Circle line shipbuilder left a legacy

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Luther Blount built more than 300 boats, but his versatility and creativity marked all facets of his life

Luther H. Blount, a Warren, R.I., shipbuilder, inventor, aquaculture pioneer, entrepreneur and philanthropist, died Sept. 24, in Providence, after a brief illness. He was 90.

Blount built his first boat, a 16-foot pine-and-canvas kayak, at age 16. He built his first commercial vessel in 1949, which lead to the founding of Blount Marine Corp. Since then the company — now Blount Boats Inc. — has built more than 300 boats at its shipyard on the Warren River. In many ways Blount was the embodiment of Yankee ingenuity.

“He really was the ultimate tinkerer,” says his daughter, Julie Blount, who now runs Blount Boats. “His inventiveness, and his mechanical ability to reinvent the wheel, was always turning — and that’s what made his career and his legacy.” Holder of 22 patents, according to his daughter, some of his notable innovations include the stern trawler, controllable-pitch propeller and a water-conserving marine head.

According to his obituary, Blount was an accomplished inventor and businessman before founding Blount Marine Corp. He started a business producing small, hand-carved wooden jewelry pins for New York department stores while still in school in the 1930s, and later worked as an engineer in a textiles plant where he is said to have invented nylon nymo thread before a short stint in the U.S. army. Blount later would return to Warren. He joined the family business, Blount Seafood Corp., as project manager and invented, designed and supervised construction of clam processing equipment. He also went on to work as vice president of E.B. Blount & Sons in 1947, managing oyster operations.

Two years later, the construction of a steel oyster boat marked Blount’s entrance into shipbuilding. Over the years the company has built commercial fishing boats, dinner boats, ferries, offshore supply boats, small cruise ships, tankers, tugs and more, including the Western-rig stern trawler Narragansett in 1962, and the 1954 Miss Liberty and other Circle Line ferries in New York City.

“A lot of the design ideas came from him, [and] he worked closely with naval architects,” says Julie Blount.

At the same time, Blount always built a boat for himself to use for swordfishing or cruising, his daughter says. The family would spend vacations exploring coasts from New England to the Canadian Maritimes.

“We always took people with us,” she says. “After doing this for several years, our friends who were passengers said, ‘We’d love to go again next year, and will pay.’ ” His children, working as crew, then requested that they might get paid for their services, she remembers with a laugh.

The vacations eventually turned into the American Canadian Caribbean Line, a unique small-ship cruise line that helped keep the shipyard afloat during lean times.

“What he found was you made more operating boats than building them,” says Julie Blount. “And a good thing was he figured that out early on.”

Blount also designed a retractable pilothouse for cruising under low bridges, and in 1977 designed and manufactured the first Bay Queen dinner cruise boat on Narragansett Bay.

Blount also was well known as a naturalist and philanthropist, with a keen interest in aquaculture. According to published reports, he donated $1 million to Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, from which he graduated in 1937, and another $1 million for the preservation of public access to the Warren waterfront. In April he donated a cruise ship valued at about $6.5 million to Rhode Island College, Roger Williams University and Wentworth. Roger Williams University broke ground on the Luther Blount Shellfish Hatchery and Oyster Restoration Center in April.

“My father was always in the mood for a good joke,” Julie Blount says. “He loved April Fool’s Day. One time he took soap and covered some with chocolate. He went around the office and offered them to people.”

Blount is survived by a son, Bill Blount; four daughters, Julie, Marcia and Nancy Blount and Joanne Dahmer; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.