Tisbury building inspector nixes scow Seeker’s next stop

The unfinished Seeker, high and dry, waiting to be moved. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

For the past month, Ted Box had been preparing to move Seeker, the 90-foot wooden scow schooner that’s been under construction for the past two and a half years in a lot on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, to a vacant lot owned by Ralph Packer behind the Shell gas station, a stone’s throw from the sea, where he hoped to finish construction. But he’s run into a bureaucratic squall.

Tisbury building and zoning inspector Kenneth Barwick told Mr. Box that moving the boat to the lot by the sea would create a safety hazard and that the lot is too small to allow for the necessary setbacks.

Mr. Box started building the vessel in the spring of 2011, on the lot where the boat now sits, which is owned by Ernie Boch, a seasonal Edgartown resident and the chief executive of Subaru of New England. The lot had been vacant since 1999.

In September, Mr. Boch asked Mr. Box to either set sail or find a new home for his project by the end of the month. Mr. Boch told The Times he wants to clean up and develop the long vacant waterfront lot, beginning with the demolition of the derelict Entwistle building. Mr. Boch later gave Mr. Box more time.

Mr. Packer, owner of the nearby fuel depot and wharfs, agreed to let the boatbuilder use his land.

In a phone conversation with The Times last week, Mr. Barwick said his concerns are centered on what might happen in the event of a storm. “Considering the size of the boat and the duration of the project and what he has to do with it, its pretty tight quarters in that location,” the zoning official said. “At this point in that location, it is not acceptable for public safety reasons. It’s a postage stamp down there. Its right on top of Beach Road. It would be an accident waiting to happen. The scope of Ted’s project, in my mind, is a major public safety hazard.”

Asked whether Mr. Box needed a permit to move to the new location, Mr. Barwick said, “I would say no. It would be no different than what I see Mr. Packer and Phil Hale, of the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard and other marine contractors doing with their boats. The only thing I said to Ted was I would be giving the information to the conservation commission, to the harbor management committee, and would be contacting the Martha’s Vineyard Commission on telephone, only because they had heard the proposal when Mr. Box made the first arrangements with Mr. Boch.”

In preparation for the move, in November Mr. Box dismantled the large, open, corrugated steel roofed temporary structure that housed the early stages of the boat project. He said the boat would be finished without the need to build a protective structure over it, so he should not need a building permit wherever he ends up. Mr. Barwick approved a building permit for the temporary structure in 2011.

Until last week Mr. Barwick said he had limited contact with Mr. Box after the permit was issued. “I asked him to clean up his act, if you will. He was kind of scattered from one end of the property to the other. I was concerned about severe storm conditions and his ability to tie things down to prevent floating safety hazards.”

Yes, a little tight

While agreeing that the rejected site is probably “a little tight” for completing the 90-foot wooden boat, Mr. Box told The Times he didn’t know how setbacks applied to the temporary parking of a boat on a piece of land where there are presently two small boats. The property has been used for many boat-related projects over the last couple of decades.

Mr. Box said he did not think Mr. Barwick was singling him out, but that he was just doing his job.

“I went to talk to Mr. Barwick when I heard through the grapevine that he was opposed to having the boat at the new location,” Mr. Box said. “He told me the town’s conservation commission and the zoning board would probably agree with him, if I moved the boat there.”

As for Mr. Boch, he is not pressing the deadline. “I am keeping Mr. Boch informed of our progress on the move, and he seems to be okay with our efforts so far,” he said.

The scow project has benefited from donations of nominal rent, money, labor, and materials, according to Mr. Box, who said the plan is to create a teaching boat aboard which children can learn about boats and the sea. Mr. Box has worked on his project for more than two years while several unintended flexible deadlines passed, due primarily to a shortage of funds, he said. His plan is to have the 32-ton boat in the water by May or June, even with the most recent delay.

Mr. Box is now looking for a new location. He hopes to find a new site along the Beach Road corridor that would make launching from the town Lagoon launch easier.

Mr. Packer, one of his main supporters on the project, is looking at several possible sites on property he owns, according to Mr. Box. For his part, Mr. Packer referred all questions to Mr. Box.