An unsinkable legend from the 1950s
Nathan Martens of Jamaica Beach, and Jerry Seinfeld, the comedian who can afford any boat or car he wants, have something in common: the Boston Whaler.
In the first season of “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” the long-running series on HBO, Seinfeld takes “Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon for a spin in his vintage aqua blue Corvette, and they end up on the water aboard his vintage 17-foot Boston Whaler, with a matching aqua blue interior.
Martens’ Whaler, a 13-foot Dauntless model, is owned by his next-door neighbor, Keith Considine, but it’s stored in the lift under Martens’ deck over the canal. In return, Martens is free to use it, and he does.
“I take it out to go fishing, or picking up crab traps, or just to cruise the canals of Jamaica Beach, or out to the bay,” Martens said. “It’s the ideal boat for West Galveston Bay, because it only draws about 2 feet, or less with the motor trimmed up.”
Dick Fisher invented the Boston Whaler in Massachusetts in 1958, but the company he founded is now based in Edgewater, Florida. Other than its state of origin, the boat has nothing specifically to do with Boston, or with whaling, aside from the harpoon in the design of the company logo. With no resemblance to the light, double-ended pulling boats used in the 19th-century whale fisheries, it was a completely original design, using post-World War II technologies in an innovative way.
Had it been available at that time, the boat probably would have been more suitable to the work of those whaleboats. For one thing, the Boston Whaler is unsinkable, even in the event that the powerful jaws of a sperm whale chomped the boat in half — a fate not unknown to the whaling fleet.
The Boston Whaler company famously demonstrated this feature, not with a sperm whale, but with a chainsaw. In a promotional clip, two men take the boat out into the harbor and saw it in half from under them. Both halves continue to float, and the after half, with the outboard motor, then tows the forward half back into the dock.
This magic trick is made possible by the boat’s construction of molded closed-cell polyurethane foam and epoxy. Flotation is thus inherent in the very fabric of the hull — not dependent on the ability of the hull to keep the water on the outside of the boat.
The hull form is equally innovative, developed by Fisher in the mid-1950s through careful testing of prototypes. It features a small keel on either side, and a slightly larger keel in the center, flattening out near the stern so the boat can plane at higher speeds. The design is called a “cathedral” form: a section through the middle of the boat, turned upside down, resembles a classic cathedral, with a central spire flanked by two smaller ones. The result is a very fast and stable hull with little draft, suitable for the shallows off Jamaica Beach.
From above, the boat is nearly rectangular, with side benches and thwarts for seating, and a small console and wheel near the center. A rail along the sides provides safety to the passengers, and a folding Bimini top gives essential protection from the Gulf Coast sun.
“It takes less than 10 minutes to drop the boat on the lift and get out on the water, and another 10 minutes to hoist it back up and hose-clean the hull,” Martens said. “It doesn’t take much maintenance.”
A 40-horsepower outboard motor supplies the power.
“The boat is so light that it doesn’t take any more than that to get up to 35 knots or so,” Martens said.
He often takes his niece and nephew, age 9 and 10, out on the boat.
“They love being on the water, and they love the boat,” Martens said. “They are both learning to steer. It’s an easy boat to run.”