Back to Work

An office with a spectacular view.

Philip P. Hale sits with his back to just about the best view imaginable of Vineyard Haven harbor – maybe the busiest and best water view from any land-based enterprise on the Vineyard. “There’s a reason my computer faces the door,” says Hale, who has been president of Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard since he bought it from his father, Thomas, nineteen years ago. “It’s infinitely distracting. There are some mornings when I walk in here, look out the window, and fifteen minutes go by in a flash. You have to absorb it. You can’t let the day go by without looking at it.”

The office is a square with an L-shaped workstation, a table and two canvas chairs, and a few charts and gear stowed in a corner. It occupies the northern end of a shingled building Tom Hale designed and built in the 1960s; you’d never know it sits on the Vineyard’s most ancient boatbuilding land. In the 1850s, the largest Island schooners and brigs ever built were launched from this site. (The office was moved here on jacks and rollers in 1989 from a lot to the west; Ralph Packer, the landlord, needed it for another building.)

The view spreads 180 degrees from southwest to northeast. It encompasses the low piers at the head of the harbor, the Steamship Authority wharf, and West Chop. It ranges across the main anchorage, the stone breakwater, and the the harbor beyond, then runs over to the tiny cap of the East Chop Light. Hale has a narrow porch where he can stand and photograph anything coming or going, including the 400 boats he cares for.

“About this time of year, about fifteen years ago, I came into the office,” says Hale, who arrives between 6 and 6:30 a.m. each day. “Picture this: late February, early March, crystal clear, not a breath of wind, and we’d had either a heavy frost or a light snow. So everything that was horizontal was white. Each plank on the dock, the tops of the pilings, the taffrail on Shenandoah, the taffrail on Alabama, and all the houses on West Chop. Except the sun came up red. And it was all pink. I just stood there for about ten minutes, thinking, ‘This will be gone.’ And it was gone, never to be repeated.”

Hale grew up at this shipyard. As a boy, he worked his way up from rigging sloops and setting moorings to repairing wooden and fiberglass hulls. In the fall of 1977, he and his wife Deborah – living in Washington, D.C., while Phil, a political science student, pondered a life in government – decided to try the Vineyard for six months, and never left. The yard was preparing to build the Wasque picnic boat and Vixen sloop (designed by Hale’s father and brother Tom). Phil tooled up the yard, oversaw the construction of the molds, and ran the boatbuilding program through the middle 1980s. He bought the yard from his father on April 1, 1986.

Hale loves his work, loves knowing so many people who are so passionate about the boats they sail and motor on Island waters. And he himself is passionate about the view from his office, and what the view invites: “When the springtime comes along, and there’s a Thursday Holmes Hole Race at five o’clock, you turn off the computer, get in the skiff, and go sailing. Not many places in the world you can do that."