Classics: Bunker & Ellis

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The two men were shooting pool at Jim’s Place in Southwest Harbor, on Mount Desert Island in Maine. It was 1946, World War II was over, and people were starting to think about getting back to normal. “If I had a place to build a boat, I would do so instead of wasting my time playing pool,” said fisherman and charter skipper Ray Bunker.

Illustration by Jim Ewing

“I have a shop, but I know very little about building a boat,” replied Ralph Ellis. “If you wish, I will put up my shop against your know-how.”

And so the partners launched what became one of the best-known boatbuilding endeavors on the Eastern Seaboard. For the next three decades, Bunker & Ellis turned out elegant “lobster yachts” for Maine’s wealthy summer residents and pretty much invented the Down East look we know today.

The boat here is a 42-footer that was launched as Water Rat in 1956 for businessman R.S. Parker. She’s a good example of a Bunker & Ellis — a premium version of the Down East lobster boat. Built with oak frames and cedar planking, she shows the workboat’s characteristic round bilges and long keel. She’s a twin-screw model, though most B&Es were powered by a single engine. With her bright-finished trunk cabin and distinctive three-panel windshield, she’s a spruced-up lobster boat, offered as a comfortable dayboat and overnighter, with bunks, a galley and a head below.

The last Bunker & Ellis — hull No. 58 — left the shop in 1978. Known today as Ellis Boats and run by Ellis’ grandsons Anthony and Shane, the company founded in a pool hall continues to launch its boats in Southwest Harbor. Meanwhile, the original Bunker & Ellis yachts — many of which are still turning heads — have a loyal and devoted following. Water Rat underwent an extensive restoration at Pendleton Yacht Yard in Isleboro, Maine, and now enjoys life as Bellatrix. 

This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue.