Elita ways in

Elita inches toward her natural environment after spending her first 18 years on dry land. — File photo by Susan Safford

Ross Gannon began building his boat, Elita, almost 18 years ago. Her launching into Vineyard Haven Harbor on Saturday, July 10, marked the end of a process marked by contributions from many family members, shipwrights, and former vessels — a joint effort in every sense.

Despite Mr. Gannon’s apparent aversion to fanfare and hoopla, more than one hundred people turned out to celebrate the occasion.

The 45-foot sloop was built from a large mixture of woods, some tropical and some from here in New England. Mr. Gannon showed no hesitation in mixing them up. Frames were fabricated from black locust, white oak, and wana. The planking was made up from angelique, silver bali, teak and more wana. The fastenings are bronze. The lead ballast keel was formed and poured in a concrete mold on the builder’s property at the very beginning of the project using a fondly remembered but little-used method known as the Chinese Fire Drill. Duane Case, who later worked extensively on Elita, poured the keel for his motor-sailor at the same time.

Wherever possible in Elita, Mr. Gannon used salvaged materials from several vintage and deceased vessels. The 65-horsepower diesel engine now securely bolted to engine beds just aft of the cockpit once lived aboard a converted lifeboat. From another vessel came a skylight, reconditioned and suitably placed above the main saloon. Countless other pieces — the galley sink, the head, foot pump, gooseneck, and even the mainmast itself — were recycled after years of gathering. For Mr. Gannon it is a challenge to walk past anything salvageable, and discarding things isn’t much easier.

Elita is a twin headsail sloop designed by the builder’s nephew, Antonio Salguero, as a part of his formal education in yacht design at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine. During Antonio’s senior year the plans went back and forth between the designer and uncle until Ross was happy and Antonio was qualified to graduate. The end result is a stoutly built and fetching vessel that both uncle and nephew should be proud of. The permanent and prominent after-deckhouse structure that covers part of the cockpit is unusual, and one of those details that can drive a builder nuts. Kirsten Gannon, Ross’s wife, said that it did indeed torture Ross for some time. The end result is a fine balance between practicality and beauty, and it’s built like a brick outhouse.

Just a week before the scheduled launching, the boat was without rudder, paint, propeller, rig, or name. Her owners could be seen lurching around late into the night wielding sanders, brushes, and putty knives. Their grimed faces were partly disguised with paper dust masks leaving their crazed and fatigued eyes showing only a weird focus on the many tasks at hand. Rubberneckers and spectators who stopped by were barely noticed or simply ignored.

The Gannons hadn’t settled on the name for the boat until about 8:30 in the morning of her launching day. The poor painter, Melissa Patterson, sat high on staging built under the boat’s shiny white transom, brush in hand, hoping a decision would be made prior to launching, and perhaps hoping the name would be short.

The launching took place at high noon on Saturday. The sky was full of clouds of every description, from black and ominous to white and towering. Through it all the sun managed to provide sunburns for all in attendance. The younger children took to the clear harbor water long before Mr. Gannon and other guest speakers were finished telling stories and offering heartfelt good wishes. Mr. Gannon and his family were surrounded by good friends, many of whom had helped with Elita’s construction.

Mr. Gannon spoke with humility as he attempted to name and thank all of the contributing craftsmen, but 18 years is a long time, and the list of names is long, too. He teared up and was rendered speechless for a moment when it came time to thank Don Hutton for his help. A very talented, patient, and hardworking shipwright, Mr. Hutton has been on the job for three years, and has helped with every part of Elita’s construction. Quite good with a clarinet, as well, they say.

After all the speechifying, Kirsten Gannon smashed a perfectly good bottle of champagne on the bow, and Ross’s long-time partner, Nat Benjamin, started up the winch that pulled the cradle bearing the Elita down the gentle slope and into the Atlantic. At the very end of this short journey, just before she floated free, Nat ran out of railway. As if Elita wasn’t quite ready yet for her new role as a vessel afloat, she stubbornly held fast to her land-bound cradle. But it was her time to go, so with some clever and persistent genuflections of rail car and auxiliary diesel power, Elita gave up her grasp of the cradle and her land-side ways and slid out into the harbor. The crowd hooted and hollered, and someone fired off a cannon, which in turn triggered a chorus of barking dogs who woke up at least three dozing babies.

Elita looked magnificent with her glossy white topsides and varnished teak caprails, floating very close to her marks as she powered away. She is still lacking rig, sails, and a few other things, but every boat is a work in progress during its entire life span. Elita will be a head-turner in any harbor, and she will provide safe and comfortable passage for her deserving owners for years to come. Congratulations to the Gannon family.

ELITA specifications

Length: 45 feet on deck

Beam: 12 feet

Draft: 6 feet

Power: Perkins diesel 65 hp.

Construction: plank on frame, bronze fastened

Fuel: 45 gallons diesel

Ballast: outside, 13,000 pounds lead

Water: 80 gallons

Designer: Antonio Salguero

Builder: Gannon and Benjamin