Header photo (detail) courtesy Michael Eudenbach

Friday, October 26, 2012

Beetle Boat Shop begins their Whaleboat

Bill Sauerbrey begins the lofting.

Manny Palomo work with Bill to clamp the freshly steamed white oak stem onto the bending jig,

The now pliable stem is pulled right around the jig and clamped into place.

Using the lofting as a guide, the molds are fashioned.

The completed backbone is set upright. It will be transferred to the strongback, pictured to the left and on the floor, for the build.

Mystic Seaport sent a 1985 Willits Ansel whaleboat up to Beetle for display in the shop and for the inspection of constuction details.

Here she is set up in the shop. Note the frame bending jig in the foreground, I suspect from the original Beetle Mfg. Co.

Molds set on the backbone with battens in place.

Stem detail

First two planks in.

The Beetle Boat Shop crew: Front Row (left to right): Bill Sauerbrey, Charlie York, Michelle Buoniconto, Bill Womack
Back Row (left to right): Manny Palomo, Mark Williams, Jonathan Richards, Marc Blandin
Shop Dog: Jessie

All photos courtesy Beetle Boat Shop

Michelle Buonicouto at Beetle has been very cooperative, sending me a link to their 
Flicker page and a history of the company and it's relevance to the Whaleboat project. I do not think I need add anything, this says it all:

HISTORY FULL CIRCLE – Building of a New Beetle Whaleboat

The last surviving whaling ship built in America, the Charles W. Morgan, was built in 1841 in New Bedford, MA at the yard of Jethro and Zachariah Hillman.  It was one of 75 whaling ships out of New Bedford harbor that year, with the peak being in 1857 with 329 vessels.  The rapid expansion of the industry made New Bedford the Whaling Capital of the World and one of the wealthiest cities in the country. 
It was in support of the whaling industry that James Beetle started building Beetle whaleboats and went to work for the Hillmans.  From 1834 – 1854 he built over 1,000 whale boats (or about 50/year), including some of the boats for the Charles W. Morgan.  James Beetle had three sons, two of which, Charles and John, continued the tradition of building whaleboats at the Beetle shop on Rodney French Boulevard in New Bedford, while James Clarence Beetle moved to San Francisco where he built whaleboats for the west coast fleet.  As the whaling industry began to decline after the civil war, the Beetle family had turned to building pleasure crafts of all types in addition to the whaleboats. 
It was in 1921 that the Charles W. Morgan went on her last sail, and was then exhibited at Colonel Edward H.R. Green’s estate at Round Hill in South Dartmouth, MA.  Ironically, it was that same year that John Beetle built the first 12’ Beetle Cat sailboat, which is still being built today by the Beetle Shop in Wareham, MA.  Using the same materials used in building a whaleboat (cedar and oak), it was a natural progression, and the sailboat quickly caught on as a one design racing fleet at yacht clubs all over New England.
In 1924 Charles Beetle was asked by Col. Green to build a whaleboat to go on the Charles W. Morgan, as his father had done many years before.  Charles Beetle built his last whaleboat in 1933 for the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, VA.  This whaleboat would become significant later, as its lines and construction plans were taken off and became part of the Mystic Seaport plan collection in 1973. 
 In 1941, the Charles W. Morgan was moved to the Mystic Seaport Museum to become one of its flagships.  In keeping with the Seaport’s ongoing mission to preserve the boat, the Morgan was hauled on November 1, 2008 and is currently undergoing a major restoration.  In conjunction with this restoration was a renewed interest in the Beetle whaleboats for the 2014 relaunching of the Charles W. Morgan.   
It is here that history came full circle, as the New Bedford Whaling Museum, in conjunction with the Beetle Boat Shop, is once again building one of the Beetle whaleboats for the Charles W. Morgan.

Original post Thomas Armstrong for Whaleboats for the CW Morgan


  1. Thanks for your post. I’ve been thinking about writing a very comparable post over the last couple of weeks, I’ll probably keep it short and sweet and link to this instead if that’s cool. Thanks.
    PCB Design

  2. Here she is set up in the shop. Note the frame bending jig in the foreground, I suspect from the original Beetle Mfg. Co.

    Marine Supplies

    Yacht Supplies


    ships steering wheel

    boat hardware