NORTH KINGSTOWN – John Amaral has a photo of himself at age three, in an old wooden 16-foot lobster boat.
“It weighed about eight million pounds,” he laughs. “I’m wearing a little sailor hat, a bathing suit and a big smile. I’ve been messing around in boats ever since.”
In fact, when he was 10, John and an 8-year-old pal each contributed $10 to buy a plywood kayak which they would paddle from Swansea to Mount Hope. After digging quahogs or playing at the shore, in the afternoon the boys would hoist a big square sail made by his friend’s mom and, using a mast crafted from a two-by-two, they would sail home in the afternoon.
“I always got to steer because I was older,” he notes.
Now 68, the Attleboro, Mass. native, who lives with his wife, Diane, in the Hamilton neighborhood, is still pursuing his passion for boats – and using his talents in refurbishing vintage vessels to benefit charity.
Operating with neighbor Butch Griffin who provides storage and work space, John has founded Lazarus Boat Works, named for the Biblical figure who was raised from the dead.
Using his own money, John buys old boats, brings them back to life and sells them. Every cent he makes goes to the Christ’s Cupboard Food Pantry and the soup kitchen of First Evangelical Lutheran Church, in East Greenwich.
Lazarus Boat Works also accepts donations of small sailing, rowing and power craft, both wooden and fiberglass. So far John has cleared $150 from a donated 14-foot fiberglass utility boat that he sold in “as is” condition. He has two others – a 16-foot Osprey and a British-made Enterprise.
“It’s speedy, light with a lot of sail area,” John says of the Enterprise. “It’s for a couple of guys who want to be teenage boys again.”
The prize of the collection which recently underwent a three-month transformation is a 12 1/2-foot Dyer dinghy which John calls “the Rolls Royce of sailing dinghies.” This boat, priced new at $7,575 retail, is offered at $2,795. John bought it from a man in South Kingstown.
“It was a wreck,” he says. “It needed a complete scraping and sanding, was repainted inside and out, all the wood was redone and the fittings removed and it was re-bedded with silicone.”
He also purchased original rails from Dyer in Warren. The seats, transom and capstan are mahogany; the center board is oak. The boat has its original rigging and carries an 18-foot mast.
John, an alumnus of Rhode Island College with majors in secondary education and history plus minors in English and anthropology, taught 31 years in Rhode Island and Attleboro where he started the first student community service program in 1980. He ran it until he retired in 2000.
Also the recipient of a master’s in environmental science and policy from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), he still works 10 hours a week as an environmental consultant.
Much of his time goes to the boat projects.
“In the past, I have contributed to the food pantry and the pastor’s discretionary fund. I knew [the donations] were going to help people.”
Before stringent rules were adopted after the church installed a new kitchen, John made soups and stews for a Friday program that offered hot meals to anyone in the community.
After that was no longer possible – state health department rules mandate that food served to the public be prepared at the meal site – John says he decided there might be a way to support the program through a project that would raise money.
The results of his Lazarus Boat Works labors, he explains, “combine giving with my gift of messing with boats. I can do something good and help them out.”
To support the Lazarus ministry by donating materials¸ vessels or hardware, or to examine boats for potential purchase, contact lazarusboat@verizon .net or call 294-9717.
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at email@example.com .