Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway at 30 – a celebration

These are excerpts from an informal account of the July 24 celebration of the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway. Virginia Crowell Jones of West Tisbury, longtime office manager at the boatyard, circulated her description via email.

Under a lowering sky which was accompanied by a few faint rumbles, a group of about 150 friends of Gannon and Benjamin gathered July 24, at to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the launch of the Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven.

Next door, in the Ernie Boch parking lot, the Tisbury Fire Department convened a group of antique vehicles and motorcycles. It was a fund raiser, and there were grills for hot dogs and burgers and, toward the waterfront, a flat bed trailer with amplifier and other equipment.

At the boatyard, family, friends, owners of G and B boats and lots of kids enjoyed sandwiches, fruit cups, various treats and drinks while David Nathans, director of the Martha’s Vineyard Vineyard Museum, a partner in the celebration, spoke briefly. He introduced Matthew Stackpole, who lovingly recalled the history of the waterfront, described the extraordinary collaboration of Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon, the boatyard and some of the boats built.

Following Matthew came, as Matthew put it, “West Tisbury’s most famous sailor,” David McCullough.

“Ross and Nat are my heroes,” the historian said. They are artists, they are craftsmen, they are infinitely hard workers, and they are men of integrity.”

He compared the boats that G and B has built to the great pieces of furniture, works of art themselves, made in 18th Century Philadelphia.

“The boats who love the water are the most beautiful of all,” David said, and added that he and his family share an “incomparable feeling of pride” in owning a G and B boat, a Bella class sloop called Rosalee. “May beautiful wooden boats ply the waters off of Martha’s Vineyard for a long time.”

During the speeches, a drizzle turned into a heavier shower, that cleared leaving a rainbow in the east – over When and If, one of the boats in the harbor that G and B did not build, but did rebuild and refit, and Cara Mia, a NY 30, owned by Alfred and Carol Slanitz from Mystic, Connecticut. Cara Mia has also been repaired by G and B.

And, as a backdrop, Killdeer, owned by Sheena Bellingham and Don Hutton, sat on the railway awaiting launching after fresh paint. And moored at the G and B dock there was Elita, Ross’s own recently launched sloop.

Elsewhere in the harbor there were Juno, the built after Rebecca, and Nat’s own Charlotte, all schooners. In the guest book one owner – Howard Begle – wrote: “Thanks again for all the love, skill and effort you put into Blue Rhythm.”

Kate Taylor wrote: “You guys make the sparkling jewels that adorn the harbors. Thank you so much.”

An e-mail from Steve and Maureen Corkery (several time G and B boat owners) carrying best wishes to Nat and Ross contained a comment from Giffy Full, the legendary (and rather salty) retired surveyor of classic boats: “So thankful there are still people who are capable of building beautiful boats in such a seaworthy manner.”

During the party, Jan Pogue, Tom Dunlop and Alison Shaw sold copies of the recently published Schooner, the story of Rebecca’s construction. The authors, Rebecca’s owners, Brian and Pam Malcolm from Dorset, England, and the builders were all on hand to autograph copies of the book.

And, during it all, the kids who had been waiting restlessly for food, discovered the scrap pile, and under the direction of Olin Gannon, the next generation of boat builders began constructing a wooden raft: Greta Gannon, Nathaniel Weisman, Orin di Biaso, Latham Higgins, Everett Healy, Silas Abrams, and others set to with two by fours, nails and hammers. It was a touching sight. One proud father commented: “This boat will be wicked fast.”