Gannon and Benjamin boatyard launches a wooden goddess

The 31-foot gaff sloop Artemis, designed by Nat Benjamin, slid into Vineyard Haven Harbor Friday afternoon to rousing cheers.


On a warm, breezy September Friday afternoon fit for the gods, Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway launched the Nat Benjamin–designed 31-foot gaff sloop Artemis, the namesake of the Greek goddess of chastity and the natural environment, to the delight of her new owners, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, and their children, amid the enthusiastic applause and cheers of well-wishers.

Named for the Cockburn’s one-year-old granddaughter, Artemis, she took her first cruise under power not sail under the direction of boat builders Matt Hobart and Lyle Zell, who headed up the building team, with the Cockburn family on board.

Asked what it felt like to be sitting in the cockpit of his new boat as she lay tied up to the dock, Andrew Cockburn said, “Sitting in a work of art, that’s what it feels like.”

A Gannon and Benjamin Marine launch is on a par with a full eclipse — it happens infrequently enough to make it an event, and the end result is an object of beauty. There are no shortcuts in the construction process from design to completion, which has earned the simple, unadorned boatyard — once described as a temple of work — a reputation as one of the country’s premier wooden boat builders.

Speaking to The Times prior to the launch, Nat Benjamin said he designed Artemis to meet the needs and requirements of the Cockburns, a couple from Washington, D.C., who were familiar with one of his other designs, Celeste, a 28-foot keel centerboard sloop, and asked him to design something larger with more interior amenities, including four berths, an enclosed head, and a galley area.

Artemis was designed to be quite a bit bigger than Celeste — almost twice the displacement, he said.

“She’s 31 feet, six inches, on deck, and has a short bowsprit, gaff sloop rig with a self-tending jib on a roller furler so the jib can disappear really easily, so it’s going to be an easily handled boat,” he said. “She draws just under five feet. She’s a canoe-stern sloop.”

As for her capabilities, Nat said, “It’s ideal for coastal cruising, for going to Maine, or for going to the Chesapeake, and you could take it anywhere you wanted to go. It’s got a self-bailing cockpit and an auxiliary diesel engine.”

Work began more than one year ago, beginning with the design process. Nat likened it to a puzzle. It begins with full-size drawings in a process called lofting. “You start making patterns and you create pieces of the puzzle, and you start putting them together,” he said.

Nat said Artemis is the product of an “incredible crew.” Every launch is exciting and rewarding, he said.

Asked if it is similar to labor and birth, he laughed and said, “Hopefully, not that painful. But the same idea. She’s starting a new life now.”

Her new parents are thrilled.

Award winning journalists and filmmakers, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn have traveled to and worked in some of the most dangerous and rugged environments in the world. In a conversation early Friday prior to the launch, Ms. Cockburn said the launch represents something of a long-held dream that began about a decade ago, through a mutual friend.

She and her husband have sailed with Nat on Charlotte many times, and had been on Juno, two other G&B-built boats he designed. She said she knew if and when she and her husband were ever going to build a boat, “it would have to be Nat.”

Ms. Cockburn said she and her husband love coastal cruising. They look forward to exploring the Vineyard, the Elizabeth Islands, and Nantucket, and going up to Maine and further north. She said this design meets all of those requirements.

A longtime Vineyard visitor, Ms. Cockburn said she and her family look forward to returning to the Vineyard every summer to stay on Artemis.