Catboat Jon and the wooden bucket

Wed, 02/13/2013 - 8:47pm

Catboat Jon Heon first saw the Southeast Lighthouse of Block Island, while sailing aboard the schooner Mistral, in ’74. She was on a broad reach heading from Bermuda to Newport.

Arriving in the harbor, Mistral, an L. Francis Herreshoff design, had engine problems, and the guys from Old Port Marine towed her to the docks at the Treadway. Catboat Jon has been in Newport ever since.

In ‘75 Jon got his nickname after sailing the engineless 20-foot catboat Lazyjack solo from Tom’s River, N.J., through the East River and onward to Newport Harbor. When he got to the Treadway to tie up his boat, Ron Ackman, an owner of Old Port Marine said, “Hey Catboat Jon!”

The name stuck. Catboat Jon now lives aboard his 60-foot boat, Farallone. She is an Army Quartermaster’s launch ― only 12 were commissioned ― that was built at the Luders yard in Stamford, Conn., in 1918. These boats were built to service the nation’s forts. Farallone has a storied past, most notably, as a launch for Alcatraz, which was once a fort in San Francisco Bay.

Catboat Jon builds buckets aboard Farallone; however, long before that he made other things. For example, in ’78, he worked for the Restoration Foundation of Newport. The guy is good with his hands. When asked about carpentry he says, “When I build things, I have to see them in my head, and it’s always a mistake when I start building something, when I haven’t completely visualized them in my head three dimensionally.” He doesn’t like retracing his steps to fix mistakes if he can avoid it.

Currently, Catboat Jon is writing a book entitled “The Wisdom of Building Wooden Buckets.” I asked him why a book about buckets. “Well, a bucket represents what I’ve learned in my life, so far.” Immediately, I got the brilliance of what Catboat Jon meant. Building anything requires trial and error; life is trial and error. While observing his workshop aboard Farallone where Catboat Jon plies his craft, I sensed this guy can build anything involving Euclidian Geometry. He has the tools and the capability. Moreover, I figure that if you’re building a bucket made of pine, you’re using lots of precise measurements, plus the hoop straps need to be steamed and bent, and the hand-planed staves must allow for expansion; there’s lots of design and engineering going on here. Furthermore, these buckets do not leak. Catboat Jon has been dreaming about buckets since he started sailing aboard Mistral. As it turns out, L. Francis Herreshoff also thought a lot about buckets; cedar ones for the boats he built. Cedar had a nice strong smell that did the trick before plumbing systems were developed for boats.

Catboat Jon left high school in the 10th grade, and went to the Bahamas to be a safety diver for a dive boat charter operation. “I was responsible to make sure everyone made it back to the dive boat safely, and I must say, that there are three people that are still here today because of my help.”

That led to a crew spot aboard the schooner that landed him in Newport all those years ago. It also led to shipboard carpentry, and varnishing skills that served Catboat Jon well in restoring houses. So it’s been an interesting ride for Catboat Jon to say the very least. He says, “The buckets really do represent all that I’ve learned in my life, and they also represent the people who have helped me along the way.” A friend encouraged him to “use everything you’ve learned in your life to market your bucket.” Catboat Jon Heon is doing precisely that. Don’t be surprised if you see Farallone in Old or New Harbor this summer ― you can’t miss her ― and Jon will be at the Block Island Craft Fair selling his buckets. Finally, if you’re on the Islander entering Newport Harbor this summer, look over at the anchorage near the Ida Lewis Yacht Club, and take a look at Catboat Jon’s home.

For more information, google Catboat Jon’s Wooden Bucket.