The Hampton boat is one of those wonderful, enduring designs that has survived for more than a century, tweaked and modified by builders along the way.
For more than 40 years, Dick Pulsifer hand-built his version, the Pulsifer Hampton, in Brunswick, Maine, turning out 113 of his craft. Long before Pulsifer started building them, Charlie Gomes built Hampton boats for a half-century on Maine’s Casco Bay, beginning with sailing models in 1902.
As a lobster boat, the Hampton proved capacious, seaworthy and fast. Once, a gentleman with a new 30-foot yacht challenged a Hampton-boat fisherman to a 12-mile race around Casco Bay’s Halfway Rock Light. Marine writer Warren Watson describes the action in a 1909 article: Out on the “open ocean the wonderful seagoing qualities of the Hampton boat were demonstrated. The yacht pounded and staggered ... making bad weather ... the old ‘haddock choker’ sliced through the seas and drove to windward like a ship.” The yacht gave up. The Hampton won.
An inboard engine soon replaced the sails; Watson describes the design changes by writing, “Bows are [now] very high and the freeboard is carried well aft. [A] radical change is the new seine [flat] stern in place of the old, which tended to squat.” The Hampton boat, he concludes, “makes an ideal motorboat for fishing ... for, with spray hood, these boats may venture out safely in nearly any kind of weather.”
One can say the same about Pulsifer’s version. The 22-footer’s round-bilge, built-down hull has a plumb bow, a fine entry and a flat stern. Also inboard-powered, its 29-hp Yanmar diesel delivers an 11-knot cruising speed. Pulsifer’s strip-plank construction didn’t change much over the years; oak was used for the backbone, floor timbers, frames and deck beams, with white pine for the planking and floorboards.
Pulsifer said, these days the Hampton boat is more than just a lobster boat: “made to fish, haul lobster traps, firewood, dogs and camp supplies, to swim from, tow kids on floats or just to cruise around.” Pulsifer built his last boat in 2017, and transferred the business to former employee and co-worker John Lentz in January of 2018. Lentz, who for the past ten years maintained a large fleet of Pulsifer
Hamptons for their owners, will continue to build new ones at his own shop in Topsham, Maine. Other than maybe customizing the hull color or engine size, he does not intend to change Pulsifer’s tried and true design. “It’s a well-built boat that was developed for Casco Bay,” Lentz says, “it’s the perfect boat for the area.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue.