BY ROSEMARY HERBERT / SPECIAL TO THE NEWS
I’ve got seawater in my blood,” said David Blanchard recently, as he cradled Jake, his American cocker spaniel, in his arms. Pointing to ship models and ships’ clocks that he builds and repairs in his Camden workshop, Blanchard said: “The rich seafaring tradition that I was brought up in led naturally to my being interested in my family’s history, maritime history and eventually to my current work.” Blanchard calls his one-man company, Brightwork, a word that applies equally to the metal trappings on ships and to the bright brass workings in clocks. He operates his business from a wood-shingled barn on Camden’s Pearl Street.
His ancestors arrived Searsport in the 1700s, where they made their livings as farmers at first. “Because everything in those days moved by water,” Blanchard said, “it was natural for farmers to become boat builders, and for boat builders to take a managing interest in larger boats, and then for some to become ships’ captains. So, by the 19th century, my family became seafarers.” In fact, Blanchard’s forebears took to the sea so enthusiastically that they were listed in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” when seven sons all served as sea captains and all died at sea. “Fortunately for me, they didn’t die before they had offspring,” Blanchard added with a chuckle.
The last of the Blanchards to go to sea commanded the magnificent sailing vessel Bangalore, which they sailed to the Orient. There they picked up some fabulous souvenirs, some of which can be seen today in the Penobscot Marine Museum. Those treasures include a Japanese chest inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Blanchard family portraits, including an impressive painting of William H. Blanchard and his wife, Clara, also hang in the museum’s “Captains’ Room.”
Blanchard’s own father, Albert, was a principal in the stevedoring firm Turner & Blanchard in New York, following in the natural progression that occurred for ships’ captains after the waning of the great age of sail.
David Blanchard himself, though, began his own career on land, serving in management positions in conservation organizations until he was in his mid-30s. Around 1990, encouraged by his wife, Paula, he decided to change tack and “make the sea change” to leave office work behind and become a boat builder.
He volunteered on the rebuilding of the historic vessel, “Mattie” which later retook its original name, “Grace Bailey.” The ship currently sails out of Camden. He also occasionally crewed on Penobscot Bay, on the schooners “Summertime” and “Olad.” Then “it became clear that to be a boat builder you had to have an established reputation,” Blanchard said. He realized he had neither that nor the physique to handle the heavy lifting involved. That’s when he scaled down his boat-building dream — sizewise anyway — and apprenticed himself to Rob Eddy of Camden for 3½ years.
“Rob is the pre-eminent scale model builder of contemporary yachts,” Blanchard said. “I learned a huge amount from him.”
But lured by his family’s history, and “the romance of the sea,” Blanchard decided to branch out into building and repairing models of historic ships, including three-masted, square-rigged vessels. Among his customers are collectors and museums, including the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath and Searsport’s Penobscot Marine Museum.
Because large commissions are rare in the ship model business, Blanchard also learned to repair clocks, and made ships’ clocks a specialty. Both enterprises require dexterity and patience. And something else, too. “The prerequisite is a supportive spouse,” Blanchard said.