By Sean Horgan
---- — The sun was slipping toward the west, and the harbor was moving toward the end of Friday’s work day as the dedication ceremony of the new Harry Cusick Wharf at the Gloucester Marine Railways on Rocky Neck was just getting started.
Only one problem: no Harry.
Viking Gustafson, the Railways general manager, knew there was a possibility the 86-year-old Cusick, no seeker of the limelight according to those who know him best, might not appear for the ceremony that honored him for a half-century’s work at America’s oldest operating boat yard.
“I thought he would show,” Gustafson said after the ceremony went on with about 50 in attendance, and Cusick was honored in absentia. “But I knew it would be reluctantly.”
The new pier, four years in the making, covers about 5,000 square feet with longleaf pine planks and returns the boatyard’s footprint to the same as roughly 150 years ago.
“It really is now what it was before,” Gustafson said.
The job was not an easy one, partly because of the slope of the land at the very end of Rocky Neck looking back toward downtown, and partly because segments of the original structure were pinned into the ledge beneath.
There was also the administrative challenge of obtaining the proper permitting — state, city and federal — and an endless highway of paper and regulation.
“If you’ve ever done any work on the waterfront you know what a challenge the permitting is,” she said.
Cusick’s absence couldn’t stop his colleagues and friends from trading stories of the man who became synonymous with the boatyard.
Gustafson called him “a mountain of a man on the railways,” and an iconic shepherd of countless boats on the yard’s cradles.
“He began working here around World War II and was some combination of crewmember, foreman and manager,” she said. “He always wore a yellow hard hat. So I have a yellow hard hat to give him . . . when I see him.”
Doug Parsons, who has worked at the boat off and on since 1977, had the honor of unveiling the gleaming black captsan affixed to the edge of the new pier facing the downtown shoreside.
Parsons worked alongside Cusick for the better part of a quarter-century and described him as one of the fairest and most competent men he’s ever known.
“He had a job I wouldn’t want,” Parsons said. “He had to put up with the owners. He had to put up with the customers. He had to do the billing and the books. He had 45-50 men working under him.”
Parsons said Cusick generally handled his responsibilities with an even demeanor, no matter what manner of craziness or calamity ensued.
“He wouldn’t complain,” Parsons said. “There were times when I know he got frustrated, but he never showed it. If he really got frustrated, he’d just get in his car and drive away for awhile.”
The one time they butted heads, Parsons said, was when they were trying to drive some wedges under a block to even out a boat in the cradle.
Cusick drove his wedges and then handed the maul to Parsons, who gave his wedge a couple good whacks without driving it in very far.
“Come on, hit that wedge,” Cusick, his statement heavy with the implication of a certain softness.
Parsons was having none of that. He grabbed the maul and swung it as hard as he could, driving his wedge in so deep that it knocked out one of Cusick’s wedges and sent it skittering across the yard.
“There,” Parsons yelled. “Was that hard enough for you?”
Five minutes later, the little dustup was forgotten and the two men returned to their normal ways.
“That was Harry,” Parsons said. “He didn’t hold onto stuff like that.”
Sean Horgan can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.