On or about November 15, Seeker, the 90-foot wooden scow schooner that’s been under construction for the past two and a half years in a lot on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven next to The Times office will chart a southerly course for a vacant lot behind the Shell gas station, a stone’s throw from where it now sits.
Seeker is the brainchild of Ted Box, master carpenter, artist, and sometime ballroom dance instructor. Mr. Box started construction in the spring of 2011 on the lot owned by Ernie Boch, a seasonal Edgartown resident and CEO of Subaru of New England. The lot had been vacant since 1999.
Last month, Mr. Boch asked Mr. Box to either set sail or find a new home for his project by the end of September. Mr. Boch told The Times he wants to clean up and develop the long vacant waterfront lot, starting with the demolition of the derelict Entwistle building. Mr. Boch later told Mr. Box he could have more time.
Not wanting to take further advantage of Mr. Boch’s hospitality, Mr. Box set his own deadline at November 15. In a conversation Tuesday, Mr. Box went to great lengths to praise Mr. Boch.
“There’s been a lot swirling around this,” said Mr. Box over the sound of pounding hammers as he sat on the ship’s half-finished deck. “Most people hear that Ernie Boch wants me to move, and there’s been a lot of grousing. Ernie gave me several extensions, then we went on month to month. Although I think he would have given me further extension, I felt that I would be taking advantage of his generosity. It would have been a lot smarter, from an insurance standpoint, and every other point of view, if he had said ‘no.’ But instead he bought into what we were doing here and said ‘yes.’”
Mr. Box said the highly visible location has been a considerable asset. “Literally thousands of people have come to see the boat,” he said. “We’ve had at least one thousand people come by and leave an average of five dollars in the donation box. That says a lot when people reach into their wallet. Probably hundreds of people have worked on it. And no one has ever stolen anything from the property.”
Seeker will be moved to its new location by an off-Island company that will use split trailers with hydraulic arms to cradle the boat and move it to Ralph M. Packer’s lot behind the Shell station, 200 yards south of its current location.
“Mr. Packer has been a huge supporter of this project,” Mr. Box said. “A project this size really depends on the generosity of powerful individuals. Every good thing that’s happened here, every kid that’s worked on this boat, every volunteer, every photograph, was all because Ernie said ‘yes’ when he had plenty of reasons to say ‘no.’ I’d also be stuck with no place to go if it weren’t for Ralph [Packer].”
Mr. Box also credited Bob Douglas, owner of the Black Dog franchise and the schooners Shenandoah and Alabama. “Bob has been the single most important contributor to this project,” he said. “His knowledge of boats is very deep.”
Mr. Box, a well-travelled craftsman, also had deep knowledge of boats, begun in his apprenticeship days in the late 1960s.
“I realized wooden boat building was coming to an end, so I traveled around the country, working with a number of master boatbuilders, on both coasts, north and south. I wanted to learn how to build boats in the uninterrupted flow of information that started when the first log went into the water and has ended, more or less. There were probably a half a million boatbuilders in this country a hundred years ago. Every river, every mile of coastline, on every lake, there were boatbuilders. Now there’s a couple hundred.”
Mr. Box said the first priority for Seeker is to finish the deck, because once the boat is moved, all work will be done in the open air. He hopes to have the ship in the water by spring.
“I’m looking for a May launch, if we can keep the money flowing, that’s the biggest consideration,” he said. “Everything has been voluntary so far, except for the caulker. I’ve spent all my money. But if you’re going to do a project like this, it’s like doing standup comedy, you have to go all the way, you can’t hold anything back.”
Reflecting on how much he and his army of volunteers have accomplished on the soon to be vacated site, Mr. Box said, “We’ve been working here for 22 months. I’m pretty proud of what we’ve gotten done. Of course, people had to write in [and complain]. If this empty lot had nothing on it but a unicorn, some people would see a unicorn, some people would see a horse with a horn in its head, and other people would complain about the unicorn crap left on the ground. That’s the way we are. But complaints inspire me.”