The life aquatic
For classic boat owners, restoring, maintaining, and showing off their vintage vessels are all-consuming passions
BEVERLY - Salem’s Bill Cass won best in show at the 2002 Antique & Classic Boat Festival with a sailboat he built from scratch. When he sold the boat, a 34-foot wooden ketch, he figured he’d earned about $6 an hour on it, given how much time he put into it.
“I’d do better as a
Last month Cass, 69, was scrambling to finish work on his latest project - a custom-designed, 37-foot, 1930s-style sedan cruiser with a fiberglass lobster-boat hull and a mahogany cabin. When he started, he told his wife it’d take two or three years. That was eight years ago. He calls the boat Satin Doll, since she’s so high-maintenance.
Cass was planning to show the unique green boat at the 29th annual Antique Boat Festival in Salem. When the event was canceled due to Hurricane Irene, the pressure was off. Now he can take his time with the finish work, and he’ll be able to install that bow thruster, which is still in the box.
If you need him, he’ll be down at the dock. For many boat owners, restoring and maintaining a classic craft is both a full-time job and an all-consuming passion.
Barry Blaisdell restored Gabriel, his circa-1960 custom Crocker cutter, while living across the street from Sam Crocker, whose family has operated a boatyard in Manchester-by-the-Sea for three generations. (Cass bought the design for his old sailboat from Sturgis Crocker, Sam’s father.)
“Sam told me I was handy. He encouraged me,’’ said Blaisdell, 66, who started sailing when he was 5. “I asked a lot of questions.’’
When the last of Blaisdell’s children left the house, he and his wife went looking for a condominium. They found one they liked on the water in Gloucester. Blaisdell went out and asked at the adjacent marina whether they had any slips available. The proprietor happened to have one, for a 37-foot boat. That’s the size of Blaisdell’s cutter.
“Excuse me,’’ he told the guy at the marina. “I have to go buy a condo.’’
Cass’s life has been similarly overtaken by his boat, which is moored at Hills Yacht Yard in Beverly. As he kneeled on a dropcloth on the floor of his cruiser, swabbing white paint on the insides of the cabinets, the sink and appliances sat in his living room at home, awaiting the day they’d be fixed in place.
He recently took his daughter and her family on a sea trial, motoring around Cape Ann and up the Annisquam River. They anchored at Wingaersheek Beach so Cass’s grandchildren could go swimming.
“We got rave reviews from other boats on the Annisquam,’’ he recalled. “That was a big ego trip.’’
For owners of classic boats, that’s the payoff. Racket Shreve has been showing his 1955 Celebrity sloop at the Salem show almost every year for a decade. Shreve, whose given name is Warren, lives in Salem and has made lots of friends on the waterfront over the years.
“It’s not really show material, but it’s a cool boat,’’ he said. “You can’t eat off the deck, but it looks good from 100 yards.’’
Shreve, 66, a descendant of the noted jewelry family, is an artist who paints traditional marine art. He bought his day sailer in 1980. The name he gave it - Rum Shark - fit his lifestyle a little better then than it does now, he said with a laugh.
He looks forward to putting the boat in the water each year. “It’s a little work in the spring,’’ he said, “but if you don’t like working on wooden boats, you shouldn’t own one.’’
Cass got the boating bug as a boy, when his father typically kept one modest vessel or another in the water. With its hybrid design and modern appliances, his boat looks vintage but is definitely not a purist’s ideal, the captain admitted.
“It’ll be interesting to see whether there’s a niche there’’ for the boat, Cass said. He’s been telling friends, only half-kidding, that he plans to sell it to songwriter Billy Joel, a boat enthusiast who has sent similar cruisers with Downeast hulls to previous festivals in Salem.
“I met his captain,’’ said Cass, a onetime merchant marine who worked for years for the state’s environmental department. “In fact, I got a lot of ideas from him.’’
Taking a break from his work, he looked up to greet Dick Desmond, owner of the boatyard, who had just walked down the gangway to say hello.
“He’s a clever guy,’’ said Desmond of his tenant. Not every boat owner can claim as much ingenuity or work ethic, he said.
“I’ve had boats coming out the ears,’’ Desmond said with a chuckle. “Never made money on any of ’em.’’
One former renter at the yard recently sold a battered old Elco, a classic motor yacht, for $7,000 to a guy from Florida. The old Elcos are comparable to his boat, said Cass, but “this boat is much more commodious. It’s a much better ride, more seaworthy, faster.’’
The day trip with his daughter’s family bore that out. Now they were asking to go out on the boat again.
“That’s another day shot,’’ lamented the proud owner with a smile and a shrug. “The kids are gonna fish on my new cushions?’’