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Throwing a lifeline to old, forgotten boats

Throwing a lifeline to old, forgotten boats

Ginger Marshall Martus is the patron saint of tired, old, forgotten boats. You know the kind I’m talking about. The abandoned wooden hulk that falls victim to the boatyard’s chainsaw or winds up in a barn fire. Or that proverbial “fixer upper” that some of us have dragged home at one time or another, often to the chagrin and bewilderment of spouses and friends.

For the past nine years, Martus has published an eclectic little newsletter called Bone Yard Boats, which contains listings for about 45 boats, many of which fall into the project-boat category. Each issue is eight pages, with a couple of inserts, and usually contains three or four boats that are “freebies.” The rest are for sale, but none for more than $10,000, the top-dollar limit that Martus has established.

“We’re kind of a last resort, the last exit,” says the energetic 74-year-old, whose enthusiasm for old boats is unflagging. “But it’s working. That’s the main thing. We’re saving boats.” She won’t list a boat she deems “too far gone.” But then Martus is always surprised by what some people are willing to take on as a project.

She has a good network of boatyards between Maryland and Long Island, N.Y., that are a regular source of “bone yard” boats. “I hit a lot of yards,” says Martus, a nautical history buff and freelance writer from Vincentown, N.J. “A lot of the yards know me by now, and they’ll call when they have something. I’m always on the lookout for a wooden transom.” People also call out of the blue — “Grandpa just died” — with a boat in the back yard that has to go.

Martus estimates she’s saved more than 100 boats that otherwise would have been scrapped. Her publication recently helped rescue a 38-foot Wheeler that had been abandoned at a Long Island yard. “The boatyard manager said, ‘We’re going to chop it up when we haul boats for the winter,’ ” she recalls. Martus put out the word, and the Wheeler now has a new owner and home.

“It’s so satisfying to know we’ve saved a boat,” says Martus, who keeps a scrapbook of the boats for which she’s found homes.

Martus’ love of wooden boats goes back to childhood; her father and uncle owned the A&R Marshall shipyard in Port Washington, N.Y. “It was my sandbox by the sea,” she says. “I was brought up with these old boats, so I have a feeling for them. There’s something very satisfying about working with wood.”

Bone Yard Boats is published three times a year (spring, summer and fall) with a smaller version mailed in winter. A subscription costs $17. The cost for placing an ad is $15, with or without a photo. Most of the boats are wood, but she says she doesn’t discriminate against wayward fiberglass craft, either. If she finds a home for a boat, her “finder’s fee” is the last two digits of the year the boat was built. In other words, the fee paid by the seller of the 1958 Chris-Craft listed in her fall issue would be $58.

“Sometimes I get it,” she says, “and sometimes I don’t. I don’t push it.”

Martus has a small but dedicated audience, and circulation varies from 500 to 1,000. “I’m appealing to people who really want to save old boats.”

Martus now is at the age where she’d like to hand off her publication to a new owner so that it doesn’t disappear if something were to suddenly happen to her. She knows it’s the sensible thing to do, but that doesn’t make it any easier. “It’s like watching a child grow,” Martus says. “You have to feed it and take care of it. It’s hard to let go.”

You can’t e-mail Martus because she doesn’t own a computer. She works on an electric typewriter and keeps her database of subscribers on index cards, a system she says works just fine. “I have a fax and an answering machine but no computer,” she says. “I’m computer unfriendly. I don’t mind calls,” she adds. “I like to listen to real people.”

And, she notes, “I’m working on the spring issue right now.”

To contact Martus or subscribe to Bone Yard Boats: Nautical Stars, P.O. Box 2065, Vincentown, NJ 08088. Phone: (609) 859-2370.