I am a boatyard prowler drawn to distant, weed-filled corners where neglected old boats on jack stands are left to wither and die. You don’t see many of these vessels nowadays because wise boatyard operators have become wary of overly ambitious projects heavy on dreams but light on finances and boatwork skills.
Even when a boat is abandoned, breaking it up and hauling it off to a trash bin can be a complicated bureaucratic procedure. So some boat owners who have an emotional attachment to a vessel stubbornly pay storage fees year after year and refuse to let their rehab dreams die. They may return from time to time to patch, peel and putter, but often they get nowhere. Of course, they always have the option of turning the project over to the yard pros.
One time capsule of a boatyard that I have enjoyed exploring for more than 30 years is the legendary Cutts & Case Shipyard (www.cuttsandcase.com) in Oxford, Md. Older sailboats whose owners judge to be worth saving are tightly packed here bow to stern in a large shed with a high ceiling. The farther back they are, the longer they’ve been in dry storage. I have always been curious about the fate of such boats and the stories behind their continued survival.
One such vessel is a classic 39-foot, full-keel sloop with long overhangs that was designed by George H. Stadel Jr., a prolific designer and boatbuilder from Stamford, Conn. According to his son, George III, also a Stamford yacht designer, two of his now deceased father’s 39-footers were built in Stamford and Maine: Alexander Firth’s Luna went to Bermuda, and the other went to a yachtsman named Mayhew at the Chicago Yacht Club. The third has been land-stored at Cutts & Case off and on for some 40 years. Last summer, brothers Eddie and Ronnie Cutts had to move a dozen or so yachts out of the storage shed to reach this one in a far corner when the owner decided to ready it for sailing again.
The strip-planked hull of 7/8-inch Philippine mahogany — “tongue and groove” constructed and bronze-fastened — was completed between 1954 and 1968 from Stadel plans. The backyard project in Wilmington, Del., was by a father-and-son team — Harold W. Follett and his son, Harold E. Follett. The hull was shipped to C&C in July 1968 with instructions to handle the completion as a secondary job, which accounted for the fact that the project lasted until 1979 while consuming 10,000 hours of off-and-on construction. Sadly, the father became too ill to sail the boat, although he managed to sit in the cockpit once for a family photo after the boat was launched.
Harold E., a retired bachelor schoolteacher and inventor with some 15 patents to his credit, designed the knotty pine interior with 6.3-foot headroom, and it remains in pristine condition. The vessel has a waterline length of 27 feet and a beam of 8.8 feet, and it draws 5.9 feet. Power is an Atomic 4 gas engine, also in preserved condition. Its custom Hood mast is made of aluminum, and the original Hood sails were very lightly used. The spinnaker has never been out of the bag.
Harold’s sister, Ann Follett Terres of Bethlehem, Pa., sailed the boat periodically with her brother and her daughter, now Jackie Couch. “The boat’s second life this time around was Harold’s idea so that his nephews and my grandchildren [Jared, 12, Justin, 9, and Joshua Couch, 4] would learn to sail on her,” she says.
The mahogany sailboat is in excellent condition (seams remain tight) because she was day-sailed only occasionally from 1979 to 1982. “After my father died in December 1980 my brother Harold lost interest in the vessel, became sidetracked with his inventions and put the boat in storage,” Terres says. “Now that he has regained interest his intentions are to pass the boat down to my family and create a new generation of sailors.”
Much of the rehab work involves refinishing — caulking, sanding, painting and varnishing. However, the boat will get a new fiberglass deck and will be refastened wherever needed.
Jonathan and Jackie Couch and the boys live in Woodbridge, Va. The boat will be named Beth’lem Star, and launching is scheduled for this spring.
Jack Sherwood is writer at large for Soundings.
February 2013 issue