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Nahant celebrates a boat to remember

June 27, 2016

NAHANT, Mass. (AP) — Longtime residents are reflecting on the launch of a valiant dream and an 80-foot boat, more than 50 years later.

When Ray Palombo learned there was a large lobster population out on the shelf, he decided that was where he wanted to fish, said Julie Tarmy, office administrator for the Nahant Historical Society. Unfortunately, to get out there, he needed a rig that was larger than the typical 40-foot fishing boat.

In 1955, Palombo and Frank “Swede” McClain set their sights on a project to build an 80-foot, 90-ton dragger in the small space between their homes.

Roz Puleo, police dispatcher and lifelong resident, said she remembers when the boat was being built. To bend the planks that were laid out on the deck, Palombo and McClain created a 25- to 30-foot steamer using trash barrels.

“They would steam for a few days and then have all the kids in the neighborhood walk on the boards to bend them the right way,” Puleo said.

Tarmy said the boat, which became known as the Valiant, was constructed near the end of her driveway. She remembers playing underneath it as a child.

“The Valiant was a community-wide event,” Tarmy said. “It took a community to build the boat. If you were walking by, heard them working and went to see what was going on, chances were you were put to work.”

When the colossal feat was completed eight years later, it took three days to move the ship from Forty Steps Lane to the town wharf, about two blocks away. E.H. Hinds Riggers, a Watertown-based rigging company, was contracted to complete the job.

The boat was placed onto a steel cradle atop planks and wooden rollers, comparable to telephone poles. The rollers were continuously moved from one end of the boat to the other as it was pushed down the street.

Power lines had to be temporarily removed and school was canceled, Tarmy said.

Crowds gathered to watch the scene and people stayed home from work to help the vessel on its journey, Puleo said.

“They would run them back to front all the way from his house to the wharf,” Puleo said. “It was set off on Whaf Beach. It was low tide so it had to sit on the beach for the whole day until high tide so it could float into the ocean.

Nancy Wilson, a lifelong Nahant resident who was 29 at the time of the launch, called the three-day excursion “an adventure.”

“When it went in, everybody screamed and cheered because it was finally in the water,” Wilson said. “The whole town came.”

Christine Howard said she was a teenager at the time and still remembers seeing the boat travel through town.

“It was this massive boat, trying to go under trees,” Howard said. “I remember standing and watching and hoping it wouldn’t tip over. There were so many people out.”

Neighbors watched from their front porches out of their windows, Howard said.

“It was such an exciting time,” she said.

The boat met its demise four years later off the coast of Nantucket, when it struck something and sank. All five crewmembers on board were rescued, but the boat was never pulled from the ocean, Tarmy said.

The Nahant Historical Society will feature a lecture and an exhibition on the building and launching of the Variant on July 17 at 2 p.m. at 41 Valley Road.

Tarmy said the idea is to bring people together and hear recollections of what became a community project.

Puleo added that the society is asking residents to look for memorabilia to put on display.


Information from: The (Lynn, Mass.) Daily Item, http://itemlive.com

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