ORLEANS — Thirty years ago, boat builder and designer Tony Davis traveled from Nova Scotia as far south as the Chesapeake looking for the perfect “hurricane hole.” He dreamed about buying a yard in a protected harbor at the end of a dirt road. When he clapped eyes on Arey's Pond Boat Yard, he said, “This has got to be it.”
Three decades on, Arey's remains more than a safe harbor for watercraft. It's a sanctuary for the once-imperiled tradition of wooden boat building, a place where dreams are designed, built, and set upon the water.
On Independence Day, the yard's latest creation, the 24-foot wooden catboat Libellule, was launched with a traditional bottle of champagne. Just days before, the boat had been trucked to the WoodenBoat Show in Mystic, Conn., where the judges awarded it best in show.
The custom cedar catboat, which features a three-burner stove, an oven, and a walnut wooden dining table with pop-up leaves, may seem a far cry from the originals built more than a century ago for fishermen by Osterville's Crosby family, but the same principles apply.
“Its beam-iness creates its stability,” Davis said of the traditional design. “With a wide beam, there's a shallow draft... It's a very simple boat.”
Big as it is, Libellule can be sailed by the husband and wife for whom it was built, just as the Crosby cats provided a safe platform for a solo fisherman to haul up his catch and bring it close to shore. The new boat has a six-foot bowsprit extension that offers more space to raise sail.
Davis was the lead designer on Libellule, working with Bill Nash. Over the last 30 years, his yard has turned out more than 300 boats, mostly small sailboats, with the philosophy of “one boat at a time.”
Things got off to an exciting start for Davis when he bought Arey's in 1991. The protected “hurricane hole” he had sought rode out Hurricane Bob in August, but in October came a lashing from the No-Name, or Perfect Storm. “I learned about sailboat design,” he said, “what gets blown over.” The storm, Davis said, “was a real wake-up call about flooding being an issue in Pleasant Bay.” To “take the pressure off the waterfront,” Arey's moved “all our industrial work inland to Rayber Road” in Orleans.
And further changes occurred. “Back in the day, we were the first yard to stop power-washing on the shoreline,” said Davis, who is the third owner of Arey's. “We moved that to our other facility, in Chatham. We do that and storage there in Commerce Park and boat building, service, and finish at Rayber.”
When he came to the Cape, Davis had built “everything from little skiffs to 100-foot schooners, but I really didn't know anything about catboats.” He took a ride in one shortly thereafter and observed how it performed in the shallow waters. “My mentor in Maine told me, 'Tony, wherever you wind up, consider a design that fits the waters.' It made sense to me that this is the boat for people to enjoy and sail in these waters.”
Arey's kept building fiberglass and wooden boats, with at least one of the latter always in production. “I wanted to build wood,” he said, “but I've also got a mortgage.” He was encouraged as interest in wooden boats recovered from a low point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which allowed him to keep the experienced builders working and to preserve the profession (he hesitates to call it an art, but seeing the results could lead one to contradict him).
Collaboration with the eventual owners of his creations has driven him onward to new designs. One buyer wanted something bigger than the yard's 14-foot catboat, so Davis built a 16-footer 19, 20, 22, and 24 lengths followed. These cats are capable of doing more than poking around local waters. “The 20s and 22s have cruised to and from Florida on the Intracoastal Waterway,” Davis said.
Given that so many of Tony Davis's dreams have become reality, one assumes that there's another one waiting to be born. Sure enough, there is.
“My dream catboat build,” he said, “is a 28- to 29-foot racing/charter boat.”