That's My Boat: Fred Murphy

Captain: Fred Murphy

Home Port: Vineyard Haven harbor

The Name: Ishmael

The Boat: Forty-eight-foot knockabout (i.e., no bowsprit) schooner

Fred Murphy
Ivy Ashe

Fred Murphy was a twenty-three-year-old in the U.S. Merchant Marine in 1973 when he bought a wooden boat named Night Wind. She was one of six schooners built at the Captain O’Connell, Inc. boatyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1929, just before the Depression began. “I’ve had her forty years,” he said. “It’s truly terrific.”

 He changed the name – “You’re allowed to change the name when you change the owner, or so they say”– and called her Ishmael in a nod to Moby-Dick. Only later did he learn that in Hebrew, the name Ishmael can symbolize a wanderer. “That actually made even more sense,” he said. “To be a wanderer – that was totally what I was into.”

He and Ishmael wandered all over. In Maine, in the mid-1970s, he met Jim and Ginny Lobdell of Vineyard Haven, who were buying a wooden schooner of their own. They looked after Ishmael when he was at sea on jobs. They did him another solid, introducing him to his future wife, Sarah Honey, a Vineyarder, and he’s been here ever since.

The couples sailed together often, including some memorable trips: “That was called a pump-for-your-life cruise,” he said of one crossing to Bermuda, “because the boat leaked like a sieve. It was manageable. It was just annoying.” And: “I’ve had two times when my wife asked me if we were going to make it or not, but it was never in doubt.”

They practically raised their two daughters on Ishmael, but he worries that realities of wooden boat ownership are hard to face for young sailors – the expenses, the upkeep. Ishmael had to be rebuilt after it broke loose during a 1994 storm and “kind of sailed on her spars and went over on the beach.” It was refitted again with a new bottom two years ago at Miles Thurlow’s shop in West Tisbury.

“Both of these times it’s like, ‘whoa, what are you going to do? Where are you going to get the money?’” Last year he started chartering, both to defray costs and to get out on Ishmael more. “I got nine people, but it was a good beginning,” he said. 

“Would I like to see it stay here?” he said when asked where the schooner would go when he can no longer use it. “Yes, but I’m kind of dreaming, I think.”

“Sometimes I think about my legacy and who I can push the boat off on to. It’s harder. Kids don’t make as much money as they used to. Growing up is harder.” 

Comments (2)

Captain Robert Krause
Winchester VA
Fred, What a beautiful boat! if you are still sailing her Theresa and i would love a sunset cruise on the vinyard. Still piloting on the Great Lakes and loving it. Training a lot of new guys which is fun!
April 2, 2018 - 8:46pm
Bill Cadley
Chester , Ct.
I remember the day you bought Ishmael. Riverside taught club.. So many great youthful memories..Sorry we missed you up in Maine this summer.. Keep on wandering brother..8/18/21
August 18, 2021 - 8:56am