January / February 2021

In the Wake of a Black Dog

How Vineyard Haven became a mecca for classic wooden boats
ALABAMA

The 90’ ALABAMA, built in 1926 for motorized pilot-boat service in Mobile in her namesake state, was the new kid on the block when Bob Douglas brought her to Vineyard Haven in 1967. She arrived two years after the then-new topsail schooner SHENANDOAH, seen here in the distance astern in a 2010 photo in Vineyard Sound. ALABAMA, too, became a Vineyard Haven fixture, but 30 years passed before Douglas had her restored and rigged as a schooner to join his charter fleet.

Vineyard Haven Harbor sometimes looks like a wooden boat show without even trying to be,” boatbuilder Rick Brown told a reporter for The Vineyard Gazette not so long ago. His point is even truer today.

Brown started building elegant wherries on the island of Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, in 1974, and he has watched the improbable evolution of the island town of Vineyard Haven. Over the past 45 years, the port has changed from a commercial harbor and ferry terminal to the homeport of a trove of superbly built and lovingly maintained wooden vessels. Today, Vineyard Haven, less than 5 miles across Nantucket Sound from Cape Cod, is nothing less than a visual feast for everyone who loves boats.

“We did a count some years back,” says Ginny Jones, an islander who runs Foxfire Marine Consulting and the website www.vineyardsailing.com. “I think we came up with something like 110 or 115 wooden boats in this little harbor, not counting small tenders. It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. A lot of these boats have been built here.” She’s not wrong about “amazing”—especially when you consider almost all boatbuilding materials must come to Vineyard Haven by freight boats or ferries.

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