Harold Burnham’s passion for wooden boats keeps a tradition alive
The craft and culture of building and sailing traditional wooden boats is embedded in the life and work of master shipwright and charter captain Harold Burnham, and in his passion for what is a dying way of life in his hometown of Essex, Mass.
Dan Tobyne photos
Nestled on a marsh island along the Essex River and overlooking the river basin, the H.A. Burnham boatyard strongly resembles an Andrew Wyeth painting, with that texture of a Maine yard from days long past. It’s an ideal site for building large wooden vessels, and there has been a yard here almost continuously since the 1800s.
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At first, the boat is a hazy outline on the horizon. Framed by the snowcapped Olympic Mountains, her contours fade in and out of the mist that blankets the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a cold and often treacherous body of water that separates the United States from Canada.
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Kiwi Spirit, a 63-foot bluewater yacht, wallows in the moderate swell. Huffing and puffing on the coffee grinder in the cockpit, it seems to take an eternity to crank the mainsail up the carbon fiber mast until the halyard lock finally clicks, 82 feet above deck.
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