West Coasting It

Growing up on the Maine coast, it would be easy to assume the place is the holy land of traditional and classic boats. It’s easy to forget that there are boatbuilding traditions on waterfronts everywhere, even along the metropolitan shores of California.

Thanks as much to his affiliation with the publishing world as to his appetite for the art and science of wooden boats, Mr. Bray’s adventures took him to the West Coast numerous times throughout the 1980s and 90s, on assignment for WoodenBoat Magazine and as Ben Mendlowitz’s collaborator on the Calendar of Wooden Boats.

The San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park was a hub of ship preservation and restoration, which of course drew his attention and echoed his own earlier experiences as shipyard supervisor at Mystic Seaport. When Maynard visited there in 1983 to attend a symposium on historical vessel preservation, shipwright and historian Harry Dring was at the end of a long and similar tenure. Dring had directed the restoration of the National Maritime Museum’s historic fleet and was scheduled to speak on the subject.

During that same trip, Maynard caught sight of the late great German pilot schooner Wander Bird, which survived a 1930s trip around Cape Horn, only to sink in a collision with a container ship on the Elbe River in 2013. (She rebounded: after being restored, she went on to serve as a floating museum near Hamburg, Germany.)

A year later, Mendlowitz and Bray sailed aboard the Herreshoff ketch Quiet Tune out of Newport Beach with owner Dan Carter (she was built by Hodgdon Brothers in Boothbay, Maine, but was berthed in California at the time). While there, the pair saw many examples of fine craftmanship and living history, owing partly to the presence of expert restorationist Wayne Ettel and his crew, who were kept in constant motion by classic boat owners in the area.

Another two years went by and Maynard returned, this time to LA and nearby harbors, where he visited the successful DIY design and kit-boat company Glen-L Marine. They’re still around today in 2023; their in-house designs, patterns and pieces have helped many amateur boatbuilders realize their dreams on a modest budget. He crossed paths with Wayne Ettel once again, who’d moved his center of operations north from Newport Beach and converted the old Navy tug, Fleets Point, into a floating workshop at San Pedro (Ettel would go on to help establish the Maritime Preservation Trust, an LA-based nonprofit which builds community and reinvigorates local history by teaching seamanship and boatbuilding).

In successive trips, Bray and Mendlowitz traversed similar ground, catching up on new developments in the southern California wooden boat scene, and catching sight of many noteworthy vessels.

PMM thanks Maynard Bray, Dave Ruberti, and Shameem Highstreet for their generous contributions of time in describing these photographs.