The blacktop highway led to a seemingly routine off-ramp. There was a turn here and a couple of roundabouts there. In one roundabout’s middle, landscapers had shaped the shrubbery to read “Cape Cod.” A few more twists and turns led to an abrupt left and a steep, dirt driveway. The hundred yards from the road and down the earth-paved path served as a nautical-history wormhole. That’s where I met Bob.
I walked around the back of several tin-roofed buildings and through a seasoned metal door. The echoes and buzzing of sanding and saws reverberated everywhere. Bob Wastrom, master boatwright for E.M. Crosby Boatworks, was inside plying his trade of 40-plus years. The sounds of his workingman hands ceased, and he stepped down to greet me.
Sawdust covered his blue denim shirt, pants and beard. A sharpened pencil was at the ready in his left vest pocket. When I shook his hand, it felt coarse from years of handcrafting vessels of all shapes and sizes, building by math, sight and feel. He’s part tradesman, part artist. Bob eagerly showed me a side project: a boat-shaped bar.
He illustrated how it will function on a hand-size model he built. It was an impressive piece of homegrown engineering that the master downplayed as “just something to do.”
For a moment, I recalled a winter memory from childhood: my dad coercing stubborn wood into frames for our family’s boat. An ocean of C-clamps wrenched down throughout the cold months, breaking the wood’s will, creating vital supports that put us back on the water.
Bob expounded about other projects in the yard, which annually maintains 100 vessels, both wooden and fiberglass, and builds a custom 38-footer. An Elco out front was being prepared for a refit (and the roof of the building was being modified to accommodate the motoryacht). A vintage 1927 Crosby catboat, Rugosa, rested on stands as she received a new cockpit sole. Another classic craft, Rosie, a 1936 launch from Nova Scotia, was being repowered for work on Bras d’Or Lake.
My time with Bob went too quickly. I was soon speeding down that blacktop, back in our tech-forward world — but with the renewed comfort of knowing that yards like Bob’s are still building new boats in traditional ways, and keeping old hulls off the shoals of history.