Detail of the Santos family memorial. [2012, Dunlap]
Francis A. “Flyer” Santos (1914-2015). Flyer Santos, one of the very last living legends connecting 21st-century Provincetown to its seafaring roots, left behind a most extraordinary memento: the 66½-foot-long model of the schooner Rose Dorothea that fills what is now the Provincetown Public Library.
Flyer was born in Provincetown to Madeline F. Santos (1893-1993) and Joseph Peter Santos (1884-1961). “As a boy, I never walked anywhere, I always ran, so they called me the Flying Machine,” he told Edie Clark, as she recounted in States of Grace: Encounters With Real Yankees (2010). “Later on, that came down to Flyer, and it’s stuck with me all my life.”
His grandfather, John Pavon Santos, Azorean by birth, had served on the crew of Rose Dorothea when it won the Lipton Cup. Though John Santos never talked about the experience, it was impossible for a boy to come of age in Provincetown in the early 20th century without knowing what happened in 1907. “All the time growing up, all I heard about was the Rose Dorothea,” Flyer told Clark. He was so infused with the legend, in fact, that he made a 38- or 40-foot model of the schooner for a Knights of Columbus parade in the mid-1930s.
Flyer belonged to the first class that graduated from the new Provincetown High School building, in 1932. For 15 years, he was apprenticed as a boat builder to Manuel “Ti Manuel” Furtado (1879-1945), whose yard was at 99 Commercial Street, on the site of the Union Wharf, where Sal’s Place is now. At the time of the Second World War, Santos and another Furtado alumnus, Joseph Andrews, were employed by the renowned Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, R.I., where eight consecutive successful defenders of the America’s Cup had been constructed. Santos and Andrews worked on the fast, 71-foot, wood-hulled attack craft known as motor torpedo boats, 28 of which were built at the Herreshoff yard for the Royal Navy and the Soviet Navy.
In 1944, Flyer came back home. “He had learned a lot of new techniques relating to mass production, which built on the skills he had developed working for Manuel Furtado,” Flyer’s daughter Janet (Santos) Greenquist wrote for the 2015 Provincetown Portuguese Festival booklet. After operating briefly at what is now the West End Lot, 55-57 Commercial Street, Flyer moved his boat-building operations to a beachfront parcel he owned at 103 Commercial Street, called Flyer’s Beach, directly opposite 94 Commercial Street. In the late 1940s, he built a boat shop in his back yard.
Even as he began building significant vessels in his own right, like the 40-foot Old Glory, Flyer could not much loosen his embrace of all things Rose Dorothea. When Santos and his wife, Blanche Irene (Maille) Santos (1914-1999), rented out rooms in the 1950s, the house was called the Rose Dorothea Apartments. Flyer even wanted to name their fifth child Rose Dorothea, but Irene was having none of it. “No,” she said, “I’m not naming my baby after a boat.” He compromised at Dorothea — known to family and friends as Dora. Irene was the co-founder of Flyer’s Boat Yard. She kept books for that business and for the West End Racing Club, now known as West End Racing Children’s Community Sailing, at 83 Commercial Street, in which her husband was instrumental.
And still … there was Rose Dorothea.
The chance to commemorate the schooner properly finally came in the mid-1970s with the development of the Provincetown Heritage Museum, 356 Commercial Street, in what had been built as the Center Methodist Church, after which it served as the Chrysler Art Museum. Josephine Del Deo (1925-2016) was the moving force in this effort, as she often was. She had been greatly impressed by the 89-foot, half-scale model of the whaling bark Lagoda that she’d seen at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. That seemed just the thing for Provincetown’s museum. And Flyer Santos was the man. “When Josephine Del Deo asked him if he thought he could build a half-scale model of the Rose Dorothea, the question wasn’t if, it was when,” Edie Clark wrote in her profile of Flyer.
“When” turned out to be a very long time for a project that wound up costing $75,000, or roughly $165,000 today. The keel was laid in the summer of 1977. Flyer and his crew — including Richard J. “Tarts” Meads (1948-1987), David Ditacchio, and Frank James — would make progress. The project would temporarily run out of money. Funds would be raised. Work would begin again and continue until the treasury was empty again. The masts were stepped in 1985. The sails were hoisted in 1986. And the completed model was dedicated on 25 June 1988, meaning that it has already existed more than twice as long as its historical namesake.
Flyer had many years left to savor his boat-building triumph. He lived to see his 100th birthday, which was nothing less than a municipal holiday, and front-page news in the Banner. He is buried near a stone etched with a cross and the silhouette of a certain two-masted schooner.
Flyer Santos at home, 94 Commercial Street. [2010, Dunlap]
The memorial, photographed during Santos’s lifetime. [2012, Dunlap]
Santos on his porch in the West End. [2010, Dunlap]
Rose Dorothea on the Santos memorial. [2012, Dunlap]
The model in the Provincetown Public Library. [2008, Dunlap]
• Find a Grave Memorial No. 106905618. (Flyer)
• Find a Grave Memorial No. 106905603. (Irene)
• Provincetown’s Historic Cemeteries and Memorials, by Amy Whorf McGuiggan, Memorial No. 92.
¶ Last updated on 14 December 2021.