It’s a funny thing about old boats. While we think nothing of taking an ax to a rotted set of stairs or a tumbledown shed, a wooden sailboat well past its prime is like a siren song calling out, “Come fix me, big boy, and then let’s sail away together, just you and I.” It’s a coldhearted brute who can turn a deaf ear to such a plea.
Take Merry Wing, for instance. Once left to perish in a marsh somewhere in Massachusetts’ Duxbury Bay, on a late summer weekend this year there she was, freshly painted and sitting pretty as could be at a dock on the Jones River in Kingston, surrounded by a crowd of well-wishers and ready for the breeze to blow life into her sails once again.
It’s a good tale, the rebirth of Merry Wing, a 1928 Duxbury Duck, designed by John Alden as a centerboard club racer and particularly suited for the shallow waters surrounding Plymouth and Duxbury, Massachusetts. She was built at Jones River Landing — which some contend is the oldest continuously operating boatyard in the country — by George Shiverick, a prodigious builder who opened a shop there in 1895 and built more than 200 vessels before he retired in 1940. Among his boats were 21 Duxbury Ducks, Merry Wing included. They were actively raced well into the 1930s, when so many might show up that multiple starting lines would be needed. Hurricane Carol, which hit hard in 1954, is blamed for the destruction of most of the fleet, but a few boats survived and are still sailed locally.
Jones River Landing these days is home to the Jones River Landing Environmental Heritage Center, which runs an assortment of community and environmental programs, and has kept Shiverick’s shop doors open so visitors can learn about the region’s rich boatbuilding heritage. It was there that Merry Wing‘s rescuer, Sherm Hoyt, took the boat some years back along with a challenge: See if you can restore her. To make it happen, he also donated $5,000 for materials.
For the past seven years, volunteers have dropped by the shop for two hours each Wednesday night to work on Merry Wing, says the shop’s current director, Peter Arenstam, who’s also the captain of Mayflower II in nearby Plymouth. Mayflower II, by the way, just spent eight months at the Fairhaven Shipyard undergoing the first phase of her own seven-year restoration, the goal being to have her fit as a fiddle by 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ arrival in the New World. But that’s a story for another day.
Merry Wing was in rough condition when she arrived at the landing, says Arenstam. Her wooden keel literally fell off as she was brought in. But over the last seven years, some 80 volunteers have chipped in and rebuilt what he estimates to be 90 percent of the original.
Arenstam said the center is developing a community sailing program and Merry Wing can look forward to a bright future of active sailing. She’ll be used for teaching and available for day sails. Meantime, the next project for the shop will likely be a Kingston Lobster Boat, a type of sailing workboat that evolved to suit the local waters and then eventually turned into another local racing fleet.
Old boats — what’s not to love about them?
This article first appeared in the October 2013 issue of Cruising World.