While riding the ferry recently, I was seated near a young couple traveling with a small cooler, a fishing rod and a map of the Vineyard. I could hear them planning their day, wondering where they might explore and how to get around. Surely this a first visit to the Island. When we reached the Vineyard Haven breakwater the couple sprung up and hung over the rail, in awe of the panoramic view as the ferry spun around. The young man exclaimed, “Look at all the wooden boats, this is like going back in time — I had no idea this was over here” .

Later, while standing in line to disembark the couple turned to me and asked if I knew anything about riding the bus. I explained, and then went on to tell them that many of the boats they noticed were designed and built on the Island, just down the beach. They couldn’t believe it. I suggested they walk the beach and check out Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway. They thanked me and said that would be their first stop.

For some 40-plus years Gannon and Benjamin have designed, built, and restored hundreds of traditional boats — many for residents which grace the harbor today, and many for customers who have sailed far and wide, but will always cherish being a part of this Vineyard institution.

If you have never visited, G and B feels more like a community school than a company. A band of connected craftswomen and men that love to practice — and share— their skill. In their passion for quality workmanship and the love of all things traditional, they have established a vibrant waterfront economy with year-around employment opportunities, permanently changing the lives of many that have passed through their boat shop doors.

Gannon and Benjamin is just one part of our unique working waterfront, which has carefully evolved over many years by a host of people that respect the importance of what it represents.

The Douglas family and their schooners, the DeSorcy Family with generations of Island craftsmanship, Ralph Packer and the folks at the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard to mention a few. Combined with a harbor master’s organization that actively plays a leadership role in making it all work, Vineyard Haven has evolved in an authentic and organic way.

This is in stark contrast to many other New England harbors that have sold out to fleets of speed boats, unoccupied mega yachts of the uber-rich, waterfront condos for the corporate elite, and the standard assortment of global retail-chains selling disposable clothing. But not here, Vineyard Haven is different. To its great credit, our local government has resisted the elusive incremental tax revenue and kept a steady hand on the throttle of development that might otherwise erode the soul of this unique working waterfront.

Sometimes it takes a bit of eavesdropping to remind us how important it is to appreciate those that have dedicated themselves to caring for the unique fabric of this special place.

George Wayne

Vineyard Haven