I clearly recall the occasion that triggered my love of wooden boats. It was 1967, a time before locks and “No Admittance” signs. I was 13 years old, and the place was Seth Persson’s boat shop in Old Saybrook, Connecticut. My brother and I were poking around and stepped into a room with a good-sized sailing yacht under construction. I remember standing ankle deep in shavings and peering up at the graceful thing before us, my nostrils filled with the sweet smell of freshly worked wood. The hook was set. How, then, could I resist a work so replete with the sights, sounds, and smells of wooden boats as Wooden Boats Volume II, by Benjamin Mendlowitz and Maynard Bray?
Open the pages and you almost expect to smell varnish, gleaming varnish, perfectly applied varnish, varnish like I could only wish to have on my own boat. But not all boats are floating palaces of perfection, and Volume II acknowledges working vessels that don’t have the time or exchequer to attain a yacht-like finish. These boats are no less beautiful in their own way, and no harbor scene is complete without them. The writer and photographer also remind us that a finely wrought vessel does not have to be big to be beautiful. Boats as seemingly mundane as a canvas-covered canoe can excite our senses just as well as opulent Fife yachts of the Edwardian era.
All the boats in Volume II are wonderful in and of themselves; however, it is the talent of Benjamin Mendlowitz that brings out the best in them. He possesses a remarkable ability that balances subject, light, clouds and sea state. There’s just something about those late-day, low-light pictures that make me stop and pause. I only wish I could row my peapod around the Concordia yawl Starlight and admire her from other angles.
His wonderful photographs are further enhanced by the dialog of Maynard Bray. Maynard’s words are always carefully chosen, well researched, and convey a certain reverence for the boat he is describing.
If the photographs and their accompanying text seem familiar, it’s because they have previously graced the monthly pages of the WoodenBoat Calendar. If Santa has faithfully given you a calendar every year for as long as you can remember, you probably have many of these pages already tacked up on the walls of your shop. What Wooden Boats Volume II lacks in originality it more than makes up in its beautiful coffee-table format, perfect for those who would rather not search the walls of a dusty shop for inspiration.
Ownership of this book is a frivolity. This is a book you buy for hedonistic pleasure. So when life’s little problems seem to get you down, let me suggest that you brew yourself some tea and run through the pages of Wooden Boats Volume II. It’s the next best thing to being aboard.
Wooden Boats Volume II Photographs by Benjamin Mendlowitz, Texty by Maynard Bray ( W.W. Norton & Company, 2000)