Ruark Boatworks turns hull of Miss Polly

Paul Clipper
Posted 8/1/14

Where the whole idea started! CAMBRIDGE -- The “turning of the hull” of any boat is a proud event in any boat shop, and it always marks the start of a new phase in the boat building process. Once …

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Ruark Boatworks turns hull of Miss Polly


MissPolly Where the whole idea started!

CAMBRIDGE -- The “turning of the hull” of any boat is a proud event in any boat shop, and it always marks the start of a new phase in the boat building process. Once the hull is turned, the fitting of the interior can begin, and it means a clear vision of the end of the project and the launching of the new boat. Hull turning is usually done with a certain amount of pomp and circumstance, no matter the size of the boat, and this morning invited friends and well-wishers stopped by the Boatworks to help celebrate the event.

“Miss Polly” is the name of a new lighthouse tender, now on the stands inside Ruark Boatworks. The Boatworks is a part of the Richardson Maritime Museum, and was named after Harold Ruark, a local boat designer and modeler and the designer of the skipjack Nathan of Dorchester.

How did Miss Polly come about? Board member Peter Zukoski tells the story: “The Lighthouse Committee approached the Richardson to build a boat to hang from davits at the lighthouse at the head of Cambridge Creek. They provided us with the plans that were originally designed in Newport News in 1940. It was a lighthouse launch, or tender, it was used by the men to get out to the lighthouse. It was a standard design, built to get the men to the light house and bring them back.  They had to be pretty good sea boats.


“At any rate, they provided us with the plans. We met with them and discussed building an actual boat, but we decided that would not be the best way to go about it because the boat they wanted wouldn’t be any more than a model—a full sized model, but it wasn’t going to be a usable boat,” said Peter, since the lighthouse intended to hang it from davits as a display, more or less.

That doesn’t mean this boat being built isn’t a real boat. As far as the hull goes, “the framing would have been a little more beefy,” Steve Martinson, also from Richardson, added, “we’re using bulkheads to develop the shape of the boat, where the original boat had nine inch spacing on oak ribs that were probably steam-bent into place. The original plans also used 5/8 inch cedar planking, where we’re using half-inch cedar. That means less weight, and a third of the amount of framing involved. The big difference is there’s no motor in this one. The original boat was built very stoutly because back in 1940 even four-cylinder engines weighed what a big V-8 weighs today. That was a substantial chunk of iron that was inside the boat; that’s five or six hundred pounds that we don’t have to deal with.”

“The engineer who put the davits up on the lighthouse suggested that the entire display couldn’t weigh more than 2000 pounds,” Peter told us. “We were limited in what we could build, so we went through the building materials, we had to weigh everything and calculate the weight. We’re probably going to be two or three hundred pounds under that limit when the boat is complete.

“There won’t be a cockpit in the boat, because that would be a maintenance issue. Hanging out on the davits 12 months out of the year, in the winter with snow laying in it and all. So we’re completely decking it over to keep the weather out, and to keep people from throwing trash in it. It’ll make it easier to maintain it in the long run.”


Has it been fun? “Yeah, it’s fun,” Peter said, “’From a vacant space,’ as they say, developing the complete shape (from a set of plans). It’s a very nice process—the lofting process, taking it from drawings up to full size, creating the frame or the ‘ladder,’ as I call it, it all really defines the uniqueness of the boat.”

When will it be finished? “We don’t know. The Richardson (Ruark) Boatworks is a volunteer business. There’s been some setbacks due to illness, the weather this spring was horrible, we had just moved into this building and the building wasn’t completely ready. Much of the effort in the beginning was spent in getting the building in shape, getting all the equipment in line and powered up before we could get started.”

“In the beginning of the year it was just a pile of sticks and two sheets of paper,” Steve said. It took them a month just to go from paper plans to develop the lines of the boat. “But we’ve made some progress and here we are. I think things will go a little bit quicker now. The rest of the process is a little more straightforward, and easier to visualize. You’ll see some more rapid progress over the next couple months or so.”

Is building a boat hard? “Hard? Well, even if you build a model, something two feet long,” Peter tells us, “if you build it the way a wooden boat is built, it still has the same number of pieces that a 60-footer is going to have. The only difference is the relative sizes of everything. That’s all. It’s been done for 4,000 years. It’s not a new idea!”

Ruark Boatworks Cambridge Dorchester Banner/Paul Clipper Celebrating the turning of the hull of Miss Polly at the Ruark Boatworks in Cambridge. From left, Bob Bilodeau, Steve Martinson, Ken Guelta, Guy Gray, and Peter Zukoski.

This is the first boat to be turned out of the Ruark Boatworks in their new location, and the team hopes to see Miss Polly finished and launched this fall. The Lighthouse Committee is working on other improvements to the Cambridge Lighthouse—“Everyone’s lighthouse, the town’s lighthouse!” according to George Wright, president of the Lighthouse Committee. They recently acquired an original fifth-order Fresnel lens, being donated by the U.S. Coast Guard Society, and are building a mahogany frame to hold it in the lighthouse. Also an original bell and striker of the same type used in the lighthouse was found in Maine this year, and that will be installed as well.

Look for everything to come together this fall, and come visit the lighthouse soon!

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