An Engineer, Entrepreneur, Explorer
For Rhode Islanders, the hurricane of ’38 changed everything. Vicious in its attack, it remains the most powerful and deadliest hurricane in Rhode Island history. As the powerful winds shredded everything in their reach, the storm surges swept away everything in their path. When the clouds finally rolled away, most of RI was in a state of devastation, including E.B. Blount & Sons Oyster Company. Their famous oyster beds were damaged beyond repair. For Luther Blount, a student at Wentworth College in Boston, and a young man with a head full of ideas, it offered an opportunity to try something new, pivoting his world from oysters to ships.
With the loss of the oyster beds, E.B. Blount & Sons Oyster Company was soon out of business. After a stint in the army, Luther founded Blount Marine Corporation in 1949. That same year, Blount built a boat called the Rhodyoster. Symbolic of Luther’s perseverance, commitment and drive, that boat would come to mark a fresh chapter for the Blount business signaling a new beginning while paying homage to its origins.
The building of the Rhodyoster, confirmed that a new legacy was in the making, both for Luther and for the company that went on to become famous not only for what they did, but for how they did it. Luther liked to personally deliver as many of the newly built vessels as possible, confident in the quality of his product and proud of a job well done. One of Blount’s clients was Circle Line Ferries that today still use Blount Boats to ferry tourists around the Statue of Liberty. By 1964, Blount Marine had built over 100 vessels for clients all over North, Central and South America which took Captain Blount on adventures from New York City to Panama and beyond.
It was during these deliveries that the explorer in Luther came alive. His thirst for experiences, curiosity to see new places, and determination to explore beyond his comfort zone kept growing and growing. As Luther’s business flourished, so too did his family, and his spirit for adventure crossed over into his personal life. With 5 children, Luther and his wife, Maryellen, created their own kind of family vacations, loading the kids onto a family boat built by Luther and setting sail for the New England islands where sword-fishing took center stage.
It was there where Luther found his biggest inspiration, sailing the waters of New England and the Canadian Maritimes and spending time with his family. He realized that there were many other adventurous souls like him who would delight in exploring these spectacular waterways. The Blount family vacations soon extended to friends. Luther built a bigger family boat and more friends came along. Then, those guests started bringing friends. The trips became longer. And soon the Blount children found themselves with summer jobs working as Stews or Deck hands. Luther’s cruising vacations had become so popular that they had a waiting list. The vision behind what would one day be called Blount Small Ship Adventures was born.
In 1966 Luther launched American Canadian Caribbean Line with a simple motto: “Go where the big ships cannot.” He was intent on offering cruises unlike anything else on the water. Part improvised adventure, part well-oiled machine, the cruises felt like a Blount family vacation. Except now, they sailed to the distant places Luther had seen while delivering his boats to clients; the places he fell in love with years before.
Although ridiculed by many in the travel industry who claimed that travelers wanted big ships and the idea of small ship sailing would never survive, Luther continued to persevere. In fact, with more resolve than ever, the inventor in Luther blossomed and soon he was patenting his ideas and creations, one after another as they unfolded in his mind and workshop.
His patented bow ramp made it possible to walk directly from ship to shore, instead of being ferried by tenders into port. His patented retractable pilot-house — combined with the shallow draft of his ships — made possible cruising down narrow waterways, under low bridges, and through places like the Erie Canal. Luther was innovating in ways that had never been seen before and the industry as well as cruisers started to take notice. Buoyed by unfailing purpose and grit, he even built a small ship specifically to go under the low lying Clyde RR Bridge in New York’s Erie Canal. Filled with pride and a true sense of accomplishment, each time he cruised under that bridge, he marked his passage by scribbling “Blount was here” along with trip delivery dates.
Back home, Luther worked tirelessly to bring the oysters back to Rhode Island. He never forgot the loss to his family and his community, and he remained forever committed to seeing the regeneration of oysters in the bays of Rhode Island. Starting with Narragansett Bay, he donated funds to a local university charging them with cultivating new oyster beds. He even bought a large parcel of land on an island to help the cause. The goal remained simple and clear: rebuild what Rhode Island had lost, so many years before.
Most of all, Luther kept exploring, seeking new discoveries and searching for adventure, perched on the bow of his ships. When Luther passed away in 2006, he left a family, and a fleet dedicated to the possible and a legacy that still today influences decisions made. It’s no surprise that three of Luther’s daughters, and the first passengers on his earliest vacation cruises, now run different parts of the family business. In many ways, they'd been in training for these jobs their whole lives.
Luther's daughters Marcia and Julie became President and Vice-President of Blount Boats. And his daughter Nancy, who had worked by his side since 1979, took the helm of Blount Small Ship Adventures. Continuing his legacy of innovation, Blount Boats recently released the first-ever US built wind-farm vessel. In 2010, in tribute to Luther, ACCL changed its name to Blount Small Ship Adventures. And in 2017 Blount Small Ship Adventures will begin offering cruises to Cuba as one of the first US flagged vessels in the last 50 years to do so.
Today, you’ll still find the Blount family sailing, building ships, innovating, and working to restore the oyster beds in Rhode Island. You’ll still find them bringing people filled with curiosity to the world’s unique places. And today, aboard a Blount Small Ship Adventure, you’ll still find the legacy of Luther at work. A legacy built on taking travelers a little further, going where others cannot, helping them see a little more, and experiencing what getting away really means.
What started as a devastating hurricane leaving a family business in ruins became the story of a born inventor, a bold explorer, a one-time oyster farmer and a man who always pushed the boundaries never losing sight of what was possible if you followed your passion.
For all of us at Blount, living up to the legend of Luther and the company that carries his name is a responsibility we embrace. Like the Captain that started it all, we continue to strive to deliver great experiences, full of the fun, adventure and the passion that drove a young man to carve his legacy from one of destruction into a successful and joyous one that cruises on today.