The years slipped happily astern before Box had a midlife epiphany. After catching his reflection in the eye of a whale cod he was cleaning, he embraced a path of nonviolence and a strict vegetarian diet. His convictions ran strong, so even though he deeply respected the fishermen with whom he worked, he felt morally obligated to leave every aspect of the fishing industry behind. “I couldn’t look the captains of these boats in the eye and tell them that I wouldn’t fix their boats,” Box says. “So I had to leave.”
Box and his family moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1980. After restoring a 48-foot English Channel pilot cutter on the island, he says he became burned out and ceased work as a boatbuilder. After years spent building homes, he began collecting driftwood from the long, lonely beaches, which he crafted into high-end furniture. The business was successful and internationally recognized (one of his pieces found its way into the hands of the Clintons). But for Box there was a lack of fulfillment—a missing connection with the sea, with boats, and with his former life.
In 2009, Box and his son Jake were driving across the bridge between Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs. It was a fine day, and the two were presented with a postcard-perfect view of the life they left behind: A liquid New England canvas dotted with fishing boats and men scalloping in the water. Jake, who had followed his father’s example and became a vegetarian as a teenager, made a discontented comment upon viewing the scene. “He said, ‘I want to be out there doing that. Those are free men,’” Box says. “But he was preaching to the choir. I knew exactly what he was talking about.”
While neither had a desire to become a fisherman or otherwise give up the principles of their lifestyle, they vowed to get back on the water. Slowly, a big idea formed that would change both men’s lives.
Back in the late 1960s, Box was contracted by the government to rebuild some old wooden minesweeping boats for the military. While conducting related boat-design research, he discovered designs for a 37-foot Gulf Coast scow schooner, a boat that was “improved upon to the point where it can no longer be improved,” he says. “She had sweet lines, plus she was seaworthy.” Sailing scows were wide-bodied, barge-like cargo boats that were fixtures on the waters off the coastline more than a century ago, before the advent of internal-combustion engines. Because they lack a keel, they can be sailed onto a beach and offloaded—no deepwater docks required.
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