Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard


(Boat Yard) 1975 Interior Building

1975 Interior Boat Shop


(Boat Yard) Current Shop Interior

Today Interior Boat Shop


Remembering the Gwynn’s Island
Boat Yard

by Marcy Klingel Benouameur


My Father – Gilbert Klingel – first came to Gwynn’s Island as a young boy when his family traveled on the the steamboats from Baltimore.  This was around 1912 – 1917.  He was so impressed with this beautiful area that he came back many years later to settle permanently.  He established a boat yard in the early 1950’s and called it the Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard.  Here he built boats of steel ranging from 30′ to 75′ in length.  Most of these were sailboats except for one 62′ twin diesel yacht, the “Manteo.”  Some Islanders may still remember the large boats and the many launchings that took place over the years.


1967 Gwynn's Island Boat Yard Railway, view from dock

1967 Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard Railway, view from dock


1967 "Manteo", A 62-foot diesel yacht. Based on a shrimper type hull design. Built for Mr. W. Cato, Sr. of Charlotte, North Carolina.

1967 “Manteo” – a 62′ Diesel Yacht


1971 June 19, Launching of "Clementine" at GIBY

June 19, 1971 – Launching of “Clementine” at GIBY


Although I didn’t actually grow up on Gwynn’s Island, I spent many weekends and summers in my youth at the Boat Yard.  The days were slower then and I have fond memories of biking around the island in the 50’s, canoeing on Milford Haven or going for a swim in that little cove at Cherry Point which is no longer there.  Best of all, I enjoyed watching my father work.  In the early years, I saw him build the winch house, place the railway, and build the large building.  He later built a small apartment on the second floor above the large work shop.  From it, he only had to descend on the elevator (which he built himself) to the ground floor.


1955 Constructing the Large Building

1955 Constructing the Large Building


1980 Shop Exterior

1980 Shop Exterior


1957 Large Building Completed

1957 Large Building Completed


I remember the sandblasting and the welding with sparks flying and being told to keep a distance and not to look directly at the bright light.  I remember the gas bottles and my father always working on the top of a ladder or down under a boat.  I remember the sheets of steel and the patterns he made from them.  These became the frames of boats of all sizes.


Photo taken by A. Aubrey Bodine

Photo by A. Aubrey Bodine


Photo taken by A. Aubrey Bodine, the famous Baltimore Sun photographer.

Photo by A. Aubrey Bodine, the famous Baltimore Sun photographer


Photo taken by A. Aubrey Bodine

Photo by A. Aubrey Bodine


Because Gil Klingel was a welder, he was often called upon to fix all sorts of equipment made of steel, from boat parts to old trucks.  He generally wouldn’t accept any money for this work but a few days later he would be rewarded by a gift of fish or crabs or garden vegetables.  It was all part of the Gwynn’s Island way of life.  When there was room on the marine railway, watermen would bring in their boats to clean or paint.  One example was the “Miss Harriet” as seen in the photo on this page.  There were still quite a few watermen around in those days.  We only had to look in the yard next door and watch Mr. Hudgins repairing his pound nets or look across the water to Callis Wharf to see the fishing boats come in.  Those were the days when you could actually buy fish at Callis Wharf.


1972 Miss Harriet on the cradle at GIBY

1972 “Miss Harriet” on the cradle at GIBY


1974 "Achates", 34-foot Ketch

1974 “Achates” – a 34′ Ketch


The Boat Yard property has changed hands several times after my father’s death.  For some time it was known as Pulley’s Marine.  The old winch house was replaced with a separate building for the boat shop and the larger building became a retail store for marine products.  The Mathews Maritime Foundation is now leasing the smaller of the two buildings.  This Gwynn’s Island Boat Shop will be used for waterfront educational activities such as boatbuilding, restoration of donated boats and maritime trades education in partnership with the Rappahannock Community College (RCC).  Gilbert Klingel’s Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard which was once a busy commercial working waterfront may once again become an active center of maritime activities.


2011 The "Peggy" on the railway at the Gwynn's Island Boat Yard

2011 “Peggy” on the railway at the Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard


2011 Rionholdt Boats working with the Mathews Maritime Foundation on the "Peggy"

2011 Rionholdt Boats working with the Mathews Maritime Foundation on “Miss Peggy”


Today Buyboat "Peggy" of Newpoint VA

Today Buyboat “Peggy of Newpoint” – of Mathews, VA


In the meantime, a new edition of Klingel’s first book Inagua has just been released for sale.  It has a new introduction which I wrote to bring the story into the present.  You can find this book at the Gwynn’s Island Festival, the Gwynn’s Island Museum, the Mathews Maritime Museum and other locations around Mathews.
*Content and photos above courtesy of Marcy Klingel Benouameur.
Our heartfelt thanks for sharing your father and his boat shop’s story!

Today, it is the aim of Rionholdt Once And Future Boats Ltd. to create closer community and offer hospitality while making faithful reproductions of our favorite, classic Chesapeake Bay boats out of cellular PVC using the Rionholdt Method.  Drop in on us at the Boat Yard to see what is new, talk about beautiful boats, pick up some tips and tricks from our experienced and talented Shipwrights, and ultimately appreciate what makes Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard such a wonderful and special haven on the Bay!


Gwynn's Island Boat Yard Today

Gwynn’s Island Boat Yard Today


Shop Puppy "Rye" - He's our mascot until we get a good group photo :D

Shop Puppy “Rye” – our mascot until we get a good group photo


A Rionholdt PVC Boat

A Rionholdt PVC Boat