Preview: Good Reads: A Recommendation by Alec Brainerd asked our guides to share their favorite books that should be in every boater’s library…

I am addicted to boating books, and rarely a week goes by without acquiring one or two new ones.  The obsession is fueled by an insatiable craving for new designs—and by new, I really mean old ones that are new to me.  Having devoured the many great “coffee table” books currently available, I turn to out-of-print and antique books for my fix—a recent purchase being a 1963 Portland Yacht Club Yearbook from an online antique bookseller.  I was hoping to discover something about the 31′ knockabout that W. Starling Burgess had designed for the PYC in 1903.

Short-listing favorite or essential books is difficult, as there are so many, and most are only referenced occasionally.  I find that I do the majority of my work-related reading and research online.

If I had to choose one printed volume that no boater or boatbuilder should be without, it would actually be two hundred and thirty volumes.  WoodenBoat Magazines, from September/October 1974 through January/February 2013, occupy five feet four inches of sagging shelf above my office desk.  Rarely a week goes by that I’m not visiting WoodenBoat‘s online index for a design, a technique, or a person that can then be found within these volumes.  Often while poking around I discover a fascinating article or two that would have otherwise been missed.  I believe that this entire collection is available in digital format, and as much as I personally dislike reading from a computer screen, I could certainly see owning the digital archive.  For the traveling businessman who loves wooden boats, I can think of no better companion. There are so many treasures within the volumes of WoodenBoat Magazine that I’ve yet to discover, that, someday, I hope to re-read the entire collection—an issue a day for eight months!

This leads me to a digression, as the reader may ask, “where does one obtain a complete collection of WoodenBoat Magazines?”  Here’s how I got mine:  Eighteen years ago, in December of 1994, I was attending boatbuilding school two miles down the street, in the old rust colored Penobscot Boatworks shop, built on pilings and reaching out into Rockport Harbor.  It was late in the evening, and I was working on some last minute Christmas gifts when the phone rang.  Retrospectively it seems odd to me that I would have bothered to answer the school’s phone at that hour, but it was right nearby on the shop wall, and so I did.   The kind voice on the line belonged to a woman from Manchester, Massachusetts.  She was cleaning out a spare room, and had this collection of old WoodenBoat Magazines that her husband had been collecting.  Would the school be interested in having them?  “Well,” I said, “the school’s closed right now, and its library already has a complete set and most of another… but geez, I’d sure love to have them for myself!”  “Perfect.” she said, “what’s the address?”

A week later a huge cardboard box arrived with my name on it, and over the next ten years that box got moved, packed, and unpacked more times than I care to recall.  Now jump forward twelve years to March of 2006:  Artisan Boatworks had been up and running for four years, and I’m standing next to a new Herreshoff 12 ½ replica we had built and were displaying at the Maine Boatbuilders’ Show in Portland.    John Hanson and his wife Polly Saltonstall came up, said hello and that they would like to introduce me to Polly’s uncle Bill. “He wants a new knockabout,” they told me.

Four months later, PHOENIX, a 26’ North Haven Knockabout (AKA Dark Harbor 17) made her debut at the Maine Boats and Harbors Show in Rockland.  Uncle Bill (Saltonstall), who was then 79 years old, loved his new boat dearly and, when she graced the cover of WoodenBoat Magazine in the May/June of 2007  issue, he can be seen with his nephew Lev,  reaching across Penobscot Bay on their shakedown cruise to North Haven.

Uncle Bill Passed away two years later in January of 2009 at age 81.  “I’ve been thinking about doing this for years,” he had said. “Knockabouts are almost 100 years old and they are going out like all of us. I want the next generation to see how lovely they are.”  Not only did he leave that legacy, but he and his wife Jane became my good friends, and the construction of PHOENIX helped propel Artisan Boatworks forward on our current path in a big way.

“What,” you may ask, “does this have to do with a collection of WoodenBoat Magazines?”

Well, a few years ago I was looking for information on Nat Herreshoff’s Biscayne Bay 14 which lead me to issue #96, March/April  1990.  I glanced at the cover and noticed the mailing label.  “Interesting”, I thought, “I’ve never noticed mailing labels on any of the other issues.”   I turned the magazine over, and here’s what I saw:

No kidding!

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10 Responses So Far to “Good Reads: A Recommendation by Alec Brainerd

  • Avatar

    David Foote says:

    The Maritime Bookstore at Mystic Seaport had a large collection of back issues of WoodenBoat on sale for $1 each this last fall- a real bargain. I got a couple, including articles on deck care by Maynard and Kathy Bray and on caulking by Joel White. They do make great reading. I wish I’d thought to look for the issue on the Dark Harbor 17, but then I found the article by Polly Saltonstall posted at your Artisian Boatworks website. Thank you!

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    dominique schmidt says:

    I’ve collected WB too since discovering this magazine in NYC back in 83. I’ve got paper collection from 87 until 2007. I’ve moved homes may times but they are still with me as well as Maritime. They even did a complete how to build the Buzzard bay if I remember well

  • Avatar

    carl prestipino says:

    hi Alex,

    Is there anyway I could get copies of the WB magazine issue #96 March/April 1990 pages dealing with the Buzzard Bay 14 (you reference above)?
    I’m likely to buy one built by the Beaufort, NC Maritime Museum one to two years ago, and would like to compare it’s specs to the WB article. tx, in Spartanburg, SC

  • Avatar

    Brian Crow says:

    Yes! WoodenBoat is a good read, year after year…I started my subscription not long after the first one came out, and have the whole collection stored in plastic tubs in my “shop”. At least one of my sons is interested in wood boats, so the WB collection will be passed on to him.
    Althought now out of print (more’s the pity..), Maritime Life and Traditions is a treasure trove of wonderful articles and pictures. I also have all of those, and recommend picking those up whenever you can.

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    PETER BAKER says:

    Alec, Really enjoyed your story, the dark harbour 17 is a classic. My brother and I helped a friend in Stonington,Me. fix an old one up;we had a great time sailing her around the islands south of Deer Isle. Our catboat ‘Conjurer’ was a fixture in eggemoggin reach for 22 years until she moved to Cape Cod in 2007. We loved sailing her but you can’t beat the speed and finer points of sail of a real yacht like the dark harbour. I’m also a fan of the North Haven dinghy,a great small yacht.My grandmother who sailed out of Blue Hill has told me that anyone with the name Brainerd would be a cousin, Thank you, Peter Baker

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    Charles Barclay says:

    There are few real coincidences. Great story.

  • David Tew

    David Tew says:

    Thanks goodness for the Index, huh? Something in the latest issue of WB sent me back to reread Llewellyn Howland’s multi-part appreciation of Walter McInnis. I ended up with eght back issues on my bedside table to work through…. and there’s so much in each issue that distracts, delightfully so!

    I enjoyed hearing about Lev Saltonstall accompanying his Uncle Bill on his boat back to Vinalhaven from Camden. He’s a college classmate and it’s nice to see the family still has wood sailboats.

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    Anne Bray says:

    How wonderful to know you have such respect for WoodenBoat. Couldn’t agree with you more. Great blog.