Preview: Good Reads: A Recommendation by Alec Brainerd

December 18, 2012

Alec Brainerd

OffCenterHarbor.com 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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