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Preview: Watercraft Collection of Mystic Seaport, Part 1- The Broom Closet

November 28, 2012

Mystic Seaport has one of the world’s largest collections of historic watercraft. There’s a special place that not many people know about where over 400 boats are kept. Maynard Bray played a key role in building this collection for over 35 years, and he and Eric Blake take us on an insider’s tour of these boats. Be sure to see the other videos in this series as they are released.

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– [Narrator] Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, has one of the world’s largest collections of historic watercraft. There are way too many boats to place on formal exhibit at the museum, so most of the smaller ones live in this old building across the street. Almost every one of the 400 or so boats inside the building is described in “Mystic Seaport Watercraft,” written originally by Maynard Bray, who is with us today, and for 35 years worked for Mystic Seaport and played a major role in putting this collection together. Our visit begins the first of several Mystic Seaport walkabouts with Maynard and boat builder Eric Blake.

– Let’s take a look in the broom closet.

– God, you gotta be kidding me This collection goes on and on.

– Well it goes for the extent of this room, which is big. And they’re, in this room they’re racked up three high in some cases, so it’s a pretty concentrated bunch of boats.

– Maynard, there’s an 11-foot weight hull in the watercraft book that I have always, always come to. The lines were taken off of it and displayed in the book, and she’s an old derelict that was donated to the seaport. You know where she might be in here?

– Yeah, good example of a boat that’s derelict, but you can learn from it and be inspired by it, which obviously you were. So let’s go see if we can find it.

– I think we can say, as we proceed toward this boat of your dreams, there are distractions along the way. And a lot of ’em. And it’s hard to not turn your head and see ’em.

– You know, I mean, this is just, this is just an incredible library of small boat tenders, gigs, little catboats.

– All types.

– Racked up and available to view.

– Take a look at that one. Talk about a derelict. You can learn from every one of these, and in some ways, the more derelict it is, the more apart it is, the more you can see things you can’t see in the finished boat.

– Construction details, ways that stems were put together, ways things–

– Exactly. Yeah.

– That boats were fastened.

– Here’s our boat. Right here.

– Gosh.

– And she is a thing of beauty, there’s no question about that.

– The lines of this boat, and you can see looking right here from the bow, is just so shapely–hull, water line, and it flares right out, and there’s very, there’s very little freeboard.

– Always good aesthetically.

– Isn’t she beautiful.

– Sometimes functionally it’s not so good. But she had a deck. See the shiplap is notched for deck beams. So I think that the low freeboard was probably compensated for, to some degree, by the fact that she was decked, at least partially.

– You can see remnants of a centerboard trunk and an old rudder in here. But this beaded, this beaded detail.

– Oh yeah, isn’t that great.

– I mean, she was a beautifully built boat at one time.

– Oak sheer stripes were a fairly common thing. You know, they were nice to lash and have as a decorative element, but they also were key to holding fastenings. You had a guardrail here, topped by a deck, and the oak was available to run the screws into, and it would hold better than softwood would. So it was pretty common on a lot of these boats to have a hardwood sheer stripe.

– Maynard, much like the Gil Smith catboat, the lines of this boat have completely captured me, and looking, seeing her in the flesh, seeing the way that the light plays off of her fullness.

– Yep.

– She carries her fullness forward and then comes to this amazing transom.

– Yeah, that’s a pretty transom isn’t it?

– It is just beautiful.

– Yeah, reversing curves are hard to beat, how this flows down and it’s called a wine glass stern, I guess.

– Tucks in. But it’s very broad. It’s not kind of an upright–

– That’s right.

– Weight hull–

– Quite different from a rowing version, isn’t it? It’s got the beam to carry sail.

– Which I guess allows her, the freeboard to be as low as it is.

– Yeah, you need to build this, Eric.

– She is a–

– Give it a try.

– Beautiful, beautiful boat. But again, in just the raw, as she arrived at the seaport and preserved as just that, so you can really get an idea of her construction details.

– Yep.

– And how she was put together.

– If you’re gonna build a boat, this is what you want to study, cause so much of her is revealed due to her… partly disassembled, derelict condition. You can really get in and see how the guy built her to begin with. She’s got a narrow stripe stuck in here between wide ones.

– [Blake] Yeah, right.

– [Maynard. And it’s hard to understand why somebody, why a builder who was as skilled as this one, aesthetically anyway, would make these so uneven.

– [Blake] Huh. But then you look at the detail of her rudder and these big cheek pieces to receive a mortise, to receive a tenon, and then these little, ornate nubs just cut, I imagine, with a little keyhole saw, but it’s those kinds of details that are just fabulous to find and unearth. Maynard, on the very same rack as this weight hull I’ve been lusting after is this incredible– it looks to be a Pacific dugout.

– I think it is.

– She shows the breadth of the collection.

– Built out of a single tree. Almost out of a single tree, I guess your freeboard was raised here a little bit. Basically hollowed-out log, with some artistic elements worked into it. Which are quite beautiful, really. I guess the ends have been added on to. I think these are separate pieces up here, Eric.

– Just beautiful.

– There’s a seam line right here, so what’s below the seam line is a single log, and then they added the flairy bow and the souped-up stern and a little bit of freeboard to it.

– This collection has been put together from all over this world.

– This, yeah, this one came early. 1939.

– She was acquired.

– Yep.

– Amazing.

– Walking through this place is an adventure, geographical adventure. We’ve got a English-built Thames River skiff here that is pretty original. If you’ll–

– The patina on the planking.

– Yeah, take a look at the finish here, how it’s alligated. You could spiff it up and make it look like new, but, God, you lose all of this stuff, and we don’t want to do that, I don’t think anyway.

– She is as donated and preserved.

– Yeah, and I think we need a few of these.

– These big rattan seatbacks, I mean, she was just kind of a river cruiser of her day.

– Oh yeah, can’t you imagine a couple ladies in there, leaning back, drinking whatever they were drinking. And their men up here rowing. Look at how the, instead of having oar locks, I don’t know what the names of these things are, but they’re built for square-loomed oars so that they’re sort of automatically feathering on the return stroke they’ll clunk and the blade lies flat on the return stroke and then clunk again and it grabs the water as you propel the boat on the power stroke. This is kind of in contrast to your dream boat of that little sailing weight hull. That was built by a guy and… didn’t have the benefit of feedback like these Thames River skiffs and the Adirondack guide boats and I forget what else it was we were talking about were built, and feedback came from the owners and from the builders I suppose as well, and there was an evolution that took place on other boats that were–

– [Blake] A refinement.

– Yeah, one of a–yeah, these were continually refined and became very elegant, as opposed to a work boat that serves its purpose, has a lot of artistry built into it, but doesn’t go through the process of step– Little by little by little being refined into something very, very elegant.

– Molded sheer stripes, I mean these amazing details.

– It’s amazing what you can do with wood, if you play with it, and treat it gently. You know, these aren’t boats you go out in the, in the Atlantic with. They were on the River Thames and made to row easily, be very elegant… And that was their purpose. They held up well for that kind of use.

– She looks to be a convertible.

– Yeah, right. So when there’s too much sun, instead of parasols, you put the top up.

– So this would be some kind of a canvas awning that would–

– I imagine so, yeah.

– Hinge and fold up to cover this stern seat.

– Yeah, I’m far form being an expert of these Thames River boats, I know just a little bit about ’em but–

– Well it’s all right here.

– Yeah it is.

– It’s amazing.

– It is, yeah.

– I mean, just boats from all over the world, and how they were put together.



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