Working on the water: building boats, on a boat
Photo by Steve Myrick
Rick Brown has been building boats, and cabinets, and stairs, and just about anything else that requires fine carpentry, since he arrived on Martha's Vineyard in 1974, fresh from boat building school. So when he found himself suddenly without a workshop, and no affordable alternative available, he did what he does best. He built a boat. It will be a floating workshop, big enough to build a 26-foot vessel, and mobile enough to move where he needs to go.
"I'm anxious to get back to work," Mr. Brown said.
Once he finishes the roof, and moves his boatbuilding tools aboard, he'll be ready to get back to work. In about two weeks, he estimates, he will begin his first job from the new shop, a wooden work skiff for a customer in Maine.
While getting the materials aboard will be a little bit more difficult than a conventional workshop, launching the finished product will be much easier. He will just open the door, and slide the finished product into the water.
The project started in May, and Mr. Brown said he has worked seven days a week to get the vessel finished. First, he built two large wooden hulls, then a deck, then walls and a roof. It may look like a small workshop, but it's a boat, floating quite adequately at the moment in Lagoon Pond at the foot of Skiff Avenue.
"It's not a houseboat," he said. "It might be tall and red, but it's a boat."
Last fall, Mr. Brown's landlord told him he needed the space his workshop had occupied for the past 12 years. He had to find a new place for his company, Far Cry Boats, to operate.
He spent all winter trying to find workspace at an affordable rent, but couldn't find anything that would work, he said.
"It's really too bad there's not more commercial space available for trades people," Mr. Brown said. "I didn't want to go back to being a pickup truck carpenter. Once you're a shop guy, you're a shop guy."
The small facility will have everything Mr. Brown needs to continue his business. It's 40 feet long, 16 feet wide, and draws about a foot of water. Power comes from a diesel generator on board. It is designed to withstand ice if the Lagoon freezes over. He gets back and forth by drawing a boat by hand along a line secured on shore.
"My favorite is building small skiffs," Mr. Brown said. "There's dozens around here I've built. But repair work is the bread and butter."
A floating workshop has its advantages, and its disadvantages. All the materials that go into the project need to be hauled a short distance over the water. If he is building cabinetry or stairs, the finished product will have to go back the same way.
In such a small space, Mr. Brown said he will have to be organized and careful. He will have a carry in, carry out policy.
"I used to go to the landfill about once a week," Mr. Brown said. "I think I'll be going a little more often now."
But if a boat needs repair, Mr. Brown has options. He can move his shop to the boat, or bring the boat alongside his shop. He will not have to haul boats out of the water and transport them to his workshop, as he used to.
"It can go anywhere I want it to," Mr. Brown said.