When we count our blessings, time spent in Maine is near the top of our list. There are few coastlines more spectacularly beautiful, but a down-to-earth, no-nonsense sensibility is the state’s enduring hallmark. You can see that reflected in its boats, too, where form follows function in the region’s native Down East designs. As a result, there are few ugly boats in Maine.
From small shops such as Peter Kass’ John’s Bay in South Bristol, which builds rock-solid, highly coveted boats in wood, to Lyman-Morse in Thomaston, which can build just about anything using the latest technology, Maine knows boats.
It would be difficult to cover every good boatbuilder in one story, but we checked in with most of the custom, semicustom and production Down East builders to find out what they’re working on now.
Custom and semicustom builders
LOA: 46 feet, 3 inches
BEAM: 14 feet, 5 inches
DRAFT: 4 feet, 11 inches (hull)
POWER: 1,150-hp Caterpillar C18 diesel
FUEL: 800 gallons (two tanks)
SPEED: 32 knots top, 26 knots cruise
PRICE: $1.5 million
CONTACT: Wesmac Custom Boats, Surry, Maine, (207) 667-4822. wesmac.com
Steve Wessel, a former lobsterman, established Wesmac Custom Boats in the mid-1980s with Mac Pettegrow. Wesmacs are built with a combination of Down East and Chesapeake design influences. “We combined the best of both worlds and came away with a semidisplacement boat with speed, seaworthiness and a roomy interior,” says Wessel, who runs the business with his wife, bestselling author Linda Greenlaw Wessel.
The company turns out roughly 50 percent complete builds and 50 percent kit boats for other builders. “We continually keep seven projects underway,” says general manager Bill Grindle. “Depending on the type of vessel, we launch up to three completed vessels per year.” All have solid glass bottoms and cored superstructures.
“We’re known for our exceptionally high-quality custom boatbuilding,” says Grindle. “We [rarely] build for first-time buyers. These are boat buyers who have wanted a Wesmac for years and know what they want out of their boat.”
Launched in December 2015, the Wesmac 46 Tuf Guy (featured on the previous pages) is the latest complete build for the company. With her single 1,150-hp Caterpillar, the boat can travel about 1 nmpg, and with an 800-gallon fuel supply her range exceeds 775 nautical miles.
LOA: 40 feet, 5 inches BEAM: 13 feet, 2 inches DRAFT: 3 feet, 10 inches POWER: 530-hp Yanmar diesel FUEL: 210 gallons (two tanks) KEEL: built-down SPEED: 28-30 knots top, 20 knots cruise PRICE: $600,000-$800,000 CONTACT: Ellis Boat Co., Southwest Harbor, Maine, (207) 244-9221. ellisboat.com
Ellis Boat Co.
Founded in 1947 by Ralph Ellis and Raymond Bunker, Ellis Boat Co. has a long history as a builder of classic lobster yachts. Ralph Ellis’ son Don heads the company now, which offers eight models from 20 to 40 feet. “We have a high level of engineering as builders. We’re closely involved in every project from start to finish,” says Ellis.
The company builds two to three boats a year, which accounts for about half of its overall work. Refits, repairs and service make up the other 50 percent, which keeps a crew of 10, including five primary boatbuilders, busy.
The Ellis 36 Bowrider Express tucks a seating area for four into the foredeck. The owner wanted a clean look, so the boat has no bowrail, but there are teak deckhouse and trunk cabin handrails (the style used in the original Bunker & Ellis yachts).
The company is also working on a redesigned 28-footer with a custom extended top, a galley-up interior, and a cockpit and stern that are customized for its owner, an enthusiast of paddleboarding, kayaking and other water sports, says Ellis.
Farrin’s Boatshop in Walpole, Maine, is run by Bruce Farrin, the 72-year-old founder, and staffed by his two sons and four additional employees. They turn out two or three custom builds from 28 to 45 feet a year. Farrin uses hulls from builders such as Lowell Brothers, Eastern and SW Boatworks (Calvin Beal hulls), then adds the deckhouse, interior, machinery, and propulsion and electrical systems.
Customers come from around the country. “We have eight or nine boats that have gone to the West Coast, including a 40-foot Wayne Beal in Santa Barbara,” says Farrin, who is about halfway through his latest boat, a 43-foot Lowell Brothers with a 1,200-hp MAN diesel.
With an interior of Honduran mahogany, this sedan cruiser will have a flybridge and two staterooms. The Farrins and crew have been working on it for about a year. “We don’t build them fast, but we build what the customer wants,” he says.
Lowell Brothers 43 (by Farrin’s Boatshop)
LOA: 42 feet, 11 inches BEAM: 15 feet DRAFT: 5 feet POWER: 1,200-hp MAN diesel FUEL: 650 gallons SPEED: 28 knots top, 22 knots cruise KEEL: built-down PRICE: $750,000 CONTACT: Farrin’s Boatshop, Walpole, Maine, (207) 563-5510. farrinsboatshop.com
John’s Bay Boat Co.
John’s Bay Boat Co. has built roughly 70 plank-on-frame wooden boats from 24 to 47 feet since Peter Kass founded the company in 1983. About 80 percent have been commercial lobster boats and about a dozen have been yachts, which are known for their fine interior woodwork and striking profiles. John’s Bay turns out about one boat a year; 80 percent of its work comes from new-boat construction.
Kass started out building Carroll Lowell lobster boats in the 1980s and ’90s. The Sharon Rosanne, a 42-footer, was his first, built in 1986. Kass has completed about 20 Carroll Lowell boats from 28 to 42 feet. He has built about 36 of his own designs, too, from 24 to 47 feet.
His current project is a 42-foot Down East cruiser with a 500-hp Cummins diesel for a lifelong sailor who is “retired and too stiff to be climbing around a heeled boat anymore,” says Kass. The boat should be completed in late fall. The last complete build was the 47-foot commercial lobster boat Outer Fall, launched last year.
Commercial lobster boats continue to get larger, based on demand, says Kass. “We haven’t built a lobster boat under 44 in the past five years,” he says.
LOA: 47 feet BEAM: 15 feet, 8 inches DRAFT: 5 feet FUEL: 450 gallons POWER: 800-hp Caterpillar C18 diesel SPEED: 23 knots top, 18 knots cruise KEEL: built-down PRICE: $500,000 CONTACT: John’s Bay Boat Co., South Bristol, Maine, (207) 644-8261. johnsbayboat.com
John and Ingrid Kachmar bought Wilbur Yachts in 2001 from Lee Wilbur and Heidi Wilbur Crock, who founded the company in 1973. After the sale, Wilbur stayed with the company for two years to teach the boatbuilding business to Kachmar. Wilbur Yachts builds Down East vessels from 28 to 61 feet, constructing Wilbur 34s from the keel up and finishing off other hulls, such as a 28-foot Stanley completed a few years ago and a 46-foot Duffy prior to that. “About 60 to 65 percent of our work is refits and maintenance, and 35 to 40 percent is new-boat construction,” says Kachmar, who has completed seven Wilbur 34s since he acquired the company.
Kachmar’s latest project is a 45-footer from Millennium Marine. She’ll be a “hard-chined, full-keel gentleman’s sportfisherman” that will head to St. Thomas when completed in the fall.
“We’re a very detail-oriented shop and pay attention to costs and what the price will be going out the door,” says Kachmar. “Our customers are well-versed boaters, but we still try to make sure that when outfitting their boats they weigh the cost versus the benefit on the water.”
Millennium Marine 45 (by Wilbur Yachts)
LOA: 45 feet, 3 inches BEAM: 16 feet DRAFT: 4 feet, 6 inches POWER: 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18 diesel FUEL: 600 gallons (two tanks) SPEED: 26 knots top, 21 knots cruise KEEL: skeg (full keel) PRICE: $800,000-$1 million CONTACT: Wilbur Yachts, Southwest Harbor, Maine, (207) 244-5000. wilburyachts.com
John Williams Boat Co.
The new Williams 38 will be a different breed of boat for the builder, says company owner John “Jock” Williams. “We’re going from a semidisplacement boat to a planing hull,” says Williams. “The owner wanted a fast boat, and this is what we’re giving him.”
Typically a 38 would cruise at 15 knots and top out at 20. “We’re shooting for 40 knots top,” says Williams, who has tapped Doug Zurn to design the boat, which will ride a modified-vee hull powered by Volvo Penta IPS pods with 435-hp diesels and joystick helm control. The boat will still carry the classic lobster boat profile of the Stanley 38.
Williams built his first yacht in 1981 — a Stanley 36-footer called Gambol. For his second, he took the 36 and added 3 feet. That boat became the Stanley 38. About 70 percent of the company’s business is refit and storage, and 30 percent is new-boat construction. Williams has built several hundred boats, starting with commercial lobster boats and adding Down East cruisers.
LOA: 40 feet, 2 inches BEAM: 13 feet DRAFT: 3 feet POWER: twin Volvo Penta IPS 600 FUEL: 300 gallons SPEED: 40 knots top, 30-33 knots cruise CONTACT: John Williams Boat Co., Mount Desert, Maine, (207) 244-7854. jwboatco.com
Stewart Workman, founder and owner of SW Boatworks, has owned the Calvin Beal and Young Brothers molds for nearly 10 years. The builder is preparing to launch a Calvin Beal 34 and is finishing two 45-foot Young Brothers yachts and a 46-foot commercial lobster Down Easter (using a Mussel Ridge hull). In December 2015 SW finished its new 42-foot Calvin Beal molds and has since built six hulls and tops.
SW Boatworks has 25 employees and completes four to six boats a year, with new-boat construction accounting for 95 percent of the business (half recreational, half commercial). Workman believes in high-quality but simple vessels. “I try to keep it basic, to keep any extra garbage out of the boat,” he says. The Calvin Beals, with their significant beams, are known for spaciousness and stability. The seakindly Young Brothers vessels thrive in a head sea, he says.
The latest launch (May 2015) was the 44-foot Calvin Beal FV-Tuna.com, owned by Capt. Dave Carraro, one of the stars of the National Geographic Channel’s Wicked Tuna.
Calvin Beal 44 (Tuna.com)
LOA: 44 feet BEAM: 17 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 5 feet POWER: 1,000-hp Caterpillar C18 diesel FUEL: 800 gallons SPEED: 25.5 knots top, 18-20 knots cruise KEEL: skeg PRICE: $750,000-$950,000 CONTACT: SW Boatworks, Lamoine, Maine, (207) 667-7427. swboatworks.com
“We have a great history, but you have to make your own mark,” says Jamie Lowell, whose father, Carroll, founded Even Keel Marine Specialties in 1961, building boats with his brothers Danny and Royal. Even Keel designs and builds all of its boats, which allows brothers and company co-owners Jamie and Joseph Lowell room for creativity and improvisation. “We have great control and involvement in each project,” says Jamie Lowell. “Our boats aren’t just pretty — they are built with impeccable attention to detail.”
Lowell Brothers/Even Keel builds about 1½ new boats annually, plus hull-and-superstructure kits for other companies. About 75 percent of its work is new-boat construction, and the remainder is repair and maintenance.
The builder is retiring the Lowell 43 after a nearly 20-year run, replacing her with a new-from-the-keel-up 46-footer. The first 46 will be finished this summer. She’ll be built with a taller bow, a deeper and finer forefoot, and more flare and tumblehome. This is a commercial lobster boat with a cored fiberglass hull and a wood-cored, cold-molded superstructure.
Lowell Brothers 46
LOA: 46 feet BEAM: 15 feet, 6 inches DRAFT: 5 feet POWER: 815-hp Baudouin diesel FUEL: 450-500 gallons SPEED: 26-28 knots top, 20-22 knots cruise KEEL: semi built-down PRICE: $1 million-$1.5 million CONTACT: Lowell Brothers, Even Keel Marine Specialties, Yarmouth, Maine, (207) 846-4878. lowellbrothers.com
Lyman-Morse, a custom and semicustom builder of power- and sailboats from 30 to 150 feet, has made its mark over its 38-year history by producing boats “that make perfect fits for their owners,” says public relations and marketing director Marnie Read. “They’re not happy with buying off the rack — they want their own stamp on their own boat,” she says.
The company employs 112, and its work balance is about 60 percent refit and restoration and 40 percent new builds. Its Thomaston operation does new builds and refits, and its Wayfarer Marine operation in Camden is 100 percent refit, specializing in classic yachts. The company also offers storage in both yards and can build multihulls to 90 feet, with beams to 38 feet.
Lyman-Morse has been building the much-anticipated Bertram 35 prototypes for Bertram Yachts of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The company’s first vessel was Egret, a 46-foot Jarvis Newman built in 1978-79; its last completed powerboat was the 2015 Monhegan 42 express cruiser, a C. Raymond Hunt design offered in four deck configurations.
Lyman-Morse Monhegan 42
LOA: 42 feet BEAM: 13 feet DRAFT: 3 feet POWER: twin Cummins 425-hp QSB6.7 diesels FUEL: 450 gallons SPEED: 32 knots top, 28 knots cruise PRICE: $1.6 million CONTACT: Lyman-Morse Boatbuilding, Thomaston, Maine, (207) 354-6904. lymanmorse.com
Leon and Sara MacCorkle bought Padebco Custom Boats in November 2013 from the company’s founder and designer, S. Bruce Cunningham, who serves as a design consultant. Padebco builds high-end, deep-vee custom center consoles, runabouts, walkarounds and cruisers. The company also offers refits, maintenance work and storage.
Padebco completes two to four boats from 17 to 32 feet a year, using the Cunningham designs. Its most popular model is a 23-foot center console, which accounts for about 75 percent of the new builds; the remainder are custom boats from 25 to 32 feet.
“We’re striving to make the owner’s vision for a boat work — and work flawlessly,” says Leon MacCorkle. “Our niche is traditional, Down East-style recreational boats that lean toward luxury. They’re all different and stand out at the dock for their own reasons.”
Last September, Padebco made some significant changes to the V25R runabout’s deck design, raising the cabin top and deck 3 inches and moving the helm a foot aft. In addition, the runabout and the other 25-foot models will now be built with more freeboard forward, which raises the sheer line and allows for more bow flare.
LOA: 25 feet, 4 inches BEAM: 9 feet DRAFT: 1 foot, 6 inches POWER: 300-400-hp outboard FUEL: 125 gallons SPEED: 42 knots top, 21 knots cruise PRICE: $275,000 (base) CONTACT: Padebco Custom Boats, Round Pond, Maine, (207) 529-5106. padebco.com
Atlantic Boat Co. (Duffy)
Built by the Atlantic Boat Co., Builda is a stretched version of the Duffy 37. The owner of the boat plans to run long distances to chase billfish. The extra 2 feet gives her an even softer ride, a bigger cockpit and more room for fuel and stowage, says company project manager David Dennison. Builda will have a range of 450 nautical miles (with the optional 500-gallon fuel supply), says Dennison.
Duffy Down Easters are “beautiful, practical boats that are built to be out when you shouldn’t be,” he says. A sharp entry, built-down keel and flat aft sections contribute to a Duffy’s seakindly qualities.
Atlantic builds about six vessels from 26 to 48 feet a year, a mix of complete builds and hull-and-deck kit boats. Atlantic also builds Duffy and BHM commercial boats. More than 1,500 Duffy and BHM hulls have been built since the early 1970s.
LOA: 40 feet, 6 inches BEAM: 13 feet, 2 inches DRAFT: 4 feet, 1 inch POWER: 715-hp Cummins QSM11 diesel FUEL: 300 gallons (500 gallons optional) SPEED: 28 knots top, 22.5 knots cruise KEEL: built-down PRICE: $725,000 (sportfishing model, well-equipped) CONTACT: Atlantic Boat Co., Brooklin, Maine, (207) 359-4658. atlanticboat.com
What’s new from production builders
The Hinckley Co.
The Hinckley Co. builds about 50 boats a year and employs 120 people — a work force that includes its Hinckley, Hunt and Morris yacht operations. Hinckley builds an array of boats from 29 to 55 feet, including runabouts, express cruisers, motoryachts and its pioneering Picnic Boat, as well as a center console. Sailboats range from 42 to 70 feet. This June the company launched its 1,000th jetboat — a Talaria 48.
The new Talaria 34R joins the T29R and T38R convertible in the New England builder’s fleet of high-end runabouts. The boat performs well as both an inshore dayboat and a cruiser for short coastal trips, says Michael Arieta, Hinckley’s chief operating officer. Compared to the previous generation of Hinckleys, the T34R’s Michael Peters-designed hull has a deeper deadrise, he says.
LOA: 35 feet, 11 inches BEAM: 11 feet DRAFT: 1 foot, 10 inches POWER: twin Yanmar 8LV 320-hp diesels, Alamarin Jet 245 jetdrives SPEED: 34 knots top, 31 knots cruise PRICE: $685,000 CONTACT: The Hinckley Co., Portsmouth, Rhode Island, (401) 683-7100. hinckleyyachts.com
Sabre 48 Sedan Express LOA: 52 feet, 3 inches BEAM: 15 feet, 4 inches DRAFT: 3 feet, 9 inches FUEL: 525 gallons POWER: twin 600-hp Cummins QSC8.3 diesels, Zeus pod drives SPEED: 34 knots top, 30 knots cruise PRICE: $1.2 million (base) CONTACT: Sabre Yachts, Raymond, Maine, (207) 655-3831. sabreyachts.com
Sabre’s newest yacht, the 48 Flybridge Sedan, is a variant of the original 48 Sedan Express. The first flybridge model was launched earlier this year. Sabre has sold more than 100 sedan expresses since the boat’s introduction in 2010, says Bentley Collins, vice president of marketing and sales. Twin 600-hp Cummins QSC8.3 diesels with Zeus pods power the 48 Flybridge Sedan.
Sabre models range from 36 feet to the new 66 Dirigo, which the company has dubbed “the Rolls-Royce of Down Easters.” It also produces the Back Cove line of Down East cruisers from 30 to 41 feet.
Eastern Boats is not a Maine-based company, but it’s geographically and spiritually in tune with its neighbor state, building pretty, simple and easily maintained center console and pilothouse boats under the Eastern, Rosborough and Seaway brands. The company employs nearly 40 workers and turns out about 120 boats a year. The latest is the outboard-powered Rosborough RF-246.
The builder is considering adding an outboard boat similar to the current diesel-powered Eastern 31- and 35-footers. “The Down East boat has become popular with outboard power,” says Bruce Perkins, Eastern’s sales manager. “Times are changing.”
Eastern 27 Islander
LOA: 27 feet, 4 inches BEAM: 10 feet DRAFT: 28 inches POWER: single 300-hp, twin 150-hp Yamaha or Mercury outboards FUEL: 192 gallons (two tanks) SPEED: 28 knots top, 22.5 knots cruise KEEL: built-down PRICE: $144,225 CONTACT: Eastern Boats, Milton, New Hampshire, (603) 652-9213. easternboats.com, rosboroughboatsusa.com
This article originally appeared in the July 2016 issue.