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Brad Ives of Oak Bluffs Imports
Ships' Timbers from Suriname Jungles

Martha's Vineyard Times July 29, 1999



A Vessel of His Own
Mr. Ives left Sophia in New Bedford in 1978 and began to look for a boat to operate on his own. In October of that year his search took him to Scandinavia, where he found Edna, a schooner built in Holland in 1916 for the North Sea herring fishery.

"I found her in a little town in Denmark." He says Edna had been for sale for five years but was no longer listed with any brokers "because the owner was so cantankerous. She was just sitting there with a little ‘for sale’ sign." The cantankerous captain, Egner Christiansen, then 80 years old, had carried cargo with Edna in Denmark for 43 years.
Mr. Ives bought Edna "as is, where is," and replaced some steel plating in the aging hull before sailing her to Portugal, where she underwent a nine-month refit. She was now ready for her new life as an international cargo vessel, and Mr. Ives set sail for Boston via the Canary Islands in 1979 with two crew, his first wife, and their young daughter. They were carrying a cargo of Portuguese cobblestones which they sold in the Canaries and New England.

"We had some false starts," he says. When a contract to carry a cargo of dynamite fell through, they set off for Africa with a load of used American clothes, expecting to trade them for handicrafts. Instead they returned with a load of tropical hardwood which they sold in the West Indies and in New England.

From 1980 to 1987, Mr. Ives operated Edna and Deep Water Ventures, mostly in the construction materials trade. Bricks from New Bedford and tropical hardwoods from Africa and South America were in demand in the Virgin Islands during the building boom of the 1980s. Later, lumber from Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia was sold retail on the waterfront in San Francisco.

Visit to Suriname
Edna began to visit Suriname in 1982 to buy hardwoods for trade in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. Nat Benjamin of Gannon and Benjamin, Vineyard Haven boat builders, says his business ordered its first load of lumber from Deep Water Ventures in 1984. He says the 40 tons of wood, mostly silverballi, was used for several boatbuilding and repair projects, including the construction of Lana and Hartley, a 44-foot schooner.

In 1987, the shipboard life was beginning to wear on his family, so Edna was sold after being on the market for only two weeks, and Mr. Ives moved ashore. For 10 years, Mr. Ives held a wide variety of jobs: fishing in Hawaii, running a freighter in the West Indies hauling lumber, supplying teak from Singapore and Burma, and a variety of boatbuilding and repair jobs. Mr. Ives returned to Martha's Vineyard in 1993 to work on the rebuild of When and If, the late Gen. George Patton's schooner now operated by Gannon and Benjamin in the charter business.

Meanwhile, Suriname was embroiled in a devastating civil war. Sawmills were idle and exports ceased.

In 1997, Gannon and Benjamin was preparing to build Rebecca, 50-foot schooner designed by Nat Benjamin for filmmaker Dan Adams, and they contracted with Mr. Ives to acquire lumber for the project. With this and several other contracts, Mr. Ives once again visited Suriname and found many of the small sawmills he had known in dire need of work, still recovering from the civil war.

"Because I had to renew all my contacts down there, it took me five months to get it," Mr. Ives says of the effort to fill five cargo containers with 40,000 board feet of lumber to fill the orders.

Growing Business
The containers were finally shipped in November of 1997, and Mr. Ives has concentrated on growing the business since. He has several reliable customers and has supplied the wood for several projects, including two containers of angelique for the planking of the replica of Amistad currently under construction at Mystic Seaport Museum.

Gannon and Benjamin now uses Deep Water Ventures nearly exclusively as its supplier of tropical hardwoods. A powerboat which is nearing completion in the Gannon and Benjamin shop has an angelique backbone and wana planking supplied by Mr. Ives.

"He’s very knowledgeable about wood," Nat Benjamin says. "We especially like working with Brad. It’s not only a good product at a good price. It’s sustainable logging, and that’s something we’re very concerned about."

Mr. Benjamin stresses that durable, rot resistant wood in long lengths is getting more difficult to find. He says the angelique, wana, and silverballi they buy from Deep Water Ventures each has characteristics which suit them to the boatbuilders’ needs, and they are not in high demand or endangered. Their portion of the shipment from Avontuur is not slated for any particular project but to have in stock.

Mr. Ives is also keeping lumber in stock on the Island to sell to incidental customers.

"It's not full-time work yet," he says of Deep Water Ventures, "and I'm not sure I want it to be." He says he has thoughts of another large boat project similar to Edna, but shrugs when asked about the timeframe of such a venture. "This business is plenty right now, and life is pretty good."

Brad Ives and April Fountain plan to be married at their home in Oak Bluffs in September.

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