At Large: A pleasant little volume, and much more

In the summer of 1971, I think it was, Tom Hale darted across Vineyard Haven harbor in the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard’s lovely, slippery double-ended launch, Filly, bound for the mooring field behind the breakwater. Tom ran the shipyard and later was the harbormaster.

I was living on my little boat in the harbor in those days, but that afternoon I was aboard a small sloop whose owners were cruising and were laying at anchor for a couple of days in Vineyard Haven, roughly where Shenandoah lays to her mooring, although on this midweek occasion the schooner was away on charter. The visitors had had a fire in the galley, but they’d got it mostly extinguished.

I waved at Tom who came over, heard the story, but said, sorry, I’ve got some things to do. The strangers and I watched him peel away and resume his course. We were surprised.

Five minutes later, Tom, who was a compact, springy physical type, was back alongside, making fast, jumping aboard and, unhesitatingly asserting his authority. He said, “All right, let’s get busy and get you taken care of.”

Tom was always busy, a multi-talented man with a wide range of interests, almost all of which had to do with boats and the folks who sailed them, or family. As time sailed on, Tom ran the shipyard until his son and grandson were ready to take over, he designed and built sailboats and powerboats, built ship models of singular size and quality, published several books of tall tales and true, and devoted himself to his researches in maritime history. His manner in all this accomplishment was always as it was that mid-summer day long ago — brisk, a bit mercurial, and very take-charge.

Now, he’s published, or rather reprinted, “Mr. Hardy Lee, His Yacht,” a slim 1857 volume with sketches made by Tom’s great-grand uncle, Charles Ellery Stedman, a doctor, and transformed into lithographs on stone by Winslow Homer, who was at the time employed by the book’s publisher. Stedman’s drawings were contained in an 1856 sketchbook, entitled “Windseye” and based upon the doctor’s own sailing yacht.

Although Tom has republished “Mr. Hardy Lee, His Yacht” before, this edition is deliciously designed, printed by Chris Decker’s Tisbury Printer, and it delivers a lot more than the charming illustrations by “Chinks,” Stedman’s nom de plume. There are also the original Stedman drawings, taken from Chinks’ 1856 sketchbook, and a careful description of the research that has led to the conclusion that it was Homer who created the lithographs that appeared in the 1857 book.

There is also the challenge for readers who would like to detect the “W” or “H” that Homer liked to include as a signature, built into the lithographs done by Homer from the Stedman sketches. Even with the descriptions of Homer’s additions to the Stedman originals, it will require a sharp-eyed reader to follow the scholarship.

In all, it’s a splendid effort on Tom’s part. Apart from the charming fun of the republished 1857 illustrated story, the art history sleuthing of the Stedman-Homer connection is an intriguing tale all by itself.

Tom explains his interest in the republication this way, ” … I have spent many happy hours at sea and under sail and my primary interest is in maritime history, worldwide. Mr. Hardy Lee appealed to me as a child as a wonderful story; as a teenager, a rollicking adventure; and as an adult, a superb piece of artistry.”

This handsomely turned-out volume, available in a limited edition of just 300, will reward readers.