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Orleans: Boatbuilding Capital of Cape Cod

Orleans: Boat-Building Capital of Cape Cod, July 2004 Cape Cod LIFE | www.capecodlife.com

Tony Davis puts the finishing touches on a catboat’s teak coaming.

In 1990, Tony Davis purchased the boatyard from the Fisk family. “That’s where I was fortunate,” Davis says. “Brad and Libby [Fisk] wanted to sell the boatyard to a boat builder.”

Davis grew up on sailboats. His father, a landscaper, loved to sail, and from the time Davis was a toddler, his parents loaded the family aboard a 20-foot wooden day sailer for regular journeys from Plymouth to Maine. Eventually, Davis found a job as a rigger in a boatyard in Florida. “I was really inspired by what I saw. It was a big yard; they hauled large wooden boats. I’d watch them repairing and replacing planks and was really interested in the structure. It piqued my curiosity.”

Next, Davis began an apprenticeship with Arno Day in Maine, building lobster boats and learning the trade. “My college education became building a 30-foot cutter from the ground up. That experience took me from the very beginning stages of boat-building—drawing the lines, laying them out—to building and launching a boat.” From Maine, Davis worked for a while on the maintenance and interior of the schooner Spirit of Massachusetts. “Robin [Davis] and I knew we wanted to find our own business, and we found the boatyard.”

Today, Davis says the boatyard is able to produce approximately 12 boats per year. The 12, 14 and 16 footers all have fiberglass hulls and are finished with teak and fitted with bronze hardware. Both the 20-foot Cruising Cat and 20-foot Pleasant Bay Launch are built of wood, strip planked with southern cedar, and finished with an epoxy seal. “There’s a temptation to go bigger. I sort of went in the reverse direction—started bigger and moved backwards,” Davis says, laughing. “I really enjoy the small boats. It’s simple: smaller boats mean smaller problems.”

Maintaining a small boatyard on the water “these days,” notes Davis, “is challenging, with the insurance and taxes.” However, he believes there is and always will be a great future in building custom boats for those who love the water. “People like having something custom made to their specifications.”

Freelance writer Susanna Graham-Pye lives in South Orleans.



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