Some people don’t believe in love at first sight, but Brad Woodworth isn’t one of them.About 15 years ago, Woodworth, 52, would take time off from his job as a graphic designer, pack a picnic lunch, and grab his wife and three kids for a ride on the New Meadows River aboard his second-hand Boston Whaler Outrage. The 18-footer had plenty of oomph with its 150-hp Johnson, and the family enjoyed using it in the waters near Woodworth’s home in West Bath, Maine.
But all that changed when he saw a Pulsifer Hampton at the Maine Boatbuilders Show in Portland. The 22-foot traditional open boat sat proudly on a trailer, its glistening white hull and naturally finished decks drawing admirers. “I remember walking up to it, touching it, and saying, ‘Wow!’ I just fell in love with the boat,” Woodworth says.
About a month later he took a test ride. He immediately noticed a big difference in how the boat performed compared to the Whaler, with its much faster planing hull. They were two completely different animals. The diesel-powered Pulsifer Hampton was built from wood, not fiberglass, and the hull design was derived from the traditional Casco Bay Hampton, a workboat first built in 1902 by Charlie Gomes for lobster fishermen.
“It was like night and day,” says Woodworth of the semi-displacement hull. “The Pulsifer Hampton was quiet, and it tracked beautifully.”
Chalk up a sale for Dick Pulsifer, owner of Richard S. Pulsifer, Boat Builder, in Brunswick, Maine. He saw the virtues of the Casco Bay Hampton, and in 1973 he built his first one. Gomes was aiming for an all-business workhorse capable of standing up to Mother Nature in a bad mood while being tough and durable enough to last many seasons with minimal upkeep. Pulsifer has remained true to the design, but he’s added some touches of his own.
Pulsifer is carrying on the tradition of building boats designed for utility and function, which has made them popular for recreational use. And he isn’t alone. Throughout much of New England and elsewhere along the coast, a handful of builders are turning out boats once solely owned by fishermen plying their trade in the bays and near-shore waters from Long Island, N.Y., to Maine. These aren’t mass-produced boats; they’re often the product of painstaking care.
Some are flat-bottomed planing hulls with low freeboard for use in the shallows and on bays and tidal rivers. Others are designed with more vee forward and then flatten aft for stability and easy powering. Those with semidisplacement hulls shoulder aside the seas in more open waters with less horsepower, less pounding and a drier ride. Most designs include a center console. All boats of this type are designed for load-carrying capacity and stability, characteristics important for commercial and recreational users.
The Lumber Yard Skiff is a good example of a flat-bottom design for use on inshore waters. Walter Baron, owner of Old Wharf Dory Company in Wellfleet, Mass., says his 16- and 20-foot boats are a modern interpretation of a traditional work skiff designed for quick and simple builds that deliver rugged construction that can take a beating.
“No one was building traditional work skiffs around here,” Baron says. “I saw a niche for a low-cost boat like this. It’s so simple, not much can go wrong with it.”
Baron has been a boatbuilder for more than three decades, and all kinds of boats have come out of his shop — rowboats, powerboats and sailboats. He built his first Lumber Yard Skiff in 1993 using basic construction materials from a nearby lumberyard. That’s how the boat got its name. Plans for the skiff have sold all over the world to both commercial and recreational customers, Baron says.
Like Baron, Richard Nichols, owner of Nichols Boat Builder in Phippsburg, Maine, saw a void in the marketplace for small workboats. He’d grown up fishing from West Point Skiffs in the 1950s and nursed fond memories of the boat, a design drawn by Amos Alton around the time Gomes was building the Casco Bay Hampton. Over the decades, Amos — then his son, Alton — built hundreds of West Point Skiffs in the tiny Casco Bay village of West Point, but production stopped when Alton died in 1995.
“For some reason no one was building them, so I decided to restart the tradition in 2004,” Nichols says. “It can haul a lot, and it’s an all-around excellent lobster boat. These characteristics make it an excellent choice for a recreational boat as well, and that’s a big reason why they’re so popular. They’re also pretty.”