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Artisan Boatworks


Photos by Alison Langley

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When Alec Brainerd talks classic wooden boats, the conversation drifts from the philosophy to the business to the practical issues of wooden-boat building and ownership. Brainerd, founder and owner of Artisan Boatworks in Rockport, Maine, specializes in building, restoring and maintaining wooden boats. The shop is best known for building replicas of classic daysailers, Nathanael G. Herreshoff designs especially.

The classic lines of a wooden boat, its sparkle, smell, texture, crafted detail, its gracefulness under sail — all are irresistible, even in a recession. Wooden boats haven’t lost their appeal. Business has been good. Brainerd says the genre is all about aesthetics and the craftsman’s discipline of building to exacting standards — and, in restorations, the faithfulness of owners and builders in returning historically significant boats to their past glory. But it is also about being open to changes in design, technology and building techniques that make a wooden boat more comfortable, more durable, and easier to use and maintain.

Murmur, the boat pictured here, is a modified Herreshoff Buzzards Bay 15 that Artisan Boatworks built for Bernie Gustin, a retired management consultant from Newport, R.I. The cedar-planked sloop is based on Flicker, a 1907 Herreshoff-designed variant of his original 1898 Buzzards Bay design. Like its forebear, Murmur has a full keel instead of a centerboard, and more lead ballast and heavier scantlings than the original. She also benefits from some modern changes, including laminated mahogany instead of solid white oak for the backbone and keel — laminated wood is less prone to expand, contract and warp — epoxied mahogany bulkheads and a hollow mast made of glued sections that is 40 percent lighter than solid wood yet stronger and eliminates running backstays.
Brainerd says it’s up to the client whether Artisan builds a museum-quality exact replica of a classic or one that incorporates updated technology and design. In either case, he says, “You don’t want to build anything ugly.”

This article originally appeared in the August 2011 issue.