130-foot building will remain committed to boat building and preservation.
Mr. Douglas said his family and the corporation have a vision of a smaller version of the Mystic Seaport Museum. While there is clearly a business enterprise under way on The Black Dog Tavern campus, the cement building will house a nonprofit effort to support the preservation of the boat-building arts. Mr. Douglas said his father is passionate about the mission of preserving wooden boat building.
"We've been looking at that space and wondering how we can continue with its use. Boat building and wooden boats are as much a part of The Black Dog as the tavern," he said. "We asked ourselves how can it be financially viable so that it goes on. This way we are doing it in conjunction with a nonprofit." By offering Vineyard Voyagers a permanent home, the company gets a tax deduction.
Vineyard Voyagers has already used the space to build a 28-foot dory, the Mabel. The boat, designed by Mr. Thurlow to resemble an open Noman's Land double-ender, was built in the winter of 2001 and launched in July of 2002. Teenagers sailed the boat to New York last summer.
Sydney Morris, executive director of Vineyard Voyagers, is a teacher at Martha's Vineyard Public Charter School and works regularly with regional high school students. He said the newly formalized relationship with the Black Dog Tavern is a significant boost.
Another key element of support for Vineyard Voyagers came from another old friend to boat building. Mr. Morris said he was approached by Ross Gannon of Gannon and Benjamin about the idea of ongoing boat building. Mr. Morris said Mr. Gannon was excited about the rising sport of racing Cornish Pilot gigs. The boats, powered by six oarsman and a coxswain, are not unlike the Noman's Land boat already built.
Said Mr. Morris: "When we took Mabel to Rockland, Maine to participate in the July 2002 wooden boat show, we watched the Atlantic Challenge Festival. Teenagers compete in rowboats. Every two years they get together to compete here and in Europe. Myles Thurlow said to me me that we ought to build one of those boats.
"At the time, I couldn't take on a whole separate project. So when Ross came forward last year, I said, this is fantastic."
Mr. Morris added: "Ross's plan is to get the boat lofted and molds built and then to go public. In the weeks ahead we will be seeking interested people in the community who want to build boats with us." The project won't be limited to teenagers.
Mr. Morris said Gannon and Benjamin boatyard has long had its own tradition of bringing apprentices into the craft. "Ross gets things done. He and Nat Benjamin have always been convinced that they have to give back to the community by having apprentices." So having Mr. Gannon involved is a big plus.
The involvement of 20-year-old Mr. Thurlow is an important element for Vineyard Voyagers. Mr. Morris said: "Myles broke ground for Vineyard Voyagers. He designed and built Mabel and taught apprentices. He is a working example of what our mission is about."
Mr. Morris said in the weeks ahead, he encourages the public to visit the building on Friday afternoons. Early in the spring there will be a need for helping hands. Each of the boats is expected to cost $10,000 in materials, but all of the work will be done by volunteers. Mr. Morris said they will be doing serious fundraising in the months ahead.
This summer, visitors to the garage will see a lot more. Mr. Douglas said the doors will be open. There will be signage inside describing what work is being done and the space will be cleaned up and organized.