In search of wooden boats and boat shows

Adirondack Guide Boat

Pete Anderson and Wiley Wood display their Adirondack Guide Boat

How to describe a wooden boat? So many words flash by: sleek, classic, homey, splendid, chunky. It all depends. Wooden boats can be the plywood pram built in the cellar with a steam box; the elegant strip canoe fashioned by a purist, the lapstrake rowboat used for fishing, or one of the mighty doyennes of the sea – whalers of yore.

Whether you travel to Chesapeake Bay, Lake Champlain, the Great Lakes, Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf of Mexico, your search for wooden boats will be rewarded with an array to boggle the mind and lift the spirit. Some boats are new, some merely old, and some about to be cut up as trash, like our old Herreshoff Bar Harbor cutter named SCUD.  Salvation! she was rescued and given new life by MP&G restorers of Mystic, Connecticut.

Wooden Boat Magazine publishers of Brooklin, Maine has championed the cause of preserving these classic craft over the years. These pictures were taken during the 20th Annual Wooden Boat Show they produced at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Wooden boat shows are held all over the world, eagerly followed by those lovers of the art of designing the best hull and rigging for both large and small craft. Of course, any show will be colorful as pennants and burgees adorn ships and booths alike. Dress will be casual, from the slip-proof deck shoes, once made solely by TopSider (pun intended) to the Tilley hats or sunglasses on lanyards around well-tanned necks.

Booths displayed tempting wares from stained glass window hangings, to nautical antiques, folios of boat designs for the craftsman, custom sails, brass hardware, colorful canvas ditty bags, and bilge pumps. Well, just about everything.


Amorita - on the Course d'Elegance - a NY 30

The Concours d’Elegance, was the stage for an in-water display of wooden boats which had been meticulously restored and lined up to be viewed, then voted for by visitors. The Heritage Marine Insurance Company provided a panel of judges, and attendees were asked to drop their ballot in the box as they left the show. The winner will be announced in the Sept/Oct Wooden Boat magazine.

It was here I stopped short! There was a near-duplicate of the boat I’d grown up on…different class and a little smaller, but with the tell-tale rectangular ports and deep under-cut stern typical of Nathaniel Herreshoff. Named Amorita, she is a NY 30, built in the early 1900s and faithfully restored by MP&G of Mystic, CT.

About an hour away in Bristol, Rhode Island, one can visit the The Herreshoff Marine Museum / America’s Cup Hall of Fame. Old sailors will get the willies here; ghosts of beauties past will capture their memories. If you ever had a Herreshoff, their historian will pull out his card file and tell you all he knows. We did this with SCUD. He had her history up until the time my father bought her in 1939 or 40. I was able to fill him in on a few details. We know she was damaged in the Connecticut River during a hurricane after WWII. Thereafter, her fate’s unknown until we found her, pathetic and covered with weeds and vines, ready to be scrapped in a Noank, CT shipyard. That is where she was rescued and restored by MP&G. Final note: we understand she was shipped to England and is in the process of being restored there.

Incidentally, private events can be held at the Herreshoff Museum – a lovely venue for wedding, reunion or any other occasion.

Old Favorites:

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad, Built in Denmark as a training vessel for Danish Merchant fleet cadets.

One of several notable boats on display was the Joseph Conrad. According to records at the museum, “The ship JOSEPH CONRAD was built at Copenhagen, Denmark, as the GEORG STAGE, as a sail training ship for Danish merchant service cadets in 1882. The vessel was sold in 1934 and renamed the JOSEPH CONRAD. The ship has been located at Mystic Seaport Museum since 1947.”

Right: a gaff rigged catboat sails down the Mystic River. There are various opportunities for visitors to sail, either in a sailing course, or by-the-hour charters.  One terrific chance would be to take one of the positioning cruises on the Brilliant, a 63 foot yawl between Mystic and her winter berth in Annapolis, Maryland.

L.A. Dunton

L. A. Dunton - the last engineless fishing schooner built - 1882 in Essex, MA

Another venerable ship, the L. A. DUNTON was built in 1921 in Essex, Massachusetts. She was probably the last large engineless fishing schooner built other than ones used for racing. A link below will take you to some interesting facts about her and her life on The Banks.

Canoes, kayaks, and punts:

A most impressive example of the shipwrights’ art is the strip canoe, a vessel made of small strips of wood, glued together to form a lightweight, sturdy shell braced by wooden ribs. Most builders of these canoes do this out of love for the wood, the process, and the beauty of the finished boat.

Pete Anderson and Wiley Wood of Norfolk, Connecticut built the dazzling canoe displayed at the show. It is patterned after the Adirondack Guide Boat VIRGINIA, built in 1905 (now in the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, NY. I was lucky enough to catch them between admirers and have a firsthand look at the different woods employed. Red spruce, white ash, white oak and black walnut all come from the Great Mountain Forest in northwestern Connecticut. Western red cedar, used for cove-and-bead strips were provided by Chesapeake Light Craft in Annapolis, MD. They used 1500 flat head brass wood screws. Putting it all together took Pete and Wiley close to 550 man-hours to complete the boat.

Adirondack Guide Boat Interior

Adirondack Guide Boat Interior

I asked Pete if they would build one to order for a customer. Pete called over to Wiley, who nodded in a positive manner. They can be reached at: <> or <>.
As long as there’s wood in the forest…well, you know who to call.

Post Script:

Interested in wooden boat shows or a boatbuilding school? Wooden Boat magazine publishes a list of twenty-one available schools and their websites, as do other boating sites.

Additional resources:
The Herreshoff Marine Museum / America’s Cup Hall of Fame
Documents regarding the JOSEPH CONRAD
The L.A. DUNTON, including great info on fishing for cod, haddock and halibut off the Grand Banks (Newfoundland) and George’s Banks (off Cape Cod).

At this point, excuse me, but I must tell one of my all-time favorite jokes: “Why did the cat jump through the fish store window?”  “Just for the halibut.”  *groan*

The Great Mountain Forest in Norfolk, CT
Google Map from Mystic to Bristol, RI

More Striped Pot articles by Gail Hunter:

All photos: © 2011, Gail Hunter




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