Last year, I spent six months building an 18-foot sailboat with the acting money I earned playing a detective on NBC's "Law & Order." Since that show kept getting rerun, the residual checks were rolling in. It was the first time in 20 years of trying that I didn't have to support my acting career with a soul-killing day job.
I was inspired to build the sailboat after reading a book called, "Wooden Boats: In Pursuit of the Perfect Craft at an American Boatyard." The book was a gateway, an avatar, a distant call whose voice I couldn't quite make out, but I knew I had to answer.
Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway, based in Vineyard Haven, is an old school builder: plank on frame, no fiberglass, 60- and 70-foot wooden testaments to the enduring beauty of practical craftsmanship handed down through thousands of years. Many of the vessels were designed by Nat Benjamin, whose accomplishments, philosophy, and ethic all resonate with me on a visceral level.
The launch ceremony for my little boat was attended last August by 40 of my family and friends, many of whom sacrificed their time, tools, or turf in order that the "Jenny" be born.
On our first sail, I told my other Jenny (my fiancée) to reach into the cabin and open a box I told her held a special pirate flag I had ordered.
"This is no pirate flag."
Indeed, it was a silver Elsa Perretti necklace from Tiffany's to match the ring I had given her the previous year - a token of appreciation for her patience, love, and forbearance while I pursued my dream of this boat.
When we visited Jen's mother in her Cape Cod beach house, I got it into my head to take the ferry to Martha's Vineyard and make a pilgrimage to the mythical Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway. Scaffolding surrounded the most majestic giant skeletons of tropical hardwood, and indeed since the advent of cheap fiberglass, G&B is one of the last institutions keeping this particular species from extinction.