As the latest arrival in the not-so-transient live-aboard community in Vineyard Haven, I have taken great pleasure in rowing or sailing through the mooring field, familiarizing myself with the regular denizens of the harbor. One by one as the boats have been re-commissioned for the season and returned to the water for a summer of sailing, I have admired each one, for in all cases they show the care and love reflected in new paint and varnish, careful rigging, and attention to particulars. In small ways, each boat gives a bit of insight into the personalities of its owners, and consequently has a personality of its own. Unbeknownst to their owners, I am becoming familiar, in a neighborly way, with their floating counterparts.
There are also those stalwart souls both wooden and human, who opt to stay in water for the winter. It takes a very different kind of character to weather the vagaries of the winter months without the comforts most have adapted to deal with the often raw climate of the New England coast in winter. Since the first arrival of the pilgrims, most wayfarers could not wait to get off the ship and into any structure with a roof and hearth. But since the earliest of forays into the unknown, there could always be found a deviant who would prefer to mind the vessel regardless of the lack of creature comforts rather than step ashore with the crowd. This atypical spirit even in this day and age of comfort and convenience is alive and well in Vineyard Haven harbor.
In my familiarization process of settling into a working life routine here, I have become aware of those doing the same. A few moorings over, I have admired a solitary wooden boat, salty in essence, classic in design, and - by the smoke coming from the chimney pipe - obviously well settled.
Recently while rowing by, I had an opportunity to introduce myself to Andy Lyon aboard "Harmony." We have since become somewhat neighborly. In our ensuing conversations I have come to realize that here is the quintessential spirit of the wooden boat owner.
Andy has been a boat builder since he was apprenticed at the age of 16 to Pete Legnos, a custom boat builder in Groton, Conn. They build working fishing boats and moved into custom personal "Lobster Yachts" as those became fashionable.
In the natural progression of this kind of life, Andy moved to Tiverton, R. I., where he went to work for Shannon Yachts, specializing in the fine custom interiors those boats have become famous for. In 1988 he found a 30-foot 1937 Crocker sloop in the barn of a deceased owner in Rochester and soon had the boat at the Shannon facility as his residence. "Harmony," in the last 20 years of ministrations from Andy, has become a fully restored gem, a lovely example of the blend of form and function that has been the standard of wooden boat building throughout sailboat design history. To this day the Crockers stand right out and have stood the test of time like so many of the other great names in wooden boat design.
Over the past two decades, "Harmony" has seen a refit that under other circumstances would come only to a boat belonging to a fanciful determined owner of considerable financial resources.
But in the case of Andy and his resourcefulness, "Harmony" has seen every piece in her structure replaced one by one out of scraps and cut offs from his career in boat building. He did buy the Angelique deck planks through a source in Central America, and many of the other timbers were collected over long periods of time, but as he told me while visiting aboard, "only a couple of feet of cockpit combing are original."
Despite the long rebuild process, Andy and "Harmony" have a remarkable cruising history, entailing long passages and challenging elemental conditions. Every year he has taken off for new and distant landfalls as far south as Central America and well up into the Maritimes of Quebec and Labrador. Be it in the shade of a cockpit awning or the tight tidy confines of his cabin, Andy finds his life well defined by the result of his skill and efforts aboard "Harmony."
I was rowing by early the other morning when Andy popped up out of the cabin sanding the tiniest piece of wood. I asked him what he was working on now. "I am building a fiddle. The fourth one actually," with that he produced a beautiful violin.
I marveled at his woodworking virtuosity and asked, "Do you play?"
"No," he replied. "But I might learn someday."
I rowed away grinning - enriched by the acquaintance of my neighbors Andy Lyon and "Harmony" of Vineyard Haven.
Seaver Jones, who cruises on "Crowflight," his 1966 wooden Pacemaker Sunliner, divides his time between wooden boat building on the Vineyard, and ranching in Patagonia, Chili. His column will appear in The Times the last Thursday of every month.