Fine lines: Tom Hale’s lighthouses


“There’s a Light to Starboard, Sir, right off our lee bow!” Tom Hale, 28 pages, printed in 2010 by Tisbury Printer. $19.95.

Deliberate lines, clean and ruler-straight, uncluttered images rendered in precise proportions with meticulous detailing — bricks, railings, weathervanes, shingles —Tom Hale’s collection of 28 pencil drawn lighthouses reflect his trained architect’s eye, if not his seaman’s heart.

In the latest printing of “There’s a Light to Starboard, Sir, right off our lee bow!” with illustrations by Mr. Hale, a stalwart of the Vineyard’s maritime community, are as steady-as-she-goes consistent as a deck of cards. Printed by Tisbury Printer on sturdy 67-pound velum Bristol tan-colored stock, one cannot differentiate one from the other based on the year they were drawn — from 1965 (Gay Head Light) to 1999 (Pemaquid Point Light, Maine) — or their different locations such as Jamaica, Puerto Rico, North Carolina, Grenada, Netherland Antilles, New Zealand, Martinique, Massachusetts.

Mr. Hale, who began coming to the Vineyard in 1948 and became a resident in 1961, drew every lighthouse on site, either from the deck of a boat, or a vantage point on a beach. There were a few he sketched as he studied them, then completed at home. Some include interesting notes from charts or “Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book.”

The drawings fill the pages without revealing climate, mood, or myth. Point Judith Light, Rhode Island expresses the same straightforward approach as Harrison Point Light, Barbados. There are no favorites — each is treated with equal respect and craft, all pencil drawn, named, dated and signed with the artist’s initials.

It is intentional. Mr. Hale, 85, says his illustrations were all originally drawn to the same specifications over many years in order that they might be used as greeting cards. (Each illustrated page in the book is perforated, so it can be removed and framed.)

But however precise the architect’s hand, it is something else — a reverence for authenticity, the spirit of the sailor, and the artist himself, that gives the book its distinction.

Mr. Hale owned Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard for 25 years, was a founder of Sail Martha’s Vineyard, a designer and a model boat builder of repute, a historian and author, and active in numerous national and Island maritime organizations.

He sums up his point of view with his explanation of the book’s unusual title: “It just came to me naturally. It has the flavor to it of the sea. The sea is part of me.”

And so it is. Raised in Newburyport and Dedham where his father was in the shipping business and his maritime heritage spans centuries, he learned to sail in the 1930s around New Bedford. After working as an architect for eight years, he responded to a more compelling calling, and from 1959 to 1961, worked for Edouard Stackpole at the Mystic Seaport Museum as assistant curator.

During Mr. Hale’s tenure at Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard, the shipyard built about 150 boats, including wooden Noank sloops, the Vineyard Haven 15 fiberglass boats, the Wasque picnic boat, and the Vineyard Vixen, a popular double-ended sloop that he designed.

This collection of illustrations — he makes it a point to note — is dedicated to “an old friend and a great sailor,” Walter Cronkite, who died last year. The two sailed together on Cronkite’s 48-foot ketch, Wyntje.

For Mr. Hale, the book of lighthouse sketches shares something personal and meaningful, something his introduction expresses.

He writes: “The lights and all their brethren are friends of sailors worldwide. They are friends who never sleep and which when their lights are dimmed by fog or storms they betray their presence by mournful horns or perhaps a ringing bell such that the navigator’s ear will supplant his temporary sightless vision. I have enjoyed their presence; I hope you may too.”

“There’s a Light to Starboard, Sir, right off our lee bow!” will be available at Bunch of Grapes and Off-Main in Vineyard Haven, Edgartown Books, and other Island stores.

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