At first glance, they were just molds in a Rhode Island field, stored in the tall grass out back at Little Harbor Yachts in Portsmouth. Those wearing a big spray-painted X were destined for the scrap heap.
But as Chris Hood looked them over that day in 1995, one of the shapes stood out. Hood, working at his uncle Ted Hood’s complex, went to get a closer look. “It was the starboard side of a boat, and I saw it in silhouette,” he recalls. “I fell in love with the look of the boat, the beauty of the lines. Sitting out in that field, it looked a little like a half-hull stapled to the wall. I saw it and said, ‘That’s it.’ ”
Here was a boat worth building.
That was on a Sunday. “I asked my uncle about it on Monday and found that it was ready to be destroyed,” Hood says. “He told me it came with the package when he bought the Black Watch molds from C.E. Ryder. I said, ‘How about I save you the trouble? I don’t know what it is, but it’s pretty cool looking.’ I gave him $100, and that was it.”
The object turned out to be the mold for the Wasque 26, one of a trio of single-engine fishing boats that came out of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, beginning in 1969 (see Origins sidebar). Alden Yachts designed the 26, and David Thompson at Vineyard Yachts built it on the island. The 21-, 26- and 32-foot Wasque models, named after an island fishing ground, enjoyed a 16-year production run before Thompson retired and closed up shop in 1985.
The molds were dispersed; the one for the Wasque 26 had kicked around for a decade by the time Chris Hood saw it in the field, beginning its rescue, resurrection and transformation — and the birth of a fleet of modern Wasques.
At that time, the mold was a still a mystery. “I knew right away I wanted to build this boat, but what was it?” Hood says.
Boatbuilder Phil Deschamps of Nauset Marine in Orleans, Massachusetts, supplied the answer. Seeing it for the first time, Hood recalls, Deschamps recognized the mold and said, “You got the Wasque 26! You lucky dog! I’ve been looking for that for years.”
The mold was loaded onto a truck and brought to C.W. Hood Yachts, which was in Bristol, Rhode Island, at the time. That’s where construction began. As Hood says, “so began a wonderful run.” Forty-five of the Wasque 26s have been built since the debut in 1995, followed by 29- and 33-foot sister ships that continue the Wasque line into the 21st century.
The boat Hood had in mind to build on the Wasque hull in the 1990s was a practical and seaworthy family boat with an updated layout. “Back in 1995, the lobster yachts were kicking around,” Hood says. “It was the Picnic Boat era, and even my dad was thinking of a powerboat. I wanted to make a really pretty boat, really well built, using the best materials, the best installation, the best equipment.”
All that he and building buddy Chris Stirling had to go by was an empty hull mold. Not for long, however.
Yacht broker Ged Delaney put Hood in touch with a customer who owned an original Wasque, a 1975 hull with a 160-hp Perkins engine. “I met the man and I said, ‘I need your boat for the winter,’ ” Hood says. The owner was offered an Awlgrip job, and the deal was made. The old boat was set up next to a brand-new hull out of the mold, and, Hood says, “we started figuring out how the boat was originally constructed.”
Just in time, too. Shortly afterward, C.W. Hood took its first order for the new Wasque 26.
A lot had changed since the 1970s, and there were improvements to make. The engine was moved aft and replaced with one that was compact. The smaller engine box made more room in the cockpit, permitting new seating arrangements. Other additions included opening portholes, hand-holds, extra stowage and simpler-to-manage systems.
“It was a beautiful boat, straightforward, easy to use and a safe boat for kids,” Hood says. “It was a great family boat.”
After the debut of the new 26, people soon came asking Hood for an updated version of the 32. Startup costs proved too high without a hull mold to work from, so the answer was to seek out one in the Wasque tradition that C.W. Hood could finish. It was found in a Royal Lowell-designed hull that Jarvis-Newman built in Maine and became the new Wasque 30, debuting in 1999.
The original Wasques were designed and equipped as fishing boats, suited to the varied waters off Martha’s Vineyard. The modern versions are intended to serve as multiuse dayboats, overnighters and weekenders, with a galley, enclosed head and versatile accommodations. The cockpit, once home to a trio of fishermen or a fighting chair, now has seating and space for water toys and socializing.
Still, there are commonalities: the single engine and the traditional hull shape, with its semiround chine, keel and protected rudder. The look crosses generations, too. “There’s the nicely raked stem, the low transom and just the right amount of tumblehome,” Hood says. “It’s proud up in the bow, with a nice sheer and the low cabin house with the teak soft-top windshield. When you see a Wasque coming into the harbor, you know what it is.”
Long Live Wasque
More than 80 Wasques were built on Martha’s Vineyard, and C.W. Hood has produced more than 50 of the new versions. The Wasque 26 has been the most popular, with some 75 built by both companies. Wasques of both generations are found on the used boat market, and Hood is asked to care for many of the boats that he and Vineyard Yachts built.
More Wasques are on the way, too. C.W. Hood also offers the Wasque 29, a couple’s dayboat/overnighter powered by a Yanmar diesel inboard/outboard, and the Wasque 33, a fast boat for family cruising. Power on the 33 comes from twin Volvo Penta IPS pod drives, and the boat is available with the traditional Wasque soft top or as a sedan/flybridge. Both the 29 and the 33 are built at the Hood facility in Marblehead.
“I think the designs are fresh and fit in well with today’s customers,” Hood says. “These boats stay true to the traditional Wasque look, but they’re designed for today’s families, with less maintenance and more fun.”
In the old days, Martha’s Vineyard boatbuilder David Thompson used to close his letters with words that have proved prophetic: “Long live Wasque!”
WASQUE OWNERS ARE ARDENT: Just Ask John Dughi
“What a beautiful boat!” That was John Dughi’s reaction the first time he saw a Wasque 26. “I had no idea what it was, and it took several days of asking to find out — and to learn how to pronounce it. Way-squee,” the New Jersey skipper says.
Dughi now owns a 13-year-old Hood-built model. “Our pride and joy for three seasons,” he says.
Big Red is a family cruiser and fishing boat. “She can be stripped and ready for fishing in minutes and then set up for a cocktail cruise just as easily,” Dughi says.
Power is a 315-hp Yanmar diesel, and cruising speed is around 23 knots. The ride is pure Wasque, Dughi says. “The modified-vee hull handles the bay chop, and she rides ocean swells with aplomb. She’s a comfortable boat, even in difficult conditions.”
During the season, the red-hulled Wasque seldom rests. The galley, enclosed head and generous berth are handy in a family boat. “With three grandsons who like to fish and tube, she gets a lot of love and attention,” Dughi says. “My greatest pleasure is being on the ocean at dawn with two rods out, trolling for bluefish.”
“In the early summer of 1954, a powerboat with the most beautiful lines I had ever seen was riding at anchor in the harbor of Rockport, Massachusetts,” writes Peter Matthiessen in his book Men’s Lives (Vintage Press, 1988). “Her designer turned out to be a local sailmaker who had built her as a harpoon boat; she was the only one of her kind, and she was for sale.”
It was typical of the hardy New England wooden swordfishing and tuna boats, with a single engine, a spotting tower and some serious fishing gear: outriggers, harpoons and a harpoon stand, a heavy tuna rod and reel, a fighting chair and “miscellaneous gear of all descriptions.”
Writes Matthiessen: “I knew from the first she was my boat.”
He named her Merlin and fished her out of Montauk, New York, as a charter boat, making two six-hour trips a day during the season, heading “east along Gin Beach, rounding Shagwong Point and running south to join the fishing fleet off Montauk.”
Matthiessen’s descriptions show what kind of a boat Merlin was: a fishing boat. “The bluefishing was strong and steady, and offshore, the school tuna were so thick that by leaving one fish on the line while boating the other three, we could keep all four lines loaded almost continually,” he writes.
Merlin could fish for tuna at the 80-fathom line or work the shallows of Cartwright Shoal, teeming with “small, 3-pound ‘tailor’ bluefish that bit as fast as the hand lines were tossed overboard,” Matthiessen writes.
On one trip, Merlin was caught among the rocks by a rogue wave. “I spun the wheel and gave Merlin her full throttle. With a heavy thud our trusty boat struck … a high, clear cresting wave and for one sickening moment, we lost headway. Then the wave parted, two walls of green water rushed by the cockpit, over our heads and the boat sprung up, popping free.”
Matthiessen left charter fishing in the late 1950s and sold Merlin to his brother, Carey, who lived on Martha’s Vineyard. Carey in turn sold the boat to shipyard owner and fisherman Tom Hale. Hale, along with fishing buddies Robert Thompson and Bob Love, used it to fish the waters of the Vineyard. One of their favorite spots was Wasque Point, on Chappaquiddick Island. On a fishing trip, they began talking about building a 32-foot fishboat out of fiberglass, using Merlin as a plug.
In 1969, Vineyard Yachts opened its doors on the island, with Thompson’s son, David, building a boat called the Wasque 32.
Postscript: Vineyard Yachts closed up shop in the mid-1980s, and the mold for the Wasque 32 was put on a truck, bound for the W.R. Schock yard in California. The truck ran off the road in Arizona, and the mold was destroyed. The original Merlin remained a working boat on the island until it was destroyed by fire in July 2010.
The Katama 30, A Close Cousin
The Katama 30 is a Wasque cousin, a more modern family boat in the same New England style.
In 1999, a client contacted C.W. Hood Yachts asking for a 30-foot, commuter-style tender for a large sailing yacht. It would be powered with a jetdrive and be capable of 30-knot speeds, with overnight accommodations. “I was intrigued,” says Hood, who sketched some profiles. Standard propulsion would be a Yanmar 440 diesel coupled with an Ultrajet jetdrive, and it would be called the Katama 30.
The boat’s name came from Katama Bay, on Martha’s Vineyard. “I always enjoyed sailing Dyer dinghies there as a kid,” says Hood. “It’s a shallow bay. We had this shallow-draft jetboat, so that’s where she got her name.”
And the boat’s look was still New England. “We wanted to keep the teak windshield and toe rails, the nice proportions,” says Hood. “And, again, make it easy to service and maintain.”
Though the client changed his mind, Hood liked what he’d drawn up. “I thought I had a pretty good boat, and we decided to build it ourselves,” he says.
Hood showed the renderings to prospective customers. “I sold three boats with those pretty pictures,” says Hood. “And that’s how it started.”
The boats were built in Gdansk, Poland, known for its ship- and boatbuilding heritage, using vacuum-bagged, cored construction and vinylester resins. Hood insisted on using U.S.-made gear and accessories, right down to bilge pumps and varnishes. “I wanted to make sure a mechanic in the U.S. could get into the boats and see all familiar equipment,” he says.
The prototype Katama 30 was delivered just before the Newport boat show in Rhode Island, where it debuted. Then came the terrorist attacks of 9/11. “The world was upside down. We didn’t even know if there would be a show,” Hood recalls. “We forged ahead, got to the boat show and sold it.”
More than 25 have been sold since then. “We’ve had great success with it, and a lot of happy customers,” says Hood. And the Katama remains a “Vineyard boat, an island-hopper and a great family boat.”
LOA: 30 feet
BEAM: 11 feet
DRAFT: 1 foot, 9 inches
HULL TYPE: deep-vee
PROPULSION: single 370-hp Volvo Penta diesel
TANKAGE: 110 gallons fuel, 28 gallons water
SPEED: 28 knots cruise, 34 knots top
This article originally appeared in the August 2017 issue.