Seeker set to sail down the road to a new berth

A moving crew jacked up the 32-ton scow, fabricated a steel frame under it, then inserted a dolly to carry it when it is moved. — Photo by Michael Cummo

There was a flurry of activity this week surrounding the Seeker, the unfinished wooden scow schooner that has taken shape slowly on a vacant lot on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, a stone’s throw from Five Corners. Told by lot owner Ernie Boch Jr. that he must vacate the lot he has occupied for three years, boatbuilder Ted Box has been preparing to move the 32-ton vessel about a quarter of a mile east to land owned by the R. M. Packer Company on the Lagoon side of Beach Road.

It will be no small undertaking. The Seeker is close to the width of two traffic lanes. Mr. Box said he will move the boat as soon as he receives a state permit authorizing the move which will require state police supervision to temporarily close Beach Road. Mr. Box said he expects the move to take less than one hour.

In summer heat and humidity last week, workmen from Hayden Building Movers jacked up an I-beam frame welded in place under the scow, which will be moved on two eight-wheel dollies. Watercourse Construction of Vineyard Haven is also assisting in the move.

At some point, a tractor truck will haul the boat to its new location.

Mr. Packer, a longtime supporter of the project, said the boat will be placed parallel to the road in front of one of his warehouses to facilitate a final move to the town launching ramp in the Lagoon for the christening when the boat is ready to float.

Plug is pulled

The scow project, which began in 2011, is well overdue. Originally, it was expected to take one year to complete.

After several delays and deadlines, Mr. Boch, a seasonal Edgartown resident and the chief executive of Boch Automotive Enterprises, literally pulled the plug on the project. Electrical power was turned off to the lot. At a meeting in Norwood, location of the Boch main offices, Boch representatives told Mr. Box that he would have to move the boat and clean up the property.

Mr. Box said he was told that Mr. Boch was unwilling to continue to pay for the liability insurance to cover the project on his land. Mr. Boch offered to pay to move the Seeker.

Mr. Box said he paid only a nominal rent to use the lot and that he was grateful for the support he has received from Mr. Boch.

“I take as a sign of Mr. Boch’s support for the project that he offered to pay for the move,” he said. “Their point is well taken. I have seen kids climbing around the boat at night.”

Mr. Box said that short of enclosing the project with a fence there is no way to make it completely safe.

Boch representatives also asked Brian Abbott, co-owner of Gannon and Benjamin boat builders adjacent to the Boch property, to move anything of theirs off the Boch property as well. “They told me their insurance company freaked out when they saw the condition of the property,” Mr. Abbott said.

No end in sight

In a telephone conversation with The Times Wednesday, Ernie Boch described his support for the project. “I love Ted and I love his mission. I have supported him the whole, entire time,” Mr. Boch said. “I’ve supplemented his rent. I’ve taken extension upon extension but it just seemed to me that there was no end. I wasn’t crazy about the conditions there. I didn’t think they were that safe. So Ted and I talked and he decided to move the boat.”

Mr. Boch said he would like to improve the property, which includes a long derelict building. “I would like to develop the property. That whole area will be developed eventually. I would like to do something that everybody agrees with and everybody would like, a nice beautification program and make it a nice place.”

Mr. Boch said that he has no specific plan in mind and is willing to work with interested groups to do something everyone would like. “I am just checking it out now,” he said as he prepared to visit the lot Wednesday afternoon.

Long haul

Mr. Boch first asked that the land be vacated last September. Mr. Boch told The Times then that he wanted to clean up and develop the long vacant waterfront lot, beginning with the demolition of the derelict Entwistle building.

Mr. Box subsequently dismantled the structure that sheltered the project and announced he planned to move the unfinished hull to another lot owned by Mr. Packer next to the Tisbury Shell station, also on Beach Road. That plan was thwarted when Tisbury building and zoning inspector Kenneth Barwick told Mr. Box that the lot was too small to allow for the necessary setbacks and would create a safety hazard.

Mr. Box was unable to find another place to move the boat and continued his work on the hull until he met with the Boch representatives last week and Mr. Packer made his latest offer.

The Seeker project has missed several completion dates set by Mr. Box. His latest scheduled launch date of this August, three years since the start, has now been delayed by the impending move, he said.

“I would like to finish as much of the work on the boat as I can while she is on dry land,” he said. He said a launch date of next spring would be ideal, but he doesn’t know how much time Mr. Packer will give him. When asked by The Times, Mr. Packer did not give a deadline.

The Seeker project has nonprofit status but has been financed primarily by Mr. Box. “I would not have gotten as far as I have without donations of labor, materials, and other support — including the help from Mr. Boch and Mr. Packer and other members of the community,” Mr. Box said.

He plans to use the boat as an educational vessel to teach children about the sea and boats.

The project began in 2011 with a case of mistaken identity according to Mr. Box. Mr. Boch’s friend Livingston Taylor of West Tisbury asked if another friend could work on his boat on the lot. Soon after that request, Mr. Box, knowing nothing about the previous request, presented his plan to build the Seeker to the Boch office. It was accepted.

“They thought I was someone else. I was an innocent imposter,” Mr. Box said, “Even after the mistake was recognized, Mr. Boch stayed true to his word. I admire his generous spirit.”

The project began under a temporary wood-frame, plastic-sided shed with a corrugated steel roof, big enough to hold the Seeker. Most of the work was contained to the shed but the unfenced lot filled up in short order with an array of tools and timber — a band saw large enough to rip whole trees, equipment to move whole trees, and massive tree trunks and piles of lumber.

The lot is now clean and the Seeker is ready to move.