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Boats and history and the future

By John K. Hanson, Jr.

RECENTLY, I had a great conversation with a college-age guy who had taken a gap year to work in a wooden boat shop. He was tremendously excited about all he was learning in the shop, and on the water. I mentioned Howard Chapelle to him and he admitted that he had never heard of him. I hadn’t either when I began my career working around boats, but my world was exponentially expanded when I did.

Howard I. Chapelle was born in 1901 in New Haven, Connecticut. He was boat besotted from an early age, and became a boatbuilder, designer, historian, writer, museum administrator, and wrote his first book while in his thirties. He was curator of maritime history at the Smithsonian and, unwittingly, a guru to generations of boatbuilders and designers. If I hadn’t read the Whole Earth Catalog, and Chapelle’s American Small Sailing Craft, my life might have turned out much differently—not better, necessarily.

Opening American Small Sailing Craft to the table of contents, the list of boat types reads to me like a poem: Moses Boat, Pound-Net Scow, Beach Punt, Crotch Island Boat, Block Island Cowhorn, Delaware Sturgeon Skiff, Melon Seed, Sneakbox and Ducker, and the Maine Peapod. These are all local boats, designed for local conditions. Many of the boats in this book are from Maine.

In this issue is an article highlighting 200 years of Maine boats in honor of the state’s 200th anniversary. The boats range from the birchbark canoe to the recently built 3D printed boat from the University of Maine. While not a scholarly work like Chapelle’s, the old photos that the editorial department dug up make for an informative and fun read. For those who like to see these vessels in the flesh, so to speak, there will be an exhibit of the same name at the 2021 Maine Boat & Home Show in Rockland, this August 13-15. Like the feature in the magazine, we will not be able to include anywhere near all of Maine’s special boats, but we will have a sampling.

Our past, whether in boats, or homes or elsewhere, informs our present and our future. As we move into an era not based on the fuels of today, what lessons can our human-powered and wind-powered boats of yesterday have for us tomorrow?

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