Tall order for mastmaker

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To shape masts freehand, you need a big saw and a whole lotta grit. Ted Box has both. The shipwright who built the scow Seeker from the keel up and launched it last month has now begun hewing its great spars on the harbor’s edge in Vineyard Haven.

The dense wood of the first mast blunted chainsaws, and even the 16-inch Makita circular saw Box guided through the wood bit slowly. “It’s really not so easy to cut,” he said.

The old-growth white pine was felled in Cornwall, Conn., and milled square in Mystic. The two 65-foot lengths came on-Island atop a 28-foot truck, and yes, they had to pay for the extra length on the ferry.

On the gravel lot at Tisbury Wharf, Box worked alone Thursday. Moored in Lake Tashmoo, Seeker patiently awaits the fruit of his toil.

“Yesterday there were two of us, but today there’s only one,” he said. “I always say it takes exactly the number of people present to do a job.”

With 45-degree freehand cuts, Box is transforming the oblong lengths of pine into tapered octagons. A dogleg at one end has frustrated his work on one of them. “When they sawed the mast, they did a good job, but they didn’t do a great job,” he said, snapping a chalk line to guide the saw blade.

“It’ll take two passes of the saw,” he said. “Then I have to use the jacks to turn the mast over.” He estimated it weighs 3,000 pounds.

At times, he said, the blade would bind in the pine, but wedges have freed it. He had no such problem with his next cut. Tracing the chalk line, he shaved away the dogleg unerringly.

It will be weeks before he’s done shaping the masts, and months before the hardware can be fashioned and affixed to them.

Later in the afternoon, Gary Mottau showed up with a timber slick — essentially a chisel the length of someone’s leg — and helped Box pare the pine.

With two souls at work, it still seemed to be exactly the number of people necessary to get the job done.

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