James Fullton grew up in Alabama. His dad, Jim, grew up on the banks of Dog River, an estuary that rises and falls with the tides of Mobile Bay, and his grandparents, on both sides, were Alabama river people. Boats were a part of the family’s daily life. Grandpa Fulton built and restored boats for Jim and his two older sisters in their younger years, and when they had families of their own there were boats for the grandchildren.
By the time James was seven years old, he had learned to row in a dinghy that his grandfather had restored. His early sailing experiences were in his father’s Fish-class gaff-rigged sloop, and the first time they took it out James was alarmed by how much the boat heeled under the press of sail. He told his father: “If momma sees us doing this, she’s gonna fuss.” From that day forward the boat was called MOMMA’S GONNA FUSS. Jim moved his family away when James was eight years old, but they continued to visit Alabama, spending summer vacations on Dog River. In his ’tween years, James graduated to an outboard skiff and expanded his exploration of the river. The family made several more moves in his teen years, and the gap separating him from the river and boats widened.
Some 16 years ago, James settled in New Haven, Connecticut, to raise a family of his own. The proximity to Long Island Sound and to the state’s lakes and rivers rekindled his interest in boats, and for several years he harbored a wish to build a boat. In 2016, he talked it over with his wife and they ordered a Chester Yawl kit from Chesapeake Light Craft. Soon after, as a Father’s Day gift, he took his dad to The WoodenBoat Show at Mystic Seaport, where the kit was waiting for them at the CLC booth.
In the months that followed, Jim and James, father and son, assembled the 15′ hull, enjoying the other’s company as much as seeing the curves emerge from the flat plywood panels they stitched together. Jim eventually ceded his role as co-boatbuilder to his granddaughter, four-year-old Kyrie, the youngest of James’s five children. Kyrie had her own toolbox and projects to work on, but often suited up with the proper protective gear to help with the sanding and painting of the Chester Yawl.
The boat was launched on June 10, 2018, on Lake Wintergreen at West Rock Ridge State Park in Connecticut, and christened ARGUS. Kyrie had earned her place aboard with James for the first row from shore.
Father’s Day fell on the following weekend. James’s two sons, 12 and 16 years old, gave him a note saying they both wanted to spend some “just us men” time with him aboard ARGUS.
James and his family have been taking ARGUS out at every opportunity, exploring the Thimble Islands just off the Connecticut coast east of New Haven, and Colebrook River Lake on the state’s northern border. They have their sights set on the Berkshire lakes of western Massachusetts. James shared photos of the boat with his extended family and recently received this reply from my aunt: “When I close my eyes I can see Daddy and your great-grandfather Poppee in ARGUS with you, all gathered together sharing giant smiles. James, you have carried on and passed on the Fullton family love of boats.”
Have you recently launched a boat? Please email us. We’d like to hear about it and share your story with other Small Boats Monthly readers.