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Frank Boccia and his wife Debra restored a historic wooden boat from England in their Westbrook garage, and can now be seen making the most of the summer aboard Tinker Bell. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
The 70 year-old vessel Tinker Bell turns heads wherever she goes, according to Frank Boccia. (Photo courtesy of Frank Boccia )
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The Connecticut shoreline offers locals some exceptional scenery. For shore-goers in Westbrook, a trip to the water may mean catching a glimpse of Frank Boccia and his wife Debra cruising past aboard Tinker Bell, their 20-foot antique wooden boat.
“It’s a head turner everywhere we go,” says Frank.
The boat was shipped to America from England for the 1950 New York Boat Show, and from there it was supposed to go to Miami. The company that had the boat ran out of money, according to a rumor Frank heard, which prevented the boat from completing its journey south.
“When I got it, I was told a guy had had it in his basement for 40 years,” Frank explains.
Frank was given bits and pieces of information about the vessel, and then did some of his own research to find out more. Frank found an advertisement from a 1949 magazine advertising the boat. He found out the factory that built the boat closed down in the 1950s.
“I got one piece here and there and I followed it out,” Frank says of the boat’s history.
Eventually, Frank got in touch with the wife of the boat’s previous owner to find out what they knew, as well historical societies and a museum in England where he found out the boat was built in a town in England named Little Hampton. Frank keeps a portfolio now with pictures and facts about the old boat.
When Frank and Debra originally found the boat, it had been transported to a local marina where it was going to be cut up and thrown out. Frank inquired about the boat.
“I said, ‘Honey, as long it fits in the garage, we can get it,’” Frank says with a laugh.
The boat did fit in the garage, and the couple then spent the next 2 ½ years working on the boat.
“My wife likes to varnish, so it’s a good marriage you could say,” Frank says with another laugh.
Working in the heated garage, Frank and Debra were able to complete the work themselves by hand. Some of the needed work included steaming 12 oak frames and riveting planks, which had to be done by two people, one inside the boat and one outside.
Frank admits that sometimes while working on the boat he and his wife would throw up their hands in frustration, but their hard work did pay off.
“The boat wouldn’t be complete without my wife. She’s been with me all the way,” Franks says.
Frank says he didn’t have any reservations about putting the boat on the water for the first time, as he trusted his work.
“I’m an old ship’s carpenter. I did work all the time on old wood boats,” Frank says.
A lifelong resident of Westbrook, Frank grew up with a family that was heavily involved in boating, and also owned smaller boats throughout his life.
“Let’s put it this way: I’ve worked in the marine world my whole life,” says Frank.
Frank was employed at various marinas working on boats, but after significant spinal surgery 10 years ago doctor told him to find a new line of work.
Following the doctor’s orders, Frank got his captain’s license and is a ship’s captain now, piloting a research vessel out of Groton. Franks says he’s on the water about 180 days out of the year, and travels along the east coast from Maine to Virginia doing “all kinds of science experiments.”
While Frank admits that being away from home for long periods of time and going onto the water in the winter aren’t his favorite parts of the job, he still gets to witness some interesting projects. For example, one research endeavor he got to witness is the implementation of whale buoys in Massachuseettes.
Frank explains that the buoys are placed five miles apart with technology installed that can detect a whale in the area. When a whale is detected, a signal is sent to Cornell University, which then alerts the Coast Guard so that a speed ban can be placed in the area to protect the whales.
“It’s been a fun life,” Frank says, reflecting on the different projects of which he’s been a part.
Frank says what he values about Westbrook is that it’s a peaceful and quiet place, where everyone seems to know each other. In his spare time when he’s not boating, Frank enjoys model making, and for years enjoyed trips into the woods for camping—he says that since he’s always on the coast, sometimes he enjoys a trip in the other directions.
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