Boatbuilding documentary series filming in Bristol

The five-part series, an ambitious telling of the history of boatbuilding, is launching from Herreshoff before expanding throughout New England

By Christy Nadalin
Posted 7/29/21

It’s a hot July afternoon, and shipwright Nathaniel Herreshoff has a job to do. He’s delivering a revised set of plans to some important clients, a husband and wife whose desire for a …

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Boatbuilding documentary series filming in Bristol

The five-part series, an ambitious telling of the history of boatbuilding, is launching from Herreshoff before expanding throughout New England

Posted

It’s a hot July afternoon, and shipwright Nathaniel Herreshoff has a job to do. He’s delivering a revised set of plans to some important clients, a husband and wife whose desire for a grander stateroom ran counter to Herreshoff’s vision of form following function. Still, they are the clients, and Herreshoff makes his way up their long driveway, where the couple waits on their shaded porch.

“Establish scene, Nat enters,” says Director of Photography Tony Flanagan.

“How far are you taking the shot?” asks actor Jim Moore, aka Nathaniel Herreshoff.

“Walk all the way to the shade. We want to keep you broiling in the sun as long as possible,” laughs Mr. Flanagan.

“I love it,” says Mr. Moore. “I’m having a wonderful time.” And he is. The semi-retired professor of Communications at Bridgewater State doesn’t do a lot of acting these days, but he was excited to come out and give a hand to this production, a reenactment of a scene for Episode One of “The Boatbuilders,” a five-part docuseries being produced and directed by Gregg Seibert of Purple Turtle Productions of Lakeville, Mass., a longtime friend of Mr. Moore.

It’s not just Mr. Moore — everyone is having fun on the set today, chatting and laughing between takes. It’s a low-pressure shoot, appropriate for a Friday afternoon: no audio, just some establishing shots of Nathaniel Herreshoff’s clients’ home (played by Seven Oaks at 136 Hope St.) and the delivery of the plans.

“Up or down, do you think?” asks actor Daniel Kozar, a faculty member of the theater department at Dean College, of his cuffs. “Down, definitely down,” said his “wife,” actress Margaret Richards of Bristol. It’s decided that an industrialist of his stature would probably meet his boatwright with his cuffs fully secured.

“The Boatbuilders,” which stopped at the Bristol Preservation and Historical Society before Seven Oaks last Friday, will showcase the boatbuilders, sailors and owners who speak to the realities of boat building in Rhode Island today, along with the challenges and rewards of maintaining the legacy and beauty of historic sailing vessels. 

“We are so excited to continue our docuseries in a maritime community rich in culture and committed to the preservation and restoration of these magnificent sailing vessels,” said Mr. Seibert.

The first episode, which is co-produced by historian Rob Lawson, features the Herreshoff Museum and highlights the accomplishments of the world-renowned Herreshoff Manufacturing Company. Also featured is the International Yacht Restoration School of Technology and Trades, a training ground for young boat builders in Newport, focused on maintaining the legacy of the Herreshoff boats, among other designs. 

The episode will wrap with a brief perspective of where the series will head in the future, with the current state of the America’s Cup yachts, touching on Bristol-built American Magic, one of the challengers for the most recent America’s Cup races taking place in New Zealand. The episode ends by teasing the next stop on The Boatbuilders tour of the Northeast, which will likely be shot in Massachusetts, with Connecticut, Maine and a combined New Hampshire/Vermont episode to follow.

Herreshoff a central character

“We started out thinking about boatbuilding, then we started thinking about targeting the larger boating community, going state by state,” said Mr. Lawson. “We have different ideas for each episode, and with Rhode Island, Herreshoff is the hub that everything spokes from. But we’re going all the way back, talking to tribal communities about the first people to ply these waters, bringing the indigenous story into the maritime community.”

The story is primarily written by Mr. Siebert, with Mr. Lawson checking the history. “I’m big on collaborating, with actor input,” said Mr. Siebert. “And getting the involvement of stakeholders and the community.”

“We’re going to take the story through the age of sail, whaling, and slave trading. Then we’ll be taking the Herreshoff  story into the present, looking at who owns, and who works on, these boats,” said Mr. Lawson. “We’re looking at the boat as a material object that brings the human story together.”

Accordingly, the crew has interviewed Director Bill Lynn and Curator Evelyn Ansel of Herreshoff, Fred Roy of the Narragansett Bay S Class Association, and Jens Lange of Baltic Boatworks.

Actors and actresses from the New England area will be featured in the docuseries, and several local organizations have partnered with Purple Turtle Productions to show their support for this project. “We are extremely grateful to the Bristol community for all of their support. We are excited to feature some amazing local organizations in our production and help bring the history of boatbuilding to life,” said Mr. Lawson.

The crew is hoping to come back at the end of the summer for more interviews and reenactments.

“This is what I live to do,” said Mr. Siebert. “We really want to connect with the local community, and will be communicating about the project throughout this whole year.”

The docuseries is expected to air on a local PBS broadcast in the Summer of 2022. To learn more, visit: www.turtleone.com/boatbuilders.

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