Cape Cod Shipbuilding

The History of Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co.
(from Company website)

Myron and Charles Gurney were wagon manufacturers in the center of the town of Wareham. They built wagons for Tremont Nail and other established Wareham companies. When the rubber tire was invented, the Gurney Brothers looked to other manufacturing ideas. With a plant right on the Wareham River, Myron and Charles occasionally built small skiffs for their own recreation. When an offer was made to buy their boat, they couldnít part with it, but offered to build one just like it. In 1899 the Gurney brothers named their new found company Cape Cod Power Dory Co. and built several designs of wooden sail boats and skiffs. Charles did the drafting and designing, with his most famous design being the Cape Cod Knockabout. They also built lifeboats and as their reputation grew, they built the Saltaire 80í launch, which weighed 60 tons. The entire town of Wareham celebrated the event the day she was launched, as Mrs. Gurney christened "The Saltaire" into the Wareham River.

In 1919 the Narrows Bridge was constructed, closing the Cape Cod Power Dory Co. off from Buzzards Bay. At the same time Cape Cod Power Dory Co. changed their name to Cape Cod Shipbuilding Corp. and then moved to the other side of the Narrows Bridge. The land was known as "Idlewild", which was part of the William Minot Estate. This property was reserved for Mrs. Minot whose hobby was to travel and bring back clippings to be planted on the property. Even today, some of the shrubs & trees are not what you would typically find on New England soil.

Buildings were constructed with windows and doors from buildings in the center of town, making some of the present plant over 100 years old. Then and even today, part of running a boat yard means being frugal. With more land, the buildings could be spread out, making it safer to store lumber and existing boats apart in case of fire. Lumber was stored separate from the mill where it was cut. There was a separate building for assembly, another for painting and still another for the show room. The office was built to have an overview of the plant.

Boats built during this time were wooden pleasure and some commercial boats. Skilled labor was hired and the companyís reputation grew. We built wooden boats upside down, which assured better quality. With the ability to do our own milling large pieces of lumber could be purchased, and not a scrap went to waste.

With the death of Captain Charles S. Gurney, the management went to G. S. Williams. At this time, E. L. Goodwin was the president of Undercliff Boat Works in New Jersey and a dealer of Cape Cod boats. Les Goodwin noticed the quality had changed after the death of Captain Gurney and came to Wareham for a visit.

In 1939, under poor management the shipyard was purchased by E.L. Goodwin. He and his wife Audrey moved to live in the office and run the company. The only employee at the time was Jack Daphney, the rigger. Lesí goal was to hire well-known designers to design pretty boats, unlike the Gurneys who did both the designing and the building. E.L. preferred to build new designs to the best of his ability instead of sticking to the Gurney designs. At this time the Philip Rhodes designed "Rhodes-18" and Sparkman & Stephens designed "Mercury" were both purchased and successfully built out of wood.

The production shifted gears for World War II, as the company built small war tugs, smoke boats, and launches. Les traveled to Washington to receive contracts with the criteria that the boats had to draw 15í or less, due to the depth of the Wareham River. Other yards took on contracts to build larger ships, but werenít able to recover after the war. The assembly line was set up to build 1 Ĺ forty-foot tugs a week. Building #6 built one boat a week, and building #20 built one boat every two weeks. Les had brought Cape Cod Shipbuilding from one employee to over 100!

E.L. Goodwin could be described as a "jack of all trades". He enjoyed being a businessman, a sailor, a farmer, a sawyer and steam engineer. The company sold the steam engine just before E.L. took over. This upset him because he had his steam engineers license. They did use the boilers to create energy & heat for boat building and steam bending. In the winter wood chips and coal were used to operate the boilers. This gave them the opportunity to buy raw wood and mill it on the property. Les also invented the procedure to press four pieces of wood into a hollow sailboat mast with the use of water pressure.

During a three-year period of the war, the yard was leased to National Fireworks and was called Wareham Shipyards. This was done to give the company better buying power.

On one of his trips to the Pentagon to negotiate a contract, Les learned that contracts for fiberglass military boats were in the future. In 1947 he worked with Mr. Bell of American Cianid in New York to build fiberglass products. The first boat Cape Cod Shipbuilding built was a model. Production began in the basement of the office. Anyone who has ever been in a fiberglass production room knows why the office staff bitterly complained.

As the war ended Les knew the way to continue to stay in business was to convert to building fiberglass sailboats. Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co. and The Anchorage Co. of RI were the two first manufacturers to build fiberglass boats. Among the many firsts, Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co. was the first to install a lead keel on the outside of a fiberglass sailboat, and also successfully converted the wooden "Mercury" & "Rhodes-18" from wood to fiberglass.

Many new designs were purchased from George Lawley & Co. Les also secured the rights to purchase all boats 30í and under designed by Captain Nathanael Herreshoff, the "wizard of Bristol". With Cape Codís acquisition of the exclusive rights in 1947, came the Herreshoff construction records. Categorizing all his designs was overwhelming. A few designs were preserved in house in order to begin building. The remaining plans were brought to MIT for proper restoration. Thirty-five wood Bullís Eyes (now know as the H-12 Ĺ) were built by Cape Cod under the direction of a foreman formerly employed by Herreshoff. This production run supplied the demand for replacements in existing racing fleets over a period of years.

Popularity of fiberglass boats at this time began to make inroads into demand for new wood construction. E.L. perfected the method of bonding the fiberglass deck and hull so the boat would come out of the mold in one piece. This allowed for a stronger, leak proof boat. The procedure was highly secretive, and a new room with low ceiling was created not only to keep a constant temperature for curing resin, but also to keep people out. Other builders were having trouble building in drafty mills. Cape Cod had created the first fiberglass molding room and E.L. was trying to protect his newly acquired technique.

Production began on a fiberglass model of the Fishers Island H-12 Ĺ in 1950. The Fishers Island had a wider waterway, and a tiller that went over the stern. She was designed by Nat Herreshoff for the Fishers Island fleet as a more seaworthy version of the Bullís Eye. This new boat in fiberglass became known as the Cape Cod Bullís Eye. In the fifties, Cape Cod was building about 60-70 Bullís Eyes and 80-100 Mercuries a year.

Zephyr Spars was purchased from Alcoa. Up until this point Cape Cod was purchasing the spars for its fiberglass boats. Alcoa formed a monopoly and had to diversify. Jack Daphney was sent to purchase part of Zephyr, but came home with the entire company. All the extrusions, machinery, and tools were moved to Wareham. Currently, Zephyr is a division of Cape Cod Shipbuilding and builds spars not only for Cape Cod Boats, but for other designs as well.

Due to E.L. Goodwinís purchases, Cape Cod Shipbuilding Co. presently builds 22 models of fiberglass boats from 9-44 feet. Gordon L. Goodwin (E.L. Goodwin's son) took over the presidency in 1979. Cape Cod boats were built so well that they were not deteriorating. In the late 80ís sales of new boats were way down. To compensate, concentration on repairs and boat storage kept the company afloat. Hurricane Bob in 1991 created many repair opportunities, and the boat orders increased.

In conclusion, our boats today have a traditional look with modern quality. When we look around at a boat show it is clear our company has become an endangered species. Our first rate construction and semi-custom sailboats are in great contrast with the mass-produced, lightweight sailboats other companies build today. In his later years Les Goodwin complained the boats he built were not deteriorating enough for people to replace them. You might think we have made a mistake by building boats that are so well made, but it is that simple fact that has kept us in business for 100 years. Our goal for the future is to encourage more people to sail, as we continue to hand down Cape Cod boats from generation to generation.

(Dates indicate when a boat was first built by ANY Builder)
NAME/TYPE       LOA First Built
English / Metric
110 24.00' / 7.32m 1939
ATLANTIC (BURGESS) 30.58' / 9.32m 1929
BEVERLY DINGHY 11.50' / 3.51m 1953
BLUE CHIP 30 29.83' / 9.09m 1961
BULLSEYE 15.71' / 4.79m 1914
CAPE COD 30 30.00' / 9.14m 1961
CAPE COD CAT 17.00' / 5.18m 1971
CAPE COD KNOCKABOUT 18.00' / 5.49m 1925
CAPE COD MERCURY 15 CB 15.00' / 4.57m 1940
CAPE COD MERCURY 15 FK 15.00' / 4.57m 1940
DAY SAILER 16.75' / 5.11m 1956
GEMINI (CAPE COD) 16.08' / 4.90m 1955
GOLDENEYE (HERRESHOFF) 18.25' / 5.56m 1959
HERRESHOFF 12 1/2 15.83' / 4.82m 1914
MARLIN 23 (HERRESHOFF) 23.00' / 7.01m 1958
MERCER 44 44.00' / 13.41m 1959
RAVEN (USA) 24.25' / 7.39m 1949
RHODES 18 18.00' / 5.49m 1948
SHIELDS 30.21' / 9.21m 1962 blog on facebook linkedin page Follow on Twitter