A century ago, maritime workers in coastal New Jersey built a little boat designed to save lives.
Now, thanks to the efforts of a Sandwich Marina worker, the boat’s own life has been saved.
When the grand parade capping Sandwich’s 375th birthday rolls down the streets of the town September 13, thousands of people will see the resurrected boat, now painted yellow and dubbed Little Miss Sandwich.
But two years ago, the boat’s very existence was in play.
Initially saved a couple of decades ago after apparently being abandoned at Boston Harbor, the 12-foot steel lifeboat had entered a new life as a rusting, decidedly non-seagoing planter at the marina.
That is when summer marina worker Douglas S. Dexter entered the picture.
But to really tell the story of the lifeboat, you have to go back more than 150 years, to the birth of a man named Charles Crittenden Galbraith in Sag Harbor, Long Island, in 1861.
Mr. Galbraith went into the meat provisioning business, rising to a position of prominence in Armour & Company in the New York City area.
In 1903, he left Armour to pursue the organization and application of wireless telegraphy on the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and on the Great Lakes.
Then the RMS Titanic, at the time the largest ship afloat, sank in the north Atlantic Ocean in 1912. More than 1,500 people lost their lives in one of the world’s largest maritime disasters.
The lack of enough lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers and crew loomed large in the extensive discussion following the tragedy.
The Titanic disaster, followed by the onset in 1914 of the first world war and the danger posed to vessels by naval submarines, led Mr. Galbraith to enter the field of life-preserving equipment.
He organized the C.C. Galbraith Company, with offices and warehouses in New York City and a manufacturing plant on the New Jersey coast at Keyport, not far from Perth Amboy.
The company specialized in life-preserving maritime equipment, including lifeboats, life rafts and life preservers.
And, Mr. Dexter said, that is where the little lifeboat came into existence, based on a metal Galbraith Company plaque formerly attached to the boat.
The lifeboat included flotation tanks designed to keep the boat floating if it capsized, and metal rods on the bottom that would give the capsized occupants something to grab and hang onto.
He suspects the lifeboat, like many of the company’s boats, was sold to the US Coast Guard.
But after that Mr. Dexter, despite consulting a variety of marine institutions, has run into a series of research dead ends.
Two key issues, according to Mr. Dexter: A business successor to the C.C. Galbraith Company apparently threw out the company’s files, and the Coast Guard has provided little help.
That is ironic, given that the little boat might be relatively unique in the Galbraith production line.
In particular, Mr. Dexter said, at 12 feet the boat might be the smallest built by the company. The next-smallest Galbraith lifeboat he has been able to locate is 14 feet long.
As such, the marina worker said, the little boat might have been a prototype for larger boats that then went into production. Or the boat might have been designed for vessels with small crews, such as lightships.
Within about 80 years, the little boat wound up, apparently abandoned, at Boston Harbor.
Mr. Dexter said that is where Donald Spring, who owns Sandwich Ship Supply, spotted the boat.
On Wednesday, August 20, Mr. Spring declined to discuss the circumstances of how he found and obtained the boat.
But Mr. Dexter said that Mr. Spring was working at the time in the vicinity of the harbor, and was given free rein to take the boat.
Mr. Dexter said Mr. Spring subsequently moved the boat to the Sandwich supply store. On Wednesday, Mr. Spring confirmed that he gave the boat to the marina.
The boat was installed as a planter at the marina, complete with dirt and plants. It was sometime during this incarnation that its Galbraith Company plate, with its precious origination data, was stolen off the boat.
Then, a couple of years ago, marina workers were looking for ways to provide the marina with points of interest around the harbor.
Workers decided to investigate the lifeboat planter. An examination in a nearby parking lot revealed rusting steel and general deterioration.
Mr. Dexter, a US Marine for 26 years, was undaunted. He took on the resurrection of the little boat, an effort that included welding new metal plates for gaps in the original riveted frame, making new wooden seat planks, and replacing the weathered wooden ash guardrails with tough white oak.
Marina clerks Trish Wojnar and Sharon Smith, referred to by Mr. Dexter as the lifeboat’s “board of directors,” came up with a name for the boat: Little Miss Sandwich.
Now the marina is getting ready for an official launch, likely early next month, with longtime former marina clerk Brenda Manley swinging the bottle and the boat rolling down the ramp on a trailer into the basin.
Mr. Dexter said the boat is watertight, although he would not necessarily want to test it in the middle of the Atlantic.
Next on the boat’s schedule is the grand parade.
After that comes a place of honor next to the large anchor at the marina. Mr. Dexter has installed a pair of replaceable drains that will allow the rain to drain through when the boat is on dry land.
And after that, in Mr. Dexter’s eyes, is a periodic return of the boat to the water, where it could give rides in the harbor.
Underlying the fun and celebration, however, is recognition of the little boat’s essential mission, and why lifeboats were created in the first place.
Little Miss Sandwich, Mr. Dexter said, will be dedicated to all the children in Sandwich since the early 1600s who have lost a parent at sea.
“In a seafaring community, there were young children who grew up without one of their parents because going to sea to earn a living was hazardous at best,” he said.