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Orleans: Boatbuilding Capital of Cape Cod

Orleans, located just beyond the elbow of the Cape on the way to Provincetown’s curled fist, has several personalities: it is a vibrant year-round community, the Lower Cape’s commercial hub, and a sensational place to spend the summer. What many fail to notice, however, is an industry that has existed quietly here for years, anchoring the community’s character to its maritime history—in short, Orleans is an important boat-building center.

With three major boat builders in town—Arey’s Pond Boat Yard, Compass Classic Yachts, and Nauset Marine—Orleans is responsible for keeping a traditional Cape industry alive, as well as putting generations of people on the water in safe, sturdy, beautifully crafted boats. “There really aren’t that many local boat builders left around here,” says Merv Hammatt, who has owned Compass Classic Yachts for the past 10 years. “If you do a search online for traditional sailboats, not that much comes up. Orleans does, though.”

Orleans Boatbuilding Capital Cape Cod

Tony Davis, owner of Arey’s Pond Boat Yard, sands the rail on a 16-foot catboat in preparation for applying finish coats.

Hammatt’s shop is located in Orleans’ industrial zone. A sailboat on a trailer awaiting delivery almost always decorates the front yard. “I’ve done more and more each year, with most of my business coming from the Internet,” he says. “We’re shipping boats all over the country.”

Hammatt, who grew up near Pleasant Bay in South Orleans, where his family owned the Quanset Sailing Camp, says he’s been building boats all his life: half hulls, pond sailers, skiffs. He built his first “real” boat when he was 15 or 16. “I started sailing when I was six. I’ve always been in them, or wanted to be in them; was working on them, or wanted to be working on them.”

After serving in the Coast Guard for four years, Hammatt went to work managing Arey’s Pond Boat Yard; from Arey’s Pond, he moved on to Nauset Marine, building the company’s sailboat line. “It’s funny—it seems all of us have worked for one or the other over the years,” he says with a grin. Hammatt’s boats are traditional designs that were developed during the 1920s. His smallest, a 12-foot replica of the classic wooden boats sailed on the Cape’s waters for decades, is called the Rainbow. The name comes from the “rainbow” of colors similar boats were painted years ago on Nantucket. He explains that the Rainbow’s broad beam, low single-sail rig and shallow draft make it stable and simple, and a particularly good choice for beginners, though plenty of experienced sailors love the boat for the same reasons.

The Classic Cat is Hammatt’s own contribution. Building on a catboat’s already versatile design, he added to the cockpit wraparound seats with storage beneath, and a non-skid surface he molded into the decking makes walking safer.

Hammatt’s two largest boats are the Baybird and the Hurricane. The Hurricane is a sloop, a redesign of the Alberg Typhoon. One of the Hurricane’s advantages is its 11-foot cockpit, making it large enough for entire families. The Baybird was designed in 1918 by Starling Burgess in Marblehead. The easy-to-sail boat has been used for decades on the Cape by summer camps and yacht clubs. Hammatt himself learned to sail in the Baybird. While the originals were built of wood, Hammatt’s replica is fiberglass (as are all of his boats). The brass hardware used on his craft is made at Compass; the spars are made at a boat shop in Falmouth; covers are made in-house; and sails are made by North Sails Cape Cod of West Yarmouth. Hammatt says, “I use a number of local people to make what I need for my boats.”

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