Flyer’s marine railway.
Four major marine railways were constructed in Provincetown in the modern era. Frank “Bisca” Taves (1905-1984) was the first to have one, in 1944, at Taves Boatyard, 129R Commercial Street. He was followed almost immediately by William Hathaway, whose railway extended behind 195-199 Commercial Street. Francis A. “Flyer” Santos (1914-2015) built the first of two railways at his boatyard here in 1951-1952. He constructed the second, longer railway in 1959. That’s the one that still exists and is shown in this entry.
A marine railway makes it possible to haul large fishing boats out of the water entirely, allowing dry access to the entire area of the hull that’s normally below the water line. This is critical for inspection, repairs, routine maintenance, and painting. The railways here and at Taves next door are among the last vestiges of the working waterfront. If it’s not you doing the hard work of hauling, welding, and painting, they are as picturesque as they can be, especially when a big boat is “on the ways” or “on the rails.”
As the fishing industry declined, so did the need for marine railways. Francis John “Grassy” Santos, who took over Flyer’s Boat Shop from his father in 1978, had the older railway removed in the late 1990s to accommodate a concrete dock. The kinds of boats now handled at Flyer’s are so small and lightweight — compared to a dragger — that they can be hauled up with a forklift that’s perched on the dock.
Both of Flyer’s marine railways can be seen in this 1984 aerial view, as can the railway at Taves, at the left edge of the photo. The dragger Charlotte G. is on the rails in the center of the photo. On the longer railway at right is the yacht Valjora. The photo is from the collection of Francis John Santos.
The great Provincetown artist Arthur Cohen (1928-2012) painted Jimmy Boy at Flyer’s Yard. It is in the Town Art Collection and can be seen on the Provincetown History Preservation Project website, Page 1429.
The 60-foot dragger Reneva, Capt. Salvador R. Vasques Jr., on the rails in the mid-1970s. The boats in the foreground are at the abutting Taves Boatyard. The photo is from the Massachusetts Historical Commission Inventory of 1977, prepared by Josephine Del Deo, in the collection of the Provincetown Public Library.
Left: Miss Sandy, Capt. Louis A. “Louie” Rivers, on the rails in an undated photo from Salvador R. Vasques III’s My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection, Facebook, 1 December 2017. Right: The 39-foot Alison Marie, Capt. Tobin “Toby” Storer, on the rails in 2010. David W. Dunlap.
Alison Marie at Flyer’s, September 2010. David W. Dunlap.
Portfolio of photos of the marine railway by David W. Dunlap, taken in 2009, 2010, and 2018.
¶ Last updated on 14 January 2019.
131A Commercial Street on the Town Map.
Also at 131A Commercial Street:
Flyer’s Boat Rental | Flyer’s Boat Shop (General article).
Thumbnail image: Photo, 2018, by David W. Dunlap.