Bringing a Marion Harbor icon back

Aug 28, 2019

Mattapoisett resident Robert Brown was looking for a home for his 103-year-old, 27-foot Alden Friendship Sloop that had been out of the water for about 10 years. Marion resident and Tabor Academy student Max Gryska was looking for a boat to fix for his senior project. This spring, the two connected, giving the Delta another chance to get on the water.

Now, as Tabor graduate Gyska heads to college in South Carolina after a summer of sailing the Delta, here is the story of a boat that has inspired love for generations.

Delta was built by John Alden at his Maine boatyard in 1916 for Marion’s Wisner family. Originally built as a daysailer with no cabin, the boat later had a cabin added. The Wisners kept the craft in Marion’s harbor until the 1960s, chartering her to others for short periods of time.

Brown first learned of the Delta at age 15, when he rented her for two days with three friends to sail to Nantucket. Brown moved away from Mattapoisett for several years but, upon returning, he chartered the Delta every summer for six years, sailing her to Rhode Island, Connnecticut and  Chatham.

As the Wisner family aged, it became harder and harder to care for the Delta. As Brown tells it: “She was 50-years-old, she leaked, and she was a big liability more than anything else. So they
gave it to me on one condition: The boat would never have an engine.”  

To him, the no engine caveat has taken on a new significance in the age of green energy.

“She was built in a time of no engine. For me, she has re-emerged as a symbol of a fuel-free era, because she was one of the last boats made exclusively for wind,” Brown explained. 

Brown spent three years completely rebuilding the boat, against the advice of his longtime mentor Carlton Burr, who advised he take her to the dump. Brown called the project “a labor of love,”
but added that, “It was stronger after I rebuilt it. It never leaked.”

Brown’s favorite memory with the boat is riding her through a storm, going below deck, and feeling the boat crashing through the waves. “I was proud of the boat and what she brought us

In time, Brown too “got old, just like the Wisner brothers did,” and couldn’t keep up with the maintenance on the boat. But he kept her in his driveway.

Brown said that he contacted a number of the Wisner descendants to pass the boat on to them and keep it in the family, but no one was interested. At the same time, Gryska was searching for a boat. A lifelong sailor, inspired by his father, Gryska wanted to renovate a boat for his “senior project.” Senior projects are a fixture at Tabor as academically qualified seniors spend full time at the end of their last year working on projects of their own design.

Gryska called Tabor a “molding experience. I don’t know if I would have wanted to take on a project like this, but Tabor made me realize that I could.”

However, affordable and fixable boats proved hard to find. So much so that Gryska had lined up an alternative senior project (learning how to make and hand shape surfboards for a possible business) when he got word about the Delta.

Brown wanted Delta’s new owners to appreciate her history and said he decided to pass the boat on to Max and his father Alexander because they recognized the historical significance of the Delta.   
When he gave Gryska the Delta in March 2019, Brown also handed him an old tin cup containing the brass letters from the back of the boat that spelled “Marion,” from when she was kept in Marion harbor.

From March to July the boat was at Buzzards Bay Yacht Services boatyard in Mattapoisett. Gryska put more than 125 hours of labor into the boat, and though he had no experience with boat
construction, was able to pick up a lot under the guidance of the boatyard’s owner, Ed Van Keuren.

Gryska described the renovation process as “always changing.” He said he worked on “following the original plan as much as possible. But, with a boat this old, you can’t always do that.”

He said the hardest part was  scraping down the spars, which consumed 17 hours. Much of the early work made the boat look worse instead of better, so one of Gryska’s favorite parts was
priming the topside, because it started to make the Delta look better.

The project was a lot of work, but Gryska appreciated the chance to do it. “My buddies were in school taking finals, and I got to come here and sand and varnish for hours. It’s a tranquil
experience,” he said. 

The experience also taught him to prioritize. Gryska said that, with a boat as old as the Delta, he could find many little projects that would add ten hours of work time. With a summer job lined up in Chatham, he had to learn how to focus on just what was needed to get the boat in the water.

Gryska ran the risk that the Delta had some big structural flaw, and wouldn’t be able to hold water. But on July 13 the boat successfully took a short trip from Mattapoisett to Marion. And
Gryska said she has since sailed more than ten times, and sails great. 

As for Gryska’s future plans for the boat, “I don’t want to sell it. I just want to bring it back to Marion and get it on the water again,” he said.  He will attend the College of Charleston in the fall with an undecided major to give himself time to explore. He may look at securing a mooring for the Delta at college next year.