The Block Island Times

The SV Scrimshaw

By J. V. Houlihan, Jr. | Jan 05, 2013
Courtesy of: Al Butler Old Harbor from the SV Scrimshaw, 1971

The MV Manitou was the new kid in town, when the Butler brothers took this shot leaving Old Harbor, while heading into a Northwest breeze. (It looks like it was taken in early spring, May perhaps.) Note the two white buildings to the right of the Manitou. One is now the Old Harbor Takeout, and next door is the Glass Onion. Across the street was Margie's Stage Door. Also, off the Manitou's starboard bow you can just make out a couple of trucks, one was Lew Gaffet's, and the other was Earl Smiths. The Butler brothers were hardcore sailors.

   Scrimshaw hailed from Point Judtih. She was a 28 foot Friendship sloop, with 16.9 feet at the waterline and an eight foot beam. There was 18 inches of freeboard from her oar locks. The Butler's were purists; Scrimshaw was enginless. Sean Butler went sailing to, "get back to nature". He wasn't fond of the smell of gas and oil. Subsequently, if the wind slacked, well, he had to row if he wanted to get to a destination.

   In '71, the brothers left Point Judith at midnight one Friday evening. They'd planned to sail to Block Island, and then head over to Menemsha on Marthas' Vineyard. Four hours out of Point Judith, the wind slacked and they drifted east with the tide. When the wind picked up, they decided to head to Menemsha. After an eventless sail east to the Vineyard, they short tacked into Menemsha harbor(a fifty foot channel entrance) into an outgoing 4.5 knot current; most sailors motor through this entrance to the anchorage. They spent the night on the hook, then decided to head for Block Island on Saturday afternoon. When they left the Vineyard, it was blowing out of the Northwest about 15 to 20 knots.

   Although a Friendship sloop is a sturdy boat, with a good size sail plan: a gaff rigged main, a flying jib and a working jib, they do not point well to windward( they were used for lobstering up in Maine). The Butlers were beating between the Vineyard and Elizabeth Islands into a head tide and as a result, they made very little headway. After finally weathering Cuttyhunk, and beating to windward for sixteen hours, the men were getting hungry and very tired. Sean Butler was able to eat a little food, and his brother only drank some tea. The seas and tides were making heading west a very unpleasent boat ride. Moreover, they were tacking through a busy shipping lane for tankers and freighters coming out of and into Buzzards Bay. By the time Scrimshaw got to Bretton Reef off Newport, the wind finally died. So, the brothers decided to row Scrimshaw to Wickford.

   After getting beat up slogging west from the Vineyard, the tenacious Butler brothers, rowed 11 miles to Wickford. It took 6 grueling hours. The drill was, one guy would row with the huge and heavy oars, and one guy would  man the helm. Rowing was done by standing and balancing on the balls of your feet; the workload was cumbersome and arduous. Scrimshaw and her crew got back to Point Judith eventually, and continued to sail enginless for years to come.


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