Not too long ago, you’d go to Maine for a traditional wooden boat. But nowadays the Pine Tree State can build you any boat you want. It can be big or small, production, semi-custom or custom, a rebuild, a renovation or a refit, cold-molded, steel, aluminum, fiberglass, carbon fiber or wood. Between Portland and Mount Desert Island, you’ll practically break your neck over boatyards. Seemingly every other cove still has a boatshed, and away from the water there are yards tucked among the trees.
Besides production builders such as Sabre, Back Cove and Hinckley, and large yards like Hodgdons, Brooklin Boat Yard, Rockport Marine, Front Street Shipyard and Lyman-Morse, there are dozens of smaller boatshops—many with just a handful of workers—that can make just about anything. Some of them build the iconic inboard-powered Maine lobsterboat, but others make purpose-built craft with outboards or even electric drives. The smaller yards can blend wood with composites or any other material. Craftsmanship remains paramount, and these builders are not afraid to take on a challenge.
Matt Sledge’s Samoset Boatworks sits in an industrial park off Route 27 in Boothbay, Maine. The shop is littered with all the tools, supplies and detritus of boatbuilding. There’s a table saw, a dust collector, a sander, a planer, a chopsaw, a drill press and an industrial-strength Powermatic bandsaw with a 12-½-foot blade. Jugs of epoxy and cans of Awlgrip cover the work benches, wood is stacked along a wall, and rolls of fiberglass cloth hang off a mobile cart. A couple of chainsaws rest on a wooden pallet by the open shed door, and dog-eared copies of Commercial Fisheries News and Professional Boatbuilder decorate the stairs to the office. Green Coosa board is seemingly everywhere.
The crew is at lunch, but Sledge, wearing an Interlux T-shirt, shorts, a baseball cap and knee pads, is on the phone with a client. He roams the shop floor as he updates the owner of the Mussel Ridge 46 tuna boat that is taking shape in the recently completed bay. Big, bearded and jocular, he intersperses boat talk with one-liners.
Sledge learned his craft at The Landing School in Arundel, Maine, in the 1980s and opened Samoset Boatworks in 2007. Over the years, Samoset has managed to stay constantly occupied—no small feat for a small yard—and Sledge’s crew now numbers four. They build fishing boats and pleasure craft and supplement the new builds with refits and repowers.
Samoset’s most recent launch is Last Call, the very first Holland 34. She is an extended version of Glenn Holland’s popular 32-foot lobster hull, which gained fame in the ‘80s and ‘90s when Holland’s father’s boat, Red Baron, dominated Maine’s lobster boat races. The hull is popular with lobstermen and yachters alike. Holland has built more than 180 of the 32s, which often get finished by other Maine yards.
Last Call was commissioned by Jack Thomas of Cumberland, Maine, a retired financial advisor. He wanted a boat to cruise with his wife but also be able to tend to the 40 lobster pots he’s been pulling in Casco Bay since he was 13 years old.
Thomas has owned other boats, including an H&H 32, a Duffy 30, a Webbers Cove 29, a 26 and two 22s. He says he’s wanted a Holland 32 for more than 25 years, but he wanted a little more space, which is why he asked Glenn Holland to extend the 32 by two feet.
Holland laid up a new hull, cut a two-foot section out of it, inserted a new four-foot section, stretched the keel, added a 1-¾-inch shaft, a drivetrain and a 425-hp Cummins diesel and shipped it off to Sledge for finishing.
Sledge moved the main bulkhead aft, enlarging the cabin, and raised the cabin top 3-¾ inches to give Thomas’s wife standing headroom in the head. He also widened the pilothouse top a smidgen to send water off the sides and gave it a little extra eyebrow over the helm.
Last Call is a working gentleman’s lobster boat. On the outside, only a few things hint that she is more than a workboat. The exterior handrails are varnished, there’s a removable teak bench on the stern and there’s a small swim platform that Sledge subtly blended into the boat’s stern. Otherwise, she looks like she’s only used for catching Maine’s favorite crustacean.
For the interior, Thomas knew exactly what he wanted. His childhood friend Parker Hadlock finished out his own Holland 32, so Thomas and Sledge—armed with a tape measure, pad and pen—got aboard Hadlock’s Laurie H. to copy the interior.
Last Call’s cabin features a galley with a traditional icebox, a two-burner propane stove and a sink to port, a V-berth in the bow, and an enclosed head to starboard. Inside the head is a small utility closet for access to the hydraulics and helm electronics. There is no air conditioning, and the shower is outside in the cockpit.
The sole is unfinished teak, the ceiling is varnished Alaskan cedar and the rest of the interior is finished off in classic Herreshoff style: white with mahogany trim. The interior was Awlgripped throughout in flattened Matterhorn White. The woodwork came courtesy of Sledge’s father-in-law, Jack Barry, who passed away in February.
Thomas paid $325,000 for Last Call and is proud that all the work was done by Mainers. “I tell people I could have paid half for the boat, but I would have had half the boat,” he says. He is thrilled with the final result. “It turned out even nicer than I had envisioned.”
Hylan & Brown
Hylan & Brown’s most recent launch, Scout, sits on a mooring in the Benjamin River. The Coastal Commuter 43 is a plywood-hulled Reuel Parker design.
The client who commissioned Scout, Erik deBoer of Key West, previously owned a similar 36-foot Parker design, Magic, which he used to explore the Everglades. When Magic was destroyed in a hurricane deBoer went back to Parker for a larger version.
Like Magic, Scout was inspired by 1920s commuter boats. She has a 16-inch, engine-up draft for exploring shallow waters.
When Parker opted out of building the boat, deBoer did a lot of research, talked to a lot of builders and after looking at other Hylan & Brown-built boats hired Hylan & Brown in Brooklin to build Scout.
Over two decades, Hylan & Brown has developed a well-earned reputation for high-quality work and a steady flow of interesting boats. Doug Hylan started the yard in 1999; Ellery Brown joined in 2007 and became a partner in 2012. Brown runs the yard while Hylan turns out custom designs and supplies the shop with detailed construction drawings for new builds and restorations. Nine employees occupy themselves with building, servicing and refits.
For Scout, Hylan created plans and a 3-D CAD model to speed up construction, but a lot of details were worked out with Brown, foreman Matt Elwell and deBoer using cardboard mock-ups.
Built out of plywood—not common for a 43-foot boat—Brown used modern materials and techniques to complete the build. With a hull that is very flat at the stern, a beam of just 10 feet, 5 inches and twin 200-hp outboards, Brown says Scout easily gets up on a plane. Even though she is not designed for serious speed in heavy seas, Brown was pleased to see she provided a nice ride during a test run in a two-foot chop on Eggemoggin Reach.
According to Brown, the build process was simple, but the systems were not. Because deBoer plans to use the boat during Florida’s summer season and doesn’t like noise, he wanted to be able to run the air conditioning all night without running the Westerbeke generator.
To power the air conditioning, Scout has 15 Firefly carbon foam batteries that can be recharged from the outboards or the generator. There are no solar panels. Each outboard puts out 50 amps and the generator produces another 200 amps. An electrical consultant was brought in to design the system.
The dinghy was another challenge. Because of the outboards, Hylan custom designed the davits, giving the boat an even more distinctive look.
Using three to four employees it took 18 months to finish Scout. “There were a lot of owner visits,” Brown says, “but we have a happy customer.”
Alec Brainerd started Artisan Boatworks in 2002 on a landlocked lot next to his house in Rockport, Maine, with one employee, fixing one boat at a time. A sailor at heart, over the past two decades, Brainerd has managed to carve out a niche for his 10-man operation, building, restoring and servicing mostly classic boats.
Two enormous sheds house an impressive collection of predominantly wooden classic sailboats. There are some stunning powerboats in the mix as well, including Vim, the 1957 Newbert & Wallace wooden lobster boat Artisan Boatworks restored to great acclaim in 2014.
In another boatshed, a 28-foot Camden Class Knockabout is getting a coat of varnish. A client built the cold-molded hull to the 1915 B.B. Crowninshield design, but after making no progress on it for a decade, he contracted with Artisan Boatworks to finish it.
Only four Camden Class Knockabouts were initially built. Bruce Malone, another Rockport builder, had one of the original 1915 boats sitting in his yard, but it was basically compost. Brainerd is using that boat’s original hardware for the new Knockabout.
For the rig, he is repurposing the spars from a Dark Harbor 17 ½, a slightly shorter, but very similar Crowninshield design. The mast got a new section spliced into it to replace rot. The yard is also tweaking the shape of the laminated hull. The plan is to launch the boat in time for this summer’s Camden Classics Cup.
Artisan Boatworks’ most recently completed refit project is Dame, a 1961 Concordia Yawl with an all-varnished hull. Purchased last fall by an owner who moved up from a Buzzards Bay 18 Brainerd had previously constructed for him, Artisan Boatworks performed an extensive refit on the 40-footer. It included new hardware, electronics, finish, head and a furler. The furler allows the owner to cruise one or two handed and can be removed for racing.
Artisan’s crew eliminated the side exhaust ports and moved them aft. They also added a massive amount of new bronze fittings, including an all-bronze traveler with Harken ball bearings, a new outhaul fitting for the staysail, about $10,000 worth of bronze winches, plus custom bronze foundations for the new autopilot, transducer, B&G electronics and a larger radar unit.
Dyneema lifelines were added and wiring for the GPS was run inside the deck beams. “That’s kind of a specialty of ours,” Brainerd says about the modernization of the classic. “The boat was sound, but we did a lot of upgrades and updating.”
Padebco Custom Boats
It was the smell of resin that brought Leon MacCorkle to boatbuilding. At 12 years old he was riding his bicycle in his native New Hampshire when he recognized the distinct odor and followed it to JC Boats. Mesmerized by the boatbuilding process, he returned to the yard so often that the owner hired him to sweep the floors.
Young and small, MacCorkle was perfectly sized for bilge work. He literally spent his high school years learning the boatbuilding trade from the inside of a boat. Stints as a house framer, finish carpenter and EMT/firefighter followed, but none of those jobs matched his passion for boatbuilding. He owned so many boats that he told his wife, Sara, it would be cheaper to launch them if they owned a boatyard.
So, in 2013, the MacCorkles purchased Padebco Custom Boats from boatbuilder Bruce Cunningham in Round Pond, Maine.
Cunningham started building wooden lobsterboats in the 1960s, including designs by Jarvis Newman, but in the early 1980s, he drew a 21-foot Downeast-style boat. He had the hulls constructed at a fiberglass shop and finished them out at his Round Pond shop. Early models had inboards, but by the time a 1998 fire destroyed all the hull and deck molds, most of the first 60 21-footers had been finished with two-stroke outboards.
Undeterred by the loss of the molds, he created new ones and started building the hulls and decks in Round Pond. He also added a 2-foot stern extension to handle the extra weight of the increasingly popular four-stroke engines. Now a 23-footer, the extension increased speed to plane, allowed the closing of the transom and made room for a rear bench seat. Eventually, he designed and built four models in seven lengths between 17 and 32 feet. Power came from inboards, outboards, jet drives or I/Os.
The MacCorkles continue building all the models. To date, more than 160 Padebcos have been built. About 80 percent of those are the 21- and 23-foot models. They recently launched a 23 with a 150-hp Yamaha, which sells fully loaded for about $115,000.
Since taking over the yard seven years ago, the MacCorkles have expanded the business. They quickly added a large heated shed to expand their winter storage, service and refit capacity.
The yard is ABYC-certified and now services more than 130 power and sailboats. Current refit projects include a 1973 Wasque 32, a Padebco 27 and the first Padebco 23 hull.
Leon oversees operations and a six-man crew at Padebco’s two Round Pond yards, but he makes no bones about who is in charge. Sara, who has an MBA with a minor in marketing, serves as president. “Without her,” he says, “this whole gig doesn’t run.
Six River Marine
Massachusetts natives Chip Miller and Scott Conrad met in 1981 while working summers in a salmon processing plant in Homer, Alaska, and became fast friends.
The two men went their separate ways but stayed in close touch and eventually returned to the East Coast. Conrad had become a fine furniture builder and Miller a boatbuilder. In the 1980s, Miller attended the boatbuilding apprenticeship program at Maine Maritime Museum located in Bath. Afterward, he worked at various boatyards, including a stint with renowned wooden boat builder Peter Kass in South Bristol, Maine.
For two years, Conrad and Miller ran a mobile marine operation out of Conrad’s van, fixing people’s wooden boats on site, but in 1997 they converted a chicken coop in the woods of North Yarmouth into a 15,000-square-foot boat shop.
One of the first boats they finished in their new shop was a 1926 38-foot Lawley cruiser, Chautauqua, that they’d started restoring inside a sheetrock distribution plant in South Portland. They rebuilt her over three winters while the owners continued to use the boat in the summers. The boat went on to win best powerboat awards at the Boston and Mystic antique and classic boat shows and other work poured in.
One of the designs the men keep returning to is Miller’s version of the West Pointer 18. While apprenticing in Bath in the 1980s, Miller approached designer Alton Wallace and asked him for permission to take some basic measurements off the boat. Miller increased the freeboard, the beam and length and reduced the flare. He then carved a half hull and built a plank-on-frame version with another apprentice.
Conrad and Miller have built various cold-molded versions of the design.
One was a 19-½-foot model with wraparound seats that now serves as a launch in Wisconsin. Another was an 18-½-footer for Miller’s father.
When a customer recently expressed a desire for a smaller Six River Marine West Pointer for use on a lake, Miller carved another half hull.
The client wanted a more traditional build, so the shortened version was strip planked in eastern white cedar. The keel, frames and steam-bent ribs are all white oak, the stringers and sheer clamp are Alaskan yellow cedar and the sole is Douglas fir. The brightwork is all Honduran mahogany, cut out of one enormous board. The deck is plywood, covered in Dynel.
The boat’s colors were picked by what was referred to as “the committee,” consisting of the clients, their sons and friends. “The husband wanted a workboat, but they kept adding varnish,” Miller says with a laugh.
The final result is stunning. “It was a fun project,” Miller says about the skiff, which is powered by a 60-hp Yamaha and won the best new construction powerboat in the professional category at the Mystic Wooden Boat Show.
“We like doing this kind of work,” he says. “It’s fun working with somebody who has the passion.”
This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue.