Building a Wooden Boat on Martha's Vineyard
Tom Dunlop, photos by Alison Shaw
Vineyard Stories, 160pp, $44.95
Traditionally, the December column focuses on a variety of potential gift books for the salts in your life. This year, one spectacular picture book is all I will rave about. Yup, it's pretty overwhelming and overwhelmingly pretty...and a good story, too. You can tell from the title what it's all about.
I almost never feature a book that is even a tad over its prime. In this case, the book was published in 2010. I don't know how I missed it but better late than never. If I had to pick just one word to describe both the book and the boat that is being built it would be "extravagant". It will be the most impressive present you give this year.
The 10 1/2 by 11 1/2 format of the book enables the full color photographs to jump right at you. Taken by Alison Shaw "who moved to Martha's Vineyard (the home of the Benjamin and Gannon boat yard) 'just for the summer' in 1975". The book is homage to traditional boat building methods and traditional sailboats...but also to the skilful, often inspired, photography by Alison Shaw.
Schooner, specifically, is a sixty foot, 72,224 pound sail boat. At the time she was the largest boat launched from the island since 1860. Needless to say, she's a classic beauty...and as she deserves, there are almost as many photographs as there are text pages...gorgeous full page glossies artfully depicting almost every stage of the building of the schooner, Rebecca. The size of the book enables the full color photographs to jump right at you.
The action takes place at the boat yard of Gannon and Benjamin, Nat Benjamin being the designer of multiple lovely crafts that inhabit Vineyard Haven harbor and harbors around the world. They started their wooden boat building business thirty years ago...when fiberglass was all the rage. "...today it is impossible to look at any part of Vineyard Haven Harbor without seeing examples of their work."
The photography is inspired. Most are full page plates documenting the process of building Rebecca of Martha's Vinyard. The process defines the structure of the book...chapters are titled by the process or boat part being built...lofting, keel, framing, planking, interior...then a little "respite" caused by a scarcity of cash then on again, deck, aloft and launch. The photos make the boat come alive. The text is humble but lively.
Maybe, best of all is a comment in the afterword by Nat Benjamin:
"The sixty-foot Rebecca was followed by the sixty-five foot Juno. Keeping track of these grand vessels as they sail the world's oceans is a source of great satisfaction. But the level of fulfillment is not a condition of the magnitude of the project but rather the nurturing of the soul. It is helping a grandson learn to row, guiding an apprentice spiling a plank, raising sail on a voyage outward bound, coaching a young sailor at the helm -- enjoying the whole spectrum of life and witnessing beauty in a broken world." Benjamin goes on to say that he hopes the reader feels the "joy and beauty in the pages of this book."
For anyone who admires skilled workmanship, inspired design and enjoys a good yarn, this is a gorgeous gift.