I must have driven past The Wooden Tangent at least 1,000 times since I moved to Mattapoisett, but it wasn’t until May of 2010 that I decided to stop by and take a look at what was going on at this small building on Route 6 with all the old boats out front. I introduced myself to David Peterson, the bearded, soft-spoken owner of The Wooden Tangent, who was happy to give me a tour of the place and let me shoot some video.
Peterson has specialized in wooden-boat restoration and repair for the past 31 years, working out of the shop’s current location on Route 6. As one would expect, he grew up around the water and boats, and came to appreciate the lines of classic wooden vessels at an early age. He cut his teeth on sailing in North Carolina at the age of 5, but says that he didn’t get fully immersed in the sport until he was 10. He spent his high-school years in Mattapoisett, where he sailed Beetle Cats, Herreshoff 12 1/2s and Corinthians. He worked in several boatyards in the following years before enrolling in The Boat School of Lubec, Maine (the school has since moved to Eastport, Maine), a state-funded marine trades school, where he learned advanced wooden boatbuilding and restoration techniques.
Shortly after graduating he moved to Mattapoisett and opened The Wooden Tangent. Today, the shop employs anywhere from 2 to 5 workers, depending on the amount of work available, and Peterson has plans to expand, having recently purchased an adjoining property.
Peterson chose his location well, as the Southcoast of Massachusetts has no shortage of wooden boats in need of attention. On the day I visited, the yard held at least 4 Herreshoff 12 1/2s, some dating back to the days of Nathaniel B. Herreshoff himself. Peterson restores many of these beautiful small sailboats, although he prefers the Herreshoff E-class boats, also known as Buzzards Bay 15s. He owned one for a number of years until it was beyond repair, and now sails a 1946 Rhodes 18 that was given to him by an elderly couple from New Hampshire.
Also in the yard during my visit was a weathered 1964 Century runabout, which Peterson and his crew were planning to restore over the summer. While the Century was missing a chunk of its bow, Peterson explained that it was actually in better shape than it looked, as it had most of its original parts, fittings and fasteners, and was easy to document, which raises the resale value of any boat.
Peterson’s reputation as a wooden-boat expert has sometimes made him the recipient of old boats and boat parts that people don’t want anymore, yet can’t bear to throw out. Apparently Peterson can’t either, as evidenced by the boxes of bronze hardware and other odds and ends that crowd the shelves of his shop.
The interior of the low-roofed main building is exactly as you’d expect: floors spattered with paint drops; the air suffused with sawdust; benches strewn with specialized hand tools; stacks of aged wood planks; bandsaws, lathes and vises; clamps of every size and boats in various stages of repair. There’s even an old boatyard dog named Shiloh that naps in an old wooden drawer.
There isn’t much that Peterson and his team can’t restore, and he has completed some memorable projects, such as the restoration of Gamecock, a 1925 Herreshoff R-Class that was originally built for the Commodore of the New York Yacht Club. That project took a year and a half to complete.
Most of Peterson’s restoration projects aren’t as extensive or high profile, of course, and he welcomes any boat, large or small, to his shop. If you know of an old wooden boat that’s languishing under a tarp or in a shed somewhere, give Peterson a call and he’ll be happy to assess its value and tell you what it would take to make her shipshape again.
Do you own or know of a classic boats that could benefit from The Wooden Tangent’s handiwork?
Let us know in the comments box below.