2017-10-27 / Front Page

Revered boatbuilder remembered

Landing School students replicate design of Kennebunkport’s Booth Chick, who would have been 100 this year
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer
Posthumous mentor


Friends of Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick, Cecil Benson, left, and Herve Lavoie, right, examine one of his wooden punts during an Oct. 20 tour at The Landing School in Arundel as student Ben Swift, of New Hampshire, takes measurements. Four replicas of the boat will be launched Oct. 31 to mark the centennial of Chick’s birth. Left, Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick (1917-2000), from a photo believed to have been taken in the 1960s. He will be honored Oct. 31 with the launching of four wooden punts built by students of The Landing School in Arundel using one of his designs. (Duke Harrington photo/Courtesy photo) Friends of Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick, Cecil Benson, left, and Herve Lavoie, right, examine one of his wooden punts during an Oct. 20 tour at The Landing School in Arundel as student Ben Swift, of New Hampshire, takes measurements. Four replicas of the boat will be launched Oct. 31 to mark the centennial of Chick’s birth. Left, Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick (1917-2000), from a photo believed to have been taken in the 1960s. He will be honored Oct. 31 with the launching of four wooden punts built by students of The Landing School in Arundel using one of his designs. (Duke Harrington photo/Courtesy photo) ARUNDEL — One of Kennebunkport’s best boat builders and most respected residents, Booth Chick, will be remembered in a memorial launch Oct. 31 when students at the Landing School in Arundel take oars with four wooden punts they’ve crafted based on his design.

“He would be very honored, I think, but he would be pretty humble about it. He was never the kind of man to celebrate himself,” Chick’s daughter, Patti Tynan, said Monday. “Still, I think it’s a wonderful thing they are doing.”

“Humble” is the one word used by everyone who recalls Chick, who passed away in 2000, and would have been 100 this year.

Local resident Ken Raynor, who recently published the book, “I Call Him “Mr. President” — Stories of Golf, Fishing, and Life with My Friend George H. W. Bush,” has several passages in the memoir that feature Chick.

“They don’t make ‘em like that anymore,” he said of Chick in an Oct. 23 interview. “He was an extremely humble man, but an incredible talent and craftsman. The whole town, whenever somebody needed something fixed and they didn’t know how to do it, it was always, ‘Call Booth,’ or, ‘Go over and see Booth in his workshop.’ And he was always so kind and willing to do that.”


Landing School students Willy Jones, of Kennebunk, left, and Patrick N’Docky, of Congo, right, take a moment Oct. 20 to contemplate their next step during work to replicate a wooden punt designed by Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick. (Duke Harrington photo) Landing School students Willy Jones, of Kennebunk, left, and Patrick N’Docky, of Congo, right, take a moment Oct. 20 to contemplate their next step during work to replicate a wooden punt designed by Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick. (Duke Harrington photo) More than the marina he founded, located at 75 Ocean Ave. in Kennebunkport, Chick is best known for the boats that came out of his shop, from small punts (flat-bottomed boats with square bows used to access larger boats and other river navigation), lobster boats (many of which are still in use today), and the small 14-foot sailboats known as Chickadees, on which generations of locals and visitors from away first learned to harness the wind off the shores of Kennebunkport.


Landing School students Josh Grimes of South Portland, left, and Kendry Blanco of the Bronx, New York, work Oct. 20 on one of four wooden punts being built based on the design of Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick, to be launched Oct. 31 to mark the centennial of Chick’s birth. (Duke Harrington photo) Landing School students Josh Grimes of South Portland, left, and Kendry Blanco of the Bronx, New York, work Oct. 20 on one of four wooden punts being built based on the design of Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick, to be launched Oct. 31 to mark the centennial of Chick’s birth. (Duke Harrington photo) Chick’s red and white pickup truck was a fixture in town and, as reserved as he was, there was no mistaking his customary “uniform” of navy shirt and red pants.

“You could always see Booth coming from a mile away,” Raynor recalled with a laugh.

In his later years, Chick liked to sit at Government Wharf by the baithouse and watch the boats he built sail in and out of the Kennebunk River. Raynor announced plans to install a bench there in Chick’s honor, but as a mark of his humility, Raynor says, Chick insisted that it not go in until after he died.


Landing School Director of Education Rich Woodman points during an Oct. 20 tour, to a work being done by boat building student Ben Swift of New Hampshire to replicate a wooden punt designed and built by the late Booth Chick, as one of Chick’s friends, 91-year-old Cecil Benson, looks on. (Duke Harrington photo) Landing School Director of Education Rich Woodman points during an Oct. 20 tour, to a work being done by boat building student Ben Swift of New Hampshire to replicate a wooden punt designed and built by the late Booth Chick, as one of Chick’s friends, 91-year-old Cecil Benson, looks on. (Duke Harrington photo) Raynor, who has a punt built by Chick, similar to the one being replicated by the Landing School students, says that in his retirement years, the master craftsman turned to model shipbuidling.

One of his creations was a three-foot-long replica of the U.S.S. Constitution.

“It took him a year and a half to build. It was just unbelievable,” Raynor said. “He wanted me to present it to the president. Of course, I said, not a chance. I’m not going to give it to him, you are. You built it.”

The model made the trip to the nation’s capitol carried gingerly in the lap of an aide, but the Navy wanted to check the model for authenticity to the original before it went in the White House.

“They came back said it was the best the best replica they had ever seen,” Raynor said.

The model lived in the Oval Office during the elder Bush’s tenure there, and then held a place of honor in Bush’s office in Houston. Today it is kept at the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas.

But, of course, Chick was no random local when he offered up his version of America’s most famous ship to Kennebunkport’s most famous resident. In fact, Chick was an early role model of the future president, whose first reported ambition was to be just like the boy who would become a local institution.

In a November 1988 article in the Los Angeles Times, reporter John Balzar recounted a recent Bush speech in which the president recalled standing on the shores of the Kennebunk River at age 6, watching Chick, then 11, race up and down the waterway in a tiny skiff outfitted with an oversized motor.

“I said someday I’d like to be able to do that,” Bush said.

Just has he once inspired a future leader of the free world to dream big, Chick is now, 17 years after his death, serving as a role model to the next generation of his chosen profession.

The Landing School is the oldest operating school of its type in the United States and is today the only school in the world offering accredited programs in yacht design, wooden boat building, composite boat building and marine systems under one roof. It is at the forefront of green design and technological innovation using space-age materials, but it still starts, as everything must, with the basics.

The school’s director of education, Rich Woodman, knew Chick well. In fact, he now has Chick’s old workbench in his own shop. About a year ago, Woodman came into possession of an old 1960s-era punt, the Sarah B. designed and built by Chick. Coincidentally, Tynan’s daughter Sarah, now 38, has Booth as her middle name.

After doing a little bit of restoration work to the Sarah B., Woodman realized it would make a great starter project for the 14 first-year students in the school’s wooden boat-building class.

“It’s a rather simple design that allows for a quick build before we move on to a more ambitious build after the winter break,” he said. “And we thought it would be a nice tribute to Booth, who built some of the nicest-looking wooden lobster boats ever seen in this area, given that this is his design and he built a number of boats of this type, many of which are still in use, particularly at the Arundel Yacht Club here in town.”

The project is giving the students their first chance to “loft out” a boat — drafting from mathematical tables a curved frame onto which a boat frame is built in advanced woodworking techniques.

The final 10-foot-long product, though deceptively simple in construction, is an elegant design, Woodman says, which skips easily across a river current.

“One of the great attributes of this design is that not only do these boats row very well, they tow very well,” Woodman said. “It has a curved rocker in the front that makes for very little drag. It will lift and tow behind a boat without digging in or tracking funny. It will just skip along the tide.”

“I really like the project,” said Landing School President Dr. Richard Schuhmann. “We have our students build two boats their first year, and with the first one they’re doing everything for the first time. So, to a lot of them, it’s kind of like a magic trick. It’s kind of like the first time you drive a car, you’re so busy focusing on the wheel, you don’t have time to fiddle with the stereo, or the wipers, or the lights. You have to concentrate all your attention on the one, main task. This is great no frills design to achieve that. Then, from here, most of these students will go on to build 19-foot center console power boats, to apply all of the key skills they learned on this.”

“That we can also celebrate the life of Booth Chick through this build is just fantastic,” Schuhmann said. “I’m just thrilled that we are building a boat that originated here in the community, using local Maine wood.”

The students at the Landing School are as varied as the ships on which they work.

Patrick N’Docky, 43, for example, comes from Congo, where he initiated a plan to invigorate the local fishing economy using quality modern boats that can be built locally, rather than rely expensive imports or the traditional designs lashed together from jungle trees since time immemorial.

“I am here to acquire the knowledge to do that, since I am the only member of my community who can speak English” he said. “It is very, very important to do this because my home country is facing a great economic and financial crisis due to the collapse of oil prices on the international markets. All of our economy was based on oil, so it is hoped this can help provide our people with a new and improved industry, if we can find the financial support put this plan into action.”

As he seeks that backing for when he returns home, N’Docky says he is thrilled with the education he is receiving, particularly the Chick design, which he hopes to teach his fellow home-country fisherman how to build.

“It is very good — very, very amazing and interesting. This is a great discovery for me and very important,” he said of his first project. “If we can import this knowledge into my country, I think it will be very, very important to our survival.”

Ben Swift, meanwhile, is a New Hampshire native who graduated from the University of Bridgeport this past May with a degree in industrial design. He ventured down that path initially intending to make a career designing sneakers, but summer work at a local marina inspired him to switch to boatbuilding instead.

“I just fell in love with boats,” he said. “And as I went on, I realized I just didn’t want to live in the city and work behind a desk.”

Swift says his first impression of his first boat build was that “Booth Chick is kind of a funny name.”

“But as I started working on it, and began to realize who he was and what he meant to the community here, to be able to work on a boat that he designed and built is really a special thing, to me at least. This is kind of the S.S. Minnow, but it’s a great project to learn on and it’s cool to be a part of the history this all represents.”

Swift expects to return to his native Lake Winnipesaukee area and a career designing and building boats based on the fundamentals he’s learning from following Chick’s example.

“There’s tons of stuff I’m learning in this hat will stay with me forever and be a part of every other boat I ever build,” he said.

One student who plans stay in the area, however, is Josh Grimes, 31, of Virginia Beach who admits he had a “real rough transition” into civilian life in 2014 after a decade as an ordnance systems technician in the U.S. Navy.

Grimes met his wife Kate while both served at the former Naval Air Station in Brunswick, had two sons here, and, having fallen in love with Maine, elected to stay and raise their family here. Finding the Landing School was an accident of searching the internet for some way to make a living locally. Both enrolled in the school.

“The staff here has supported us in ways that are truly humbling,” he said, noting that the couple was allowed to borrow tools they needed to start off.

“For me and my wife, this is the best thing that has happened to us in our adult lives,” Grimes said. “In the Navy, I got really good at a job I was not interested in. It was cool, but it was not satisfying. This allows us a chance to learn a trade we can both do together, something we can really take pride in, and something that we can use to teach our children a strong work ethic.”

Grimes says he is honored to be learning how to carry on the tradition of Maine boat building, studying “the proper way” to do the job as exemplified in Chick’s many works.

“One of my main takeaways is not just learning a trade and getting a good job in the area, but becoming a part of this community,” he said. “I’ve been all across the country and all over the Earth, but have been able to experience people from all over. And I have to say, overall, the Maine community is more along my moral and personality baseline than any other. I relate more to the people here than even the southerners were I’m from. I believe more in what the community believes in up here, and I wanted to be a part of that. I’m just honored that we’re been able to fit in here because this is our dream home. We want to stay here.

It’s been a struggle to get here, and it’s a challenge to stay here,” Grimes said, “but we recognize we have to earn it every day. That’s what I understand Mr. Chick did with every boat he built. And now, being here, my wife and I, we can understand why he stayed here, and why others spend their whole year prepping to come here for just a little bit, only to go back home.”

The four wooden punts based on Chick’s design will be christened and launched at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 31, at the South Congregational Church, located at 2 North St. in Kennebunkport.

Memorial launch

The launch of four wooden punts based on the design of Kennebunkport boatbuilder Booth Chick, all crafted by students at The Landing School in Arundel, will take place at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 31, at the South Congregational Church, located at 2 North St. in Kennebunkport.

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