2020 Commercial 103 Flyer's Beach.jpgFlyer’s Beach | Flyer’s Boatyard.

Francis “Flyer” Santos returned to Provincetown in 1944 from his wartime occupation of building PT boats (patrol torpedo) at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, R.I. After operating briefly at what is now the West End Lot, 55-57 Commercial Street, Santos moved his boat-building operations to Flyer’s Beach, a vacant waterfront parcel at 103 Commercial Street, directly opposite his home at 94 Commercial Street. Santos leased the property for 10 years from the owner, Ralph R. Lawrence.¹ It is shown in the thumbnail image in 1910, when it belonged to Capt. Marion Augustine “Bertie” Perry (1866-1937).

Santos’s “work crew included several men who had returned to Provincetown after serving all over the world fighting during World War II,” Janet Santos Greenquist wrote in a memoir published in the 2015 Provincetown Portuguese Festival booklet.

By the summer of 1947, several boats had already been built. I was on hand, with curled hair and fancy dress, to christen Joe Thomas’s Old Glory; smashing a burlap-bag-covered Champagne bottle on the bow. Captain Thomas gave me a tea set with tiny cups and saucers for my efforts. The work crew included Frank Aresta, James Sants, David Foster, Roy Blaney, and Joe Andrews. Many local men, young and old, helped hold the rope used to guide her down to the beach.

Perhaps the proudest moment for Flyer Santos in his years here was the salvage of Queen Mary, Capt. Anthony Russell, from the crest of the West End Breakwater. The dragger had been deposited there in November 1946 by a violent storm. Cranes were of no avail. “How could a man move something like that?” Santos asked rhetorically, when I interviewed him in 2010. He had the answer: send in a dragger that drew only 6 feet, allowing it to get as close as possible to the boulders along the breakwater. Then tie that dragger to larger and more powerful boats, all tied together and positioned in deeper waters to accommodate their deeper drafts. The Advocate credited Clara M., Mary M., Sea Fox, Three of Us, and Victory II with the rescue.

The photograph shows a badly damaged Queen Mary at a wharf. I presume it was taken after the boat was taken off the West End Breakwater in the winter of 1945-1946. It comes from the collection of the late Anthony L. “Tony” Thomas.

Queen Mary was taken first to Hilliard’s Wharf (or Higgins Wharf or Lands End Wharf), 337-341 Commercial Street. The adventure wasn’t over, as Joseph Andrews, a boatwright who worked with Santos until 1958, recalled. Captain Russell spent two days dewatering the engine. “The next day, a 50 mile-per-hour southeaster came up. She was pounding and rolling so badly we had to sink her to save her. All engine work had to be done over.” In a 90th birthday tribute to Santos, written in 2004, Andrews recalled several of the memorable challenges the two men faced:

“The caulking of garboard seams on a frozen beach in January, lying on a piece of canvas. Replacing plank on a boat during low tide, rushing to get the new one in before the tide came back. Crawling under the Lucy F., lying on the beach, to put back in place a plank that had dropped out. Crawling under the Elsie Howard to stuff oakum in the seams that opened when her keel twisted while on the beach for painting. The hauling of Aerolite when the high school athletes cranking the hauling winch tired out and the yard crew had to finish the job. Taking out the old Atlas engine from the Frances & Marion, having it go over the side, taking the boom with it.”

Santos began to move his operations in 1952 to 131A Commercial Street, where the business remains, still controlled by the Santos family. Edwards sold this property in 1955 to Edith Linwood Bush (1882-1977), of 96 Commercial Street. The parcel was acquired by Frank McKenna of Brooklyn, who sold it to the current owner, John B. Morway, in 1986.

The boat rental business, run by Flyer’s son Arthur Joe Santos, remained here until 1984, after Arthur’s brother Francis John “Grassy” Santos purchased and moved it to 131A Commercial Street.

2020 Commercial 094 House 08Francis “Flyer’ Santos and his son Francis John “Grassy” Santos, when the beach in front of his house, 94 Commercial Street, was still undeveloped.

¶ Last updated on 11 January 2019.

Thumbnail image: Detail of the 1910 Atlas of Barnstable County at the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum.

¹ Lawrence to Santos, 20 October 1944, Barnstable County Registry of Deeds, Book 619, Page 513.

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