Searching for Ned Wood: Mattapoisett Sailor, Author, Historian

Ned Wood plots a course for one of his sailing adventures.

This year’s Mattapoisett Community Sailing (MattSail) gala will honor 3 men whose passion for boats and boating have helped perpetuate the rich maritime tradition of this small yet salty town on the western shore of Buzzards Bay. David Peterson of The Wooden Tangent and Peter Cassidy of Buzzards Bay Yacht Services are well known among the local boating community as craftsmen in the art of repairing and restoring classic wooden vessels, but the 3rd honoree may be less familiar, especially to a younger generation.

Edward F. R. “Ned” Wood, Jr. was a longtime summer resident of Mattapoisett who penned 3 books on the town’s history and its seafaring roots. To learn more about the man, I recently sat down with Wood’s daughter, Polly, and her husband Steve Kanovsky, at the family’s home on Neds Point Road, overlooking beautiful Mattapoisett Harbor. Just off shore, Ned Wood’s first boat, a meticulously maintained 1929 Herreshoff 12 1/2 named Minnow, bobbed on a mooring. Minnow is now owned by Ned’s niece, Penny (Donald) Cole, who also lives in Mattapoisett.

Wood's first book, Sailing Days at Mattapoisett contains many rare photos of regattas held off Mattapoisett. Shown is the New York Yacht Club Regatta of 1926.

As we took in the variety of boats spread throughout the harbor, Polly explained how her father, whose family lived in Philadelphia, first began visiting Mattapoisett at the age of 2. In the 1920s, Mattapoisett was already established as a summer resort, with many of the former ship captains’ homes being occupied by seasonal residents and renters.

Ned Wood learned to sail in Mattapoisett on Minnow, forging a lifelong love for the sport and the town itself. Over the years he owned several boats, including a Hinckley Pilot and a Concordia sloop. He was well known in local sailing circles, and belonged to the Mattapoisett Yacht Club and the Corinthian Yacht Club of Philadelphia. He sailed every weekend, occasionally making extended trips to Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket and Maine.

A banker by trade, Wood was fascinated with the sailing lore of the Massachusetts South Coast. “He loved sailing, he loved ships, he loved history,” recalls his daughter.

The cover of Sailing Days at Mattapoisett.

Ned Wood’s Sailing Days at Mattapoisett 1870-1960, published in 1961, is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of recreational sailing on Buzzards Bay. In addition to its painstakingly researched accounts of past regattas, local sailors and boatbuilders, Sailing Days features dozens of rare photographs of the coast and boats dating as far back as 1880. From catboats to Knockabouts to Herreshoff Fish Boats, all played a role in the sailing history of Mattapoisett. Only 350 copies of Sailing Days were ever printed, and one will be auctioned off at the 2012 MattSail gala on August 11.

Old Mattapoisett: A Summer Portrait

“Ned was a great storyteller,” acknowledges Steve Kanovsky. “You could never get a short answer from him, because he had to tell you all the history.” This interest in history eventually led to a second book: Old Mattapoisett: A Summer Portrait. At 475 pages, Old Mattapoisett paints a social history of the town from the end of the whaling era, when the community fell on hard times, through Mattapoisett’s ascent as a summer resort for wealthy Bostonians in the late 1880s and early 1900s. Published in 1995, the book contains descriptions and photos of influential families (and their boats), summer life, boatbuilders past and present, and the famous people who lived in and visited Mattapoisett over the decades, including Lewis Stackpole, Franklin Roosevelt, Robert Lowell and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Wood’s third and last book, The Ports of Old Rochester: Shipbuilding at Mattapoisett and Marion, was completed by Judith Navas Lund and published posthumously in 2003. It is largely a list of all the ships built and owned by businesses in Old Rochester (to which Mattapoisett and Marion once belonged) from 1700 through the late 1800s, and what became of those vessels.

When Ned Wood died in 2000, he left behind an important series of works that document Mattapoisett’s nautical history and provide those who continue to live and sail here with a sense of pride in maintaining that noble tradition. His contributions will at last receive recognition on August 11.

To learn more about the MattSail Gala, CLICK HERE.


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