Young Harwich wooden boat builder James Donovan launches cutter

ORLEANS - (8/6/04) It took four years, a keen artist's eye, tons of wood and the patience of a saint for Jim Donovan to build his magnum opus. He calculated that he spent more than 6,000 hours cutting wood; shaping the hull, deck and keel; and lacquering the paint on this 30-foot-plus wooden cutter sailboat. As the humble boat-building prodigy watched Carina flawlessly glide into Arey's Pond on Friday, he said it was all worthwhile. "This is pretty cool," said Donovan, a shy young man known more for his mastery of woodworking than his verbosity, as he waved to more than 100 onlookers during the inaugural boat launch.

Donovan's fans put it better by labeling the green and white boat a masterpiece. What impressed them most is that Donovan is only 22. He began crafting the massive sailboat, named after a constellation, by himself at 17. "It's like climbing Mount Everest without oxygen or a young child perfectly playing Beethoven's Fifth," raved Tony Davis, owner of Arey's Pond Boat Yard. "He really is that good." Davis couldn't have been a prouder mentor. He provided guidance to Donovan while the Harwich native built his sailboat at the boatyard.

When Donovan, who has worked at the boatyard since age 15, proposed the idea, Davis said he knew Donovan could handle the task. The problem was they didn't have a barn big enough to house the structure. So Donovan picked up plywood and built a 30-by-40-foot barn. "I have spent every free second there," said Donovan. "I practically lived there." Building such a large sailboat from scratch would seem financially unfeasible to most adults, let alone a teenager. When asked how much he poured into the project, Donovan was typically coy. "It cost whatever I had," he said. Buying the specialty Angelique and Wana woods, which are often used in boats because of their density and durability, drained his pockets the most. They had to be shipped from Suriname, a country on the northeast coast of South America.

No challenge has ever seemed too big for Donovan. When he was 10, he used his earnings from his Cape Cod Times paper route to buy a 12-foot Beetle Cat sailboat. "He used every penny he had to buy that," said his mom, Kim Baylis. "That was his pride and joy." In his teens, Donovan began building and refurbishing dozens of small catboats and dinghys. Davis quickly hired him as a boat builder at Arey's Pond Boat Yard. Donovan's dedication to his craft is a trait passed through his family. His great-grandfather, Fred Bennett Sr., was a master boat builder.

On Friday, Donovan watched and beamed with pride, as his mom, uncle Will Bennett, and 90-year-old great-grandmother Connie Bennett smashed a bottle of champagne on the boat during the christening. "I couldn't have done it without their support," Donovan said. Added grandfather Fred Bennett Jr.: "We couldn't be more proud of his accomplishment." Some might be amazed by the craftsmanship displayed by such a young boat builder, and his preference of traditional materials and methods over more high-tech ones. But Donovan said he prefers the old-fashioned techniques.

Donovan bemoans today's culture of producing cheaper Fiberglas boats in mass quantity and prefers to keep to the traditions of years past. "I love the feel and smell of wood, it's very natural," said Donovan adding that building the cabin and interior with mahogany was one of this favorite activities. Jean Hunerwadel, an Orleans resident and boat enthusiast, was so impressed by Donovan's work early on that he decided to make a mini-documentary about the project. He's been working on the mini-documentary since day one. "It is so spectacular what he did," he said. "This is such a huge endeavor and he was so meticulous." With the project completed, Donovan said he intends to relax and prepare to move on to his next goal - a solo sail around the world. "I'll make it someday," he said sheepishly.

By JASON KOLNOS - Cape Cod Times
(Published: August 8, 2004)

Police probe thefts at Allen's Harbor

HARWICH - (8/8/04) Harwich Police are investigating thefts from boats over this past weekend at Allen's Harbor in Harwichport. Boats at the harbor were burglarized and various items stolen, police say. Police are pursuing leads in the case, according to an e-mail from the department's new Silent Partner alert system. They also are asking that anyone with any information to contact Detective Bob Brackett or Officer Chris VanNess at (508) 430-7542. Read more about thefts and Harwich police's new system in tomorrow's Cape Cod Times.

Harwich Harbormaster