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He keeps the shine on classic yachts

Antiguan-turned-local is well known for being a meticulous craftsman for jobs both large and small

Antiguan-turned-local is well known for being a meticulous craftsman for jobs both large and small

In the early 1970s, a young boy was apprenticing with his father aboard European yachts cruising the Caribbean and stopping over in EnglishHarbour, Antigua. CB Smith began as a “handy-boy,” moved on to “dive and clean” (yacht bottoms) and ended up learning how to

Read the other stories in this package: Like bees to honey: the buzz of Newport   Newport - Locales and Resources 

prep for varnishing. Now he is one of the most sought-after tradesman in Newport for his meticulous painting and varnishing skills, as well as most other boat work, especially on classic yachts.

“There wasn’t any basketball in Antigua then, only soccer and cricket, and we weren’t interested in those,” says CB. “Boys need somethin’ to do, ya know. Otherwise, trouble will be more interesting.” The boat work put upon him by his father indeed kept an active intelligence busy and out of too much trouble. And it set CB on a career in boats. (Incidentally, “CB” comes from Jamal Wilkes, the NBA player who starred as urban basketball hero Nathaniel “Cornbread” Hamilton in the 1975 film “Cornbread Earl and Me.” CB thought calling himself Cornbread a bit, well, too corny, so he went with the abbreviation.)

CB left Antigua in his early teens aboard an Oceana 71 — racing, rigging, varnishing, cruising and fixing things. Five years later — after crossing the Atlantic, sailing and racing in Europe and the Mediterranean, learning almost everything about how to properly mess about in boats — he ended up in Sag Harbor, N.Y., where he raced and maintained a Hinckley 48. He arrived in Newport in 1979, another yachting capital with work aplenty in all seasons, and made it his home. He says he loves Newport because of the seasonal weather, the people and, most of all, because “this is where all the great boats live, and I make my living on the great boats.”

A carpenter by trade, CB was adaptable, versatile and reliable, and he soon had more work than he could handle. As he grew in years, his skills were sharpened, honed and polished. He studied from books and continually learned from experience. Whether varnishing, painting, applying Awlgrip, caulking a deck, rebedding ports or fixing a pump, CB’s attention to detail and thoroughness keeps his work much in demand.

When asked to name some of the boats he has worked on, a twinkle comes to his eye, and that big catch-me-if-you-can smile says, “Darlin’, there’s too many to remember.”

To this day, CB has remained an independent contractor, sure of himself and his worth. Tall, lean and a self-acknowledged ladies’ man, he is kind to all. He is generous with artful advice to anyone who asks or expresses an interest, and he is a genius at whatever work he tackles — from boats to bar counters. Any owner who loves his yacht, especially older, more tender wooden boats, appreciates Smith. Prominent Newport businessman David Ray, who owns Bannister’s Wharf and The Clarke Cooke House restaurant, is one such yachtsman. CB has maintained Nirvana, Ray’s 65-foot 1950 Hinckley yawl, for the nearly 30 years Ray has owned her.

Probably everyone in Newport who has anything to do with boats knows CB — especially the ladies. He waves to them all. A happy grin spreads across his face as his red Jeep slows down — never bothersome, just a good-natured, natural-born Don Juan.

CB has taught his son about how to properly care for boats and says he will talk to “anyone willing to listen and learn.”

“I’ll be happy to show ’em a trick or two about boat care,” he says. “Prep is, and always will be, the single most important part of the craft. Take the time to learn it right, then do it right, and you’ll always be rewarded.”