28 Conant Street

If people could be designated landmarks, surely Joseph Andrews (b 1920), “Joe” to everyone, would qualify for gold status. Though not as well known by outsiders as his former colleague and boss, Francis “Flyer” Santos, Andrews was once among the busiest boatbuilders in Provincetown. His vast knowledge and knife-sharp recall of town history, well into his early 90s, has offered family and friends a vibrant link to what is now a long-lost past.

The “Andrews” story begins — as “Andrade” — on the island of São Miguel, in about 1877. That was when Joe’s father, Jesse Andrade, was born. He arrived in Provincetown at the turn of the century, having been rechristened by anglophone immigration officials. “My father didn’t know how to read or write,” Joe told me in 2010. “They gave him that name.”

He was followed from São Miguel by Victoria Rezendes (b ±1893), who had arrived in Boston with her brother Manuel. Victoria and Jesse had known one another in the Old Country, Joe said. They married and had two children, Joe and Mary Julia Andrews.

In summers, Jesse Andrews fished aboard schooners on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland, the Great South Channel off Nantucket Shoals, and Georges Bank to the east of the channel. He shipped on the Progress and Morning Star, under Capt. Manuel Santos; the Rhodora, under Capt. Frank Santos, Manuel’s son; and the Vardy, under Capt. Frank Gaspar. They would fish for cod, cusk, haddock, halibut and pollock, a week at a time, keeping the catch on ice until they could reach market, usually in Boston.

In winters, Jesse Andrews fished aboard the Mary Julia Andrews. He operated this 26-foot “gasoliner” with a partner; first, Frank Silva and then Manuel Taves. “It was an open boat with a canvas cover, two men, powered by an eight-horsepower, single-cylinder, one-lunger Lathrop,” Joe Andrews recalled. “They’d go to the fishing ledge between here and the Cape Cod Canal, about 25 miles; to the Stellwagen Bank; and to the whistling buoy off Long Point. If you got caught in a storm, pray God that the canvas cover held. These were day trips. They had no ice. They had to be in by the end of the day.”

Then, in 1933, the 56-year-old Jesse died after a 10-day illness. Joe was 13. He lost a father who would take him down to the beaches of Provincetown to spin stories of whaling days. Joe had begun working at Furtado’s Boatyard, 99 Commercial Street, in 1932. He quit high school in his junior year and worked for Furtado until 1941. There, he made the acquaintance of the young Flyer Santos. With the war coming on, Santos got a job at the Herreshoff Manufacturing Company on Narragansett Bay in Bristol, R.I., famed for its production of victorious America’s Cup defenders. Andrews was classified 1-A by his draft board but given a deferment at first as the sole supporter of his family. He then joined Santos at the Herreshoff boatyard. While there, he was reclassified 1-A and drafted into the Army.

“I said, ‘To hell with that, I’m going to see if I can get into the Navy,” Andrews recalled. He took his draft notice to the naval recruiting station in Providence, where the chief said simply, “Throw that into the wastebasket and get into line.” Andrews was assigned to the new light carrier U.S.S. Cowpens (CVL-25) and sent off to 19 months of uninterrupted service in the tumultuous Pacific Theater. That tour included the infamous “Halsey’s Typhoon” of 18 December 1944 in the Philippine Sea, which sank three aircraft carriers with almost all hands; seriously damaged five more carriers, as well as a cruiser and three destroyers; destroyed or irreparably damaged 146 aircraft; and killed or injured some 870 men and officers. “We got pretty well beat up,” is all Andrews says.

When he learned that anyone with 18 months or more of straight overseas duty could come and be reassigned, he used his 30-day leave to report to New York, where he was indeed reassigned: to the Russell Islands, not far from Guadalcanal. There, at a shipyard run by the Navy’s Construction Battalion, the Seabees, Andrews served as a first-class carpenter’s mate on a floating dry dock that tended to small tugs and wooden patrol boats. Discharged in November 1945, he came home through Boston, where a young woman idly envied his appearance. “How come you have such a tan?” she asked. “Where have you been?”

Back in Provincetown, he began dating Virginia West (±1925-1998), an English teacher at Provincetown High School. They were married in ±1946 and began a family. A daughter, Victoria, was born in 1947 (she is married to Paul Mendes, a former Provincetown police officer and an amateur historian, and they live at 45-55 Captain Bertie’s Way). A second daughter, Deborah (now Deborah McGonnell), was born in 1951. A son, Michael, followed in 1953, and David R. Andrews rounded out the brood in 1958. He is now chairman of the Russian department at Georgetown University. In 1948, Joe and Virginia Andrews bought the house at 28 Conant Street. Joe is still living here.

In 1945, Andrews was hired by Santos to work at Flyer’s boatyard in the West End, first opposite 94 Commercial, then at 131A Commercial. In 1958, he moved over to Taves Boatyard, 129R Commercial, where he stayed for the next 26 years, working as a ship’s carpenter and engine mechanic, repairing rails, decks, frames and timbers and replacing such critical elements as the shaft logs, where the propeller shaft penetrates the hull, on big draggers like New England and Victory II. The Taves yard also turned two out notable boats from scratch in the 1970s. Columbia, a 43-foot sport fishing boat, was constructed for Elmer Costa and is still in service out of Orleans, Andrews told me. Mayflower was a 38-foot lobster boat built for the Lovell family of Barnstable. Andrews still has the construction sketches. That’s not all he has lying around the house and shop. Parked out back, tightly encased in a tarp, is the hull of the sailboat Ranger, in which Andrews once spent many summer days.

When Frank Taves died in 1984, the yard closed, too. (It has since reopened under different management.) “I was almost 65,” Andrews told me. “I figured I’d call it square.” He had already retired in 1980 from his 29-year career as a firefighter, stationed at the now-decommissioned Pumper 1 fire house, 117 Commercial. His retirement did not in any diminish his abiding affection for his maritime days, evidence by the Cowpens cap on his head and — even more fundamentally — by the complement of boatwright’s tools that he still keeps in his shed shop.

Most touchingly, perhaps, is the Ranger. As he and I walked around the back yard in the fall of 2010, the 90-year-old Joe Andrews placed his hand on the hull and told me: “I haven’t had it in the water for 10 years. My legs are getting soft. But I’ve kept her. It makes me feel good to look at her.”

[Updated 2012-10-06]












7 thoughts on “28 Conant Street

  1. Mr. Andrews, my grandfather, Jule Costa, worked with you at Flyer’s in the early 1900’s. I had the opportunity to sit down with you and identify some old photos. My Dad, Wilfred Costa, and our family lived in Wellfleet. Dad worked at the A&P and Cabral’s Market, for Peter Hunt, and later as an insurance salesman in the Lower Cape. You were able to identify many boys in my Dad’s Boy Scout Troop, one of which was you.

    I was given the name of Paul Mendes in hopes that he can help me in my research. I talked to Flyer and Ruth O’Donnell before they passed away. “Aunt” Ruth showed me a hope chest that my grandfather, Jule, made for her.

    I now live in Florida and hope to continue my search in identifying the faces. If you can help in any way, I would like to send some copies of pictures to you. I wrote to Mrs. Roderick for her help, but did not hear back.

    Sincerely, Vern Costa Email: verncosta@icloud.com

  2. My visit with Mr. Andrews was the best. If on the Cape again, I would like to be reunited. I would love to talk to others like him who lived during those wonderful years. I have fond memories of my visits to Provincetown during the 50’s.

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