Page 8. MAINE COASTAL NEWS October 2012 Profi le: Vinnie Cavanaugh, 1912-1999 Continued From Page 7.
5 Merchant’s Wharf, where he built boats for the rest of his career. The Portland Yacht Club, of which Cavanaugh was a member, was also located on Merchant’s Wharf until 1947. Cavanaugh’s fi rst boat in the new shop was a 35-foot sport fi sherman, according to his obituary.
The shop was nothing fancy – echoing
wood fl oors; heat provided by an old pot-bel- ly cast iron Stationmaster wood stove; walls sprinkled over the years with “motivational” posters and plaques. The bathroom facility was a trap door that opened down to the water. While under construction, the boats’ sterns would hang out the window above the waterway, Maine humorist John Gould stated in an essay.
Drew says that Cavanaugh had two ba- sic designs, a 25-footer and a 35-footer. His boats’ width was limited by the back doors on his shop, which were about 11 feet wide, so his 35’ model had a beam of about 10 ½’, Drew said. “He built that same hull for years and years and years.” The shop opened right onto the water, and all the boats were launched out the back. “I can’t tell you whether they had some- body come over with a barge with a crane on it taking it off, or just pushed the boats right off the cradle,” Drew said. “Could’ve done it either way; Cavanaugh was quite inven- tive. But they had to do something like that, because you couldn’t take it up the road. The road was probably only 10 or 12 feet wide.” Cavanaugh was known for a very sleek, simple style of lobster boat. He built mostly yachts, with the exception of three or four commercial boats, according to Drew. “All his boats usually were always a forward cabin, just a windshield, and they’d have a canvas top on them,” said Drew. He also only remembers three or four boats that had standing houses. Cavanaugh’s working philosophy was
summed up by his favorite saying, “Straight lines.” By that he meant keeping things as simple as possible – not gussied up with a lot of complicated details. “I had worked on a few of Vinnie’s boats,” said boatbuilder Jamie Lowell. “I worked on that one Mark Rand had, and I thought it was a very nicely put together boat. I think one of the things that amazed me most was just how simple it was. Super simple. Far more simple than it had to be. This was back in ‘98, ‘99 we worked on it, I thought it was just as beautiful then as proba- bly when the boat was built. We put a whole new windshield the whole way around, and the bulkhead had gotten old, kinda ratty, we took it out and slipped a whole brand new piece of plywood in, cut it to fi t, and it was super simple. It was a really enjoyable boat to work on.”
Not that Cavanaugh’s designs lacked curves. “They were quite full up forward, for boats of that time,” said Drew. Jamie commented, “On any of the Cavanaugh boats that I worked on, the hardest thing was, he had a transition in that garboard plank that was horrendous. Unbelievable amount of bend and turn, to the point where I had to build a jig, steam the plank, and put it on the jig just to get the shape, to be able to put the plank on.”
Drew says that Carroll Lowell told him about Cavanaugh’s procedure for planking: “You know what he’ll do when he puts a new plank on? He’ll have somebody go up there with an extension cord and a light bulb in it, and go along, and if there’s any light that shines through, why he takes it back off and corrects that.” One of Cavanaugh’s boats was planked in juniper, Jamie said – also known as “Eastern White Atlantic Cedar.” For Cavanaugh, the craftsmanship was of prime importance. “He never built a boat for money,” recalled Cavanaugh’s cousin Peggy Hosman in his obituary. “Of course, he always took the money. But what I mean
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is that if anyone wanted him to build a boat, they better have the right attitude... He might not build a boat just because of the way a man wore his hat.”
Drew had stories about a few of Cava- naugh’s boats:
Probably the largest Cavanaugh boat was the Cadet, a 44’ dragger built for Bob Walker on Chebeague. Walker hired him to come live on Chebeague and build it. “He built the Tara for Charlie MacDer- mott, that was his standard 35-foot hull,” said Drew. “All his boats were supposed to be single engine. Of course Herbie Simpson had a engine shop, down by where Cavana- ugh was, and sold Palmer engines. All the boats that Cavanaugh built at that period of time Simpson was there would have Palm- er engines. Herbie, selling engines, talked Charlie MacDermott into putting twin Palmers in Tara, which Cavanaugh was real unhappy about. Always was, after - ‘Damn Herbie,’ he says. ‘The boat was built for a single engine, and I had to go through all that shit putting those twin Palmers in there.’” “I think it was the Blue Chip that the guy had it built; then, I don’t know what happened,” Drew said. “He hauled her up over to Yarmouth Boatyard and she sat there and sat there and sat there, Cavanaugh told me something like three or four years. She might’ve been used for a year or two, and then hauled out and just set there. So Cavan- uagh inquired and he bought the boat back. He says he almost lost the engine, the water started going down through the carburetor, but they were able to rebuild the engine. He said the engine had something like, I don’t even know whether it had 100 hrs on it or not. So he bought that and he used it himself for two or three years, then he sold to to Tim O’Donovan who named it the Bamba.” O’Donovan owned the boat for 26 years, and he loved it so much that his 2011 obituary included a couple of paragraphs about it.
Other boats that Drew remembered
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included Teaser, JJ (for John J. Nissan), a yacht with a full cabin which was owned by one of the Soule family of Soule Glass, and a couple other commercial boats. Drew found Cavanaugh very easy to work with on repair jobs. “I’d get him to help me every once in a while, he’d get me to give him a hand once in a while. Either one of us, if we had something where it was nice to have a second hand, I think he probably felt the same way about me as I did about him. I could say here’s what we gotta do, you take that part and I’ll take that part there... All’s I’d have to tell him, or him to me, was say, ‘How fancy do you want to go?’” Cavanaugh was known as having an ongoing penchant for drinking. “He always
had Caldwell’s rum, was his drink. And Pep- si-Cola, to cut her down a little bit,” Drew said. “He could take a paper cup of it and it would last an hour or something. He wasn’t downing it, he’d take these little sips and set it down, and then he’d bullshit for 15 or 20 minutes or so and then he’d take another little sip.”
One job Drew and Cavanaugh worked on together was a project at Gowen’s for Dana Bowker. “We were refi nishing the hull, the boat had been sitting in the yard for 4 or 5 years, so the paintwork had peeled and stuff like that. So I told Dana, ‘I ought to have some help on this here.’ He said okay, so I got ahold of Cavanaugh, cause I can throw Cavanaugh on one side and me on the other, and I wasn’t having somebody come over to ask me ‘what do you think about this’ or ‘what do you think about that.’ All I told old Cavanaugh, I says, ‘Just do what you think.’ “Cavanaugh says, ‘How good?’ “I says, ‘Medium or so. Not a real candy job, just a nice-looking job, that’s all.’ “So Dana shows up, he says, ‘What the hell you got Cavanaugh here for, anyway?’ “I says, ‘What do you mean?’ “He says, ‘Well, he drinks!’ “And I says, ‘Yeah, so didn’t you till you got diabetes, and then you had to knock it off.’ I says, ‘Look, I got him cause I can put him over there and he’s not gonna bother me. I can keep on going with what I’m doing all day long, and at the end of the day, it’s see you tomorrow.’” “So the fi rst day, about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, Cavanaugh says, ‘I gotta go over to the shop for a minute.’ “I says, ‘Yeah, okay.’ And then he didn’t come back. But he was there the next day. “So next day about 2 o’clock, he says, ‘I gotta go over to the shop for a minute.’ “I says, ‘Well, okay. Go ahead.’ And he
didn’t come back.
“So I said, what the hell is this, anyway? Then I says, ah. Going over to get a drink. “So on the way home I bought a bottle
of Caldwell’s rum and a 6-pack of Pepsi. The next day about 2, why Cavanaugh says, ‘I gotta go over to the shop for a minute.’ “And I says, ‘No,’ I says, ‘you don’t.’ “‘Yeah,’ he says, ‘I do.’
“And I says, ‘No, just go in the back of my truck there.’ (I had a camper-like body I had built on, for a mobile shop. Also had it fi xed up for camping, so it had a counter in there and a stove and stuff.) I says, ‘What you want is right on the counter there.’ “So he goes up in, he comes back out, he says, ‘Okay!’ So he had his drink and then he went back to work. “I told him, ‘You want another one a little bit later on, go to it. I know it ain’t gonna affect your work.’”
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