A Boat Of His Own
I first met Eric Woods some time in the early 1980s, when he worked for C.E. Ryder, builder of the Southern Cross and Sea Sprite lines of boats, and I for Cruising World.
One of the truly fine men in the boating business, Eric is soft spoken with a kindly twinkle in his eyes. He loves sailboats. The apple of his eye has always been the Block Island 40. The full history of this beautiful Bill Tripp design is detailed in my recently released book, Heart of Glass: Fiberglass Boats and the Men Who Made Them. Briefly, the design was commissioned by Connecticut yacht broker Arie Van Breems and built by American Boatbuilding in East Greenwich, Rhode Island. Hull #1 slid down the ways in December 1957. Henry Hinckley later commissioned Tripp to design the very similar Bermuda 40, but Eric has always believed that the BI 40 is the better boat.
Following a dispute between American Boatbuilding and Tripp over proposed design changes, Tripp took the molds and transported them to Metalmast Marine in Putnam, Connecticut. Eric, badly wanting a BI 40 for himself, bought the tooling (molds) from Metalmast in the early 1980s. After restoring the tooling to the original design, he moved it around, from Barry Carroll’s Rhode Island shop, back to Ryder’s and finally to his own building in Wareham, Massachusetts. The problem was, he couldn’t afford to build one for himself, so, with the help of two sons, he built them for others.
In 1987, my wife Andra and I took off cruising on our Pearson Vanguard. One month into it, she became pregnant. A month later word came that my 12-year-old son Peter, playing on a trestle, had been struck by a train and killed. We rushed to his home in Michigan. Eventually we returned to the boat, knowing that Pete would have wanted us to. We lumbered down the Intracoastal Waterway, weighted with unspeakable sorrow.
News of Pete’s death preceded us, and the people we met were gracious. But none really knew the loss I felt.
By year’s end we were in Florida where Andra found an obstetrician. For the next months we poked around the keys and west coast of the state. In February, we stopped at the Miami Boat Show to see our friends from Cruising World. I was standing in the booth chatting when to the side I heard a voice calling my name. Looking over, I saw Eric Woods. He motioned me aside.
Eric said he’d heard about Pete and how sorry he was. I’d heard that plenty of times and was always appreciative. Then he went on, about what I cannot now even remember, but slowly I came to realize where from Eric spoke.
“Eric,” I said quietly. “Did you lose a child, too?”
“Yes,” he said. “My daughter was killed by a drunk driver on the night of her high school graduation.”
By now we both had tears welling in our eyes.
That was the first time I’d talked to someone who had also experienced the terrible unfairness of having a son or daughter precede you in death. Leapfrog you, as it were, on the path of no return. And for that brief moment, I have always been indebted to Eric, bonded to him in a horribly beautiful way.
The years passed. Time helps heal but the wound never closes. Eric kept building the BI 40 for others. We sailed one together once—a yawl belonging to a customer—across Buzzards Bay in a brisk breeze, jib and jigger. Just him and me. We didn’t talk about our two lost children. Didn’t need to. Besides, what can you say?
So it came as both a surprise and a befitting coda when last week he called to say that he’d sold the Migrator Yacht Co. (see p. 39) and was going cruising with his wife Joan.
“On what?” I naively asked.
“On what?! Danny, my friend, I built the last one for myself.”
— Dan Spurr