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WoodenBoat Show fleet delights

Varnished beauties, on-site boatbuilding and a tribute to multihull pioneers highlighted festival

Varnished beauties, on-site boatbuilding and a tribute to multihull pioneers highlighted festival

Sunshine gleams off meticulously polished mahogany hulls. Adults, kids — even some dogs — wander the docks, their eyes drawn to the antique vessels that line them. Nearby, catboats ferry people across the bay. Under a gazebo, a shantyman sings songs of the sea.

Despite foreboding weather reports, the 17th annual WoodenBoat Show, held June 27-29 at the MysticSeaportMuseum and sponsored by WoodenBoat Publications, saw mostly feathery clouds and blue skies. Attendance topped at 13,000 with a record number of 200 land exhibits and 75 in-water vessels, according to organizers.

This was a year of firsts: the collection of multihulls and a new boatbuilding kit for the BabsonIsland 14.

“There’s a fun, festive, family spirit about Mystic that draws people here. We’re all here for the love of it,” says Carl Cramer, publisher of WoodenBoat magazine and founder of the event.

The show was in Mystic in 2007 and 2001, making stops in Newport, R.I.; Rockland, Mass.; South Haven, Mich., St. Michael’s, Md., and Southwest Harbor, Maine, over the years. However, it seems to have found its home here. Cramer says they’ve already booked the festival at the seaport the same weekend next year.

“The festival is basically a three-dimensional articulation of what we do with the magazine,” says Cramer. “There’s not a whole lot that changes from year to year, but we try to keep the variety of boats. That’s what people seem to enjoy.”

Cramer says the birth of the BabsonIsland 14 was a project given to Tom Hill, a professional boatbuilder and manager of technical projects for the magazine. Hill worked closely with Jon Wilson, owner and founder of the magazine, in perfecting the design and was building a prototype during the course of the show.

“I was given the task of creating a boat that would be easy to build for first-timers,” says Hill. “But it had to perform well. Form and function don’t always go together, but most of the time they follow each other.”

Hill says their first attempt was a $600 skiff, but when piecing it together he realized it was too small.

“We realize there could be a liability, so we decided to make the minimum length 14 feet,” says Hill. “We wanted something that could be flexible, be used as a rowboat or add an outboard motor to it.”

Hill has been designing and building wooden boats from 12 to 37 feet for 27 years and works mostly with marine grade plywood, which is what the BabsonIsland 14 is to be composed of. However, the design is flexible enough that it could be built from cedar planking and oak frames if the builder preferred.

“My vision was really to create an elegant rowing skiff that would be affordable and first-timers could try it,” says Hill. “They’re beautiful and easy to build.”

Apparently others thought so, as four people walked off with a Babson 14 kit before the festival was over.

One vessel that stood out from the crowd was the 1911 Fay and Bowen 22-foot lake cruiser with a torpedo stern launch.

“The vessel goes about 10 knots, and people were really offended by her when this model premiered,” says Reuben Smith, boatworks manager for Hall’s Boat Corporation that owns the vessel. “This was a time of primarily rowing and sailing.”

Smith says her planking is original, with a few minor repairs done to her hull in the 1980s. She is carvel planked with cypress on bent white oak frames, copper riveted. The deck is mahogany on oak beams; the bulkheads are also oak.

“Her engine (Albin single cylinder) was replaced in 1951, simply because the old one was much more cantankerous,” says Smith. “And the torpedo stern; you don’t see a lot of those anymore. That makes her pretty unique.”

Mystic Seaport also had its share in the festival as well, with ongoing tours of the Charles W. Morgan, the oldest American wooden whaling ship afloat, as well as various film and video series held at the GreenmanvilleChurch at the Seaport. Those who wanted a break from wandering around in the hot sun on the final day were treated to a serenade by Barry Keenan, one of the seaport’s shantymen.

“I’ve just gotten too dehydrated from drooling at all these beautiful boats,” says David Degling, from Granby, Conn. “And having it at the Seaport is just the perfect place. You couldn’t ask for a better spot.”

Degling summers in Mystic aboard his Gulf Star 41, so the festival was just a short dinghy ride away. Karen Andrews traveled to the show from New York City and wasn’t disappointed.

“This was my first time at the show and I was really impressed by the variety of different kinds of boats — it’s a great time,” says Andrews.

Cramer says the dinner held on Day 2 at the Boat House on Lighthouse Point in Mystic for the Multihull Pioneers was well-attended, and paid homage to seven boat designers: “Trimaran” Jim Brown, Dick Newick, Meade Gougeon, James Wharram, Walter Greene, Barry Choy, and John Marples.

“We’ve come about four or five times in years before, when it was in Maine and Newport, but we really like that they’re keeping it at the Seaport now,” says Chip Adams of Madison, Conn. “It’s nice to see the restorations and the new boats. We always know there’s a level of excellence to the work and to the show.”