For Norwalk native Shenton King, the nearly 70-year-old oystering sloop, The Hope, which has been a floating display at the Maritime Aquarium, is more than a boat.
She represents a time in history when people made things by hand and tools, a time he wants his four-month-old son Paxton to know about.
So when opportunity knocked recently, King answered and bought The Hope from the Norwalk Seaport Association, which had recently acquired the boat back from the aquarium, and plans to put wind back in her sails.
"Children need to know that people like the Chard family of oystermen--who built this boat by hand--were able to because they were skilled in the art of boat-building," said King, who now calls Black Rock in Bridgeport home.
"Restoring Hope is, in a sense, restoring the knowledge in today's children that people must be skilled and work hard to provide for their family and community. For me, it's really a mission of education and respect of time past."
The Hope has some sentimental value for King too. His father Richard was president of the NSA when it first took ownership of the Hope back in 1981.
"I have great family memories on this boat. I had been on it several times as a kid. It's just a cool, big, old boat," King said.
On Thursday Shenton, his son Paxton and wife Kelcey were at Cove Marina to watch as The Hope got her hull painted. It's just the beginning of the sloop's complete overhaul that King is undertaking with the help of his Norwalk company, King Industries, Inc., which manufactures additives for paints and lubricants; the Norm Bloom and Son Oyster Co. and shipwright Joshua Herman of Long Island.
King said his goal is to have it in the water by next summer so he can take his family out on it to watch the fireworks and take friends out for wine, cheese and cracker cruises.
"My dad is sentimental just like me. He will love it," King said.
"It would be great to pull oysters with this thing again. They did it in 1991, which was the last official restoration. They sailed this up to Bridgeport and they pulled oysters from their natural beds. It was in gorgeous condition then."
He said he would still like to make the sloop available to the Seaport Association.
"It's a piece of Norwalk. Every time you would go over Washington Street bridge you would see it on display there as part of the Maritime Aquarium," King said. "It belongs to the people of Norwalk, not just to me. I'm just able to dedicate a small budget to it each year to keep it floating."
In a sense, the Hope belongs to Fairfield County, not just Norwalk. Constructed between 1945-48, the Hope was designed by oysterman Stanley Chard and built on Brush Island in Greenwich's Indian Harbor by Chard and his nephews, William and Clarence Chard. Her keel is said to have been hewn from a giant white oak on Brush Island felled during a hurricane. Her frame and planking are of white oak trees cut on the then-Benedict estate across the harbor from Brush Island. All of this was cut into lumber at a sawmill in Norwalk's Silvermine section.
Chard launched the Hope in summer 1948 and used her to work the local oyster and clamming beds -- out among his competitors aboard more-modern vessels powered by motors. Her name was an optimistic response to a declining oystering industry plagued by hungry sea stars and fouling pollution.
Upon retiring, he converted her to an "excursion" boat. In 1971, Chard sold the Hope to Jack Spratt of Old Greenwich, who gave her some upgrades and used her for family sailing until he sold her to the Seaport Association in 1981.
In addition to painting The Hope's hull to prep her for the winter in the water off Cove Marina, the Hope's seams along the wood planking have been checked to make sure they are tight and don't let water in.
In the spring King will bring her up to King Industries to focus on refurbishing the deck.
"Rain water has been its worse enemy," King said, adding that he will restore the mast throughout the winter.
"Joshua helped me pull the mast out a couple weeks ago," King said. "We found coins under the mast. It's a shipbuilding tradition. Every time you build a ship and set a mast in the boat you have to put a coin from the year of the build.
"It's good luck. Norm Bloom said to me, `Don't lose those coins.'"