Manuel Swartz Roberts

Master Shipwright

From the Feb. 5, 1954 edition of the Vineyard Gazette:

Manuel Swartz Roberts’ famous boatbuilding shop, in Edgartown, is in the process of being sold.


Catboat Donation Adds Sea Presence To Preservation Trust

A historic catboat named Edwina B. is the most recent acquisition of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. The 22-foot wooden boat, built by Manuel Swartz Roberts in Edgartown in 1931, is possibly the last of three catboats he built still in the water.

The nearly 80-year-old boat has had a circuitous life with different names and different ports of call. She has been part of the Edgartown waterfront for at least the past 20 years. The former owners see the boat’s journey bringing her to Edgartown to stay.


A Boat Called Vanity

The 21-foot wooden catboat Vanity has been crisscrossing the Edgartown Harbor in the last several weeks, the start of what will be a busy summer. Vanity is one of the most storied catboats on the Atlantic seaboard, and one of the last of the working wooden catboats to have survived changing times.

And she was built in Edgartown.

At 81, Vanity is a living story of the region’s connection to fishing and maritime commerce.


Simply Messing About in Catboats

On a recent weekend we got a chance to sail away for a few days, leave Martha’s Vineyard and its drama (an approaching Presidential visit and the August summer in full swing) behind.

Nantucket Sound is a wonderful place to get away. You’re never away from the sight of land. Sailing across the 650 square mile inland sea is like being in the ocean without the huge rollers that can be experienced only a few miles away.


A Catboat Finds Her Way Home to the Sea

A boat has a life of its own. This is the story of one boat whose lineage goes back through Vineyard history; one boat who gracefully carried a Vineyard family as it grew up; one boat that I, a sailor and waterfront reporter, had watched in wonder as she sailed these waters, until she ended up in a field collecting lichens, aging as a home for hornets’ nests.

Then she came to me. This is the story, too, of getting her back into the water, and how the sailors who are the fabric of this community helped me to return this personality to the harbor.

Historical Society Makes Headway in Plan to Restore Oscar Pease’s Catboat, Vanity

The Martha’s Vineyard Historical Society doesn’t have a whaling ship for its museum, nor a schooner. Although there is plenty of maritime history connected to the Vineyard, such great vessels would be too much of a burden to maintain. But the historical society does have an attractive old catboat and soon it will sail again.

The Manuel Art of Building Catboats, Trust and a Life

The story has been told of a sculptor who was asked how he proceeded in carving the statue of an elephant. He is quoted as saying, “I merely break and cut off whatever part of the stone does not resemble an elephant and what is left has to be right.”
Of Manuel Swartz Roberts, house carpenter, boatbuilder and cabinet­maker, it was said, “Manuel sees the figure that he plans to make in the rough log before he ever picks up his tools”, and this has never been disputed by those who knew Manuel best.

Boat Shop That Became a Home for Island Art

When in Edgartown, we invite you to take a walk along Dock street to the northern end. There beside you is a tall grey building. Look up and up and see how it reaches into the sky with cathedral dignity. It has a tower on the front, as does any proper cathedral, and also many windows on the long sides. Farther up are rows of skylights like the clerestory in a Gothic medieval church, but our skylights leak. High in the peaks are two round windows, the glass pink with age, so it boasts two rose windows as well.

Edgartown’s Own Boat-Builder And Philosopher, Dead

Manuel Swartz Roberts, one of the best known and best loved figures of Martha’s Vineyard, died at 6 o’clock this morning after a prolonged period of failing health. As boat-builder, craftsman, philosopher, and most of all as a wise and warmly humorous friend, he had become a legend in his own time.

Portrait of an Artist Who Chose Boats

Note: Mr. Leavens - visited M. S. Roberts and made notes of their talk. He had intended to write this interview as an article in the third person, but Mr. Rob­erts’ own personality so clearly emerged from the written memor­anda that the author decided to write the interview in the first person, following as closely as pos­sible the ideas and modes of ex­pression of the man who sat for the portrait.