This article by Pim Van Hemmen originally appeared in the January 2020 issue of Soundings, a sister publication in the AIM Marine Group. Hemmen also shot the photos and video.
Kathleen Anderson and her boat Gremlin grew up together. In 1953, a month after Kathleen was born, the U.S. Navy motor whaleboat MWB 20039 showed up in her driveway. Her father, Burrage Larcom “Woody” Woodberry, had bought the boat as surplus. Woody and Kathleen’s mother, Dorothy, named the boat Gremlin. Almost 67 years later, Kathleen and Gremlin are still together.
Kathleen’s father, a World War II U.S. Navy veteran who’d served as a machinist mate aboard a minesweeper in the Mediterranean, bought the 26-foot carvel-planked whaleboat for $150. MWB 20039 had been built in 1942 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire and served aboard a tug with the British Royal Navy as part of the lend-lease program. The tug towed artificial harbor components across the English Channel for the D-Day invasion. After the war, the tug and MWB 20039 returned to the United States.
Woody, who ran the machine shop at Manchester Marine in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, put MWB 20039 next to their house in Beverly, Massachusetts, and spent the next three years turning her into a family cruiser. With the help of his father, Prince Woodberry, Woody added a deck, cabin, galley, bunks and a head. Kathleen’s grandmother made the curtains for Gremlin.
The boat was converted on a tight budget. Many of the parts that went into her were salvaged from yachts being upgraded at Manchester Marine. The alcohol stove and head were salvaged from two such boats, Gremlin’s wheel came from a catboat, and the engine panel came from When and If, General George S. Patton’s schooner. The iron pig ballast came from sash weights from the Salem courthouse, and the searchlight came off Woody’s 1935 Ford.
What Woody couldn’t find, he made. Recently, Kathleen found the mold for Gremlin’s fiberglass clamshell vents in her dad’s basement. “I looked at the mold and thought, ‘Oh, this looks familiar.’”
On Labor Day 1956, Gremlin was reborn. “I was there when she launched,” Kathleen says, “but when I got home and she was gone from the driveway, I burst into tears.”
The family, including Kathleen’s two siblings, spent most summer weekends aboard Gremlin. Many years, the whole family would motor to Maine for 10-day vacations. With a LOA of 26 feet and a beam just over 7 feet Kathleen’s father and brother slept in the cockpit while she slept in the cabin with her mother and sister.
Gremlin was a staple in the family’s life, and it is reflected in the family’s photo album: Gremlin in the driveway, Woody and Gremlin at the launching, 3-year-old Kathleen sitting in Gremlin’s cockpit with her grandfathers.
Over the years, Woody would make improvements. The Navy’s original Buda engine gave way to three successive gasoline engines until he got his hands on a Westerbeke diesel. The diesel engine arrived in what he called “a basket of parts.” He installed it in 1971. It still propels Gremlin today.
Since 1956, the whaleboat has been in the water every year—and always at the same Manchester harbor mooring. On Labor Day weekend 2011, exactly 55 years after her father had launched Gremlin, Kathleen and her husband, Ray, motored her parents around the harbor. It would be Woody’s last ride aboard his creation. He died the next March.
His obituary stated, “Second to his wife, Burrage’s lifelong passion was his boat, the Gremlin.” Kathleen chuckles at the notion that she and her siblings may have been third in line.
By 2014, she and her husband knew Gremlin was due for a restoration. The hull was mostly original Port Orford cedar. Her father had sistered some oak frames and added some butt blocks along the way, and the hull had held up well, but the boat’s topsides were suffering from freshwater rot. The cabin and decks had to be renewed, so they sent the boat to Tom Perkins at Wise Marine in Essex, Massachusetts. He did the structural work, and the Andersons with their son and son-in-law performed the grunt work.
For the mechanical and electrical work, Kathleen got advice from her co-workers at Manchester Marine, where she’s worked in the varnish department since the early 1970s.
“Since 1950, somebody in this family has worked at Manchester Marine,” she says. Her husband, a technical writer, had been schooled as an airframe and power plant technician and had worked at Manchester Marine with her dad for five years, so he rewired the boat.
Today, her grandmother’s curtains are still aboard Gremlin, and so is much of her father’s handiwork. She and her husband are the ones who use Gremlin. Other family members join them; even though their kids are into it, they don’t take the boat out alone.
But there is a new generation coming up. Kathleen’s 2-year old grandson, Samuel, is now the fifth generation to sail aboard Gremlin.
“We’d like to keep Gremlin going in the family as long as possible,” Kathleen says, adding that nostalgia has kept the boat around. “There’s this sense of responsibility to keep going,” she says, “although I sometimes do characterize this boat as a very needy sibling.”