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Adventures in a Boston Whaler

Adventures in a Boston Whaler shaped an artist’s world vision

Eric Hopkins used his Boston Whaler Illusions of Grandeur for lobstering when he was a teenager.
By Eric Hopkins I'd always lusted after Boston Whalers from the first time I saw one in the Fox Islands Thorofare in the early 1960s. I was around 10 or 11 and loved the way they skimmed the waves instead of wallowing in them like most of the boats I knew. That bright, white, sea-sled profile with the shiny light blue interior and varnished mahogany seats and console caught my eye. And the ads… There was one that showed two men cutting a Whaler in half; the man in the bow rowed away, while the stern man powered off. With these new wonder materials maybe man actually could make it to the moon and back. Within a couple of years, the Thorofare was buzzing with 13-foot Whalers. How I wanted one. But they seemed way beyond the means of a teenage island kid. In the summer of 1967 at the age of 16, I enrolled in a 26-day Outward Bound course on Hurricane Island. It was the third summer of their survival school program. The local nickname for the school was "Crazy-Cane Island" for all the crazy things they did out there, such as running around the island at daybreak and jumping off the stone pier into the ocean or spending three days alone on an island with no food.
She wasn't as fast or as pretty as the other Boston Whalers, but she was mine. I painted her name on the transom in red lobster buoy paint: Illusions of Grandeur.
I was intrigued by the concept and ended up being the first local boy to enroll in the program. The first day I set foot on the island, I saw a new Boston Whaler that had been in an accident. Its starboard side had been bashed in, exposing sharp fiberglass edges, peeling plastic resin, and crushed yellow-orange foam. "Aha!" I thought to myself. "I could fix that up." Throughout my course, I dreamed of somehow acquiring the wrecked boat and at the end of the summer, Hurricane Island director Peter Willauer told me the board had agreed to sell it to me for $15. It was delivered to Hopkins Wharf on North Haven and by the next summer I was on my way in my very own Boston Whaler. I figured out how to make a plywood form roughly following the wrecked hull's lines, which I filled with two-part expandable foam. Then I did a crude patching job with my rudimentary knowledge of fiberglass and resin. She wasn't as fast or as pretty as the other Boston Whalers, but she was mine. I painted her name on the transom in red lobster buoy paint: Illusions of Grandeur.
Hopkins could not find a photograph of his old boat, so, artist that he is, he painted this portrait of it instead. Illustration by of Eric Hopkins
After removing the steering console and seats, I strapped on an old 20-hp Johnson outboard (with a tiller). For years I hand-hauled lobster traps around the Thorofare and in Southern Harbor in that boat. Lobstering was a good excuse to explore the edges and ledges where land, water, and sky meet. I deliberately hauled at low tide to get glimpses of the dark holes in the rocks and kelp where the shedders hardened their shells. I loved seeing the mysteries of what each trap might bring.
Eric Hopkins' sculpture, Blue Fish, 1988, painted wood, 48"h x 56"w x 30"d, will be included in a major show of his work at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport this summer: Shells, Fish & Shellfish. The show will complement the museum's summer exhibit Fish, Wind and Tide: Art and Technology of Maine's Resources. For more information go to www.penobscotmarinemuseum.org. Hopkins is represented by Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland (www.dowlingwalsh.com). Photo courtesy of Eric Hopkins
As much as I liked catching and selling lobsters, I was more interested in the wonder of underwater activities-the patterns and cycles of life and death in various stages. I marveled at the complex, translucent plankton floating on the surface of the deep green water, including small lobster larvae that would grow into adult lobsters that I might catch someday and maybe even eat. Looking back, that little reborn boat was my personal research vessel. Periodically I'd unload my lobster gear, throw in a sleeping bag and a tarp and head out to explore the small islands around North Haven. Without the seat and console, there was room in the boat for me to curl up and get a few hours of mosquito-interrupted sleep under a dark sky sparkling with billions of little starlights. No matter how little sleep I had gotten, I always loved the anticipation of the soft glow of another new day. Illusions of Grandeur transported me to the world of wonder that has influenced my life's work reflecting on nature, science, history, and art. The pursuit of my childhood boat fantasy ended up providing a rich personal connection to the grandeur of life on this blue marble of an island that we call Earth, which is truly a blue marvel. Eric Hopkins, who grew up on North Haven and studied art at the Rhode Island School of Design, has exhibited his paintings and sculpture in galleries and museums across the country. Read more musings on the Boston Whaler in "A Ticket to Ride" by Bill Mayher.