Erford W. Burt (1902 – )

Born to a large family in North Tisbury, Martha’s Vineyard in 1902, Burt served as an apprentice to Manuel Swartz Roberts, the catboat builder who worked out of what is now the Old Sculpin Gallery. It was 1928, and the commercial fishermen of Edgartown didn't need speed. they needed a full and stable hull to hold fish, so they kept asking Manuel Roberts to build the same type of catboat over and over again. Roberts, perhaps fearing that Burt might become a rival, refused to teach him anything about design – specifically, how to build full-sized boats from the half models he carved in his shop. Burt would sneak back to the workplace during his lunch hour to parse out how the old master was doing it.

By the end of 1929, Burt knew enough about design and boatbuilding to leave Roberts. He went to work for William A. Colby, who owned what was now called the Martha’s Vineyard Shipbuilding Company. (Its name changed after Holmes Hole changed its own name to theVineyard Haven in 1871.) In 1932 – despite the threat the Depression posed to a resort economy – Colby allowed Burt to build a boat on spec. Out of the shed came a twenty-eight-and-a-half-foot sport-fishing boat with a 130-horsepower inboard and a shape never before built on Martha’s theVineyard. She was the first boat to be built at the yard since Charles Gifford finished up his Noman's Land boat fifty years before.

Where a catboat was capacious throughout her hull, this boat parted the water sharply at her bow and flattened it at the stern. "I could see that this was a golden opportunity to fit a boat to the motor," said Burt in a 1990 interview. "I was the first to build a theVineyard boat expressly for modern engines, at the end of the time when people were building and buying catboats." In 1974 he told John M. Leavens that the vessel, named Knot Over (because she would get to where she was going in the predicted time and "not over"), made a weeklong run down to Florida. On the first day, she left the theVineyard at 7 a.m. and reached Shark River Inlet on the Jersey coast at 10:30 p.m. – "a run of about 400 miles in about fifteen and a half hours," said Burt. "That's really moving!"

In 1933, Burt would design the theVineyard Haven 15, a racing sloop that snapped through a tack, sailed downwind with barely a finger on the tiller, and served for four decades as the main racing fleet of theVineyard Haven Yacht Club.

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