“There’s people that realize there’s enough plastic in world today. There’s people that recognize maintenance is not a bad word.” – Nat Benjamin
Late October. The ocean seems quiet this time of year, the skies gray. A thick fog surrounds JC and I as we wake to the slow rock of the tide making its way out of the harbor. The smell of oak and ocean fill our bunk. The sun breaks through the fog as we make the most original breakfast we can muster: coffee, eggs, and bacon. This year the climate seems confused, resembling that of southern California, not autumn on Martha’s Vineyard. But luck had been on our side from the start of our trip and so it continued— the afternoon forecast was 75° and sunny . Eliza, a 30’ gaff yawl owned by our friend Will, would serve as our camp for the next few days as we documented the work of our friends at Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway. The coffee is gone. We’re heading to shore soon.
As we row towards Gannon and Benjamin—referred to by frequent visitors as “G and B,”— it’s easy to see how one can fall in love with this boatyard.The shingled two-story workshop sits on the beach with a dock stretching out of its open doors and into the harbor. There is always a boat, or two, hauled out on the railway tracks that disappear down into the water. Tools from the 1800’s overflow from the shipwrights’ handmade toolboxes and the wood floor is dressed in sawdust.A black sign with gold lettering reads “Gannon & Benjamin Marine Railway Boat Design-Building-Repair.” Two beautiful wooden boats, Charlotte and Eleda, sit on the end of the dock. To say its picturesque is an understatement.
As we walk into the shop it’s immediately apparent its been in use for many years. The wood is worn and the floorboards have a flex that suggests thousands of trips have made across them. Its warm and inviting. It’s the type space there you find the type of people you cherish after the first visit. Established in 1980 by Nat Benjamin and Ross Gannon, the shop is in a class of its own within the niche wooden boat world—which is a world of its own within the larger world of sailing, which is niche to begin within. The design takes inspiration from classic yachts and traditional sailboats. They are built with the highest quality materials and meticulous craftsmanship. JC notes that everyone who works at G&B sees their work as valuable and of service. I agree. It’s a refreshing return to candid work.
At the shop it’s apparent that nothing is done with haste. It’s slow, deliberate, patient work that can’t be rushed. Wood and bronze won’t simply bend to one’s will. There is an authentic pride that comes with this work—you can see it on the faces of the young crew who work alongside Nat and Ross. There is a certain and definite purpose of the work which almost requires isolation from the outside world—a renunciation of norms in an effort to create something remarkable.
Nat explains, “Every step of the process, from design to selection of wood, construction, rigging and outfitting takes place in our shop, allowing the construction to move forward in a harmonious, cost- effective, quality-controlled manner…. We do it because they last a long time, they’re environmentally sustainable, they’re beautiful and with a little bit of care they last a century. We think there’s people that realize there’s enough plastic in world today. There’s people that recognize maintenance is not a bad word.”
One day, let alone one year, is entirely inadequate for the development of G&B to be captured. Character does not grow overnight. It is quickly inspired, but it grows slowly. The mind must have time to season and take a permanent set. The work appreciates over time. It takes a lifetime to meet the standards of Gannon and Benjamin. But the lessons JC and I took away from our visit are available for all to grasp and up to you to maintain.
Lessons Learned at G&B
Slow is fast.
Quality over quantity.
Create beauty and functionality.
The more you know the less you need.
There is enough plastic in the world.
And Maintenance is not a bad word.
Thanks to the crew at Gannon and Benjamin for the wonderful hospitality.
—Words by Alexander Beal