On Saturday, June 3, 2017, Finger Boatworks launched a Haven 12 ½ christened Hijinks. This is the first boat that Finger Boatworks has built and the lionshare was completed by Tyler Winger. Finger Boatworks does of course have a connection to me – its owner is my husband, Eric, a former U. S. Coast Guard officer who is also a naval architect. Finger Boatworks (FBW) also maintains many island wooden boats and a few others as well. Currently, FBW is building an Alerion – a boat originally designed by the “Wizard of Bristol” – Nathanael Herreshoff – in the early twentieth century. Herreshoff designed the Alerion so that he could sail the boat himself – this in the day when they wore suit and tie, and hat of course! By then, Herreshoff was an older gentleman who had designed many boats.
Boat building on Nantucket is now few and far between. There are a few who have built for themselves, but very few who now build for specific clients or to sell. Boat building did happen historically on Nantucket. A large boatyard located in the area of Brant Point with a marine railway existed – even building a few whaleships. Whaleboats were also built on the island. In fact, in the early eighteenth century, they lifted the laws banning the cutting of trees on the island so that men could head out to Coatue to cut cedar for the whaleboats. The issue with building on Nantucket was that it was too expensive and boats could be built more easily and cheaply off-island since that is where all the wood to build island boats was coming from to start!
I like to think of Maria, and her brothers and sisters, wandering around the yards, picking up shavings, smelling the fragrance of wood shavings, specifically the cedar, and listening to the rhythmic noise of the saw. Just around the corner from them was a small boatshop – likely whaleboats – and up the street, a cooperage. The eldest Mitchell child, Andrew, would run off to sea at a young age and found himself on a naval ship during the Civil War. He later left the life of the sea and became a farmer – not the first time we had heard that one. He could have been greatly influenced by the boats surrounding him and the sailors and officers of whaleships and merchant and fishing ships. He could have also been influenced by his father with his rating of the chronometers and his work with the US Coast Survey. The Mitchell family had many ship captains through their front sitting room. He could have been influenced by spending his time in a boatshop. And, he could have been further influenced by the fact that his maternal grandfather, a whaleship captain, was lost at sea when Andrew’s mother, Lydia Coleman Mitchell, was just fourteen years old.
Boat building is an ancient craft. Whether it be small or something like a freighter, it is still a craft that we rely on for multiple purposes whether it be transportation, pleasure, livelihood, food.
Look for Hijinks in the harbor this summer.