The Seeker of Vineyard Haven – a scow schooner by Ted Box

Carlton Sprague at work on his portable sawmill, next to the the shed housing the Seeker.
Photo by Ralph Stewart

Carlton Sprague at work on his portable sawmill, next to the the shed housing the Seeker.

The shell of a large — 100 feet overall — flat-bottom scow schooner sits under a temporary structure in a vacant lot on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. The boat construction site is often bereft of workers. Sometimes it looks like an abandoned boat project. It wouldn’t be a first on the Vineyard.

But, according to the project’s main man, 67-year-old carpenter, artisan, and furniture maker Theodore “Ted” Box of Vineyard Haven, the project is moving ahead, although at a slower pace than he had hoped. He said the frame is now ready for planking, and the two and a half inch thick old growth cypress planks are being milled.

The projected construction time was a year and a half, according to Mr. Box, who began work in May 2011. He said he didn’t anticipate having to go through such an involved permitting process, including the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, just to erect the temporary structure covering the construction. He said that set him back several months. He said he now has to go back before the town in the next couple of months to request an extension until May or June, next year, when he hopes to put the boat in the water.

“It has been such a successful community event,” Mr. Box said. He said several businesses have been helpful, including Hinckley’s Lumber, Space Buildings, and Goulet Specialties, all of whom have given him large discounts on supplies. He said he has a favorable $200 per month lease on the property from the owner, Ernie Boch Jr., who, Mr. Box says, has been supportive.

He said there are three Martha’s Vineyard Charter School students coming back to work on the project for a second year. “One, I recognized right away, was a brilliant natural engineer. I introduced him to Vineyard Haven machinist Bill McConnell who set him up with a CAD program and he has been designing parts for the boat.”

The boat is called Seeker. It is a significant moniker that envelops much of Mr. Box’s work and goals. He said that he is searching for ways to help at-risk kids with what he calls “stealth learning” techniques, helping them pick up academic knowledge through the work involved in the various stages of the construction process. He has set up a nonprofit group to manage the boat and its construction, called Seaworthy Inc. Plans are to use the finished boat as a floating classroom, to give children a seaworthy experience. Mr. Box is investigating a possible association with Babson College, to develop teaching programs using Seeker.

The project was conceived and so far entirely funded by Mr. Box. He has had to spend some time away from the Beach Road site, to work on residential renovation projects as a carpenter, to keep the money flowing and to “keep my customers happy.” He figures that he has about $90,000 tied up in the project so far, and that is mostly in materials. He pointed out that donors have helped in various ways, and he hopes for more help in the future. He expects to need an additional $150,000 to finish and outfit the boat.

The work to date has been done by Mr. Box and a cadre of volunteer laborers including high school students, friends, and a group of senior carpenters and woodworkers. The one paid worker has been Carlton Sprague, who brought his band-saw mill, antique lift truck, and extensive knowledge of wood and boats to the site.

Wood for most of the boat was delivered by truck to the Vineyard. The oak for the frame came from Connecticut. The cypress for the planking came from old growth forests in South Carolina, according to Mr. Sprague. He said one of the cypress loads of six, 42 foot logs weighed 24 tons. One of the logs in that load weighed more than six tons and was a struggle even for a newer, large loader that Ralph Packer leant to unload the logs.

Mr. Box said that the plans for his scow came indirectly from the Smithsonian Institution. Scows are large flat bottom boats usually with a blunt bow, designed to carry freight. A flat bottom results in a less seaworthy boat but one that can more easily navigate in shallower coastal waters and rivers.

Back in the late sixties, Mr. Box, then in his twenties, was working on wooden mine sweepers in Sparrows Point, Maryland. Wooden boats with bronze fasteners are less vulnerable to mines, he said. He made a trip to the Smithsonian to investigate wooden boats and mine sweepers when he learned of the Gulf Coast scow schooner, the type of boat he is now building. The plans came from a book called “American Small Sailing Craft: Their Design, Development and Construction” by Howard I. Chapelle.

Local photographer and man about town Dick Iacovello has been documenting the project for a possible book after the boat is sailing, and Dan Martino has been filming the work.