My Experience

 

Saint Raphael Academy, Class of 1964

US Naval Academy, Class of 1968

USN Active Duty 1968-1973

Melges Boat Works, 1973

Melges is located in Zenda, Wisconsin, near Lake Geneva. It was, and still is, the premier builder of racing scows. Back then, they used white oak and cedar. Today, alas, only fiberglass and carbon fiber. While at Melges, I helped Henry glue up and shape sitka spruce masts and Fritz plank the hulls for their 28 foot E class scows. The man who handed me my paycheck every Friday afternoon was Buddy Melges, who had already won an olympic medal and would later, in 1993, win the America’s Cup as skipper of America3.   Co-worker Bill Slaby, a talented woodworker and marimba player, told me about Nimphius Boat Company, located just 90 miles to the north.

Nimphius Boat Company, 1974-76

Large workshop under construction at Nimphius Boat Company with Yellowbird inside.
Placing the bulwarks with the drag line – much easier with no roof! That’s Linda on the left, and our old Ford station wagon in the distance. See other photos of Yellowbird’s construction in the new work shed below.

Among the most interesting 2  1/2 years of my life, the time spent working at Nimphius Boat Company was life-changing. You can get a good flavor of the great experience it was to work for Ferd Nimphius by watching this interview by Charles Kuralt of “On the Road” fame.

The rest of Ferd’s family was equally inspiring. Betty Nimphius would bake cookies or brownies for the crew at coffee break, and often served home made soup at lunch time. Their seven children also made time in and around the shop lively and upbeat.

I was lucky to arrive at Nimphius at the start of construction of two beautiful boats – a 34 foot Atkins designed double-ended cutter to eventually be named Ariel, and a 60 foot motorsailer designed by Steve Seaton to be called Yellowbird.

I was also lucky that Bill Slaby decided to leave Melges to  come to work at Nimphius. Imagine making teak shavings in the old dairy barn. It’s 10 degrees outside with no heat except right next to the big potbelly stove. You’re listening to classical on the car radio up on the shelf connected to a 12 volt battery, and struggling to figure what the name of that symphony is. Bill tells you – not just the name and composer, but also the orchestra, conductor and venue. What a place!

 

Rhode Island Marine Services, 1976-77

Linda eventually got tired of snow on her birthday (May 3rd), and I needed to get back East. Rhode Island Marine Services, in Snug Harbor, provided quite a change of pace. They built 70-90 foot steel draggers and lobster boats, turning out about one every quarter. The carpenter crew, varying from 2 to 4 people, finished off the crew quarters, pilot house and lobster pens. We also did various chores in the yard. I got to pour my first concrete slab inside the paint shed. In one of the most interesting side jobs, Brion Rieff and I (with the help of a crane operator), raised the roof of the main shed (a 50′ x 100′ pole building) by eight feet.  Brion now owns and operates Brion Rieff Boatbuilders, Inc., near Brooklin, Maine. If you don’t already believe (as I do) that wooden boats are man’s most beautiful inventions, take a look at Brion’s creations. You may be swayed.

 

Mystic Seaport, 1978

During a too-brief 6 month stay at Mystic Seaport, I had the honor to work with some of the best boat carpenters in the business! Most of my time was spent helping to replace deck beams and decking on the coal-fired, steam/propeller driven riverboat Sabino.

 

1978-2002 Engineer, US Army, Red River Army Depot and Picatinny Arsenal

There, I worked with a lot of great people, including fellow engineers Dean, Chris, Joel, Ron, Tony and Joe (and their families too). Without their help, the keel may never have been laid, nor any planks steam-bent!

(NOTE: For latest work on the boat, check the Planking page.)

Comments would be greatly appreciated. You can contact me (Mike Danesi) at mnldanesi@gmail.com.