Replica of native Block Island boat gets a do-over
When asked how he came to his current project — the restoration of a Block Island Double Ender replica, the Unity — John Puckett gives a slight shrug of the shoulders and provides a very simple answer.
I had gotten caught up wondering when John was introduced to boating, how he became interested in wooden boats, and what led him to become a student at the International Yacht Restoration School (IYRS) in Newport. But the truth is, John can’t recall the time before he found his sea legs. In his words, “I had a paintbrush in my hand when I was seven, and I’ve had one ever since.”
It was around that time that John’s parents, Laura and Larry Puckett, built Ruling Passion, their 45-foot trimaran, which has been chartered out of Great Salt Pond since 1998. Until he reached his early teens, John and his family lived aboard their boat, traveling seasonally between Block Island, Florida and the Caribbean; John still lends a hand aboard the boat he was raised on, as “relief captain or crew.” His father has built numerous boats and used to have a shop. After hearing a little bit about John’s unconventional, but rich childhood, it’s an understatement to say that enrolling at IYRS and restoring Unity was a natural step.
John became a student of wooden boat building and restoration at IYRS in 2011, and completed his program this past June. He explains, “I decided to go to the school in Newport to fine-tune my skills and learn the formal way [to build boats] and as soon as I got there I realized how little I really knew.” Along his journey to perfecting traditional wooden construction, he was led to Unity, a Double Ender replica owned by the Block Island Historical Society. Unity was built on Cape Cod in 1972 from historical plans located at the Smithsonian Institute; it came to the Historical Society in 2004. Between John’s first and second years at IYRS, he designed his own internship, which is when he began work on Unity’s restoration.
Double Enders hold particular significance because they are considered the only boat native to Block Island. Little is known about their early origins, but they came into use between the 1660s and the early 1700s. These double-masted, sail-powered boats are iconic to the island and the industrious fishermen who settled here because of their unrivaled seaworthiness, even in winter storms, and their diverse functionality. It was not unheard of for Double Enders to travel over 100 miles offshore for a fishing excursion and it is rumored that only one or two were ever reported lost at sea. In addition to serving as reliable fishing vessels, Double Enders transported cargo, livestock, and passengers year-round between Block Island and the mainland. Unfortunately, they became obsolete once motorized vessels became the norm and their existence has been dwindling ever since.
John, along with the Historical Society, is working toward making the Unity accessible to island residents and visitors so they can learn more about the boat. So far John has spent the bulk of his time researching Double Enders so that he could remove the parts of Unity not historically accurate, including the deck and cabin. Despite its disrepair, John is grateful that Unity boasts a mahogany planked hull, rather than a cedar one (as the originals had), making it virtually rot-resistant. Still, John estimates that from its current state, Unity will require another 500 hours of work. Fundraising has been John’s biggest hurdle; approximately a quarter of the project’s $10,000 goal has been met.
As for John’s own dreams, he certainly has plans of building a boat of his own someday, but when asked whether it will be a sailboat or a power boat, he says, it doesn’t matter, just as long as it’s a wooden boat!
For more information, or to donate to the Unity restoration project, visit www.gofundme.com/46da94. John is also accepting any donations of oak or cedar, for he will ultimately build a cradle for Unity to be displayed in. Contact him at JohnPuckett85@yahoo.com.