Summerfield Boat Works

Summerfield ceased to exist in 2006, having succumbed to then-skyrocketing land values and the push to squeeze maximum dollars from every square foot of waterfront land. The last time I was there, everything had been wiped off the lot to build a rack-o-minium or some such thing. I think the lot is still empty.

Summerfield employed I would guess about 3 dozen people: welders, mechanics, carpenters, crane and lift operators. It hauled very large boats on a 70-ton TravelLift for painting and repairs, had a 25-ton crane for hauling smaller craft and pulling out masts and engines and such. With its  6 huge boat sheds, Summerfield was also a storage destination for snowbirds who wanted to go north but leave their boats south, and there was a fair amount of open wet storage all over the yard.

Summerfield also had an unusual piece of gear: a marine elevator. The advantage of a marine elevator was a little like a drydock, except that it was lowered and raised by big cables instead of by buoyancy. The boat would be lifted on the platform, blocked at many points to spread out the weight.  This would help keep a fragile wooden boat from being racked or crushed by its own weight. A TravelLift is a lot faster and flexible than a marine elevator, but the straps can put a hurting on a wooden boat if you’re not careful (and sometimes if you ARE careful). So the elevator was sought out by those who for one reason or another preferred not to risk the TravelLift.

It was said that Mr. Summerfield (long-dead when I was there) built the elevator, and it was a rare piece of equipment! The platform was a massive frame of steel I-beams decked over with planks so you could walk on it. It was lowered by eight 3/4-inch steel cables which were all wound around a pair of huge drums. The drums were turned by a gearbox, which was in turn driven by a 6-cylinder Chevy truck engine and 3-speed manual transmission. You would operate the clutch with a tall handle, put it in forward or reverse depending on which way you were taking the platform, and let out the clutch. Oh, yes, and a massive strap brake to stop the thing from dropping like a rock. Oh, it was a hell of a thing!

Anyway, I know Summerfield left its mark on me. It was a community of boat people and oddballs of all stripes, and we all had a lot of fun getting paid to do something we really liked doing anyway, which was messing with boats.

If any of the former crew of Summerfield runs across this website, I’d love to hear from you. If you have pictures, send them to me and I’ll post them here.



Here's the crane, adding another "stick" to the mast yard, where masts were stored or worked on. We had a 70-foot boom on the crane plus a 20-foot extension ("fly") we could add for extra tall masts.


A pretty good shot of the crane, hauling a boat with a special spreader bar to hang the straps. What you didn't want was to lilft something too heavy and tip the crane over. We did come close more than once.


A good shot of the marine elevator, which is the platform between the boat shed on the left and the sailboat on the right. The sailboat is in the process of being transferred off the elevator, sideways on railroad tracks, to a place for it to be worked on. This way, you could have several boats out of the water at the same time.


Here you can see the platform a little better, and the tracks running left to right to transfer boats off the lift.


This shot was taken from the top of the crane. At the top of the picture is the side of the big boathouse. Immediately next to that is the elevator platform. The sportfisherman has been transferred off the elevator to a work space.


This is the slip we used for hauling out boats with the crane. The straps would be lowered into the water, then the boat pulled in over them. The boat would be lifted and then swung to a workspace where it would be blocked up. We move the crane from spot to spot so we could swing the boat from the slip to the various work spaces. the smaller the boat, the further you could "boom down" to place it. Heavier boats had to be blocked up immediately next to the slip.


A lot to see here. The fellow to the very far right is John Lee, my old boss. He is operating the electric transfer winch, which hauled on a cable that provided the force to move boats laterally about the yard on their railroad cars. Depending on the direction of movement, you would run the long cable through any number of big snatch blocks. It was possible to pull a boat right up into that boathouse dead ahead if it needed indoor work. The fellow in blue with his back to us is Ronnie DeBlock, who was a crane operator. And that boat with the varnished transom is none other than the famous "Stingray."


We called this the "East Basin," where we would pack the boats in for storage or in-the-water repairs. See the way they are rafted together and all tied together? That's the way the boathouses looked, too ... three big boats across and usually three deep, with every other space filled by a small boat. Moving boats could be a time-consuming puzzle -- but FUN.


The fellow in the boat is the owner of both the boat and the little red MGB dangling from the crane. He was headed north and wanted to take his boat AND his car. In the foreground is Bob, an outside carpenter who frequently did work at the yard.











We got called on to do weird stuff sometimes. I can't remember how we rigged the MGB for the lift without tearing the fenders off. That's John Lee giving the crane operator the hand signal to "boom down." Next to him is the owner of the car and boat.









Sure it was weird, but it WORKED. Now he just needs a crane to get the car back out at the destination.

One Response to Summerfield Boat Works

  1. Lex says:

    I started my yachting/sailing/building career at Summerfield in the Spring of 1989 (I think), I lived there for almost 3 years.
    I worked for Schnell Yacht Painters, then on my own doing carpentry, fiberglass, painting, fitting and tending and ferrying, and hull work. I remember the elevator, and the travel lift (Patrick operated the travel lift while I lived there).
    I remember the guy with the folsom concrete catamaran that frequently lived there (but couldn’t pay his dock rent, but they let him stay none the less). Interesting after all these years, it would be an empty lot. That would break my hear to see that. I think right next store to Summerfield was a famous movie producers home, Coppola maybe, cant remember.
    Anyways, I lost everything in some horrible something or other, had many pics of Summerfield, but they are all wet now, fish food. Likely they were pics of many illegal activities anyways, we partied hard there. Cheers!

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