Tom Brownell and Moving Adventuress

photographs and text by Maria Simpson for Rockport Marine

Over the course of the year, I give a lot of tours to school classes. Although the teachers sometimes balk as their charges frolic through the heavy machinery and scaffolding, kids generally love the boatyard. For some kids, it is even a real “a-ha” moment–that they might be able to make a living making something beautiful with their hands.

Over the past three years, I have shown hundreds of school kids the ADVENTURESS restoration. Kids and adults alike find it overwhelming, 83 feet of classic yacht loveliness crammed into one of our work bays. On the floor, the boat towers over us, and when you walk on deck, you must duck to avoid hitting your head on the ceiling. My favorite question to ask them is, “How the heck do you think we’re going to get this big boat out of here?”

The question really stumps them. I’ve heard children postulate that we could remove the roof and crane it out, flood the shop and float it out, or even drag it out with ropes. To complicate matters, our boat hoist can’t lift a boat like ADVENTURESS, she is just too heavy. So now really–how are we going to do it?

Short answer: Tom Brownell. Brownell Systems, a family business in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts, specializes in moving big boats.  They move boats out of buildings, over land, and down ramps. They also invented the Brownell trailer, now the gold standard of hydraulic boat transport vehicles. Tom has moved a number of projects for us in the past including LYNXGODSPEEDSPIRIT OF BERMUDA and ZANABE. If you need to move a 70+ ton boat up and down a steep hill, across a bridge, through a series of tight turns and low hanging power lines, Tom is your guy.

Yesterday, ADVENTURESS moved out of the building after three years in the shop. In order to get the boat in the water, we moved ADVENTURESS to the town launching ramp, where Tom will launch the boat off of his trailer on Saturday. This was the first phase of the process.

It was mesmerizing to watch the boat slowly creep up the hill towards “downtown” Rockport, but the real show was watching Tom Brownell and his crew work. Tom is kind and quick to laugh, but when he is coordinating his crew with a big boat on the trailer, his focus is intense and singular. He has white hair and a barrel chest, and stands perfectly still when he is thinking. He never raises his voice or shouts, and when he gives a command, he thanks the person who carries it out. His entire crew communicates entirely with hand signals and everyone seems calm, focused, and very good at their job.

Tom used three trucks to get ADVENTURESS up the hill, one driving the trailer and two attached to the trailer with winches. Tom stood in the middle of the action and coordinated the forward motion of the trucks. Each time ADVENTURESS needed to turn, the trailer was jacked up and the wheels turned manually. Although everything about their performance inspired confidence, there is something gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring about watching a boat go up our steep hill.

The entire trip, from Rockport Marine to the public park on the other side of the harbor, took two hours. A crowd gathered on the hill to watch the process.

Some owners get nervous about this part of the restoration process, but for me, it feels like a moment of triumph. These moves mark the end of a project with a flourish, and each move has a public, festive atmosphere. It also is a time where the builders finally get to stand back and just look at what they have accomplished, the first time in years they can get a real perspective on the project, both literally and perhaps metaphorically too. It’s also deeply gratifying to watch people admire the boat as it moves, parade-like, through town.

Editor’s note: The launch of the ADVENTURESS took place on Saturday July 21st. Congratulations to the whole crew at Rockport Marine!