Podcast 016 – Amy Ballentine of Ballentine’s Boat Shop

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I looked in my rear view mirror and watched how dumb I looked trying to figure out the correctpronunciation of Cataumet, MA.  I was on my way to Ballentine’s Boat Shop to interview Amy Ballentine-Stevens.  I have lived in Massachusetts all my life and have been a seasonal Cape Cod dweller for the past 15 years.  I didn’t want to sound like a complete tourist when I fumbled the pronunciation of the town’s name, but I had no idea how it was supposed to sound.

As I rolled into the lot, I instantly felt at ease as the place looked exactly as a New England boat shop should look.  Boats under winter covers dotted various corners of the lot.  A handful of cedar shingled buildings with tall garage doors gathered around what felt like a small town square in the woods.  It was a warm day and the large doors to the buildings were open giving me a glimpse into the magic that goes on inside them.  I could see two bare Doughdish hulls being sanded down in one building.  In another, a man sat atop a Herreshoff 12 1/2 studying his options.  Eventually, a man offered to take me up to Amy’s office.

Amy and I chatted for awhile and eventually she took me on a tour of the grounds.  Once again, this New England boat builder did not disappoint.  The grounds host 3 companies who’s ownership has common threads among the Ballentine family.

  1. Ballentine Boat Shop.  This is the business that repairs, stores, and maintains a fleet of various boats.  Most are wooden Herreshoff designs and most are from long-time loyal customers.  They are equipped to handle everything from the Herreshoff 12 1/2 up to the 46′ power cruiser Ariel II.
  2. Doughdish LLC.  In 1914, Nathaniel Herreshoff designed and built the first Herreshoff 12 1/2.  In it’s 100-year history, no significant design changes have been made and the boat’s popularity rivals that of any boat on the market today.  In 1943, the 360th and final 12 1/2 hull was built.  After World War II, another 85 boats were built by other builders, but after 1950, production of the boat stopped.  By 1970, even with demand still high, the Class was sadly facing extinction.  In 1972, William G. Harding took the lines from an original Herreshoff 12 1/2 and built the tooling to produce the boat in fiberglass.
  3. Stuart Knockabout LLC.  In  1932, L. Francis Herreshoff created a design for a 28′ Knockabout for a Mr. Willoughby Stuart.  The plans were aptly named “Design No. 53.”  The boat built for Mr. Stuart was the only one ever built and was named “Ben My Chree.”  Fast forward to 1984, William Harding found her on the hard in a boat yard and instantly fell in love.  He took her lines and also began the construction of her in fiberglass.

CaptureEventually, the construction of both the Stuart Knockabout and the Doughdish was subcontracted to Edey & Duff.  When Edey & Duff went tragically out of business, Ballentine’s Boat Shop’s vast experience with the Herreshoff 12 1/2 and Hereshoff designs in general made them a perfect candidate to take over the construction of the 2 boats.  In addition, over the course of 2 years, Balentine’s Boat Shop restored the one-and-only BEN MY CHREE to its original glory. She is simply a sight to behold under sail as you can see in this video.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-JUb4usYd0c

One thing I also wanted to mention is the work of the head carpenter at Ballentine’s Boat Shop.  I mean, I am sure his boat building skills are top notch, but that is not what I want to note.  I wanted to mention the organization of this man.  Either he is clinically OCD or he simply is a man that likes his stuff in the right place at all times.  I am guessing a little of each.  We entered a building where the carpenter kept his tools and the organization and decoration of this building was astounding.  Every tool had its own compartment in a drawer.  The walls were neatly covered with photos, trinkets, and even a couple of aesthetically pleasing placements of old transoms that had been removed.  I not only wanted to throw on my apron and start working in this space, I wanted to move in!  Kudos to that carpenter and his craft.

We ended our tour in the cold-storage building.  This building was filled with legendary, historic, stunningly beautiful boats.  As Amy introduced each boat to me, my chin dropped further and further to the floor.  I was entirely impressed by the boats but more importantly, entirely impressed by Amy’s knowledge.  She new each boat’s name, designer, year, and story of how she ended up at Ballentine’s.  This was clearly a woman who knew and loved her boats.

Eventually, after I met Amy’s mother and father and a whole slew of dogs, Amy and I sat down for our chat.  Have a listen below.  Here is a link to the Stuart Knockabout video I promised:  http://www.ballentinesboatshop.com/index.htm

 

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