Conundrum meets wit: Rich and Grindle build boats in a barn

 

SOUTHWEST HARBOR – Roger Rich and his friend Ralph Grindle founded Rich & Grindle Boatbuilders in 1946, building boats in Rich’s barn at Tracy Cove on Clark Point Road in Southwest Harbor.

The two men were in their early 30s and had been working for Henry Hinckley, who had major boatbuilding contracts with the military during World War II. After the war, the story goes, Rich and Hinckley had a falling-out. So Rich persuaded Grindle it was time to leave and start a new operation.

Roger Rich works on a reproduction shallop, 1956; photographer unknown. Courtesy The Southwest Harbor Public Library Digital Reference Archive/Plimouth Plantation

Their timing was excellent. Servicemen were returning to the Maine coast after the war, had money, and wanted new boats. Rich’s brother, Bob, had set up shop in nearby Bernard, and had more work than he could handle. Bob farmed out a contract to the newly established Rich & Grindle, to build a 32-foot lobsterboat for Vernon Dalzell of Frenchboro, for $2,500. That first boat, the Eva G., hit the water the following year.

In short order, Rich and Grindle were plenty busy. There were slack times, sure, when the two men took carpentry jobs and, at one point, laid linoleum, nights, for the Bass Harbor general store (they sold everything, groceries, clothes, linoleum) owned by Rich’s uncle-by-marriage, H.G. Reed. But orders kept coming in, both from high-end yachters and fishermen.

In 1950, Grindle fell ill and was unable to continue. Eventually, he went on to open Grindle’s Store, while Rich continued to build boats on his own. A distinctive project occurred in 1956, when Rich traveled to Massachusetts with another expert boatbuilder from Southwest Harbor, Francis “Mickey” Fahey, to build a replica shallop to accompany a reproduction of the Mayflower.

Ralph Grindle works on a lobsterboat; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

“Rog is a conundrum,” his Pemetic High School yearbook says. “You never know in what mood you’re going to find him, for his temper is as changeable as the weather. However, we can’t help liking him and no matter how angry he makes us, we always have to forgive him.”

Meredith Rich Hutchins, Roger’s daughter, says her dad probably “raised hell” in high school.

Hutchins is the keeper of her father’s history. She lives in Southwest Harbor and has been instrumental, with Charlotte Morrill, in compiling an electronic database of historic photos for the Southwest Harbor Public Library. With her family going back several centuries in the local community, Hutchins is passionate about the general community’s life and times.

Roger’s father, Clifton, was called “the Wizard of Bernard Corner” by one reporter for his lifelong production of small punts, dories, lobsterboats, and pleasure craft.

It’s pretty certain that Clifton never got to go to high school. But his talent showed early. He once told his grandson that ‘as a young man while on a trip in the schooner Idaho, the vessel was tied up to a wharf in Boston where he was caulking the deck. A man came by and watched him work and then said to Cliff, “A man’s a fool to go to sea when he can caulk like that.”

“’And you know, he was right,’ Cliff said, so he came home and began to carpenter and build boats. He didn’t want to go to sea anyway, he said: ‘It was dangerous, the food was bad and it was a hard life.’”

Clifton Rich. Courtesy Bass Harbor Boat

Working in a small shop, Cliff got his first order to build a boat around 1910. A young woman named Elizabeth Farnsworth, who hailed from Cherryfield, a small town an hour away on the mainland, was teaching school in Tremont and boarding with Cliff’s sister. The two married in 1912 and a year later had twins, Roger and Ronald, followed by Bob. Their youngest was Cecil M. Rich. He came along nine years after Bob, in 1926, and died in 1941 at age 15, from leukemia.

Hutchins recalls her teenage uncle.

“I was two and a half years old at the time and can remember seeing him shortly before his death lying in a hammock on the porch at my grandparents’ house with a basket of fall apples nearby,” she wrote for the Tremont Historical Society newsletter.

Roger, Ronald and Robert Rich; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA/Meredith Hutchins

At her home, recently, Hutchins brings out the 1931 yearbook and turns to page ten, where student headshots show her twin uncles as teens, Ronald in a bowtie and her father in round spectacles. Both wear a slight smile. The boys are pigeonholed under the heading of “commercial” rather than “college.”

“Ronald has no use for the girls whatever,” the yearbook editor wrote, and then warned, “Ronald, you’d better watch out in the future because that beautiful curly hair has a great attraction for the girls.”

“Ronald was probably the good student. My father got kicked out of his homeroom,” Hutchins adds.

The yearbook listings for Ronald and Roger. Courtesy Meredith Hutchins

The Great Depression was on when the twins graduated. Jobs were few. One summer, the twins and their younger brother drew straws to see who would have to go to the local unit of the Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal public work relief program. Roger got the short straw. Hutchins wrote, “With no work available, the thirty dollars a month the government paid the men’s families made the difference between independence and going on the town.”

Roger had hoped to do carpentry work but was assigned to dig out stumps, and ended up mostly doing KP duty and peeling potatoes because he was always in trouble.

“And it was some damn cold in the winter,” he once told his daughter.

Roger got out as soon as he could and did a lot of different things. He cooked for a local logging operation. In the late 1930s, he opened a gasoline station on the corner below his parents’ house. The business was not successful.

Roger Rich at the Capitol filling station. Courtesy Meredith Hutchins

“When I asked my father why not, he said that it was probably because he accepted too many bushels of apples as payment for gas, a practice that couldn’t have helped his cash flow, especially during the depression,” Hutchins wrote. “Everybody did his best though, including my mother, who made fudge to sell there, and Mr. Roscoe Ingalls, Tremont summer resident, who liked to use high-test gasoline in his automobile and would buy an entire tankful at the beginning of the season, so it would be available whenever he wanted it.”

Hutchins and her parents lived in a small apartment connected to the back of the station “where my mother said that everything was new and clean and ‘built-in’ the way it would be on a boat,” she wrote.

In 1941, the family moved across the harbor to the village of McKinley, now called Bass Harbor. Meredith’s mother, Lucile, was expecting.

“My parents had only recently moved in and Dr. Raymond Coffin, who was encouraging home births before moving his practice to Alaska, arrived later than expected because he first went to Bernard,” Hutchins wrote. “My parents had forgotten to tell him they had moved.”

Roger’s younger brother, Bob, had opened a boat shop in 1939 on the Bernard shore, where he began a lifelong career. Roger did some work with Bob early on (Ronald worked with Bob a number of years before setting up his shop). He also worked next door at Hollis Reed’s general store; and did seasonal jobs, repairing and storing boats, for Hinckley and for Bink Sargent, who managed the Southwest Boat Corporation, the yard he and Hinckley bought together.

Southwest Boat Corporation, March 1964; photo by W.H. Ballard. Courtesy SWHPLCP

During the war, the three young men, then in their 20s, went over to Hinckley and Sargent, who needed all the craftsmen they could get to run the production lines.

Ralph Grindle, born in 1915, grew up on Deer Isle, thanks to the work his father found there cutting the world-famous pink-gray granite at quarries in the surrounding area.

During the Depression, Grindle was a teenager going to high school in Stonington and working for the CCC in Southwest Harbor during the summer. Unlike Rich, he loved the camp.

“He told me that he just loved hanging out with the men,” says his daughter, RuthAnn “Sugar” Fenton, who lives in Lamoine. “They treated him well and he could do things for them, like a go-fer.”

Civilian Conservation Corps, Company 158, Great Pond [Long Pond] Camp, Acadia National Park. Photograph probably by Spencer & Wyckoff, Detroit, ca. 1936. Courtesy The Southwest Harbor Public Library Collection of Photographs

Grindle arrived each summer on the steamer J.T. Morse, and stayed with relatives. He worked in the woods, drove a park truck and then became tool clerk, “which was best, because you were your own boss,” he once told Hutchins.

Grindle went on to serve in the U.S. Navy during World War II, stationed in the Hawaiian Islands. When he returned, he had three job offers – cut meat at the A&P in Rockland, work on a yacht on which his brother Steve was skipper, or take a job with Hinckley in the tool department. He chose the latter, and became foreman of the spar shop, in charge of splicing and rigging. Rich came on a bit later, and would soon call Grindle one of the best wire splicers in the business. Grindle shared with Rich the traditional mnemonic: “Worm and parcel with the lay, turn and serve the other way.”

Grindle was also a sharp wit. Rich shared with his daughter an exchange between Grindle and a tourist gazing at the sea.

Tourist: “Look at the codfish.”

Ralph: “Yeah, the only trouble is they’ve got hake skins on ‘em.”

Ralph was working for Hinckley when he met Ruth Thurston, a young woman who graduated from elementary school in Southwest Harbor. Her father was Eugene Thurston, a longtime postmaster, jeweler, and juror, serving in the latter position through the terms of three presidents, and receiving a signed certificate from each.

“They didn’t go through the process they do now,” Fenton says of her grandfather’s duties. “That was the job. You went to work five days a week as a juror.”

The Thurstons had four daughters and a son. They sent the girls off to Springfield, Massachusetts, to attend the MacDuffie School for Girls, a college prep school. Ruth then went to the University of Maine. After a year, she met Ralph.

Ralph and Ruth Grindle. Courtesy RuthAnn Fenton

“She was dating somebody from the university, so Dad had to win her over,” Fenton says.

Ruth dropped out of college and the young couple married in 1935, beginning a marriage of 70 years.

“While showing my daughter and me a picture of a 1930 sportscar, Mom said with a grin, ‘This is why I married him,’” Fenton says. “She had a sense of humor.”

Rich’s disagreement with Hinckley, shortly after the end of the war, reportedly involved a 28-foot Carl Alberg-designed boat that had been built for Jim Willis, the owner of a local service operation, The Boat House. Rich didn’t like the boat’s sheer, so when a second 28-footer was commissioned, he modified the design accordingly.

Hutchins quotes Grindle’s account of the incident: “Both boats were out on their moorings, side by side, and the second boat looked so much better that Jim was teed off. So Jim went to Henry and gave him hell. Henry cut the shear down on Jim’s Hinckley and Roger got sent to the spar shop.”

And then Roger said, “Let’s go build a boat in my barn,” Grindle told Hutchins.

By then, the Rich and Grindle families lived across the street from each other on Clark Point Road in Southwest Harbor. Rich had a big barn that that had been used to house horses by a previous property-owner.

“When he had the opportunity to buy the place, he realized it would be a great place to build boats,” Hutchins wrote.

They hung a sign that said “Rich & Grindle Boatbuilders, General Repair Work, Wire Splicing and Rigging,” and went to work. (A third partner was Grindle’s brother Steve, a sea captain living in Florida who provided additional financial backing.)

“I do have memories of that, of being fascinated by seeing this long, metal steamer hanging from the ceiling,” says Fenton. “They would put the wood in there and leave it for hours. I think it still had the bark on the edges. When they pulled it out, it was so pliable the bark would just peel right off, and they would mold it to the boats.”

The partners’ first boat, for the Frenchboro fisherman, hit the water in 1946. In 1948, they launched three boats. There was a power yacht for William Taylor, a sportswriter from Port Washington, New York, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 1934 America’s Cup, in which the United States’ Ranger defeated England’s Endeavour. They delivered a 32-foot fishing boat to summer resident Nelson Rockefeller, who planned to use if for fishing excursions by his sons, according to a local report.

Offshore fishing style boat for Nelson Rockefeller, 1948; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

“With a 9-foot beam and 32-inch draft, she is based on the offshore fishing type of hull which has become increasingly popular with summer visitors,” the report says.

Launched that same year for the Maine Sea and Shore Fisheries Commission was a new, speedy patrol boat, named the Guardian, designated to cover the coast from Stonington east.

Carroll Sargent Tyson Jr. – a Northeast Harbor summer resident and artist celebrated for his depictions of the birds of MDI and Acadia National Park – commissioned a 32-foot open boat with a modern streamlined windshield casing; the boat was later sold to a lobster fisherman who, Rich told his daughter, “put a cabin on it and ruined the looks.” Following that was a second open boat, like Tyson’s, but 25 feet long; and a lobsterboat for a Southwest Harbor fisherman who was left-handed and asked for the boat to be rigged accordingly.

Open streamlined boat built for Carroll Sargent Tyson Jr., 1948; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

Just two years into operation, the yard was recognized as one of three that were vital to the Southwest Harbor community. Eleanor Newman – whose son, Jarvis Newman, was to become a popular fiberglass boatbuilder in Southwest Harbor – cited Rich & Grindle as one of the three “totally different” boatyards that comprised a “vital industry” for Southwest Harbor. These were the Henry R. Hinckley company, with a post-war payroll averaging 75 employees; the Southwest Boat Corporation, with 50; and Rich & Grindle, with just two people.

The partners signed another construction contract in December 1948.

Talbot Hamlin was a noted New York architect, preservationist, author, and academic. He and his wife Jessica enjoyed cruising on Aquarelle, their 24-foot motor cruiser, on extended trips along the East Coast.

“Odd though it seems, almost as soon as we had a boat of our own, we started thinking about another one, larger, abler, more comfortable,” they wrote in their book, We Took to Cruising, published in 1951.

Long experience on Aquarelle helped them work out the criteria for a second boat, where they hoped to live upon retirement. It had to be seaworthy, strong, and bigger than their first boat but not too big for easy handling. They preferred a trunk cabin, open cockpit with a shelter, a small rig for steadying the boat, ample locker space, and a roomy cabin. Hamlin deployed his own architectural skills to draw up sketches.

As it happened, “luck, accident, or Providence stepped in,” they wrote. Their nephew was Cyrus Hamlin, a naval architect whose designs included the well-known Hudson River sloop Clearwater. Cyrus was just opening an office in Southwest Harbor.

“Naturally, one of our sketches went to him; were we not, in fact, looking for a Down East hull?” the Hamlins wrote.

“Cy” designed a 31-foot power cruiser, to be named Aquarelle II, to be used for extended cruises. He also recommended Rich and Grindle, who were “skillful, eager for work, and economical.”

But Grindle had fallen ill and work on the boat was delayed.

Sugar Fenton recalls an odd incident that occurred when she was a little girl. She had a doll cradle that needed to be repaired.

“I took it across the street to Dad, and when he was hammering a nail in it, he came back with the hammer and it flew out of his hand across the boat shop, because he was getting sick,” she says. “They thought he had polio. But within 24 to 48 hours, he was paralyzed.”

Grindle was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a disease of the nervous system, and was unable to continue in boatbuilding. It’s thought he might have contracted the disease during his time in Hawaii. He was laid up for a year, but through hard work, he regained his ability to walk. Rich built him a wheelchair to use while he was recuperating.

“I remember him in our basement, working out with weights, with the sweat dripping off him when he was pumping iron,” says Fenton. “He wound up with a limp, and he did okay until the end. He lived to be 90. They just had to cope. They had to adapt to a different lifestyle. But it certainly changed things.”

To support the family, Fenton’s mother went to work as head waitress for her sister, who ran the Dirigo Hotel up the road. (The hotel burned during a hurricane in 1960.) Another sister arrived every summer from Massachusetts to help care for the family.

“So they just made things work,” Fenton says. “I used to hang out at the hotel, too. I loved my aunt and uncle, and I used to eat in the kitchen. The chef would make me a stack of pancakes with designs. It gave Mom a chance to be social, and she was. She loved to be social. And they learned she could make from scratch a cherry walnut angel cake, whipping by hand 12 egg whites.”

Grindle regained enough strength to open a convenience store on Main Street, where he sold staples and gas. A fellow across the street, who had two workhorses but no water on his property, would come twice a day to the store to fill up his big galvanized buckets. Fenton got to ride those horses. Ruth produced homemade ice cream, using maple syrup and pre-packed in flat-bottom cones. That was a huge seller. Fenton still has the recipe, in her mother’s handwriting.

Grindle worked well into the evening. But that didn’t cut into family time; the kids just hung out at the store.

“That’s the way life was,” Fenton says.

After 30 years, when Grindle was in his late 60s, he retired.

“I think it was getting increasingly difficult for him,” Fenton says. “He just didn’t want to do it anymore. But it wouldn’t have been his choice.”

Under her brother’s management, the store thrived into the 1990s. In the meantime, Grindle kept busy. He visited with friends and started to splice rope again for Hinckley.

In the meantime, Ruth indulged her favorite pastime – caring for her children, her children’s children, her neighbor’s children and their children.

“There was a girls club, as there often was back then – a time to get together, sometimes outside with the children, sometime it was an evening thing,” Fenton says. “I found a precious picture of all of them – there were maybe seven or eight. They were giving my mother a baby shower, and they had decorated my doll carriage, which I had hunted for, for two days. I thought, ‘What happened to my doll carriage?’ Mom came wheeling it home filled with baby gifts. It was a great group of women, very neighborly. We had a big, swinging hammock; it was more like a couch. I can remember playing out there when some of the women were having coffee in the morning, swinging, letting the children play.”

The Hamlins traveled to Southwest Harbor in July, thinking their new cruiser, the Aquarelle II, would be ready in time to take in a mid-summer cruise, before Talbot had to go back to teaching at Columbia. They had been in continual communication with their nephew, Cy Hamlin.

“As Cy drove us to the hotel, we passed Rich & Grindle’s shop – and there, looking out at us, was the graceful blue bow of Aquarelle II, her nose at the open doorway,” the Hamlins wrote. “We stopped for a brief glimpse – and we were appalled.”

The cabin top wasn’t on, the ports hadn’t been cut, and the cockpit floor framing had only just begun. The Hamlins asked Roger Rich to put more men on the job.

“He had tried to and couldn’t,” they wrote. “And the dearth of labor was a fact; too many boats were being built on Mount Desert that summer. One yard was setting up a 65-foot yawl. Another was building a 65-foot dragger. Still another was working on a 30-foot cabin cruiser, and so on down the list. Every good ship carpenter and cabinetmaker was employed.”

Aquarelle II. Courtesy RuthAnn Fenton

Forced to wait, the Hamlins found themselves fascinated by the boatbuilding process.

“We call Aquarelle II our ‘hand-carved ship,’” they wrote. “All the moldings were planed out, not machine run. The builder himself shaped the stem head and the toe-rail breast hook with a favorite knife, and the beauty of the result shows the sensitive skill of the carver; his father formed and finished the grab rails as well as the spars. This handmade finish was slow, perhaps, but how we are going to enjoy the results in the years to come! The men loved their work; they had an affection for their tools and for the wood they were shaping; they were having fun; they were creating.”

Launch day came in September – but was delayed by a skunk.

“To be launched, the boat had to be dragged out of the shop, into the busy road to Clark Point, and then back down a long gully to the ways; to do this dragging the one wrecking car of the town was needed. The night before, an expressman driving a load of fish had to turn out to avoid hitting a skunk (or what would have happened to the fish?) and tipped over and wrecked his truck. Of course the wrecking car’s first job was to salvage the express truck, and that took all day!”

The following day was warm and sunny. Aquarelle II was loaded on a rugged launching cradle and pulled by “great jerks” down the hard road surface.

“At the gutter she stopped. Much discussion. Then they commandeered another of the town’s trucks – a heavy oil truck – and chained it to the wrecking car; both of these with a great pull snaked her over the gutter and up the crown of the road and switched her round to the required angle.”

The boat reached the ways and slid into the water.

A few days later, the Hamlins left for their shakedown cruise, departing from Beal’s lobster pound. A newspaper reporter subsequently interviewed the couple’s nephew, Cyrus, and discovered the cruise to Long Island Sound was a success.

Of Roger Rich, the Hamlins wrote that he “has the feel and the know-how, a deep love for boats, and a deep respect for the sea; he is also an excellent mechanic with a profound knowledge of gasoline engines an their ways. And he has an immaculate sense of standards.”

Construction photos of Aquarelle II in the Hamlin book.

Rich’s wife Lucile received beautiful bolts of fabric after her husband completed his next boat, a 32-foot cabin cruiser – built like a lobsterboat, but with a longer cabin – for John Wolf, a Fifth Avenue, New York, textile manufacturer who had a summer home in Freeport.

“In the spring of 1950,” wrote Hutchins, “my mother and father delivered the boat to him on Long Island for what turned out to be a really special vacation. Mr. Wolf had someone show them around New York City and got them tickets to South Pacific.

“After they had returned home, a large box of fabric arrived, a gift from Mr. Wolf. Inside were bolts of material my mother had selected in New York, enough for living room curtains, plus a contrasting design that she used to reupholster the chairs and couch. A second box that Mr. Wolf had shipped to us consisted of fabric samples in many designs and colors. Supposedly these large squares were for Rich & Grindle to use as paint rags. Needless to say, my mother saw to it that they never went near the boat shop, and soon there were decorative pillows scattered about the house.”

Lobster-style boat built for John Wolf; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

During the 1950s, Rich built a number of other boats, including Driftwood, a 34-foot lobster-style pleasure boat for Henry Bucknam Wass of Southwest Harbor, who reportedly intended to go tuna-fishing. Hutchins says the boat was built from western red cedar that came from a water tank Wass owned. Wass had a heart attack several years later, and the boat was sold. In 1990, Southwest Harbor boatbuilder Jarvis Newman rebuilt Driftwood and sold it to Gerrit Livingston Lansing, an art historian and expert on American Surrealism who had a summer home in Northeast Harbor. Lansing renamed the yacht Chicken of the Sea. It is now thought to be the oldest Roger Rich boat in existence.

Lobster-style pleasure boat Driftwood, well-used, 1988; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

 

Driftwood was, and is, a head-turner. Commenters on a 2005 woodenboat.com forum thread on workboat-to-pleasure conversions (who also wonder whether such boats come with a fishy smell and discuss “weird glassing misadventures,” building a schooner in Vietnam, and “what are sheets anyway”) testify:

“She’s a good-looker. She’s about the ideal boat for that section of coast…”

…and cleaned up.

“Okay, wow – Driftwood makes my heart go pitter-pat.”

Rich wasn’t one to let one talent bog him down. He worked at a local car garage and served as a selectman; he rowed across the harbor to the town hall to do payroll and hold office hours.

“He could be helpful to other people,” Hutchins says. “He was always for the underdog. There was a student at Tremont who went to high school, and there was a certain amount of culture shock, coming four miles. I remember they called him and said, ‘We don’t think this girl can hack it.’ He persuaded them to give the girl more time. And she did graduate.”

He was very mechanical, worked on his own cars, and liked to take things apart. He flew a Piper Cub. Family lore has it that, at different times he: gave a guy a ride for a bucket of smelts, which he sold to pay for gas; flew to Sorrento and landed on the ice in the harbor; flew lobsters to Boston in a seaplane; and flew under the Bucksport bridge. The plane was made of wood and fabric and was easy to repair.

In the 1950s, Rich returned to Hinckley to help build the Venturer, the 73-foot Sparkman & Stephens designed-yawl, launched in 1956, that was the largest and the penultimate wooden sailboat built by the yard.

The Henry R. Hinckley Company yawl Venturer, built for Harry Garner Haskell Jr., coming out of the shed, May 1956; photo by Roger Rich. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

He was an avid outdoorsman and a Class B Maine Guide who spent a lot of time on Chesuncook Lake, an off-the-grid settlement in the North Woods, with his friend, Francis “Mickey” Fahey. The two took a month-long trip to the remote Allagash River in the mid-1940s, and Rich made his own sleeping bag.

“In my family if they could make something, they never bought it,” says Hutchins.

Fahey was himself an expert woodsman who had a passion for Maine’s remote North Woods from a young age. In 1923, he was the state’s youngest Maine Guide, at age 17. Income derived from guided trips, trapping, cruising timber, or working on the family farm dried up with the advent of the Depression. With a family to support (his daughter, Myrna, would become a well-known film and TV actor), he looked for new opportunities and landed a job in 1936 at Henry Hinckley’s yard. By the time World War II came along, Fahey was yard superintendent, tasked with overseeing the company’s feverish production for the military. (Information comes from A Mentor Would Appear: Mick Fahey and the North Woods Way, by Jerry Stelmok, WoodenBoat, 1985.)

Mick Fahey, in a clipping about his Red Cross service. Courtesy Meredith Hutchins

After the war, Fahey served as an officer in the American Red Cross for 10 years. Around 1955, he returned to the Hinckley yard, became general manager, and oversaw production of the Venturer and the company’s final wooden yacht, the 46-foot Osprey.

Fahey, like Rich, had a penchant for adventure. So in the winter of 1956 to 1957, when a new project came through to build a 17th century replica shallop, the two friends went for it.

The shallop was a type of workboat brought over by the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower, in 1620. The job originated with George Davis, who ran Plymouth Marine Railways on the waterfront in Duxbury, Massachusetts. Davis won a contract to build the 33-foot replica, which would sit by the side of a full-scale reproduction of the Mayflower, under construction in Devon, England, as a feature display at the Massachusetts living history museum called Plimouth Plantation, near historic Plymouth Rock. The Mayflower would feature re-created details such as solid oak timbers, tarred hemp rigging, wood and horn lanterns, and hand-colored maps. For the shallop, Davis, in search of craftsmen skilled in authentic wooden boat construction techniques, contacted his friend Bob Rich. Davis’ own boat was built by Rich, and he had turned the Massachusetts Law Enforcement Division and a number of Bay State fishermen on to the Rich brand.

Mick Fahey and Roger Rich caulk the pilgrim shallop, 1957; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

Bob agreed to supply the wood and sent Roger and Mickey to do the work. A clipping quotes Bob Rich’s wife Mildred, who described the project: “When they built it, everything had to be authentic. Everything had to be done with old-fashioned tools, nothing electric. His father and grandfather were boatbuilders and they had those tools and they and Bobby and all knew how to use them.”

The project prompted a great to-do, making the front page of the Old Colony newspaper in Plymouth, with Roger, Bob and Mickey present for photos.

One of the photos shows the keel-laying ceremony. A handsome Fahey wears a fedora at a jaunty angle and has a movie-star insouciance in his expression. “The keel is plumb,” he announces to onlookers.

Pilgrim shallop at sea, 1957; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA/Plimouth Plantation

By the 1950s, Rich was ready to spend his time fishing. He realized he didn’t really enjoy the business end of his work– “the losing-money part, that is,” as Hutchins says. So he built for himself a 27-foot lobsterboat and named it after his daughter, Meredith.  He made his living fishing for a while; his son Philip would go with him after school.

After the shallop adventure, when he was back at Hinckley, Roger hired his brother Ronald to build him a bigger boat, the Meredith II. Ronald didn’t have his own shop yet, so he built it in Roger’s shop. Roger would work on the new boat, too, evenings and weekends. Occasionally, the brothers had a difference of opinion regarding construction.  For instance, says Hutchins, there was the time when Roger felt Ronald had compromised the oak framing that fastened the pilothouse to the hull. Fresh in Roger’s mind was the March 1958 storm that resulted in the loss of two Cranberry Isles fishermen, whose bodies were found several days later aboard their vessel on the shore of Pond Island in Blue Hill Bay. Because the boat’s pilothouse had become separated from the hull, people speculated the men had died of exposure and Roger, who was both a lobster fisherman and a boatbuilder, didn’t want anything like that to happen on his boat. Roger wanted the four oak posts to go down through the trunk and Ronald had cut into them to accommodate the hardware that held the window in front of the wheelhouse open.

Lobsterboat Meredith at Castine; photograph by Roger Rich. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

“They had a hell of an argument,” Hutchins says.

In the end, Roger was proud of the boat, and kept it in perfect shape.

 “He was one of these gentleman lobster fishermen. His boat was really a pleasure boat,” recalls Roger’s nephew, Chummy Rich. “It was all fixed up down below. He was meticulous as hell. Everything had to be done just right. If you got a scratch on the side of the boat, he came and fixed it.”

In the early 1960s, Roger decamped to Florida and went into fiberglass boatbuilding, thanks to his old employer from the war years. Bink Sargent had abruptly packed it in at his yard, the Southwest Boat Corporation, and relocated to become plant manager at Bertram Yacht, the Miami-based manufacturer of fiberglass pleasure boats. Sargent then became involved in the production of smaller, center-console sportfishermen, also in fiberglass.

Rich joined Sargent at Bertram, and later took a job at Mako Marine. The idea, at first, was to go down for a winter, but then he stayed and eventually met his second wife.  In 1992, Hurricane Andrew swept the roof off the couple’s house. This, combined with illness, prompted the couple to move to Chicago to be near his wife’s daughter. He died in 1996 at age 83, having lived a life pursuing many interests – and a bit of mischief.

“He could build anything,” says Hutchins. “I don’t think financially he was such a good businessman, certainly not like Bobby and Ronald. My father was a perfectionist and an artist, I will say that.”

 (For more related to people mentioned in this profile, visit: profilesmaine.bangordailynews.com/2013/02/26/mdi/a-rich-heritage-all-i-wanted-to-do-was-build-boats/)

Roger with airplane; photographer unknown. Courtesy SWHPLDRA

Ralph with his car. Courtesy RuthAnn Fenton

An unidentified Rich & Grindle boat. Courtesy RuthAnn Fenton

Laurie Schreiber

About Laurie Schreiber

Laurie Schreiber has been writing for award-winning newspapers and magazines on the coast of Maine for more than 20 years.